Always the innovator, Lotus introduced the 1957 Lotus Elite as the first car ever to be built to have a fiberglass monocoque. It contributed greatly to the car’s low weight, which partly explains its success. Light, agile and fast, it handled incredibly well, further reinforcing Lotus‘ reputation for making cars with that characteristic. Unfortunately, the little GT didn’t only have qualities; it was beset with quality issues, including annoying vibrations from the monocoque body, and even worse, customers and potential buyers complained that the car actually looked cheap! It’s one thing to have poor build quality, but when it shows, you’re in trouble. Not only that, but because of the window and door profile, it was impossible to roll down the windows. The car was thus incredibly poorly ventilated, and got stuffy real fast. Not fun.
The Elite was powered by the Coventry Climax, a 1.2-liter engine that produced anywhere from 71 to 105 horsepower, depending on whether the model year. More powerful models came later, with an available five-speed transmission. Top speed 130 miles per hour, and acceleration to 60, 11 seconds, none of which are embarrassing numbers by the standards of the day.
What helped get the top speed so high, in contrast to the relatively low horsepower rating, was the Elite’s drag coefficient, which at 0.29Cd, was spectacular, even by today’s standards. The company pulled the plug on the Lotus Elite in 1963, preferring to concentrate their efforts on the new Elan.
Update: Alert reader Kevin M. brought to my attention the fact that the windows could be removed and stored in a pocket designed to that effect behind the seat. It is also apparent that the front part of the window could be opened, providing a modicum of ventilation. Still a poor solution, but better than suffer permanent poor ventilation!