Top 10 Lotus Specials
There have been countless special Lotuses. Here we salute the Lotus ‘Specials’ that have variously impressed or distressed marque fans
Lotus M80 Eminence
One of the more outlandish Lotus ‘specials’ was the Eminence saloon. Or rather it would have been had it actually been built. Trying to pin down the actual who-did-what part of the story is next to impossible as few Lotus insiders remember the car, but it was conceived in the early 1980s as a Kevlar/carbon-fire-bodied super-saloon. According to some sources, it was to have featured active suspension and a bespoke four-litre V8 engine. Armour plating was to have been optional, but it never made it further than this sketch. As for who did the sketching, it was either Giorgetto Giugiaro or Paulo Martin, depending on whose version of history you believe.
AutoFact: Margaret Thatcher was apparently sounded out about having an Eminence as her governmental wheels. Seems that she wasn’t impressed.
Frank Costin had form when it came to Lotuses, having shaped such legendary racers as the Eleven. His final effort, however, wasn’t an official model. The one-off Stirling Moss Automobile Racing Team Elan appeared in 1963, and was driven with verve by John Whitmore. It was withdrawn from its maiden race, that year’s Nürburgring 100km, with a failing clutch and handling ‘issues’, but won its class at Silverstone next time out. It won outright or in class in every race it finished before Moss replaced it with a brace of Brabham sports-racers for the ’64 season.
AutoFact: Costin hated its ‘bile green’ hue.
Ian Walker Racing was a Lotus-blessed squad which found great success in the early 1960s and co-developed the 26R competition model alongside The Chequered Flag squad. IWR also built two bespoke Elans, both featuring aluminium bodies created by famed metal-wielders Williams & Pritchard. One was built with the intention of competing at Le Mans in 1964, only to crash at the Nürburgring in the run-up. A second car was later created with a new – and very attractive – quad headlight set-up for a wealthy Swiss enthusiast. Both cars still exist, with Ian Walker’s son Sean campaigning the ‘Le Mans’ car with great effect in historics.
AutoFact: The road car featured a cabin trimmed by coachbuilder Harold Radford.
Frua Elan SS Coupé
Switzerland also claimed the one-and-only Italian-bodied Elan, the Lotus concessionaire commissioning Pietro Frua to create a new, more luxurious mini-GT variant. The intention was to create a small production run of the so-called Elan SS for the Swiss market. A Series 2-based, aluminium-bodied prototype was luxuriantly equipped. Unveiled at the 1964 International Motor Show in Geneva, it was also displayed at the ’64 Salon de l´Automobile in Paris, but there were no takers. The prototype’s whereabouts remain a mystery. If anyone has any ideas, we would love to hear from you.
AutoFact: The SS reputedly weighed just 14lb more than a regular Elan S2.
The most unusual Elan makeover had to be the ‘shooting brake’ conversion conceived by car dealer and sometime Formula 1 team boss Paul Michaels of Hexagon of Highgate. The new rear moulding was manufactured by Specialised Mouldings to an exceedingly high spec. The ‘Elanbulance’ was offered in 1971, the makeover adding £895 to the £1895 list price for a regular Elan Sprint, but only two cars went under the knife. Both still exist, with one said to currently reside in France. As an aside, two Elan +2s were also converted into estate cars by their owners.
AutoFact: Hexagon also offered Elan +2 ragtop conversions.
This remarkable one-off was based on the Europa’s racing cousin, the 47, albeit with a specially-widened shell and lengthened chassis. Powered by 184bhp Rover V8 allied to a five-speed ZF ’box, it was intended to act as a mobile testbed while also showcasing the firm’s various automotive wares to the motor industry and wider public. Formula 3 hot shot Mike Warner demonstrated the car at various race meetings in 1969-70, and in 1972 it received a displacement hike to 4.4-litres. That, and a quartet of twin-choke Weber 45DCOE carbs. In September 1975, Autocar recorded a 0-100mph time of a scarcely believable 11.1sec.
AutoFact: The 47D is alive and well and living in the USA.
Hispano Alemán Castilla
Not a Lotus per se, but this curious Europa spin-off followed on from this Spanish Seat-based Mallorca, which was a factory-blessed Lotus Seven IV clone. The Castilla was the brainchild of Ben Heydrick and appeared at the ’72 Barcelona Motor Show with Seat 1430 running gear. Physical deviations over the regular Europa included the unlovely quad headlight arrangement, multiple additional scoops and vents, plus the obligatory rear spoiler. The car disappeared from view thereafter and it is highly likely that only one prototype was ever completed.
AutoFact: Hispano Alemán also reworked a Porsche 914/6 and built BMW 328 replicas.
The brainchild of sometime works Ginetta driver Barry Wood, this intriguing Elan fastback was crafted by London coachbuilder Shapecraft. According to some sources, it was inspired by an Ogle-restyled Elan, but no evidence of such a car exists in the Ogle archives. As many as 17 Elans were converted with an aluminium roof section being bonded to the glassfibre body. Each differed in detail, some featuring rear quarterlights, but almost all were built for track use. According to the brochure: 'this conversion increases the speed of the 105bhp Elan to over 120mph without impairing acceleration times’.
AutoFact: Serial car buyer Peter Sellers was (allegedly) a Shapecraft owner.
Perhaps the oddest Lotus ever offered as a production model has to be the 51R (‘R’ for Road). That said, ‘production’ is a relative term as there was never any serious intent within Lotus to sell any. The car was essentially a Type 51 Formula Ford single-seater with wings, lights and other token concessions to Highway Code adherence. It was meant to be shown at the November 1967 Earls Court Motor Show, but was refused entry by the rather straight-laced organisers. It subsequently appeared at the January ’68 British Racing and Sports Car Club London Racing Car Show before Nick Brittan road tested it in central London for Car magazine.
AutoFact: Brittan described it as being ‘a cross between a grand prix car and some sort of invalid carriage.’
While the mid-engined Europa was a fine motor car, that didn’t stop others from trying to improve on the original in period. Perhaps the best-known makeover was that performed by Bristol’s GS Lotus Centre. Introduced in October 1975, its wedgy take on the Europa Twin-Cam was styled by William Towns at the height of his ‘origami’ styling powers. With its pop-up headlights and Maserati Merak-like rear flying buttresses, it looked every inch the junior ’70s exotic. Options included the installation of a Cosworth-Ford BDA four-banger, with one car being shown on The Daily Telegraph stand at the 1975 London Motor Show at Earls Court.
AutoFact: Despite its promise, only 15 GS Europas were completed.
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive