In the lead-up to the 2017 Lotus Elite Diamond Jubilee, Brian Caldersmith reached out to luminaries in the Elite community for messages and stories about the iconic Lotus.
He received an awesome response, including messages from Michael Kimberley, Clive Chapman, Ernie Unger, Warren King, Chris Barber and John Wagstaff. Read on, and enjoy some of the wonderful stories and memories from these luminaries of the Elite community.
What an honour to be asked to pen a few words on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Lotus Elite!
Whilst there are many stories that I could relate, my Le Mans days driving an Elite are long behind me and my memory sadly fails me. However, I do remember one occasion that illustrates the simplicity of the Elite and the Climax engine in particular. During the night of the 1963 Le Mans, my Elite Mk 14 suffered an engine fault. As we were not allowed to directly replace like for like parts, it threatened to end our race.
However, no-one had reckoned on the ingenuity of our wonderful mechanic Ron Bennett who left the pits and came back, much to our surprise, with a full can of oranges.
Pat Ferguson and I ate the contents in short order and Ron then managed to fashion the still dripping fruit can into a satisfactory replacement engine part.
Pat and I went on to drive the, now even more fruity, Elite throughout the night and the following day at an average speed of 101mph to claim 10th place.
I hope that all have a fabulous time celebrating 60 years of the legendary Elite.
Team Elite Leicestershire
Many thanks for your communications regarding the Elite anniversary. I wish I could be there and I hope you all have a great time with your (and my) memories.
I was sorry to see the remains (more or less!) of my Elite being sold recently with some publicity. I have so many memories of the old times.. largely ended with John Whitmore having died.
From Graham Hill driving me around Brands 3 or 4 laps showing me the beginner’s mistakes to avoid and letting me drive it with him watching (a rarity, don’t you think!) up to the last time I raced it (Brands short circuit early 1962) where Les Leston and I equalled the Elite short circuit time of 60.04 seconds. Needless to say within a few months John Whitmore on his only short circuit entry with CB23 was as always 5% better (57 secs).
Ah well. The world goes on turning. Last month I finally buried my last serious car (2000 Brabus Mercedes E530T estate with 300,000 miles, fine engine & gearbox but unfortunately massive rust underneath!!) But I will always miss the Elite!
All the best, Chris (and Kate, too!) Barber
As one who was present just after the birth, so to speak, of the Elite at Lotus Cars 60 years ago and who was present and closely involved through the following years, I have a special nostalgic feeling for the Elite. Every aspect of creating a production car was a new experience for those then managing the company. I saw it come through the early difficult initial period when the pre-production cars were made carefully one by one at Edmonton while the facilities and staff were put in place at Cheshunt, until full production commenced on 29 June 1958. As a new venture, there were considerable difficulties in bringing it all to a regular operating routine. So there was quiet satisfaction in delivering to customers the cars which had been received by the motoring world so enthusiastically.
At the time there were comprehensive build records maintained by Production Control for each car, and comprehensive sales records held in Sales. Unfortunately none of these records have survived. So I am very pleased that the simple CBU Register I established at the outset continues to provide basic information on the origin of each car for the benefit of owners and historians. It represents my contribution to Elite heritage. The Register is now in the safe hands of the Lotus Cars archivist.
The features embodied in the Lotus Elite which captivated the motoring world on its introduction 60 years ago made it a car that every enthusiast wanted to drive. Remarkably, the beautiful styling, the monocoque GRP construction, the advanced engine from a racing engine manufacturer, and a lightness that provided outstanding performance are still appreciated by enthusiasts today. We know that for some owners the Elite turned out to be an effective racing car, but whether racing or touring, owners can rightly feel privileged to own one of the best cars of all time.
12 July 2017
Thank you very much for inviting me to contribute to your celebration which I see as an appreciation of the hard work put in by those who helped make the Elite the success it eventually became. It seems not everyone is interested in those people nor their input, which is a pity as very few are still with us.
Let me say I think you’re celebrating a year too early. Why? Because the car that made its dramatic appearance at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show was seriously far from ready to burst upon the waiting world! Indeed, when Ian Walker and I first laid hands on EL5 (CBU 1001) early in 1958 it looked fantastic, but there were still many major issues that needed sorting.
Julian Balme gave a very comprehensive and pretty accurate account of our assault on the 1958 Autosport Championship in his book ‘Ian Walker – The Man & His Cars ‘. It’s worth reading – buy the book. The one single comment that sums it all up is his liking it to the progress of a swan, that is, everything on the surface being graceful, elegant and relaxed whilst frantic activity was happening out of sight below the surface. That’s exactly how I remember it.
OK, we won a lot of races. The press was fascinated by this brand new futuristic wonder car and its remarkable performance, giving glowing reports and extensive coverage. That’s precisely what ACBC wanted and why all the early production cars went to racing drivers. They were of course unaware of all the hours and midnight oil required to keep the thing together.
I’m sure most of the major problems we experienced are already pretty well known. First and foremost was trying to keep the diff. assembly anchored to the CBU. The torque reversals from the inboard brakes would tear the diff mounting bobbins out of the bulkhead.
To make matters worse, that car had a full length undertray making it extremely difficult to get at anything to take it all apart and rebuild it, let alone dream up ways of holding it all together for the race the following morning. You’ll be amazed at what can be achieved with Woolworth’s eight inch wall brackets!
It was interesting that we were never back in Ian’s garage in Frien Barned for more than twenty minutes before the phone rang. It was Colin wanting to know what had gone wrong this time! Not, I hasten to add, if anything had gone wrong, but an assumption that something must have gone wrong so what was it! Colin was usually right!
Another continual problem was the high under bonnet temperatures. Exhausting the top and hottest part of the radiator into the engine compartment didn’t help. Whilst we’d experienced hot fuel handling at the shorter slower circuits such as Mallory Park, resulting in some misfiring, it wasn’t till later at Crystal Palace we actually had the engine cut out.
Diagnosis wasn’t difficult – the carbs were so hot you couldn’t touch them! This time we hadn’t the luxury of time to fix it properly. The race was later on the same day. I therefore had to do what Willie Griffiths would have called a fudge.
With limited access and what I had available (remember this was 1958 – no power tools or anything fancy), I fudged a rather scruffy hole in the front opening panel beside the radiator to get at least a little cool air to the carbs. Mike Costin was less than complimentary, calling my efforts Mouse Scratchings, but they did enough to let us win the race and do a proper job later.
Now the interesting thing about that little story is that, many years later, evidence of the repairs done to my Mouse Scratchings enabled me to authenticate a tatty Elite CBU found in Australia to be CBU 1001, registered EL5, the Ian Walker car.
We were of course very disappointed not to win the Autosport Championship again, having won it the previous year with the Yellow Peril. We were leading by a country mile, but during the 3 hour final at Snetterton a rear suspension radius arm decided to part company from its mounting to the CBU. Had we simply pushed the car across the line we would have won it, but Colin, who’d turned out for the first time with the whole of the First Eleven, would have none of it – spiriting the car away before the press had a chance to see the cause of our retirement. Pity!
Anyone who reads Julian Balme’s account of this 3 Hour Final in his Ian Walker book will learn that was not the first disagreement I had with Colin that day. There was one plus however – it’s the first – and only – time I got myself on the front cover of Autosport. But I’d much rather have won the championship again!
Anyway, I’m delighted that so many have enjoyed the fruits of so many gifted people’s labour with their Type 14 Elites. Although it nearly broke the company, we all agree it was worth it, even if only for the company to learn that reliable road cars need to be radically different from race cars. So enjoy your evening of celebration, and hopefully your Type 14 Elites for another 60 years.
Or how about next year celebrating 60 years since at least a moral victory in the 1958 Autosport Championship?
With very best wishes,
Clive Chapman (Classic Team Lotus)
Hello from Classic Team Lotus at Hethel to all those at the Lotus Elite Diamond Jubilee celebration in Sydney.
The Lotus Elite represents an extraordinary achievement by a small group of dedicated, hard-working and underfunded enthusiasts; a bit like your celebration, no doubt.
She really is the most beautiful of cars and under the skin lies brilliant engineering. Although she nearly bankrupted the company, she represents a high point in the Lotus reputation for innovation, light weight, brilliant handling and giant killing performance.
Classic Team Lotus attends around 25 historic events a year, all around the World. Although we are not running any Elites, currently, we are always delighted to see them winning races, more often than not. Evidently their drivers thoroughly enjoy racing them.
We are helping Nick May to restore his unique 2 litre car – with which Warren was well acquainted, in period – and we are looking forward to a few feathers being ruffled by this potential rocket ship.
No doubt the value of the Elite will continue to grow, and this is a positive sign of the increasing appreciation for her special attributes and rarity. The survival of so many cars is thanks to true enthusiasts. I hope that the true enthusiast is not priced out of continuing to care for their pride and joys.
A big thank you to all Lotus Elite owners and best wishes to everyone at the Diamond Jubilee.
With best regards.
Michael J Kimberley
I had the honour of attending Hazel Chapman’s 90th tea party on Sunday the 21st of May, at which Malcolm Ricketts gave a very nice speech on how he had first seen, but not met, Hazel, as a very attractive young lady helping Colin during his start-up years. Malcolm had made it to East Carleton Manor despite a “slight” clutch problem and his beautiful Elite was on display in the courtyard for all to see.
As you all know, Colin and Hazel started Lotus with her £25 and grew the company from its small engineering & race car business into a globally famous brand based on Colin’s creativity, innovation and constant search for higher performance through efficiency, simplicity, low mass and elegance.
We all know that the Elite we are celebrating this year, his first real car, epitomised Colin’s founding principles and established Lotus’s’ future road car DNA with its poise, styling and monocoque construction, which caused a sensation 60 years ago – a “racing car for the road”.
Respect for the car has never ceased since then and it is right that it should still be celebrated, as tonight, as it was the first road (and track) car creation of a technologically creative genius who went on to change the world of motor racing and road car design.
Many of Colin’s ideas and concepts evident in the first Elite were later developed to a level which set new standards of road holding, performance, aerodynamics and composite structures – many still in use today worldwide as in F1 car configurations and structures and the current Lotus Evora 400 road car.
I would like to express my very best wishes and thanks to everyone who continues to value the exceptional qualities of the Lotus Elite and wish you a wonderful evening and many years of great enjoyment.
Very best wishes,