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1959-1963 Lotus Elite

1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 Lotus Elite Suspension

Apart from the fiberglass monocoque, the suspension of the 1959-1963 Lotus Elites stood out as the most advanced of their innovations. The independent front end came straight out of the Type 12 single-seat Lotus race car, combined with rack-and-pinion steering, while the independent rear end featured what Lotus always called “Chapman struts.” They were in reality the same type of combined spring/damper units as MacPherson struts. The drive shafts were of fixed length, and the car had inboard disc brakes. Center-lock wire-spoke wheels were also fitted.

The suspension was mechanically elegant and the geometry very precise. More than that, though, Chapman’s Elite had a ride quite different from that of any competitor. It allowed for more than the usual amount of wheel movement, resulting in a far more supple ride than anyone could have expected from a sports car. Even though the Elite could be encouraged to roll noticeably, it always remained amazingly controllable and possessed inch-accurate steering.

1959-1963 lotus elite steering wheel
The suspension of the 1959-1963 Lotus Elites stood out as the most advanced of their innovations, with rack-and-pinion steering high among
their achievements.

Lotus could not put the Elite into production right away. The original Hornsey factory was much too small and cramped. Until Lotus moved to larger facilities in Cheshunt, just a few miles further north from the center of London, and until it had completed the car’s development, no Elite could be delivered to a customer. The unfinished prototype shown at the British Earls Court exhibition in October 1957 was fitted with the wrong engine and didn’t even have a radiator or driveshaft.

Thus, it wasn’t until 1959 that series production finally got under way. At that time, Britain levied a hefty Purchase Tax on the sale of new cars. The tax didn’t apply to car kits, however, so Elites were delivered in kit form to customers looking to save some money. The kits -- some of which were poorly assembled by the buyers -- go a long way toward explaining why so many of the early cars were badly finished.

Over the next five years, Lotus phased in an improved body shell, a major engineering alteration, and myriad minor improvements. The first body monocoques were produced by Maximar of Pulborough of Sussex, but after 250 units had been made, Colin Chapman placed an order with Bristol Aeroplane Plastics for the next run.

These bodies were used from July 1960 onward -- about 750 shells of what are now referred to as the Series II Elites. The Bristol-built shells were better made and better shaped -- and they’re now in more demand by enthusiasts. Series II cars also used a different location for the rear suspension strut, and many trim and minor development changes took effect. A higher proportion of the Series II cars utilized the twin-SU-carbureted engine, and a large number had the specially designed ZF S4-12 gearbox as well.

A limited number of Lotus Super 95, Super 100, and Super 105 Elites were built. They were really factory-prepared racing versions, with engine horsepower outputs corresponding to the model title. They went on to race with great success at Le Mans and Sebring.

For more information on the 1959-1963 Lotus Elite classic sports cars, continue on to the next page.

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