The first series Elise changed the game for Lotus at a time when its star was in the decline. More than 15 years later, with the Exige S, its lineage can still be found.
Can you remember a time before social media or a device beginning with 'i'? With technology and expectations moving ever faster, it's all too easy to take technology's lineage for granted. Take the Lotus duo you see above for instance: separated by 15 years, the difference in design between our '99 Racing Green Elise 111S and '14 Ardent Red Exige S Roadster alone is pretty striking. Appearances though can be deceptive. Peer beneath the bodywork and you'll find underpinning on both that – quite remarkably – date back to 1952 and the birth of Lotus.
Colin Chapman started building racing cars for a sole purpose: to win. Post-war Britain meant money was in short supply, but certainly not ideas: it's what Chapman did with basic materials that got his innovative designs noticed. Local club races soon progressed to international championships, and Lotus ultimately went on to win almost everything it entered, including the prestigious Indianapolis 500 at its first attempt in 1963 and even rallying, a Lotus-badged Sunbeam taking the World Rally Championship for Talbot in 1981. Over a 15-year period the company bagged seven Formula 1 Constructors Championships (including six Driver's titles) and became the first team in F1 to score 50 Grand Prix victories, the Lotus road car division footing the bills throughout. Not bad for a British privateer Enzo Ferrari referred to as 'garagistas'.
Even after Chapman's premature death, the innovation continued despite corporate turmoil. Up to the mid-1990s, most road cars – as they had been for most of the century – had been made from steel welded together. The boffins at LotusEngineering however had other ideas, experimenting with extruded alloy sections bonded together to form a chassis for the purposes of greater stability and, more importantly, significant weight saving. It was through this that the Series 1 Elise was born as a mobile test-bed, but so focused was Lotus on its new bonded chassis technology that it completely underestimated demand of the Elise, original production numbers of 600 rocketing to 3000 – per year – as petrolheads grew fascinated with this 'back-to-basics' roadster.
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