Carnival Red Classic: 1976 Lotus Elite 503

This is a Lotus Elite. No, really. Although the name was originally used on the Type 14 coupe, Lotus’ first production street car, it was revived for the Type 75, a shooting brake intended to serve as the four-seat replacement for the Elan +2. This 1976 model is located in Fullerton, California, and is listed here on Craigslist for $4,600. Many thanks to Matt H. for the tip!

Introduced in 1974, the Elite was larger and more luxurious than any Lotus that had come before it. The body was penned in-house by Oliver Winterbottom; he would revisit elements of this design in his later work on the TVR Tasmin. Although it was originally intended to be powered by a V8, Lotus would ultimately use one of its own engines together with a 5 speed manual or, at the top trim level, an automatic transmission. This car is a 503, indicating that while it came equipped with power steering and air conditioning, the clutch pedal was, thankfully, retained.

The Elite was equipped with the Type 907 engine, which saw its first application in the Jensen-Healey and would eventually power the Series 1 and 2 Lotus Esprit. It’s a 2L 16v DOHC four-cylinder with a mixed reputation. On the one hand, the version in the Elite produced 155 horsepower and 140 lb.ft. of torque. Although the Elite could reach sixty in a respectable 8.1 seconds and topped out at over 120 mph, maximum torque wasn’t reached until 6,500 rpm, giving the car lackluster acceleration and earning the engine the sobriquet “torqueless wonder.” Worse, the engine has a reputation for being temperamental. As an interference engine with a timing belt rather than a chain, even a well-tuned 907 churns with the sort of rock star swagger that is equal parts devil-may-care attitude and penchant for self-destruction. Such is the price of performance engineering.

The Elite and its sister coupe, the Eclat, are the last Lotus road cars that Colin Chapman was really involved with. Yet the car was not a success, with only 2,535 of the Types 75 and 83 (the Elite Mark 2) produced between 1974 and 1982. This makes it a rare car today, though that rarity has not translated to high prices. So here we have a path to Lotus ownership that is open to a driver with modest means and a car that, by all reports, has the same suspension and handling that made Lotus a legendary name. An interesting car to own and drive.

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    All I see is car parts. Are they attached to a real car?

    Like 4
  2. swm

    Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious

    Like 4
  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    That, too.

    Like 1
  4. SMS

    I am aware this is lunacy. Got a ride in one of these. I have a thing for GT’s and the ride made me want one. Luckily they don’t show up often and I resist.

    Supposedly by ‘76 the motor problems had been sorted and the assembly issues are known and there are solutions.

    A bucket list car that hopefully will always remain one.

    Like 2
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      I think that riding / driving in a Lotus makes everyone want to own one, but most of us are smart enough not too.

      • Phil

        I don’t know about that “want to own one but smart enough not to.” I own 3. I put 130,000 miles on one of them before ice caused a handling issue and I slid into another vehicle. I put 20,000 miles on another – another driver did not see me and cut me off. I put about 6000 miles on the third, before I had an actual engine issue. Anyhow, in the right hands they are great cars – but repairs are quite spendy.

        Like 1
  5. Rick

    For that price dare I say a motor and transmission swap to something more reliable wouldn’t be out of the question. Who cares about originality when it’s something this weird and wonderful.

    Like 6
  6. Shawn

    I’m nearby this car and want it a little too much. I’m just lucky my driveway is filled with construction materials right now.

    Like 4
  7. Howie Mueler

    I had a red 77, lots of never ending problems. Many close up photos, no engine photos. Not that far from me, but i know better.

    Like 5
  8. Shawn

    I love these for some reason. Is it even possible to find one that isn’t trouble? Can a well maintained one (not this example) actually be enjoyable?

    Like 2
    • John Walsh

      SWM. Nonsense. No worse than any other car if maintained correctly. Ask me how I know. I have three of them. All bought as projects and restored to fantastic running machines. Ollie (as he was known) I met him several times and was a fantastic gentleman who sadly passed away earlier this year. The design went on to win a highly rated design and safety award. Between Mike Kimberly and Ollie, they both had a hand is several well know design 1sts.

      Like 4
      • SMS

        My lotus did require more maintance and parts replaced than other cars. That is to be expected as my seven was driven harder than any other car I have ever owned followed closely by my Europa.

        These cars beg to be ridden hard.

        Like 2
  9. bobhess bobhess Member

    Have seen a couple of V6 swaps, which besides eliminating all the built in problems put some very usable horsepower into the cars.

    Like 2
  10. Phil

    I own a ’74 Elite. Not running right now, as I swapped in a high compression Excel Motor (same block, different cams, compression, carbs, etc.). I haven’t got it running since the swap. In good shape these are comfortable cars, and they handle very well. They look like a doorstop though. I don’t think there’s enough desirable to be doing an engine swap – it is worth more with the original motor.

    Like 2
  11. Joe Padavano

    Could the seller have provided any less useful photos? Maybe a picture of the ground or something.

    Like 7
    • Haig babayan

      I posted lots of photos. I have no control over barn finds choices.

  12. Gerard Frederick

    I have always wondered how it was possible to built a line of cars as unreliable and badly assembled as Lotus´s. What was wrong with them? which part of design it right didn´t they understand, which part of put it together correctly was anathema to them? Wild and wooly creations but rolling (with luck) nightmares.

    • SMS

      Have owned a couple of lotus cars. Not excusing them but might be able to explain what they do. At least this is how I view it.
      I work in the laser industry. Some of my customers are in the semiconductor industry. One customer in particular makes over 100 wafers a day of a single part number. These wafers have 640 die each. Their yield is in the 98% range. They have lots of die to test and do process improvements on.
      One day they asked to try out a high power UV laser we just made. They asked what the reliability would be. We said we didn’t know. This shocked them. I had to explain that we had doubled the output power and we did not know what parts would fail. They asked about testing. We explained that we would only sell about 6 of these a year. We asked them how long did they want us to test the lasers and how many lasers should we test? After that they worked closely with us to improve the reliability. First laser failed out of the box, second two weeks, then up to 4 months, now about two years.
      Any high performance low volume product is going to have reliability that stinks unless you pour lots of time and money into finding out what is going to fail.

      Like 3
  13. Frank

    Colin Chapman had great ideas and this was not one of them.

  14. RobertV

    Sad to see the usual ill informed stuff being given oxygen in the description. But the stuff about the timing belt, lack of torque and “rock star swagger”? That’s new. And absolute nonsense. Have owned and worked on quite a few 907-912 motors and they are very well engineered, easy to get on song and keep them there But keep it up! Keeps the prices down for those who know…….

    Like 1
    • John Walsh

      RobertV. That must be about the most sensible thing said on here every time a Lotus comes on line.
      Yep, keep it up guys. Makes them far easier for those in the know to buy. I currently have 8 I think, maybe 9.

  15. bog

    It’s still for sale, and at the same price. One of you guys that loves these should grab it ! I’m way too far away & shipping would be another cost I’d not be willing to add on. Don’t think these are as pretty as others, just my opinion. Only had one Lotus. A US version Europa bought in Germany mid ’68. Would be terrified to drive that car here, as other folks would never “see” it. Never had issues with it, and best handling car I’ve ever had..

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