Adventures with a Lotus Elite

What’s a story about a Lotus Elite doing in Moss Motoring? What could this Lotus have in common with any of the familiar British cars detailed in the Moss catalogues? The answer is: Plenty. For example the points and condenser are Jaguar XK140. Clutch pressure plate is MGB, clutch disc is MGA. The rear suspensions U-joints are Austin Healey, the motor mounts are XKE and the list goes on and on.

Lotus Elite front

Now that I’ve established a legitimacy for a Moss story, let me begin by stating I have owned this car for 47 years and put over 170,000 miles on the odometer. Not bad for a fragile fiberglass car.

This Lotus Elite, chassis #1461, while in my care (I am the second owner) has seen duty as a regular commuter, a rally car, show car and racer which may be great for betting on 토토사이트.

The first few years of ownership involved nothing more than routine commuting to college and later to various jobs until I settled on a career. With a steady income I was able to do some of the things I’d filed away on my wish list. First was to paint the car in Lotus racing colors. I was sure this change alone would be good for an additional 10 miles an hour top speed.

Lotus Elite RearAlthough no longer relegated to mundane use, the car was driven at every opportunity. Next step was to renew the interior which was done right after the paint work. As so many of you know, when the paint is fresh thoughts turn to entering car shows. Over the years #1461 has been to many and from time to time won its class or people’s choice award. Lest any of you take offense at a Lotus beating out other fine British cars it may be comforting to note my car is usually placed with early Porsches and we all know how weird some of that lot can be.

I mentioned that I raced my car as well. Did nine seasons with the Vintage Automobile Racing Association in Southern California. I ran the Monterey Historics, Riverside, Willow Springs and the old Ontario Motor Speedway. The later incorporating an infield road course and one of the banked corners. This venue was hard on my car in that I was well into redline by the end of the banking although the Coventry Climax 1220cc engine is good for 7000 rpm (redline is 7200) all day long. And yes, it’s true. This engine began life as a motor to power a fire pump, although in 1020cc guise. The design of the engine dated to the Korean War when British Civil Defense asked for a new, more powerful fire pump than was used during World War II. Not coincidentally it was Coventry Climax engines that were used during that conflict as well.

Lotus Elite MotorThe power plant is a pretty remarkable engine. It is an all alloy (head, block and sump) single overhead cam that produced between 75 and 100 horsepower depending on stage of tune and carburetors, either SUs or Webers.

Over the years I have experienced some interesting problems with my Lotus but certainly not what you might expect. On one occasion at Riverside International Raceway (now sadly a shopping mall) I was exiting Turn 6, exactly as pictured here when out of the corner of my eye I saw a silver flash of something that shot straight up in the air from the right front end of the car. The next series of laps until the race had been run I could feel some vibration in the steering wheel, especially on the back straight. Back in my pit it was obvious what had happened. A wheel weight had come off which was the silver flash I’d seen coming out of 6.

One wag suggested it was an attempt at making the car even lighter. Did I mention the Elite weighs only 1400 pounds?

This weight was achieved by using a fiberglass monocoque for the body/chassis. There is no metal save for a subframe to support the engine and front suspension, a built in roll over hoop over the windscreen and some brackets in the rear to support the differential.

Lotus Elite Vintage RaceThat the Lotus Elite handles like no other car of the period is no exaggeration. The suspension was taken from the Lotus 12 Formula 1 car and consists of independent front and rear by wishbones and coil over shocks. The brakes are alloy caliper discs, inboard at the rear. When I raced my car, out-braking a competitor on the approach to a corner was easy due to the tremendous stopping power of these brakes on so light a car. I remember one particular race at Laguna Seca when I happened to glance over at a Porsche 356 as we entered the then Turn Nine and saw the driver’s jaw drop as I sailed past. He thought surely we were headed for the escape road or worse!

The Elite dives into corners like its parent, the Lotus formula car, and turn-in is quick and light. Speaking of, the steering is rack and pinion and consists of two and one half turns, lock to lock. Most corners are accomplished without having to release and re grasp the steering wheel. You know how an “arms over” maneuver into a corner looks way too cool.

Placing the Lotus Elite in traffic or into a corner is sublimely easy due to its small size. The car measures 12 feet long, 58 inches wide and only 47 inches tall. L.J.K. Setright described the feeling in an article he wrote for CAR magazine in the early 1970s. “Yet it was not especially the lightness of the Lotus or even its organic, breeze bating body shape which gave the Elite its particular charm: They were functions of something more fundamental, its sheer smallness. Fitting as closely as bath water, flitting as delicately as butterflies, they flew over the roads of England…”

Lotus Elite Show Winner

A masterstroke of inside cabin design, the space for the driver gives ample room in which to thrash around. Roomy enough for 6-footers, too, and this driver’s size 12s without ever getting the pedals confused.

Years ago Road & Track magazine, when its subtitle was The Motoring Enthusiast’s Magazine used to praise controls that “fell readily to hand.” Such they do with the Lotus Elite. The 15-inch steering wheel is placed at the perfect angle. Its thin rim begs the use of knit back driving gloves which adds to the pleasure of the drive. The shift lever for the ZF all-synchro, close ratio four-speed gearbox is a short throw device which makes gear changes a snick, snick affair.

The Elite as driven by Jim Clark.

The Elite as driven by Jim Clark.

Old Setright alluded to yet another of the Lotus Elite’s virtues, its aerodynamic shape. The car achieved a 0.29 drag coefficient which was one of the lowest recorded at the time. Despite a displacement of only 1220cc the Elite was timed at 140mph down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Speaking of the famous 24-hour race, the Lotus Elite won its class for 6 years in a row beginning in 1958. A host of famous drivers raced the Lotus Elite including Jim Clark, David Hobbs (Speed Cannel’s F1 commentator), Trevor Taylor and Alan Stacey, both Formula 1 drivers.

The Lotus Elite also competed in countless races in the United Kingdom and in Europe. So many, in fact, that the press called the Lotus Elite, “A racing car for the road.” But, back to my adventures.

Yes, I know that many of you think “Lotus” stands for, “lots of trouble, usually serious”. In fact, I have only been let down by my car on only one or two occasions. One of these was when the engine simply quit. Luckily I was at a stoplight and could push the car out of harms way. I mentioned earlier the Elite’s feather weight which makes pushing a one-man job. I did the usual checks by the side of the road, I was getting fuel at the carbs but no spark to the plugs. The coil was cool (I was stopped by an over heating coil once) and all the connections were tight. Off came the distributor cap and I could see no spark across the points. The ground wire was tight and the points were opening and closing as they should. Lotus Elites have a starter solenoid with a push button for remote starting which made this inspection easy. Something didn’t look quite right and I finally saw what it was. One of the contact points had come off and was laying on the mounting plate! A spare set of points I carry in the trunk got me going again.

breakdown 2breakdown 3 BreakdownI live at the gateway to the Big Sur coastline on the West Coast of California. The drive to Laguna Seca Raceway is 100 miles of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world not to mention Highway 1, which is a delightfully challenging road that serpentines next to sheer cliffs that drop off to the Pacific Ocean. I never counted the gear changes on one of these drives but I’ll bet they numbered in the hundreds!

I experienced my most unusual breakage on this very road. I was driving home after spectating at one of the sports car races held at the track. I was passing the outcrop of land called Lucia. This place consists of motel rooms perched on a cliff some 300 hundred feet above the crashing surf. It is about fifty miles from home. I was motoring at a pretty good clip when I hit a pot hole in the road. Lucia is infamous for its rough patch of Highway 1 due to constant slippage because of a spring that runs under the roadway. There was a bang followed by a droop at the right front corner of the car. I stopped to examine what had happened and to my amazement a Koni shock had snapped its actuating rod! Blessed by a stroke of sublime luck the spring, rather than falling completely away, was wedged in the lower wishbone. I was able to motor, at a much reduced pace, of course, the 50 or so miles home. The wishbone was slightly bent by the ordeal but otherwise intact.

Like you I relish every drive in my British sports car and since it is, in fact, a daily driver I exercise the car regularly. 170,000 miles and counting. Do give a wave if you see me coming. You’ll know me by the smile on my face.

By Dennis Ortenburger

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'Adventures with a Lotus Elite' have 6 comments

  1. November 27, 2013 @ 9:34 am Mark Griffith

    Dennis, thanks for the great article. Also, I just finished your book on the Lotus Eleven, as I am building a Westfield Eleven with MG midget powertrain which needs lots of Moss Parts as well. I will have to read your Elite book too! Regards, Mark


    • December 3, 2013 @ 12:04 pm Jim Held

      Dennis, Elited (sic) to hear that you still have the Elite that you had in 1969 when I joined the Lotus West Club with my new Elan. I, too, still have my Lotus, although it is a bit different. Did extensive body work and lightening as well as an engine/tranny swap. The car now weighs in at 1230 (wet) and has over 300 hp at the flywheel. Anyway, it’s great to see that some of us can’t let go of our fantastic Lotus cars.


  2. December 5, 2013 @ 11:18 am Ken Ryan

    Another great book by author Ortenburger, if you’re lucky enough to find a copy, is Flying On Four Wheels. It’s the story of engineer/designer Frank Costin and his work, specially on the Marcos to which he donated the ‘cos’ part of his name.


  3. December 16, 2013 @ 3:44 pm Kirk Lockwood

    Always great to see you writing again about your wonderful experience with the “Mean Green Machine”! My restoration is again at a standstill. Why yesterday I spent snow blowing 15″ of the white stuff from the driveway just to have the plows fill it back up! Could say I’m California Dreaming on a winters day! My computer has been froze since I got half way through your piece and I’ve finished it on my girlfriends computer and leaving this comment as I had to see the rest of it.;o) You were probably wondering how long it would take till I found this little jewel for Moss, well here’s your answer. Take care my friend and keep surprising me,it’s always nice to hear more Elite stories! If any other readers care to see my Lotus Elite story thus far here’s a link to my restoration project and yes even I can say Moss has come through for my project as well! As I’ve read through some of the older Club Elite Newsletters Moss actually had quite a few items for the Elite even back then…and wasn’t it Sterling Moss himself who stated the original Lotus Elite was the best road holding car he’d ever driven? ;o) Might be why he bought his own, Chassis# EB 1789 on February 28th 1962 with a Mecha-Matic transmission! Hmmm where is it now?
    Best Regards, and God Bless!
    Kirk Lockwood 1468


  4. January 8, 2014 @ 7:28 pm Bruce Oblad

    A fun article and well written. Dennis wrote the definitive book on the Elite a copy of which I received from my Elite-adoring brother and which I read. It’s such an interesting car and story. Would anybody dare to build and sell such a car today? I’ve always thought that GM’s going to the trouble of designing the chassis for the EV-1 was such a waste of time. They should have just found and old Elite, removed the gasoline-related parts, and installed the batteries, motors, and control system in their place. Voilà! Instant electric car.

    Maybe Elite should have always been pronounced E-light. It would have been fitting and correct.


  5. January 11, 2014 @ 6:22 am Jeff Aronson

    The Lotus Elite remains the most stunning, compelling, yet accessible sports car ever manufactured. My budget is still at the MG Midget level but maybe one day….

    I also applaud your regular use and high mileage of your British Sports Car. They were built to be driven, not stored. Thank you for the 170,000 miles!


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