So many Lotus cars are icons in motoring history, that it's hard to choose between them. But these are some of our favourites.
The Lotus 7 was launched as a ‘no-frills’ (all thrills!) sports car in 1957. With few amenities, there were no doors, no seat adjustment and drivers sat as close to the ground as the wheel wells in most other vehicles. Its appeal lay in nimble handling and good performance achieved through light weight. It was known for driving fun and has never lost that reputation.
Available assembled (£1036) or as kit car (£536), Colin Chapman with his usual loophole ingenuity found a way to beat the taxman. Kit cars were exempt from the tax that applied to the ready-built version, as long as assembly instructions were not included. To get around this, Chapman supplied the disassembly instructions…
It remained in production with Lotus until 1972. In 1973 the rights were passed to Caterham and they have continued to produce it with relatively few changes to this day. But maybe its ultimate accolade was its ban from racing in 1976. It was too fast – no other car could compete.
Superstitiously rolled out as the Type 14 (avoiding Type 13), the Elite was produced from 1958 to 1963. Innovative and super lightweight, this was the first Lotus to have a glass fibre composite body that also acted as the chassis. A steel sub-frame supported the engine and front suspension.
The first models were raced, not sold, and became the most successful Lotus sports car, six times winning its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was also a lovely fixed head coupe, which many consider to be one of the best proportioned cars ever made.
Its Coventry Climax engine enabled a top speed of 111 mph and fuel consumption between 35-40 mpg, which was assisted by its advanced aerodynamics. Compared to modern cars its air resistance is still low and achieved without the benefit of today’s computer aided design and wind tunnel testing. It also handled pretty well, with revolutionary 4-wheel independent suspension, dual wishbones for the front end and Chapman struts on the rear.
However, as a business model it didn’t work. Only 1030 vehicles were built and it’s estimated that Lotus lost £100 on every Lotus Elite sold.
Lotus Elan Sprint
The Lotus Elan was designed as a replacement for the Lotus Elite and started rolling out in 1962. The Elan Sprint arguably achieved the pinnacle for this model, with an engine performance that was 20% greater than its predecessor, the S4 Elan.
The Sprint was produced between 1971 to 1973 and available as either a Fixed Head Coupe or Drop Head Coupe. Equal billing was given to its performance and safety, but its handling and looks were also impressive. Incorporating the latest 126 bhp “Big-Valve” version of the Lotus twin-cam, 0-60 was achievable in 6.7 seconds. Servo assisted disc brakes brought the car to a standstill from 100 mph in 5 seconds, while the fibreglass bodwork provided impact cushioning.
It was powered by a 1558 cc in-line 4 cylinder engine (based on Ford’s) with a twin-cam cylinder head, designed by Harry Munday, then technical director of Autocar magazine. The Lotus-Ford 4 cylinder engine would later go on to be used in a number of Lotus production and racing models.
The replacement of the Stromberg carburettors (in the S4) with the physically smaller Weber 40 DCOEs, negated the need for the bonnet bulge and this reverted back to a flat design. However, some Sprints retained the bulge, either through owner request or as Lotus used up their old stock of bonnets.
The attention to the interior detail and comfort was impressive, including contoured seats, teak facia, electric windows, leather rimmed steering wheels and even doors that “close without slamming”!
The Lotus Elan Sprints were usually two tone, often yellow and white or in the Red, White and Gold livery of John Player, the sponsor for the Lotus Formula One team. And like all great works of art, each carried the mark of their maker: Colin Chapman’s signature was etched into the down spoke of the steering wheel.
Hailed by Auto Express as “the greatest performance car” of the period 1970 - 1979, the Lotus Esprit set a new standard in design with its mid-engine configuration, galvanised chassis and Colin Chapman inspired suspension. The edgy looks, character feel and period thinking from one of Italy's great designers, Giorgio Giugiaro, ensured the car brought gasps of approval at the Paris and London Motor Shows of 1975.
First unveiled as a concept in 1972, here was a worthy replacement for its popular predecessor, the Lotus Europa. The Esprit's type 907 4-cylinder inclined engine produced 160bhp in the early models made through from 1975 to 1983. The Esprit's reputation was further enhanced when a white Series 1 Esprit featured in the James Bond film, The Spy who Loved Me.
1978 saw developments begin on a turbo-charged engine designated the 912, scheduled to go into the S2 development, which also saw design updates featuring a front air dam and side body ducting. The S2 Lotus Esprit used the Citroën Maserati gearbox of the earlier model and enjoyed various updates that allowed it to last the life of the model design.
The Turbo Esprit was introduced in 1980 and an updated version, the S3 Esprit, appeared in 1981. A Turbo Esprit once more starred in a Bond film, “For Your Eyes Only”, shortly before the passing of Lotus founder Colin Chapman in 1982. Engine developments saw the Turbo producing 210bhp.
A design change came in 1987, when the angular lines of Giugiaro were replaced with the smooth flow, soft contour thinking of Peter Stevens.
In 1988, the new Esprit Turbo SE was introduced; 280bhp was now available. Lotus Esprits were to be seen racing in 1990 in the USA, where 4 victories in 8 races, including 6 pole positions, saw American driver Doc Bundy finish second in the World Challenge Cup Driver's Championship.
The 1994 S4 version of the Esprit sported a 264 bhp engine with an uprated version, the S4s, producing 300bhp and quoted as having a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds.
In 1996 a twin-turbo V8 arrived, with some version pushing the bhp up to 350. By now, of course, the chassis featured upgraded brakes with a new ABS controller and a new vacuum servo system. Production of the Esprit drew to a close in 2004 with the “final edition” Esprit V8.
For more details on the different versions of the Lotus Esprit, its worth checking out the rather good Lotus Esprit World website - click on Lotus Esprit Models
Work on the Lotus Europa started in 1964 and the brief from Colin Chapman was for a race inspired, lightweight aerodynamic coupe with a 4 cylinder engine.
The Europa was designed by Lotus Engineering Director, Ron Hickman, and featured the body bonded onto the backbone chassis. It was the world’s first production mid engined sports car, handled superbly and had a drag co-efficient of 0.29, an amazingly low figure for its time.
The car was launched at the end of 1966, slowed down by the search for a suitable engine. This came from the newly launched, front wheel drive Renault 16. It was a 1,470cc OHV unit, albeit with 82bhp rather than the 52bhp of the standard Renault 16. Pivoting the engine through 90° and reversing the final drive of the Renault 4-speed gearbox, allowed the correct configuration for the mid-engine design of the Europa.
The first version of the car was the S1 or Type 46. It weighed only 610 kg, could achieve 0 – 60 mph in 9.3 seconds and hit 120 mph. 650 were made in total before it evolved into the S2 or Type 54, which saw 3,615 produced. The S2 became more comfortable with moveable reclining seats, electric windows and a new interior and dashboard. To appease insurance companies' concerns about possible repair costs, the S2 body was bolted to the chassis rather than bonded. The S1 is often thought to be the better driver’s car due to its more rigid, bonded structure.
The output from the Renault engine was adequate but not stunning, and it was clear from the start that the chassis could comfortably cope with more power. Lotus engineer Mike Kimberly came up with a solution when he worked out a way of installing the Lotus Twin Cam 1,558cc engine. This resulted in the Type 74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam in 1972 with 105bhp and the Europa Special fitted with a 5-speed gearbox and a big valve version of the engine producing 126bhp. In road tests at the time, the Lotus Europa Special achieved 0 – 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 123 mph.
Production of the Europa ceased in 1975 with over 9,000 cars being made in total, of which 1,580 were TCs and 3,130 were Specials.