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Lot 088: Lotus Elite

Classic & Vintage Cars & Motorcycles, Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers (26 September 2012)

When it first appeared at the London Motor Show 35 years ago, the Lotus Elite (Type 14) caused a sensation. Not only was it acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic as the world's most beautiful GT, it also positively bristled with technical innovations. Breathtakingly futuristic by the standards of the mid-50s, it featured the world's first fibreglass monocoque, a masterpiece of aerodynamic efficiency (largely the work of Frank Costin) that reduced drag to an astonishing 0.29cd (a modern Porsche 997 can only manage 0.31cd by comparison) and kept the kerb weight down to just 684kg (compared to the Porsche's 1,480kg). Powered by an all-alloy 1,216cc Coventry Climax FWE inline four-cylinder engine producing some 75bhp, it could touch 115mph and was blessed with the sublime handling that all Lotus cars are famed for. Although it was trumpeted as Colin Chapman's first production road car, it immediately attracted the attention of the competition fraternity. An Elite won its first race at Silverstone in 1958, humbling much larger machinery, and finished an amazing eighth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. This particular Elite, chassis number 1101P, is a historically important car that is well-known to the Lotus Elite World Register. Believed to be the 4th or 5th car built (chassis 1008 was the first and made its debut at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show), it is one of only 10 pre-production models made (of which only seven survive) which were used to test the concept before it was fully 'productionised' by a team led by Ron Hickman and John Frayling. Both these men had recently been poached from Ford despite a substantial drop in salary: Chapman had three things that Ford couldn't offer, recalled Hickman in a 1987 interview. Sheer excitement, the fact that you were going to work on something substantial, and his own magic. Colin could charm the birds out of the trees. The car was extensively tested by both Chapman and his lead development engineer, Mike Costin, who famously pranged it on London Bridge necessitating the fitment of a new (Series 2) front end. He also raced it at Brands Hatch in December 1958  in the very race when a virtually unknown Jim Clark harried Colin Chapman all the way to the chequered flag in an identical Elite thus launching his career in the process (Mike Costin wisely decided to Let them get on with it and brought XLD 141 home in third). It was then bought from the Lotus factory in May 1959 by noted car dealer and amateur racing driver Dan Margulies, who entered it in standard form into the 1959 Coupe des Alpes where it ran well until the rear wheels collapsed. Margulies then had the engine modified to Stage II spec and fitted a close-ratio ZF gearbox before entering it into the Tour de France. Again the car went well for 24 hours and at Monthlery it was leading in the Index of Performance Handicap when the engine mountings tore out of the frame (a letter from Margulies in the history file confirming all these facts). In March 1960 Margulies sold XLD 141 to Anthony Dobson who campaigned it in several club events. The following year the car was entrusted to AT Mantle of Climax Engine Services, Harvington, Worcs, who prepared it for the 1961 Classic GT Championship including a full race engine, a gearbox rebuild and fine tuning the suspension (correspondence on file). Driven by Julian Sutton, it came First in Class at Thruxton, Silverstone, Oulton Park and Crystal Palace and was 'fastest overall' in practice at both Thruxton and Oulton. Mantle states in a letter that the car also had a previous Le Mans history but we have been unable to substantiate this. In 1962 XLD 141 formed part of the British team entered into the Autosport World Cup where Sutton again drove it to first place at Snetterton at an average speed of 81.76mph. In the return leg at Zandvoort, Sutton finished second (July 1962 Autosport report on file). The car then appears to have been mothballed until it was acquired by RJ Graham of Sandyford, Newcastle in around 1968. Bills on file show that he had the car substantially refurbished in 1972, including a rebuild of the full race engine. Whether or not he actually raced it is not clear. The current vendor acquired the car in 1978 with the intention of returning it to competitive use but work commitments meant that it was never actually used. In 1994 some further recommissioning and race preparation was undertaken but alas an overseas posting got in the way and the car was mothballed yet again, although it was put on display at the 1995 Lotus Festival at Donington Park. It then lay unused until 2007 when it was recommissioned to take part in a parade lap at Silverstone for the Lotus Elite 50th Anniversary celebrations. This included fitting a brand new set of Weber carburettors. Still in remarkably sound and original condition throughout, it is currently fitted with lightweight race seats and has a stripped out interior but all the original trim is supplied with the car and could be re-fitted if desired. In February this year the car was issued with fresh FIA/MSA Papers for Class GTS4, Period E  1947 to 1961. Fully road legal, it also comes with a V5 document and a very large and interesting history file which will take the new owner many happy hours to wade through! Several boxes of spare parts are also included along with a spare set of 13" wire wheels (15" wheels are currently fitted to the car). Elite values have risen strongly in recent years and it is believed that only about 600 of the original 1,030 cars made still survive. This important early prototype, with an intriguing race history, will be welcome at all manner of historic events and could prove a shrewd investment at the guide price suggested today. After some four decades of inactivity, it is just crying out for an enthusiastic new owner to get it back on the race track where it really belongs.

Lot Details
Auction Classic & Vintage Cars & Motorcycles
Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers, Easters Court, Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0DE
TypeCar
Lot Number088
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£48000
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1958
Condition rating
Registration numberXLD 141
Mileage-
Chassis number1011P
Engine numberFWE7507
Engine capacity (cc)1216
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors