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1956-1958 Lotus Eleven

Legacy of the Lotus Eleven

Now we'll consider the legacy of the Lotus Eleven. The Series II version of the Lotus Eleven followed in 1957, this having a double-wishbone (A-arm) front suspension instead of the swing-axle layout, and modified body lines allowing for wider wheels and tires. It was a better car, but not sensationally better -- and the opposition was beginning to catch up.

lotus eleven 1957 restored
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
This restored 1957 Eleven sports a full-width windshield and deletes the faired-in headrest, making it better as a two-passenger roadster.

Road & Track was about the only American magazine to road test an Eleven, equipped in this case with the 83-bhp Coventry-Climax engine. "The Lotus Mark XI . . . is now officially called 'Eleven,'" the magazine noted in March 1957, "and this test report brings forth some of the most startling performance data ever published."

The reason for that comment was that with 4.22:1 gearing, R&T achieved a top speed of 132.06 miles per hour, and figured that with the optional 3.66:1 gearset top speed would have been more like 145 mph.

"Acceleration, naturally, is really fierce even at low speeds," said the magazine, and indeed 0-60 mph came up in nine seconds flat. This was possible because of the extremely low weight of the car, just 1360 pounds gross test weight (1000 pounds dry weight) and the exceptional aerodynamics.

Steering was unusually quick with just 1.75 turns lock-to-lock, and there was "practically no roll at all, in a corner, but the ride is not designed for a comfortable Sunday trip."

Lotus listed four models for the U.S.: Sports (Ford 1172-cc engine, solid rear axle, drum brakes), $3,253; Club (C-C engine Stage I, solid rear axle, drum brakes), $4,,301; Le Mans (C-C engine, de Dion rear axle, Girling disc brakes), $5287; Le Mans (Stage II tuning), $5,467.

"The Lotus Eleven is not a dual-purpose sports car-it is designed to win in Class G," R&T pointed out, "and the price of $5,467 delivered in the U.S.A. strikes us as being quite reasonable. ... Even the lowest priced model may not put a Lotus in every garage but it would certainly make an interesting class if enough cars of this type are brought over."

Lotus's old records have survived, showing that 150 Series I Elevens and about 125 Series II types were produced; Graham Arnold in the Illustrated Lotus Buyer's Guide reports that 64 Elevens were sent to the U.S.

Like other Lotus cars of the day, however, the Eleven was soon overwhelmed by new models incorporating yet other new Colin Chapman ideas. The Eleven's immediate successor, launched in 1958, was the Fifteen, and a year later this too was replaced, by the Seventeen.

That, you might think, was that -- but the Elevens came back into their own in historic racing categories in the USA and in Great Britain. Lotus was no longer interested in providing parts for the cars, so this had to be done privately. The demand for chassis and body items soon meant that remanufacture began -- and this is where the boom in Lotus Eleven replicas came from.

Go on to the next page to learn about 1956, 1957, and 1958 Lotus Eleven specifications.

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