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LOTUS ELEVEN—IN RETROSPECT AND IN TONY’S WORDS PART 1

AS RECENTLY AS 1995 (ha, recently for some of us), an R&T Salon celebrated the 1956 Lotus Eleven for its “Engineering prowess, esthetic appeal, and absolute timelessness.” Way back in 1957 (when some of us were just kids), an R&T Road Test of the Eleven brought forth “some of the most startling performance data ever published.” And sorta in between, in June 1958 R&T published an inaugural piece  by a British guy (destined to be its Editor-in-Chief) campaigning an Eleven in Yugoslavia, of all places. These three tales are worthy of Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow.

The 1995 Salon. Brian Redman, a highly regarded race driver at Le Mans and other venues, described Lotus founder Colin Chapman as “a man of engineering genius; part visionary, part charmer, part iron-willed tyro, part used-car salesman…. Graduating in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Colin then spent his two years of compulsory National Service in the RAF.”

This might well have inspired the Salon photography of Bill Warner (another well known motor sportsman; he, of Amelia Island Concours). Bill’s Jacksonville neighbors Bill Goldstein and Capt. Wayne Allen, River City Air Center, provided the Mk. T-9 Supermarine Spitfire. 

This and other images from R&T, December 1995.

Lotus Evolution. Chapman’s Mk I Lotus was a British Trials competitor. In time, his Mk VI sold more than 100 examples. “For 1956,” Redman wrote, “a further development of the Mk VIII and Mk IX, the Eleven was introduced, and from now on ‘Mk’ would be dropped from the name.”

The year 1957 was a good one for Lotus at Le Mans: The Eleven of Cliff Allison and Keith Hall took 1st in class, 14th overall, and won the Index of Performance.

Redman said, “Notable for its sleek wind-cheating shape, the Eleven’s windshield wrapped around the driver’s head to meet a fairing, which itself was carefully shaped to flow into the rear body section. For this new car Chapman had grand plans—which meant selling as many as he could.”

Engine Choices Galore. To this end, Chapman offered the car “in a variety of specifications that he hoped would suit everyone from the international racer to the bloke down the street who wanted something fun to use on the road.”

 The fabled Coventry Climax began life in 1950 as a fire pump motor. By 1953 its FWA (Featherweight Series A) had become the dominant engine worldwide in the 1100-cc class.  

In 1957, Redman noted, there was the Eleven Sports, with Ford 1172-cc flathead and live rear axle, $3253. The Eleven Club had a Coventry Climax engine in Stage 1 tune, live rear axle, and drum brakes, $4301. There were two Le Mans variants: one adding De Dion rear axle and Girling brakes, $5287; the other ditto with Stage II tune, $5467. 

The 1957 Road Test. About the 1957 test, Redman said, “What’s more, John [Editor Bond] performed his test-observer duties with the Eleven’s cockpit cover in place: He squirmed beneath it, his head barely emerging alongside the driver’s left shoulder!” 

“During the high speed runs [done sans observer], the Desmo ‘Boomerang’ mirrors were bent well back by the air blast.”

R&T 1957 reported, “It also provided one giant-size headache [John Bond’s squirming] and a truly fantastic array of performance figures highlighted by an honest timed top speed of 132 mph, plus acceleration from a standstill to 100 mph in 22 seconds.”

This, note, when the other two cars tested that month were the Goliath 900 and Sunbeam Rapier with top speeds of 72.0 mph and 85.7 mph, respectively. 

The test car had recently returned from Nassau Speed Week. Its owner/driver Jay Chamberlain reported he “used exactly 13 gallons in the 210-mile Nassau Trophy Race—equivalent to 16.15 mpg.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn from Tony Hogg about racing an Eleven in Yugoslavia. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

8 comments on “LOTUS ELEVEN—IN RETROSPECT AND IN TONY’S WORDS PART 1

  1. sabresoftware
    December 19, 2022

    I had quite forgotten about the Cyclops (R&T Cover). Wonder whatever happened to that “brand”.

  2. Andrew G.
    December 20, 2022

    Sadly, wacky artist Stan Mott (who lent his “eman” to the story’s character T. TOM Meshingear) passed away in March. He was also known for driving a go-kart around the world.

    Writer Robert Cumberford (likewise TREBOR Crunchcog) is still around. He wrote for a variety of auto magazines when he wasn’t designing stuff.

    Was it true there was a Cyclops in the Newport Beach lobby of R&T?

  3. Andrew G.
    December 20, 2022

    The Eleven was light and had a slick shape — could I assume it handled as well as other legendary Lotus sports cars?

    • simanaitissays
      December 20, 2022

      Yes. In its 1957 road test, R&T reported, “We did not drive the car, but there is a small amount of understeer and ample power to force the rear end out and into an oversteering attitude. The steering takes only 1.75 turns lock to lock but the turning circle is not impressive at 42 feet.”
      Tony recalled this latter fact in his report from Yugoslavia.
      In the 1995 Salon, Brian Redman said the handling was “surprisingly good in spite of the (by modern standards) bicycle-like tires. Cornering at speed is fun, the car displaying moderate understeer turning into very controllable oversteer, making a full 4-wheel drift practical fun.”

      • Andrew G.
        December 20, 2022

        Thanks, Dennis. I was surprised Tony Hogg’s little Lotus couldn’t take the hairpin in part 2, but now I understand. The last iteration of Morgan 3 Wheelers also had a surprisingly poor turn radius for a tiny vehicle.

  4. Daniel Pithoud
    December 27, 2022

    Daniel, from France.
    Hi Dennis,
    Thank you for the road test of the Lotus 11 with acceleration data. I collect acceleration data of racing cars, set in a data base (not yet published on the web).
    Road & Track never road tested the Ferrari 250 LM (and no other magazine had ever road tested it). So I’ve used an audio record made during Le Mans trials in 1965 with a tape recorder in NART’s 250 LM, and the voice of Masten Gregory driving. With a stopwatch I got time between two gear changes. In the 250 LM owner’s manual, I’ve found gearbox ratios and speed for each gear. Then some computations to get a complete acceleration chart. Results : standing start quarter mile in 13,5 seconds at 112 mph; ss ½ mile in 20,45 seconds at 144 mph and ss km in 23,3 seconds at 152 mph. A few acceleration data : 60 mph in 6,1 seconds; 100 mph in 11,4 sec. ; 140 mph in 19,1 sec; ; 160 mph in 27,3 sec. It seems realistic, as a 250LM is slightly inferior in acceleration to highly tuned “lightweigh” Jaguar E Type in classic races like Goodwood (racing E type do the ss ¼ mile in 12,8-13,3 seconds).
    Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
    Daniel Pithoud

    • simanaitissays
      December 27, 2022

      Hello, Daniel,
      What a clever approach!
      Have a Joyous New Year.

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