Lotus Cars: Elite, Elan, Europa, Esprit, Excel, Elise, Exige

Lotus Cars: Elite, Elan, Europa, Esprit, Excel, Elise, Exige

Here are some brief descriptions of the Lotus Cars: Elite, Elan, Europa, Esprit, Excel, Elise, and Exige. These pieces were written by five authors in 2009 for a website I built on this subject, so I make not claims as to the accuracy of anything stated here. In fact, if you can correct anything then I’d be glad to receive your comment. Please contact me or leave a comment below.

The photos are from Wikipedia with one or two exceptions which are my own photos from the Goodwood Revival.

Lotus Elite

The Lotus Elite is a stylish and powerful car, first introduced in 1958 as a sleek 2 door coupe with 1.2L Coventry Climax 4 cylinder engine and a powerful, yet responsive 4 speed manual transmission.

The first Lotus Elite was an ultra-light two passenger sports car that was produced until 1963. The highly innovative technology that was incorporated into the tiny car was cutting edge. The Lotus Elite was one of the first cars to be available with a fiberglass unibody construction, using the lightweight fiberglass throughout the car, incorporating the steel frame into the body, unlike the Chevrolet Corvette, which only offered the super lightweight material on the exterior of the vehicle.

Lotus Cars - Lotus Elite
TOM at Picassa. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The resulting car was lighter, stiffer, and provided the driver with unparalleled protection in a crash. The reduced weight allowed the four cylinder, all aluminum engine, to perform as well as, or in some cases even better than, the traditional V8 powerhouses. The Lotus Elite was also fitted with independent suspension in both the front and the rear, providing the most traction possible and the car was one of the first to use disc brakes in the rear.

A variation to the base Elite was introduced in 1960, complete with an updated engine and transmission gear box and updated headlamps. The engines boated higher compression and more aggressive camshaft bearings, creating a full 10 hp more than the original 75 hp engine.

Production of the Elite halted in 1963, but a newer, larger, more aggressive Elite II was introduced in 1974. Most notably, the change in engine size, from the original 1.2L to a 2.0 and 2.2L and the introduction of the 5 speed manual transmission or a 4 speed automatic version were the biggest changes. The Elite II was the first Lotus to incorporate the DOHC (double overhead cam) technology, which later became the foundation for the Lotus Esprit.

The Lotus Elite and Elite II models were cutting edge for their time, having a stock curb weight of around 2000 lbs. and both models held impressive acceleration and handling stats for any cars of their era.

Lotus Elan

From the outside looking in, the Elan is a Lotus that only a mother could love. It’s small enough that Smurfette would have to leave her purse at home, and forget bringing more than 1 person at a time for a ride. Though there are definitely two seats in the Elan, the second one is more like window-dressing than a place to rest a weary hind-end after a long day.

Of course, for every negative that can be penned about the Elan, there is one single positive point that easily outweighs them all. The Elan is quick. It’s not Lamborghini fast, and it’s not muscle car loud, but it is very quick. Of course, quick is more than a function of 0-60 time, though the Elan does that in less than 7 seconds. Quick is an amalgamation of both speed and handling, and handling is what the Elan has in spades.

Lotus Elan
User Diego440 on en.wikipedia [Public domain]

The acceleration on the Elan is slowing than the competition, but Elan owners are used to seeing taillights ahead of them. That is, until they reach the first corner and the other car has to actually slow down to make the turn. The Elan simply doesn’t. It can take all but the most ferocious corners at speeds approaching it’s top end of nearly 140 miles per hour thanks to the incredibly stiff chassis and the suspension from heaven.

The Lotus Elan weighs just a hair under 2,500 pounds and none of that weight is wasted on silly things like interior amenities. The seats are small and uncomfortable, and the steering wheel is placed as unceremoniously bad as can be. However, I’ve never actually met someone who bought a sports car because they were comfortable and had shiny bits inside. The fiberglass body panels on the Elan cover a frame that is a rigid a platform as can be found anywhere. The car itself seems to be bolted to the track or, goodness forbid, a back-country road with little traffic. The car rides surprisingly well, considering that it’s a convertible, and every inch of the car screams to the driver to go just a shade faster around the next bend. The best part about the Elan . . . you can actually listen.

Lotus Europa

While Lotus had already been successful racing mid-engined cars, company president Colin Chapman held off on designing a street version until he could get ahold of a widely available compact drivetrain. This came in the form of Renault’s first front wheel drive car, the 16. Unlike modern FWD cars, the 16 had a longitudinally-mounted (front to back) engine. Chapman modified the transmission so the engine could sit behind it, and mounted it in the back of the car.

The car could reach 0.9g on a skid pad on road tires: a difficult feat today, let alone in the late 60’s. Aside from the trunk, hood, and doors, the fiberglass body was a single piece bonded directly to the steel frame for additional stiffness, but this made body repair very difficult. Only 644 of these were built. Oddly, Chapman chose not to sell the car in Britain, concentrating instead on the European market.

The Europa was redesigned in 1968. The body was no longer bonded to the chassis, and it now had adjustable seats and windows. This version was offered in Britain, and a few were modified for sale in America, with a slightly larger engine to maintain the same power as the European models while meeting emissions regulations, as well as “bugeye”-mounted headlights to meet D.O.T. height requirements.

Lotus Europa
Gtb2 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

While production of the road-going version was being sorted, Lotus built a race version called the Type 47. This car had a twin-cam engine co-developed by Lotus, Ford, and Cosworth. In 1972, a mild version of the motor was placed in the production model. This was soon replaced by the Europa Special: new carburetors added 11 horsepower, and an optional 5-speed transmission was introduced.

Production of the Europa ended in 1975, when it was replaced by the newly-redesigned Esprit.

Lotus reintroduced the nameplate with the Europa S in 2006 as a GT car. Unlike the Elise and Exige, it included such luxuries as air conditioning and low door sills. Response by the motoring press was mixed, declaring that it neither performed well enough to be a true sports car, nor comfortable enough to be a true GT. Still, it offered a very good package for its low price. This car has not been sold in North America, although Dodge’s Circuit EV concept is Europa-based. Ironically, if put into production, it would be competing directly with the Elise-based Tesla Roadster.

Lotus Esprit

The Esprit debuted at the Turin Auto Show in 1972, sporting a body penned by famed auto designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Keeping with Chapman’s “add lightness” philosophy, the car weighed less than 2,000 lbs. (900kg.)

Production began in late 1975 with the S1. The Esprit used Lotus’s 907 slant-four engine. When Lotus was developing this motor, Vauxhall debuted their own slant-four with identical dimensions; Lotus brokered a deal with Vauxhall to provide engine blocks, which were fitted with heads designed by Lotus.

While the Esprit was well received, many complained that it didn’t have enough power, especially American versions which made twenty fewer horsepower to meet emissions regulations. In 1980, Lotus addressed these issued with the release of the Esprit Turbo. Power jumped from 140hp to 210hp, with racing versions eventually reaching 300hp.

Lotus Esprit
Mr.choppers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The Esprit was redesigned in 1987, with a more rounded design that was still very close to the original. The Citroen transaxle was replaced by one from Renault. 1996 would see the Esprit get a small Lotus-designed twin-turbo V8 producing 350hp. Three years later, Lotus made fifty Sport 350 models, the best performing version in the car’s history. By this time weight had gone up to almost 3,050 lbs. (1,380 kg,) but the Sport could reach 0-60mph in under five seconds – three seconds faster than the original S1.

Like the DeLorean, most people know about the Esprit from its role in the movies: James Bond drove them in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “For Your Eyes Only.” In “The Spy Who Loved Me,” one chase scene had Bond’s white S1 convert into a submarine. “For Your Eyes Only” used prototypes of the then-new Esprit Turbo. These cars were originally painted white, but the filmmakers decided to repaint them copper to stand out against the snowy backgrounds in the chase scenes. One of these cars was sold on eBay in 2006 for $210,000, making it the most valuable Esprit manufactured.

Lotus ended production of the Esprit in 2004 because they had run out of transmissions: the Renault units hadn’t been used in other production cars for years, and manufacture of new transmissions had ceased long ago. Over 10,000 Esprits had been produced over its twenty-nine year history. An all-new Espirit is in development, and should be in production by 2010 or 2011.

Lotus Excel

The Lotus Excel is considered by many as one of finest cars ever produced by British automaker Lotus. The Excel has a 2X2 body type with two front seats and two back seats. Like its predecessor the Lotus Eclat, the original Excel (known as the Éclat Excel) features excellent aerodynamic design, W58 manual transmission and a gearbox made by Toyota.

Toyota had purchased a large share of Lotus before the latter was purchased by General Motors. However, Toyota continued to make components for Lotus vehicles.

The Excel is a powerful sports car with a DOHC 2.2 litre Lotus 912 Slant Four engine. The 16 valve, all-aluminum engine is capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in just 7.1 seconds. In 1985, the engine was upgraded in the Excel SE to 180 bhp/134 kW from the original 160 bhp/199 kW. In 1986, the Excel SA used automatic rather than standard transmission.

Lotus Excel
Mr.choppers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The Lotus Excel was manufactured between 1982 and 1992. However, the car never received the publicity it deserved, possibly because it was never released in the United States where it failed emission requirements. A total of 2,160 Excels were produced.

The final Excel SA model in 1992 was priced at £22,900, while the stick-shift SE sold for £19,590.

Performance wise, the Lotus Excel can reach top speeds of about 130 mph. The SE version uses a 5 speed synchromesh Toyota manual transmission. The Lotus SA has instead a 4 speed ZF 4HP22 automatic gearbox. The vehicle consumes 22mpg and can carry a maximum payload of 890 lb. The SE model can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.

The Excel is front-engined with rear wheel drive and independent rear suspension. The vehicle uses rack and pinion assisted steering, and all around servo disc brakes. The Lotus Excel is an excellent sports car with speed, acceleration and handling combined with great economy and reliability. Excel lovers consider the car one of the most attractive produced by Lotus. Despite its age, owners report that the vehicle is still relatively trouble free. And they note that this model still attracts many admirers.

Lotus Elise

Anyone who has ever owned or driven an Elise for more than 5 minutes can easily see why the Elise has remained one of the favored Lotus models for real car enthusiasts. While the exterior styling begins to tell the story of the Elise, it’s not until the accelerator is mashed to the floor does the true nature of the car emerge. The Lotus was never designed for straight-line performance. From the high-grip tires to the quick acceleration, the Elise was meant, from start to finish, to be a scream to drive on the track.

Of course, no Lotus driver would ever dream of driving an Elise around a track with only left-handed turns. The Lotus corners equally well to the right as well, thank you, and the newest Lotus models boast a lightweight chassis and composite body panels which are designed to keep weight down and track-feel tight and controlled.

Lotus Elise
Charles01 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Even taking a slalom at over 125 miles per hour is a cinch when the entire car beneath you weights less than 2,000 pounds. Astoundingly, even the convertible Elise models keep their curb-weight to respectable levels, and beneath the hood beats the heart of a car that dares even the most experienced track star to push the car to its limits. Of course, it’s not likely you’ll ever find those limits, but having fun trying is why the Elise is worth every penny of its pricetag.

Many Elise drivers lament the fact that the engine is built by Toyota, but as soon as the car comes off the line, it’s blatantly obvious that while Toyota designed the engine, what remains bears little resemblance to a beefed-up Camry. Once the engine reaches Lotus, it’s completely retuned with the latest that Lotus can cram beneath the bonnet.

Lotus brings the 0-60 time to under 4.5 seconds, and the limited-slip differential helps keep that power under control and headed the right direction. The Elise is so well-heeled, as a matter of fact, that it makes the traction control options seem a little overkill . . . until you try to pass that BMW driver in the corner and the lout tries to cut you off.

Lotus Exige

Since 1996, the Lotus Exige has left its burnout marks across the hearts of Lotus cars enthusiasts around the world.

The Exige, basically a coupe version of the Lotus Elise, is as beautiful as her roadster counterpart, and shares many of the same qualities. The Series 2 Exige features a 1796 cc, I-4, DOHC with VVTL-I, supercharged Toyota engine and a six-speed gearbox.

The tight-cornering Exige reaches 100 mph (161 km/h) from a dead stop in 9.98 seconds and has a top speed of 148 mph (238 km/h). The Exige is a surprisingly miserly car when it comes to gas consumption sporting a 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway rating.

The 2009 model is offered in two configurations in the United States: The S240 and S260. The S240 weighs in at 2077 lbs and is a continuation of the 2008 model. The 2009 S260, however comes in at a slightly lower weight (2020 lbs) and the engine produces 257 hp with 0-60 acceleration in 4 seconds. The base price for the S240 is $65,690. The S260 sports a $74,995 price tag for the added horsepower.

Lotus Exige
Guillaume Vachey from Chalon sur Saone, France [CC0]

In order to keep weight down Lotus has designed the Exige with epoxy-bonded aluminum extrusions on the chassis. The body is molded from composite fiberglass and features aerodynamic bodywork to increase down-force. Stopping is an easy task with the ventilated, cross-drilled disk brakes and Brembo racing calipers with ABS.

Additional features are the Lotus Track Pack for an additional $1650 which includes adjustable Bilstein dampers that have remote front reservoirs. And for the true track junkies who enjoy more assertive acceleration coming out of corners the limited slip differential package for $1790 is an excellent investment as it features a torque sensing limited slip differential.

Each detail on the Lotus Exige drips with high-octane performance. The Exige’s handling dynamics are without equal, but as with many sports cars the ride is stiff and the absence of interior luxury is very evident. The Exige was created by Lotus with one thing in mind: Performance. Each detail from the sparse cabin (less weight) to the aerodynamic quality of the body of the Exige points toward that goal. When it comes to sheer performance and track-readiness, Lotus gets it right with the Exige.