Words James Elliot
Photography Paul Harmer

As Lotus prepares to launch the ambitious electric Evija hypercar, Octane takes the opportunity to revisit some true greats from Hethel.






THE ELAN the car that truly put Lotus on the road. Previous efforts were either sports racers that were tokenistic as road cars (see Lotus 8 through 15 and beyond, minus the single-seaters, natch), vehicles that ticked all the fun boxes and none of the practical ones (Seven), or masterpieces of drop-dead gorgeous innovation that were simply too far ahead of their time… and sold accordingly (Elite).

Then came the Elan in 1962, a car that via four series plus Sprint, 26R et cetera, chalked up sales that, if they didn’t exactly catapult Lotus into the big leagues, did earn enough to fund a massively accelerated (and worlddominating) racing programme. Which, after all, was pretty much Colin Chapman’s sole purpose for making road cars in the first place.

The Elan turned out to be far more than a piggy bank, however. Via Type 26 S1-S2 (2053 sold), hardcore racing 26R (97), hardtop – well, as ‘hard’ as a wafer-thin sliver of glassfibre can be – Type 36 (6550), and Type 45 S3-4 plus Sprint (a suspiciously familiar 6550 according to Lotus’s own figures), it earned a place in sports car history.

Admittedly, it’s not all that great on motorways – when the +2 did get the fifth gear it desperately craved, it was at the expense of everything delicious about the Ford Classic ’box, but that’s another story – and you really wouldn’t want to hit anything at motorway speeds. But who would bother being on a motorway when nothing could go point-topoint quicker? That was true in period and even today few cars can tackle A- and B-roads with such aplomb. And none can attack them with such brio or leave as large a smile on your face.



How ironic, therefore, that such brilliance came around through a series of ‘accidents’. The lightweight folded-steel chassis that would be the backbone of Lotus road cars for more than 40 years started life as a mere test-rig for the Rotoflex couplings that Chapman (rightly) didn’t trust. Harry Mundy’s 1558cc twin-cam (only the first handful were 1499cc) that gave it such zest could trace its roots back to the Ford 116E. The gearbox that came to define the Elan and turn ‘rifle-bolt’ into a dreadful cliché was also blue-collar Blue Oval fodder. And the steering… well, all you need to know is that Prof Gordon Murray CBE himself said that the only disappointing aspect of his masterpiece F1 was that the steering wasn’t as good as an Elan’s. What made the Elan so very special, though, was that it went and stopped with the zip of a race car, but, thanks to its all-independent suspension, with none of the associated harshness or masochism. And it was remarkably spacious, too.

Just as with the Elise, the Elan’s development over the course of its life is best described as limited. Little really changed except that it gained a few pounds in later life (the final, more civilised cars were over 130kg heavier than their sub-600kg forebears) and sprinted a bit quicker, on fatter rubber and up to 126bhp, but at the cost of some of the delicacy of S1s and S2s. Less attractive carburation options joined the menu, too, Strombergs and (to a lesser degree) Dell’Ortos somehow considered a viable alternative to twin Weber DCOE 40s, which to the sporting motorist they are not.

For those that have never experienced an Elan, it is probably rather tedious to hear those that have bang on endlessly about its balance and greatness – especially when it has such a poor reputation for reliability. But when it is working, an Elan is so far ahead of its period rivals that such sycophancy is understandable. The Elan doesn’t only flatter its mundane, off-the-shelf parts, it does the same for its driver. In fact, you find out quite how good it is only when you find out how good you aren’t. Every long-term driver has been saved by an Elan at some point, my moment (and I still have flashbacks) coming on a greasy miniroundabout in St Margarets in 2004.



Lotus Elan: making the mediocre look magnificent since 1962.






Words John Simister



HERE IS A LOTUS so far ahead of its time on its 1966 launch that the pundits didn’t quite appreciate its significance. And, thanks to the self-sabotaging effect of typically Lotus minor failings in execution, the Europa remained largely unappreciated right up to its replacement a decade later by the larger, but similarly midengined, Esprit. It was the first road-purposed mid-engined production sports car to be built in Britain, and one of the first in the world after the Lamborghini Miura and the Matra Djet.

It was low, lithe, light and intially for export only. UK buyers would have to wait a while to experience the semi-reclined driving position, the supersimple cabin, the ultra-functional racing vibe. Lotus Type 46 had a Renault 16-based engine and gearbox, initially of 1470cc and 82bhp, not least to make the car cheaper in Common Market countries by avoiding the import tariffs of those pre-EU times. For the French market, for which the new Lotus was clearly mechanically well-suited, the Lotus 46 was called Europe; elsewhere it was Europa. Launched simultaneously with the 46 was the 47, a racing version powered by Lotus’s own Ford-based twin-cam motor.

These first cars had fixed side windows and their glassfibre bodies were bonded to the Elan-like steel backbone chassis. Neither innovation was a practical success, so 1969’s S2 version gained electrically powered winding windows and its body was bolted, in Elan fashion, to the chassis, to the great benefit of post-accident repairability. The high rear body sides, great for aerodynamics (the Cd was just 0.29) but hopeless for a view aft, continued, as did the hammock-like racing seats.

Not surprisingly, French rival Alpine was less than pleased that Lotus used an engine from Renault. The deal had been brokered via Colin Chapman’s good friend, French journalist Jabby Crombac, and Renault’s PR chief, Bob Sicot, and more potent engines were planned. When Sicot left Renault for Ford, the ally was lost. Pressure from Alpine prevailed and from 1971 the Europa found itself with the obvious motive alternative: Lotus’s 1558cc twin-cam. The Renault gearbox continued, though.



In 1973 came the Europa Special, with the big-valve, 126bhp engine from the Elan Sprint plus Renault’s new five-speed gearbox. By that time those rear body sides had been lowered a little and the seats had become more normal. Finally, it seemed, the Europa had become the car it had always promised to be. Plenty of power in a small, light, mid-engined package: what could please the performance purist more than that, even if a Europa Special did cost nearly 25% more than an Elan Sprint?

But those functionally pragmatic racing-car influences were just too evident for what was meant to be an upmarket road car. Your left foot was jammed against the steering column. The operating angles of the floor-hinged pedals were uncomfortable. The gearchange was illdefined. And the use of the driveshafts as upper rear suspension links meant that the engine/ gearbox unit had to be firmly mounted, to the great detriment of refinement. The Elan had no such problems, so naturally those who loved Lotuses sated their desires there instead.

Look past all that, though, and we can see the Europa as a kind of primordial Elise in its size, configuration, simplicity and 700kg mass. There’s something of the Elise in its low-polarmoment pointability too, its eagerness to change its cornering attitude, the light but quick steering that results from modest tyre sizes and little weight over the front wheels, the remarkable ride. But in a Europa you sit even lower, the nose seeming almost to merge with the road surface. It’s as if you’re being sucked into the ground.

Why, then, is the Europa a Lotus few really lust for? Partly it’s that inconsistency of control precisions, which means driving one is never quite the near-telepathic experience a really good Lotus can offer. And no-one, really, could call it beautiful. It’s too odd. In 2006, Lotus launched a new mid-engined coupé based on the turbocharged version of the Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster, itself Elise-based but GM-powered. It went well, handled beautifully and even attempted a smattering of luxury. It also looked odd, odd enough that you wouldn’t really want one. Its name? Europa, again. Second time unlucky.





LOTUS’S SUPERCAR | 1976-2004

Words Mark Dixon



IF YOU WERE a schoolkid in the 1970s who liked doodling supercars in your exercise book, an Esprit in profile is what you would have drawn. And not just because straight lines are easier to pen than curves: the Esprit had an impact out of all proportion to its (initially) modest performance, not least thanks to its appearance in two Bond films – 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me (a white S1 that turns amphibious), and For Your Eyes Only in 1981 (a bronze S3 Turbo, complete with ski rack). I was one of those ’70s children, and in the late 1990s I was finally able to buy a 12-yearold Calypso Red Series 3 Esprit Turbo HC from a dodgy-looking London backstreet garage; remarkably, it turned out to be a good example. Even more remarkably, I discovered it was an ex-Lotus press car that had appeared in several magazines when new. D994 HNG, where are you now?

The S3 Turbo HC was the apotheosis of the original Giugiaro-styled Esprit, which had evolved considerably in just four short years since its launch in ’76. Well, 1976 was the year when production began: Giugiaro’s original concept had actually been unveiled way back in November 1972, at the Turin motor show. But time had not blunted its dramatic shape, and the new Esprit still looked razor-sharp in 1976. Those looks went a long way to offset the uncomfortable fact that the original Esprit was merely quick rather than supercar fast, its Elite/Eclat-sourced 1973cc Type 907 engine producing a modest 160bhp. In a typical case of Lotus lateral thinking, the five-speed gearbox was a Citroën SM front-drive transaxle turned around to drive the rear wheels; this became something of a weak spot, as I found to my (literal) cost when the crownwheel and pinion in my relatively low-mileage Turbo gave up the ghost; apparently, running in the reverse direction does the faces of the teeth no favours. The Esprit was the last Lotus to have been designed to suit Colin Chapman’s frame – which means that, if you’re tall, you can’t reach the handbrake when belted in, and your size 13s will be too big to operate the pedals, at least not individually. I drove my Esprit in my socks.





But such aggravations were more than compensated for by the Turbo’s dynamic qualities. It felt blisteringly fast – 0-60mph in 5.4sec and a near-150mph maximum both exaggerated by the lowness of your seating position – and its turbocharged surge of acceleration induced an accompanying addictive, adrenaline-fuelled emotional rush.

It had exceptional grip and poise when cornering fast, and the ride quality was superb. That last characteristic is a Lotus hallmark, and in this respect the Esprit, er, Excelled. It didn’t take long for Lotus to develop the S1 into the S3 Turbo. The S2 of December 1977 mainly saw cosmetic changes to wheels and body (Speedline alloys rather than Wolfraces; Rover SD1 tail-lights; ducts behind the rear quarter-windows, and an integrated front spoiler) but the S2.2, which debuted in May 1980, was a harbinger of greater things. It introduced the 2147cc Type 910 engine: no more powerful, at first, than the outgoing 907, but torquier, and the basis of what would power the ultimate Giugiaro Esprit: the S3 Turbo.

At last, the Esprit had the go to match its show. And what a show the early Turbos put on. To honour Lotus’s racing sponsor, Essex Petroleum, a limited run of gaudily painted Turbos in the oil company’s blue, red and chrome livery were produced; the regular production cars that followed were painted in more conventional shades, but side-skirts featuring NACA ducts, plus enlarged front and rear spoilers, always set the Turbo apart. The normally aspirated S3 was denied these and looked almost understated in comparison.

Both the S3 and S3 Turbo received a fillip late in life, when high-compression versions of the 2.2-litre engine were fitted (and the suffix ‘HC’ added to their titles), before they were superseded by the Peter Stevens-styled S4 in 1987. While a better car in every way – and bestowed with its own movie immortality thanks to Pretty Woman (1990) and Basic Instinct (1992) – it could never hope to match Giugiaro’s startling original for cultural impact. Even one that was not fitted with Q’s ‘rather special accessories’.






Words Glen Waddington



THE ELISE DEFINES the modern roadster even into its third decade of production. Can any other manufacturer match that? Yes, it’s evolved a little, with one major styling revision (back in 2001!) and some further smoothing since, a change of engine (Rover’s K-series gave way to Toyota power in 2005), and a smattering of more focused trackday models – not to mention the more hardcore Exige, the paired Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster offshoot that paid for the Series 2’s development, the offtarget Europa S (developed for then-owner Proton), and the frankly insane 340R.

Hope you took a breath before reading that sentence… but the point is that – fundamentally, conceptually, and actually – the Elise itself has been the same car all along. A devastatingly effective bonded and extruded aluminium tub lies at the heart of it, developed by Lotus’s Richard Rackham – a man who earned the job title of vehicle architect; no other is more apt. Julian Thomson (now newly installed as Jaguar styling chief) penned the plastic outer shell, and long-time Lotus handling supremo Roger Becker nailed the dynamics.

It was all about weight, or rather the lack thereof – a return to what had made the original Elan so popular, after years of striving further upmarket. This was what Lotus had always been best at building, and the earliest, purest cars weighed in at little more than 700kg when even a supermini was over a tonne. How so? Naturally the radical construction played a huge part, but weight-saving creates its own perfect storm. You don’t need so much power – the K-series 1.8 gave 118bhp – so you don’t





need burly driveshafts to transmit it, to arrest momentum requires no weighty brakes (Lotus developed its own lightweight discs), and power-assistance isn’t needed to change tack. And why would any car meant to be driven topless need air-conditioning? Simple is best, as the Elise irrevocably manifested.

I can’t think of another car that has sooner gained ‘classic’ status. Need proof? Octane editor James Elliott made one the cover star of Classic & Sports Car magazine in 2002, and it appeared on the cover during my tenure at Classic Cars in 2007. And it’s still being made.

Its influence has spread, well beyond the Evora that took its basic layout and improved upon it, especially in torsional rigidity: thanks to its hardtop coupé bodywork the Evora is 2½ times as stiff, and you’d never say the Elise felt floppy. As a consultant, Lotus took the technology to Aston Martin, which underpinned the original Vanquish with it and then developed it for the DB9 and beyond under the VH acronym (‘vertical/horizontal’, describing its grid-like logic).

And without the Elise as a basis, we wouldn’t have had the Hennessey Venom, the Rinspeed sQuba (rather like Bond’s ‘Wet Nelly’ Esprit, but real), or the Tesla Roadster. Yes, Elon Musk’s dream of an electric future began with Hethel’s baby.

Absolutely none of which would matter if the Elise wasn’t utter magic to drive. And it is. My first blast in one came courtesy of specialist Paul Matty Sports Cars in the early Noughties – and I’d been desperate to try one out since the September ’96 launch. I remember sliding over that high sill and dropping into an unyielding bucket seat that places you close to the car’s centreline, that tiny bespoke steering wheel dead ahead and in your lap. I recall the bark of the plucky and characterful K-series, the immediacy of the steering, and a ride that could so easily have shaken your bones yet never did. The late Colin Chapman’s chassis genius had crossed the divide.

Any hankerings for an MGB or a ’Healey (Big or Frogeye) evaporated as I took the first corner: here was an ultra-modern high-tech car that brimmed with feedback and sensation, mimicking its predecessors only in lack of weight and complication. Simplicity just works. And 23 years on, it remains ultramodern: no chassis tech has yet bettered Lotus’s for lightweight rigidity. It’s the perfect no-frills sports car. Always has been.






Words Glen Waddington



IT SAYS MUCH for the Evora that our sister magazine Evo declared it their Car of the Year when it made its debut – Lotus’s newest launch is now a decade old. It also says much that you’ll struggle to find any for sale at much less than £25,000. Granted, it’s a quick, rare and desirable car for that kind of money, yet that still represents depreciation of only 50%. Over a decade. Few cars can match that.

But a landmark Lotus? Really? Yes, really. It’d be all too easy on one hand to dismiss it as a millennial Excel (older tech rendered faster and more reliable with borrowed bits of Toyota), but the Evora was all about ambition. What would – surely must – follow. Related to the Elise in terms of construction method, sure, but set to underpin further cars, including a spiritual successor to the Esprit. Except it was a new platform for a new era that never quite came to fruition. A dead end yet still a scintillating destination.

Of course, it’s fair to say that the Evora never set the sales charts alight, but no Lotus has ever competed with, say, Porsche on that level. Anything from Hethel is the connoisseur’s choice, from original Elite via Elan to the Elise: you could always have had an MGB or an MX-5 if you wanted an easy life. As for the Evora, if you wanted the purest driving experience of the day but you weren’t prepared completely to sacrifice comfort or practicality, here was your shortlist. The Evora aimed its bow at a 911-shaped target and hit it at a price that pretty much split the difference between 911 and Boxster. Bear all that in mind, and £25,000 sounds like something of a bargain.

Because this is one quick car. More than 160mph from the outset, thanks to 276bhp wrapped in a composite body on a grown-up version of an Elise’s chassis of bonded extrusion and sheet aluminium: all-in weight less than 1400kg, with rear seats for kids and a boot big enough for golf clubs. And it’s mid-engined! Those figures have evolved, first via the supercharged Evora S of 2010 (345bhp and 178mph) via 2015’s Evora 400 (400bhp and 186mph; it replaced both the earlier variants), peaking with the full-fat (though lightweight) GT430 Sport of 2017: with 430bhp and weighing a tad over 1200kg, it’ll pass 60mph from rest in 3.7 seconds on its way to fully 197mph. Think of it as Hethel’s 911 GT3.

As for my vouching for it in this exalted company (and yes, I’m aware that I was



shouting about the Elise on the previous pages), I still recall seeing ‘Project Eagle’ finally unveiled and named at the London Motor Show in the autumn of 2008, bang in the middle of ExCeL’s north hall. And, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure. It looked a bit amateurish in comparison to those Porsches. All that black paint disguising slightly awkward proportions and detailing, some homespun switchgear and a dodgy nav-screen within. But there was also something of Bertone’s NSU Trapeze in the styling (another mid-engined 2+2, if a stillborn one), and that dash echoed the original Elite’s, with an instrument panel in the shape of the car.

Then a few months later I drove one. Few cars flow like an Evora, with a dreamlike combination of suppleness on British B-roads yet scythe-like abilities through corners; loads of shove from the 3.5-litre Toyota V6 out back; and possibly the finest power-assisted steering of any car ever. Seek one out now: is there anything else still in mainstream production that pivots its front wheels via a hydraulic rack? You’ll end up hunting for twisty roads just to experience how this beautifully honed car feels, with its sharp, highgeared helm, abundantly sweet with feedback. And yet it’s almost entirely off everyman’s radar. Which is possibly the ultimate accolade in its claim to be a landmark Lotus.




shouting about the Elise on the previous pages), I still recall seeing ‘Project Eagle’ finally unveiled and named at the London Motor Show in the autumn of 2008, bang in the middle of ExCeL’s north hall. And, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure. It looked a bit amateurish in comparison to those Porsches. All that black paint disguising slightly awkward proportions and detailing, some homespun switchgear and a dodgy nav-screen within. But there was also something of Bertone’s NSU Trapeze in the styling (another mid-engined 2+2, if a stillborn one), and that dash echoed the original Elite’s, with an instrument panel in the shape of the car. Then a few months later I drove one. Few cars flow like an Evora, with a dreamlike combination of suppleness on British B-roads yet scythe-like abilities through corners; loads of shove from the 3.5-litre Toyota V6 out back; and possibly the finest power-assisted steering of any car ever. Seek one out now: is there anything else still in mainstream production that pivots its front wheels via a hydraulic rack? You’ll end up hunting for twisty roads just to experience how this beautifully honed car feels, with its sharp, highgeared helm, abundantly sweet with feedback. And yet it’s almost entirely off everyman’s radar. Which is possibly the ultimate accolade in its claim to be a landmark Lotus.






Words Matthew Hayward



AS A PURE-ELECTRIC hypercar, the Evija – codenamed Type 130 – is by any measure a landmark Lotus. But that’s not the only reason why it appears in this line-up. It’s the first allnew car to come from Lotus since Chinese company Geely’s take-over in 2017, and it’s the halo product for what promises to be an exciting new range of sports cars in the coming years.

The project has been underway for about 20 months, with all development and testing work undertaken at Hethel. The aim is simple: this will be the most powerful production car in the world. It will have the equivalent of 2000PS (1972bhp) and 1254lb ft of torque, sent to all four wheels. Lotus expects the Evija, from a standstill, to reach 62mph in under 3sec and 186mph, mind-bendingly, in under 9sec. The top speed will be over 200mph and the Evija should be able to cover around 250 miles on a single charge.

Asked how realistic those figures are, Louis Kerr, principal platform engineer for the Type 130, said: ‘I’m pretty confident we’re going to hit these targets. I’d like to say we’re even a bit conservative with some of them.’

Lotus’s 1680kg target weight for the Evija seems high compared with an Elise, given the company’s expertise in lightweight engineering, but for a fully-electric car of this performance it’s actually remarkable. Kerr continues: ‘Where we have made considerable gains is in the full one-piece monocoque chassis, probably the largest single-piece lay-up made in Europe at the moment. And it’s considerably lighter than anything else that’s around currently.’

Weight has been pared from other components, too. ‘Every wishbone, every upright, every wheel has been analysed and optimised. We’re using a lot of materials new from a Lotus point of view, such as magnesium wheels and titanium components to make sure we get to the optimal weight.’ Unlike many high-performance electric vehicles, the Evija has its battery pack – 70kWh capacity and 2000kW maximum output – mounted not on the floor but behind the driver and ahead of the rear axle. ‘Much like our current Evora, they’re where the engine would be,’ Kerr explains. ‘We didn’t opt for the “skateboard” because it wasn’t really befitting to the sports car we’re trying to engineer.’

Matt Windle, executive director of sports car engineering, adds: ‘One of the criteria for the car is that it’s for the driver. We really wanted the driver to feel encapsulated in the car, so to get those proportions and position for the driver is really important. If we’d gone with a skateboard-type battery pack under the floor, we would have had another 150-200mm of height in the occupant position.’

The suspension, based around motorsportderived inboard dampers, has been developed in conjunction with Multimatic, which has a facility in Norfolk. A true Lotus is meant to be not only technically usable on the road, but genuinely usable. Kerr assures us that the Evija will not be a pure track monster: ‘We effectively have motorsport-derived suspension, and while we will maintain a capability to go very quickly on track, there will be no loss of our traditional road comfort. It’s important that this is a usable and refined road car.’

There are many technical advantages to not using an internal combustion engine, which has had a big influence on the styling of the Evija. ‘It gives us a lot of opportunity,’ adds Kerr, ‘particularly when it comes to the cooling package. Batteries, e-motors and inverters are on average 98% efficient, so we’re not generating the heat of an equivalent 2000PS







internal combustion engine. The cooling pack is no bigger than that of a current Evora.’

Russell Carr, Lotus’s design director, explains how the Evija’s looks are infused with Lotus DNA. He starts with something you might not expect: ‘From a driver’s viewpoint, you can see the top corners of the fenders. For many years that was a key requirement from our ride and handling guru Roger Becker, to help drivers place the car on track.’

Perhaps the most stunning visual feature is the pair of venturi tunnels that run through the rear quarter panels and exit dramatically at the tail, ringed by the LED tail lamps. ‘We picked up on this idea that we could manage the airflow not only over the external surfaces but also through the car. The aerodynamics guys refer to that as porosity. And we started talking about it as if it was carved by air.’

One of Carr’s major aims was to keep the Evija looking beautiful rather than aggressive. ‘Some hypercars are aggressive track cars – all the aerodynamics are absolutely screaming at you. We wanted to do everything on this car in a very innovative and integrated manner.’

This theme translates to the interior, which is minimalist without appearing too much like a track car’s. ‘We are for the drivers, we are a driver’s machine. So we start with an optimised seating position, pedals, steering wheel. We make sure the surfaces wrap around the driver. All the driving information and infotainment ‘WE STARTED TALKING ABOUT IT AS IF IT WAS CARVED BY AIR. THE AER0DYNAMICS GUYS CALL IT POROSITY’ Sparse interior design with ‘floating’ screen reflects the principles of porosity also applied to the exterior. is in front of the driver, on a TFT screen. We wanted to do something lightweight and minimal but also prestigious. It’s all about the form and the materials. So we’ve got a lot of high-end finishes, a lot of exposed carbon. We have leather, Alcantara, many metal finishes. All can be bespoke to customer requirements.’

The TFT screen is suspended on what Carr describes as a floating beam. It looks lightweight and elegant, but it also acts as the ducting for the vents and forms part of the structure that supports the steering column. ‘It carries that same sense of porosity that you’ve got on the exterior of the car, in that it’s completely open in places. And that gives it a unique feel. You get a lot of light in the cabin.’

The Evija will be built in a new facility alongside the main factory, which is itself undergoing major redevelopment. Production will be limited to no more than 130 units, at a price confirmed as ‘from £1.7m plus duties and taxes’. We don’t need to tell you that it will be the most expensive Lotus road car ever built.

How much it will influence Lotus’s more affordable sports cars remains to be seen. ‘Lotus has said publicly that we see electrification as part of our process for the future,’ says Matt Windle. ‘It’s part of a range of propulsion systems we’re looking at. This is a first foray into that area, and the learning we take from this will help shape our programmes as Lotus evolves over the next few years.’