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1961 Lotus Elite R

The Classic Motor Hub

1961 Lotus Elite R
The Classic Motor Hub
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SH ID

23-0821013

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FEATURED BY SPEEDHOLICS

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United Kingdom

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Description

One of only two Elites sold from new as a race car

 

Raced in period by Chevron founder Derek Bennett

 

Formerly owned by Mark Knopfler

Records show that only two Lotus Elites were given the ‘R’ designation by the factory and sold as race cars from new. This is one of them – chassis number EB 1852 – and it was acquired as an unassembled kit by Derek Alderson in October 1961. A note in the history file suggests that it was supplied with the engine from the Lotus 11 that had been raced by works driver Alan Stacey. Alderson planned to run a two-car team in 1962 along with his friend Derek Bennett, a talented engineer who would later become the founder of Chevron. Bennett also bought an Elite and together they embarked on a busy season of British racing. Bennett’s ingenuity came in useful at one race when they discovered that the brake master cylinder on Alderson’s Elite was leaking. With no replacement to hand, Bennett wedged a lever-action oil can into the inside of the driver’s door. ‘He then commandeered the piping from the windscreen washers,’ wrote David Gordon in his history of Chevron, ‘jammed it over the oil can spout, and ran it to the master cylinder. Now all Alderson had to do to get round the corners was to remember to pump the oil can in the door with his thumb while he was going down the straights!’ In September 1962, they had a memorable outing at Aintree, as noted in Autosport: ‘The last race of the day was for Grand Touring cars and it was easily the best of all. A grand scrap went on between the Elites of DC Alderson, who led for four laps, BJ Smallthwaite, who took over and won by 0.4 of a second, and AD Bennett, who was always third. These three were out by themselves, finishing some 45 secs ahead of the field.’ The following week, they were at Oulton Park and again warranted a mention in Autosport: ‘From the flag it was the Elites of Derek Alderson, Brian Smallthwaite and Derek Bennett in that order, but a spin on lap two at Lodge relegated Smallthwaite to eighth position and, try as he did, he could do no better than third, some 6 secs down on Bennett, with Alderson a winner by 2 secs.’ At some point during the season, Bennett apparently borrowed Alderson’s Elite for a race at Brands Hatch and promptly crashed it. Story has it that Alderson, who couldn’t attend, only found out when he saw a photo of his damaged Lotus in the newspaper! It’s thought that Alderson raced the Elite into 1963 – and that Bennett took it to second place at Oulton Park on 6 April – before selling it that year to Andrew Ball. Between 1963 and 1967, it was registered for road use with the number 2309 VR, and in 1966 it passed to racer and dealer Brian Classick. Subsequent owners included Barry Sewell, Alan Brownlee and Michael Gue before the Elite was bought in 1976 by Gunter Turk. He later recalled that, by then, it was ‘a racer in international Appendix J trim’ and he took it to the Nurburgring to compete in the Oldtimer Grand Prix. Turk sold the Lotus in 1979 to Lindsay Owen-Jones, who later became the CEO and Chairman of cosmetics company L’Oréal. Owen-Jones was a fine driver who would go on race a McLaren F1 GTR in international events, and he retained the Elite until it passed to Michael Lavers in the late 1980s. More recent custodians of ‘1852’ have included Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, who raced it at the Goodwood Revival, and David Conrad, who treated it to an engine rebuild, an $18,000 respray and a number of competition outings in the USA. In 2015, the Elite was bought by a British-based enthusiast. He raced it in the UK and at Spa over the next few years, and recent expenditure includes FIA-spec suspension and exhaust system from Tolman Engineering, a straight-cut, close-ratio gearbox from David Whitehurst Racing – plus the acquisition of a race-ready and FIA-compliant Coventry Climax FWE engine. Having been raced throughout its life, this Lotus Elite is offered for sale with an extensive history file, and is ready for its next owner to continue the journey that was started by Derek Alderson in 1961. MODEL HISTORY The Lotus Elite made its debut at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show and immediately drew crowds thanks to its innovative construction. Working with a team that included Peter Kirwan-Taylor, Frank Costin, John Frayling and Ron Hickman, company founder Colin Chapman had come up with a remarkable design that was based around a glassfibre monocoque. The Elite was light, aerodynamic and rigid, but turning it into a production reality would be an expensive business. The first 250 monocoques were produced by Maximar in Sussex before the contract was switched to the Bristol Aircraft Company, and Chapman later stated that he lost about £100 on every Elite that he sold. Production lasted until 1963, by which time just over 1000 had been made. Predictably, however, it made a superb competition car. Powered by the 1216cc Coventry Climax FWE engine, it featured disc brakes all round and independent suspension via wishbones at the front and Chapman struts at the rear. An MG gearbox was standard fitment but there was also the option of a close-ratio ZF unit. Les Leston and Graham Warner often did battle in famous Elites that used the registration numbers DAD10 and LOV1 respectively, while Peter Lumsden took his car to class victory in the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. That was the first of a remarkable six consecutive class wins at La Sarthe for the Elite. Perhaps most significantly, it was while racing an early Elite belonging to Ian Scott-Watson that a young Scottish racer called Jim Clark really caught the attention of Colin Chapman. The two men enjoyed a fierce dice at the 1958 Boxing Day meeting at Brands Hatch and would go on to form one of motor racing’s most successful partnerships.