Monday 22nd July 2019,

Lotus Elite SE: Type 14 1958 – 1963

`Revolutionary` is an often over-used word but the Lotus Elite certainly broke a lot of new ground. The chosen material for the body shell was not new, several Ford `Specials` had used fibreglass shells earlier. What was unusual was that this was a monocoque, in other words, chassis-less. Using a fibreglass body to hang everything on had never been done before.

Fibreglass (or GRP) is not sufficiently strong to bear load and stress without a steel frame, a fact that Chapman, the great innovator, was to discover, quite soon. Many of the cars were supplied in `kit-form` to keep retail prices down.

We will use the 1962 SE as our subject car. Monocoque body shell:

Peter Kirwan-Taylor designed the car, Frank Costin, brother of Mike (Cosworth) did the aerodynamic work. The result was beautiful to behold and unlike the Lotus Seven, was weatherproof.

The Elite was a small, two-seat fix-head coupe, very pretty and ridiculously lightweight. Initial moulding of the shells was undertaken by Maximar Mouldings but proved unsatisfactory. Production was quickly moved to Bristol Aeroplane Company and things got better. Bristol continued to make the Lotus Elite shells until production ceased in 1963.

Suspension mountings were prone to `pulling through` the GRP shell and reinforcing with spreader-plates was judged to be the answer. A steel `hoop` was invisibly inserted into the shell to frame the windscreen and wrapped under the car to give strength for door-hinges and jacking-points. The hoop also acted as a roll-over bar.

A steel sub-frame was fitted to the front to carry the power-train and the `rack & pinion` steering. Coil and wishbone supplied the front springing of the Elite with another of Chapman`s innovations at the rear. This was the `Chapman Strut`, similar but longer than the McPherson strut system. In 1959 Ford used the McPherson strut on the front of the 105E Anglia but because of it`s length the Chapman strut could only be fitted to the rear of the Elite. The tops of the struts were clearly visible under domes on the rear parcel-shelf. The Lotus Elite had Girling disc brakes (non-servo) fitted all round and centre-lock wire wheels with Pirelli Cinturato tyres as standard.


Sparing no expense, Chapman went to Coventry-Climax for the engine. Coventry-Climax was the best British engine builder at that time and they offered him the FWE 1216 cc motor. This engine had been designed to drive water-pumps on fire engines and was an all-aluminium single overhead cam, five-main-bearing, 4 cylinder inline, with a compression ratio of 10:1. It was complicated and expensive but perfect for a light-weight sports-car. The Elite`s kerb-weight was only 660 kg all-up! The FEW unit had twin SU carburettors fitted and produced 83 bhp with 75 ft/lbs of torque. The result was a power-to-weight ratio of 126 bhp per ton! Early cars used the MGB gearbox but the Elite SE was upgraded to the ZF 4-speed all-synchromesh transmission. The rear axle was of the de-Dion type.

Driving impressions;

The Elite was wonderful sports-car, nimble, predictable and very fast. The performance was excellent, especially considering UK had only one motorway and no over-all speed limits. Acceleration from 0-60 mph was a rapid 11 seconds with a top-speed of 118 mph. All that from a 1216 cc engine! Legend has it that the Elite could achieve 35 mpg.

The handling was impeccably sure-footed, and even though there was no servo the braking was superb. The interior was very spartan and noisy, a brief engine vibration set in at around 4000 rpm but didn`t damage the love affair because at 4000 you were only `passing through` anyway!

The Elite was an expensive car at nearly £2000, close to Jaguar E-type money. Approximately 1047 Elites were produced when in 1963 the Lotus Elan replaced it.

For even more details about the wonderful Elite we suggest you take a look at the Lotus Elite World Register

Lotus Elite 1958-1963
Body Type2 seater Fixhead coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo VolumeSomewhat respectable
Engine1.2 SOHC Coventry Climax FWE (1958)
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1216 cc74.2 cui
Power53 Kw71 bhp6100 RPM
Torque104 Nm77 ft. lb3700 RPM
Power/weight152 bhp/t
Top Speed180 km/h112 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph11.4 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight506 kg1116 lb
Engine1.2 SE SOHC Coventry Climax FWE (1962)
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1216 cc74.2 cui
Power62 Kw83 bhp6300 RPM
Torque102 Nm75 ft. lb3700 RPM
Power/weight126 bhp/t
Top Speed190 km/h118 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph11 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight660 kg1455 lb
GD Star Rating
Lotus Elite SE: Type 14 1958 - 1963, 10.0 out of 10 based on 9 ratings
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.


  1. Kirk Lockwood 13. February 2015 at 7:57

    Like the Elites? Here’s a link to mine with some historical images as well.

  2. Mike Kimberley 14. November 2014 at 16:24

    A really excellent , balanced and very accurate analysis of the first Elite from Colin Chapman-LOTUS.
    Thank you.

    • Bev Roberts 18. November 2014 at 13:14

      Dear Mike, thank you for your gratifying comment on the Elite article, such comment from a gentleman of your pedigree is praise indeed.

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