Lotus Elise

The lightweight vehicle reminded the industry of there being more than one way to develop a high-performance sports car

The aim of all developers of sports cars is to offer a fast-acceleration, high-speed driving experience. For many, the obvious route to reaching this adrenalin-fuelled, pulsating end goal is to focus on the powertrain, with a powerful, turbocharged, naturally aspirated engine being the solution.

But there is more than just one formula for producing successful high-performance vehicles.

Given that less mass leads to better handling and quicker acceleration, another key factor to consider is the weight of the car.

It was following this less-is-more approach that led to the development of the Lotus Elise, a vehicle that became the benchmark for lightweight sports cars to measure themselves against.

Incredibly, the two-seat, rear-wheel drive roadster only had a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine to draw its power from.

The Rover K-series mid-mounted, transverse unit at 5,500rpm produced maximum power of only 88kW, while peak torque at 3,000rpm was equally unremarkable at 165Nm.

Speedy sprinter

In spite of these relatively ordinary figures, the Elise could reach 100km/h from a standing start in 5.9 seconds, rising to a maximum speed of 202km/h.

In the early 1990s Richard Rackham, chief engineer at Lotus, was tasked with the responsibility of developing the firm’s modern successor to the Lotus Seven.

A lightweight, two-seater sports car, the Seven was produced between 1957 and 1972. But owing to a decision to concentrate on limited-series racing models, as well as changes in tax law, the rights for the vehicle were sold to Caterham Cars – which used it as the basis for the Caterham Seven – and Steel Brothers, the heavy vehicle manufacturer from New Zealand.

Rackham was keen to address failings in the bodywork of the Seven and the answer was sparked by a project Lotus had worked on with Hydro Aluminium. That project failed to take off, but it helped to underline the strengths aluminium could provide to the vehicle that the OEM was seeking to build.

tags: September 2016 Lotus