1959 Lotus Elite Series 1
To many, the 1950s saw sports car racing at its most pure, establishing and creating some of the most influential car manufacturers for the decades to follow. By the mid to late 1950s, the tides of sports car design were starting to turn and pave the way for things to come. As with Formula 1, smaller and lighter was the new direction. This coincided with the arrival of a handful of small English manufacturers who would go on to shape and influence the design of racing and sports cars for years to come.
At the forefront of this revolution was the legendary Colin Chapman and Lotus. Having made his mark with the Lotus 6 he set his sights on dominating the sports car racing scene. He would go on to hone his craft with the attractive Mark 8,9 and 10; which were all derived in some way from the earlier Mark 6. It wasn’t until the arrival of the iconic Lotus 11 in 1956 that he truly stamped his mark on the racing world. Subsequently, the Lotus 12 made its debut in formula racing, and not long after came the 14, better known as the Elite.
Chapman employed a revolutionary design for his first GT car in the form of a fibreglass monocoque. There was no ladder type chassis as other GT cars of the time, but instead the body formed the structure of the car and was constructed from a single piece of moulded fibreglass. Benefitting from a very low drag coefficient, the Elite used an enlarged version of the aluminium four cylinder Coventry Climax FWA, boosted to 1220cc and called the FWE.
Independent suspension was used all round, with wishbones at the front and Chapman struts at the rear of the car. Thanks to the minimal finishing of the Elite, it tipped the scales at a fraction over 500kg. When combined with power of up to 105hp, it made for a light, fast and nimble proposition. On the race track, Lotus took victory in the up to 1500cc class at Le Mans in 1959 with the Elite.
This car, chassis number 1138, is one of 250 Series 1 examples and was built in 1959. Fitted with a Coventry Climax FWE engine, it was delivered new to Jay Chamberlain of California in the U.S.A. in January 1960. Royce Bunce of Michigan owned 1138 in 1967 and sold it to Major David Bennett of Maryland in 1971. Bennett then sold 1138 to Daniel Carroll, also of Maryland, in 1973.
Carroll sold 1138 to John Walsh of Florida in 1980. 1138 was then sold by Jimmy Fulford, whose garage the car had remained in after service work, to Lucien Wilkins of North Carolina in 1984. Wilkins later sold 1138 to Watts Hill Jr, also of North Carolina, in 1986. Hill went on to campaign 1138 in competition through the ‘90s, and sold the car to Adrian Long of Texas in 2002.
After a short time in Long’s ownership, 1138 was bought by the current owner and shipped to Australia where it became part of his collection in 2004. Painted in British Racing Green, 1138 has been finished as a homage to the Le Mans class winning Elite. Fitted with an original Coventry Climax FWA engine, 1138 would make a great car for enjoyable road use, or in historic racing. Presented with UK taxes paid, 1138 is accompanied by extensive paperwork and is a joy to behold.