It was a sensational car, because you will have to search a long time in the field of automotive technology to find a chassis made of fiberglass reinforced plastic. Now don't tell me about all these beautiful vehicles such as the Corvette with a body made of GRP. No comparison with this Lotus Elite, because at them was still present a lot of metal.
Early monocoque technology for motor racing
And it was a pretty unique thing for the year of presentation in 1957. Of course, you could argue now that this car, like almost everyone by Colin Chapman, was designed for the motor racing. But at least it was sold more than 1000 times. Such a series of pure plastic is not known to us.
Certainly, a little metal you'll find, for example, around the windshield. Case of bodies whose warping can not be excluded due to bad roads, one always fears the glass breakage as first thing. For glued car windows this is even worse. No, glass breakage was not a problem with this car. However, the chassis all in all had problems with the durability.
No, it's not a malicious gossip because Chapman himself has drawn the conclusions and the successor Elan again equipped with a central frame (pictured above). Of course, he also paid attention to low weight by large cutouts. Perhaps you can recognize how much attention was paid to include the suspension. After that, no manufacturer has probably final risked the method of construction without reinforcement.
Today it would perhaps be possible by CFRP material to absorb the shocks on duration, which a suspension gives out on the body sometimes. But production cars still need a broader crash zone in contrast to formula 1. Although, the meanwhile also getting stiffer and will balanced by stepped airbags, metal is still the appropriate material here. And there it is tempting to connect two crash zones front and rear by metal in the middle.
The design was by Peter Kirwan-Taylor and Frank Costin. You have probably heard of the latter, for he was the co-founder and later partially eponym by Cosworth. The achieved drag coefficient was phenomenal especially for the time, particularly when supposing that no wind tunnel was available. Please keep in mind that the enormously small cross-sectional area of this very low vehicle was multiplied yet, what reduced the air resistance again.
In the US, much more expensive than a Porsche
Expensive was the Lotus and was not even offered, for example, Germany. As you can find out e.g. from the second video (worth seeing, English language), Lotus has not done much itself, but in principle parts from suppliers mounted to a car. This arose from the tradition of the company, the sold tuning kits for years. Even the Elite was available as a kit. This firstly had tax reasons in the UK, but also with the possible use of the car for racing purposes. One does not need to buy later anyway replaceable parts.
It triumphed then with class wins at Le Mans and the Nürburgring according to its fulminant power to weight ratio and streamline shape. A not-mentioned drawback of the fiberglass body we do not want to conceal, namely the fact that there were certain tendencies to roar. But that could also have had the reason that Chapman even in case of production cars has saved something unneccessary like interior cladding on the roof. 03/15