The Lotus Elite

Old name but an all-new Lotus

It has been no secret since the introduction of the Jensen-Healey that the Lotusdesigned and built 2-litre, sixteen-valve engine used in the West Bromwich two-seater Was destined for an entirely new Lotus four-seater. So it is that the car has appeared much later than planned, perhaps presumptuously carrying the name of that first glass-fibre Lotus, though, while strikingly styled, not inheriting the first Elite's classic beauty, nor, we hope, its record of unreliability.

Instantly Lotus have moved considerably up-market, the cheapest specification Elite, the 501, being priced at £5,445 including taxes, and the option pack 502 at £5,857. Cohn Chapman and his team have thus tilted directly at the expensive luxury car market, providing a possible alternative to Jensens., Jaguars, BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes and the like, or even an economical alternative to Ferrari/Lamborghini owners wishing to climb down to a more economical level. On the other hand it is an admirable pinnacle for which current Lotus owners can aim. It will be interesting to see -whether owners of those more expensive cars will be attracted by the idea of a four-cylinder, 2-litre engine; at yet there is no sign of the rumoured double-bank derivative of this Lotus 907 engine.

The Elite retains the by now traditional Lotus steel backbone chassis, upon which it mounted the four-seat, two-door, glass-reinforced plastic body, moulded in two halves joined along the waist-line. A touch of Maserati Bora appears in the front end treatment, particularly around the wheel arches, the low nose necessitates retractable headlamps, and the screen is steeply raked into a sloping roof which ends with a stubby tail incorporating a lift-up, hydraulically supported tailgate opened by a remote lock in the passenger compartment. The boot is wide, deep but narrow front to rear and luggage remains exposed to prying eyes. An internal window behind the rear seats cuts off this compartment from the passengers, who sit in exceptional comfort in brushed-nylon seats made at the Lotus factory. For adults of moderate height the Elite is genuinely a fourseater; six-footers need to crouch somewhat in the deep rear bucket seats. Guigaro, of Ital-Design, was responsible for this interior, which is splendidly trimmed, has an impressive facia with comprehensive instrumentation and, in usual Lotus fashion, the cockpit is split by the backbone chassis. A roll-over bar is incorporated and steel box sections are built into the doors. Windows are electrically operated, airconditioning and tinted windows are included in the 502 package, as is stereo tape player/ radio, while the 501 relies on conventional heating, a Philips radio and lacks the 502's heated rear window (which being separated from the passenger's should not be affected badly by condensation).

The Lotus 907 twin-cam, sixteen-valve engine has been uprated to 160 b.h.p. compared with the 140 b.h.p. Of the Jensen-Healey version and drives through a Lotus gearbox with overdrive 5th gear ratio, in which the car is said to be capable of 128 m.p.h., helped by the remarkably low drag coefficient of 0.3 which ensures a startling fuel consumption of around 26 m.p.g. at 100 m.p.h. Racing practice is followed in ducting hot air from the AE-Covrad adhesively bonded aluminium radiator upwards through the top of the bonnet ahead of the engine. Suspension at he front appears to be basically Triumph type wishbone/coil spring and the rear has tubular lower links, radius arms and suspension units attached to aluminium hub Carriers. While disc brakes are retained at the front, the inboard rear brakes are drum, largely to ensure an efficient handbrake, and we can all rejoice that those evil Elan rubber doughnuts in the driveshafts have been replaced by Hardy-Spicer couplings.

At the almost farcical Press announcement at the Hethel factory I was able to complete two laps of the 2.2-mile test track in the rain, which told me little more than that the road-holding was outstanding on the 205/60 VR14 tyres which Dunlop have developed especially for this new car, on which they are mounted on 7-in, alloy rims, and that the scuttle felt far too high. I also enjoyed a couple of fast laps occupying the rear scat behind Chapman at the wheel. To draw more positive conclusions from such inadequate experience would be unfair to Lotus, to whom the Elite means "make or break", and these and a more detailed description must wait for a full roadtest.—C.R.