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1956-1958 Lotus Eleven

Feedback for the Lotus Eleven

Let's consider the experts' feedback for the Lotus Eleven. As we now know, the Lotus Eleven's final shape was by no means ideal, for the front and rear fenders had to be enlarged to allow for wheel and steering movements.

Around the cockpit of the definitive Le Mans type, however, the lines were beautifully detailed, for there was a plastic screen wrapped around the driver's head, blending beautifully into a raised headrest which extended to the extreme end of the tail.

lotus eleven cockpit
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The single-seater cockpit was tight made entry difficult.
Road & Track actually calculated the car's aerodynamic performance, concluding that it was amazingly efficient, and that it required only nine horsepower to push it along at 60 mph.

To those who suggest Jaguar had already achieved the same thing with its D-Type, the answer is that great minds think alike, for the Jag had also been shaped by an aircraft-industry aerodynamicist.

Racing enthusiasts who already knew about the Mark IX rushed to order the new Eleven, and it wasn't long before Lotus claimed to be building four cars every week. Chapman was a peerless self-publicist, and we now know that this figure was rarely achieved, but there is no doubt that the Eleven was an instant success.

It wasn't merely the looks, but the lightness and sheer agility that made it such a formidable little car. Even though the swing-axle front suspension used components from Ford of Great Britain's most humble small car, the Eleven had tenacious grip, while the Coventry-Climax engines ensured high performance.

Racing successes came at once, and for the next three seasons the Eleven was usually a favorite to win in any 1.1-liter or 1.5-liter sports car racing category Lotus entered three "works" cars for the 1956 Le Mans 24 Hours race, where special regulations meant they had to have widened cockpits (plus special chassis frames).

One of the 1.1-liter cars won its class that year, but there was even greater success in 1957, when new cars (with modified wrap-over, full-width windshields) proved so fast that the American crew of Mackay Fraser and Chamberlain finished ninth overall at an average speed of 99.08 mph.

Not only that, another car, fitted with a special 750-cc Coventry-Climax engine went round like a train for 24 hours, won its class, finished 14th averaging 90 mph -- and won the Index of Performance category.

Other Elevens took speed records at Monza, Italy (Stirling Moss being one of the drivers), and privately owned cars were successful in the U.S., Australia, and throughout Europe, though on rougher tracks (such as Sebring, Florida), they were never as rugged as the heavier Porsches.

Go on to the next page to learn about the legacy of the Lotus Eleven.

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