Time to Bloom? 1974 Lotus Elite 502

right-front

When the Elite was introduced in 1974 it was the most expensive 4 cylinder car on the planet. It’s fiberglass bodied with a steel chassis. The 501 was the base car, the 502 added AC and it the one you want. The 503 and 504 added automatic transmission and power steering. Ryan R found this Lotus is listed here on craigslist in Ramsey, Minnesota for a modest $3,900. Thanks Ryan! The last Elite was featured here in April was not nearly as nice as this one and was in England. This Lotus been sitting for 20 years and has not been started. One wonders what expensive repair might have caused this to be put aside. Perhaps the frame is rusted or perhaps it only needed a very expensive clutch or timing belt.

inside

The interior looks pretty nice. Under those seat covers the front seats no doubt need upholstery work. The back seats still look very nice though.

engine

The 2 liter 155 horsepower engine looks unmolested and almost complete. This is the same engine used in the Jenson-Healys. It just needs the air cleaner assembly or aftermarket air cleaners.

under

There is no rust visible in any of the pictures of the underside. The pictures look hopeful but it will take a close inspection to know for sure.

left-rear

This Lotus looks pretty nice down the left side as well. If the chassis structure isn’t rusted, it looks like it might be a viable project. Parts are available. This Lotus is yet another example of rare doesn’t necessarily mean valuable. This could be an opportunity to own a unique, and many would say ugly, car. The new owner won’t know what he’s getting into until they start working on it. Most may not like the styling or the color, but does this look like a worthwhile and fun to drive project?

Like This? Get Our Daily Email

Comments

  1. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    gone already…no surprise, considering the price/condition ..if the motor is NG, we have a couple.

    We are just finishing new paint on a Euro-Spec Éclat Sprint, the lighter fastback model of this design by Lotus.

    …..here’s a picture of a chassis we have, for those of you who don’t know what a Backbone Chassis looks like

  2. Howard A Member

    Most expensive 4 cylinder at the time? Hmm, you’re right, they were pricey, about $25g’s, or about the same as a M-B 450SL. Always thought of these as one of the “swoopiest” British cars to come down the pike. There are forums specifically for these cars, and naturally, opinions are all over the place. Some like the car, some say run away. Is a neat car, no doubt. I can’t help but think a regular old 4.3 Chevy V-6 and a 5 speed, would give plenty enjoyment, and if you need something, it’s as close as the local Autozone. As is, the forums say these have limited appeal, and can be had for a fraction of their original cost.( one guy was considering one for $1,000 bucks) Cool car, but only like 2500 were made, so non-Autozone parts could be a problem. I love British cars, but I’d pass on this.

    • Tim

      Total Elite production was 1842 cars worldwide, from 1974 through early 1983 (just one carryover ’82 built in Jan ’83). Of that, there were 305 “Federal” cars. But by then, “Federal” had become another word for “emissions”, and the “Federal” Elites served 6 or 7 additional countries that also had stricter than average standards at the time. So less than 300 actually made it to North America. The Elite is a rare car in the USA.

      Vintage Lotus cars are not known for their raw horsepower and brute acceleration (the Esprit V8 & Evora 400 have changed that). Their major point of difference is well tuned suspension and a balanced chassis… ie, exemplary handling. Once rolling, if you don’t have to slow down going into a corner, then it doesn’t matter how fast you accelerate coming out of the corner. Lotus does that very well with a complete lack of drama, and they’re surprisingly quick A to B cars… when well driven.

      Replace the lightweight (276 Lb) 907 engine with some iron-block V6-V8 lump, and the Elite’s chassis balance and fine handing will be compromised. If that’s what you want, I won’t argue your preferences; but you can get that in a Mustang/ Camaro without ruining a Lotus.

      Engine/ brake/ suspension parts are readily available. No problem. Everything else is available if you’re willing to wait for international shipping. And there are a variety of club and internet forums that support these cars with information and project guidance.

  3. OhioMark

    Saw one of these at Mid-Ohio several months ago wearing yellow paint and was shocked when I first saw it since it had been 20 years since my last sighting of one!

  4. JCW Jr.

    Not all cars get parked because of repairs needed. Sometimes someone gets a new car and just doesn’t want to get rid of the one they have. I have bought many cars that people did not want to trade in because they did not get enough money as a trade. Then after it sits for awhile realize it needs to go and usually sell for less than trade value.

  5. Dave Wright

    I bought one of these a couple of decades ago out of an Oakland Ca junk yard. It was totally complete and undamaged. Paid 750.00 for it including delivery to Stockton. The luggage area leaked so badley it had 20 gallons of rain water in it. Finally did get it cleaned up and running…….felt lucky to get my money back when it sold. My brothers and I have owned many Lotus cars, this was the worst……..

  6. Tim

    I live about 10 miles south of this Elite. While I recall seeing a brown Elite in the Twin Cities back in the day, I’ve never met this seller. The car has been on Craigslist for a long time (most of the Summer), and I have tried several times to contact the seller through Craigslist, but no replies. While I’ve not owned an Elite, I currently own two Eclats (ie, a fastback Elite), and I would be willing to check it out for an interested buyer. Obviously, only if the seller would say “okay”, and so far, he’s not replying at all… at least to me.

    The 502 has the ‘Lotus’ 5-speed transmission (Austin Maxi gearset, Ford shifter rails & bits, combined in a Lotus-only housing). The gearbox was originally built for the 1558cc Lotus Twin Cam in the Elan S4 and Elan +2, and it did not do well behind the larger 2.0 litre 907. It shifts great, and the ratios are about perfect, but it’s not designed for the power. Second gear tends to shed teeth.

    The basic 501 used a Ford 4-speed that was bullet proof in the application; but without an overdrive top gear, cruising at freeway speeds is pretty buzzy.

    The Elite & Eclat are great handling cars (!), especially if you like to hang the tail out. With one or two people onboard, they handled better than their sibling Esprit. But add back seat passengers and fill the spacious trunk (boot), and you should be a little more conservative about corner entry. When Chapman wanted to be seen, he drove an Esprit. But he preferred to drive the Elite-Eclat, especially when he wanted to make an entrance… sideways.

    500 = 4-speed. Basic, no frills, with no options. Electric windows & heated rear window standard. No power steering. Heater only, no A/C. £7,608.00 Ex Factory Price

    501 = 5-speed with overdrive 5th. Plus radio, alloy wheels with 205/60×14 VR rated radial tires. £8,240.00 Ex Factory Price

    502 = 501 plus air conditioning, tinted window glass, stereo radio/ tape deck, quartz-halogen headlight upgrade. Half and Full leather interior options available at extra cost, but the Elite in this Craigslist ad has the basic cloth interior. £9,005.00 Ex Factory Price

    503 = 502 plus power steering. The PAS was over-boosted (way too light), and too slow (lots of turns lock to lock). IMHO, the manual steering was better, and gave better feedback, “IF” the extra effort wasn’t an issue for you. £9,275.00 Ex Factory Price

    504 = 503 plus Borg-Warner 3-spd automatic transmission. The automatic was only available on this fully dressed, top of the line model, and was not an option on the basic models. Auto… really? :-/ It automated/ numbed the fun out of owning a Lotus. £9,422.00 Ex Factory Price

    I don’t recall the £-$ exchange rate in 1974. Inflation did it’s thing, and prices for the 503/504 did rise into the US$25k range in the USA later in it’s run, but the initial, base-model offerings were more affordable.

    The materials used in the cloth interiors were not particularly durable, stretched, puckered & wrinkled, and faded/ degraded with UV exposure. Be wary of a cloth interior’s condition.

    • Dave Wright

      This was Lotuse’s first attempt on building an engine………Colin Chapman was a master chassis builder that took engines from other manufacturers until this car and the awful Jensen Healy. We have owned his cars with Coventry, Ford, Renault and even izusu engines. Many were a bit crude but made up for it with world class handeling. Many were mechanically fragile but they were enthusiast or race cars so all was well. This series of cars combined the worst of all the lotus traits with a poor engine and US smog laws. With all the lotus attempts since Chapman died to become a world class maker…..they have never been able to break into the Ferrari,Maserati, Porsche league. Even my brothers Elise and lovely Esprit had a deffinate kit car feeling. The only one we have ever owned t could be called a reliable daily driver was a common looking little coupe ( can’t ember the name) with an izusu engine

      • Tim

        Jensen was in financial trouble and headed for receivership, so the Jensen-Healey was built on a budget. It was a good car ruined by accountants. The engine troubles laid at Lotus’ door were really Jensen’s fault. Jensen & Lotus were on different timelines, Jensen NEEDED the engine, and the 907 was not ready for production. It was a year away. All the development engines to that point were lovingly built one at a time by the engineers. The new CNC shop being built just for the 907 wasn’t running yet. The next batch of engines for validation testing were to be the first parts to come out of the CNC shop, and the first time assembly workers had seen or touched the parts.

        With much bluster, loudness of voice, and pounding of fist, Jensen insisted that the validation tests be skipped, and that nest batch of engines and all future production be diverted to Jensen. A blind man could see that train wreck coming from a mile away. But ask any Jensen-Healey fan and they’ll tell you… Jensen’s demise was Lotus’ fault. Yeah… sure.

        Back on topic… The Elite-Eclat had cotage-industry workmanship issues. The interior looked homemade, and the electrical system left something to be desired. Yes, the engine needed regular maintenance, but if you did the work on schedule, the car was reliable. I would hop into my Eclat at the drop of a hat, and take off cross-country with no concerns for not making it there… and back.

        The problem is that most Americans consider putting gas in the car and washing it now and then to be “Maintenance”. Nawh! The cars didn’t do well under that philosophy. But take care of it, and both the car and 907 engine were dependable.

        The Elite’s/ Eclat’s handling is marvelous. Get on a twisty road, and it takes your mind off the fact that the two year timing belt replacement is coming due.

  7. Tim

    Dave at OldSchool wrote:
    > gone already…no surprise, considering the price/condition

    Keep watching, it will probably be back. It’s been listed and pulled about 8 times by my count. He lets it show for a while, pulls it, and re-lists it at a lower price. His asking price has come down a lot.

  8. Tim

    > This could be an opportunity to own a unique, and many would say ugly, car.

    While the car’s 1970s planes & angles styling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I will say that the Elite is one of those cars that just does not photograph well. It looks far better in person, especially with the less intrusive Euro bumpers. Those big black Federal marshmallows did not help the Elite put it’s best face forward.

  9. John

    I had one of these – a 501. It was not a good car. Everything that could break did so repeatedly. But, like other Lotii, it was wonderful to drive. You could steer it with the throttle, you could drift it up sweeping entrance ramps, and mountain switchbacks probably should have required a prescription – they were addictive. It was the kind of car that made you look for the long way home, just for that “one” turn. But, until recently, all Lotii should have come with directions for assembly. It was a terrible car, and yet, I want it.

  10. Joe

    Looks like someone wrecked a Pacer and grafted a 308 nose onto it. No thanks!

  11. Bruce Best

    The best thing is to consider the car a giant full size kit. Take it apart and rebuild it with more modern components and you would be amazed. The previous comments about the interiors of cloth are completely true. Just assume if you purchase it you will need to restore the interior and you will not be disappointed.

    As for the looks I am very mixed I have owned a few Lotus and I have an 89 Esprit Turbo about 20t from where I type this. There are angles were it looks very good and other angles when you wonder what they were thinking when they designed this car.

    The real test is if you fit and if you love to drive. This car drives like a new puppy likes to chase things. It is very near the equal of the Esprit on road holding and driving comfort for a whole lot less money. The ability to get two additional passengers in the car is a plus also.

    Of critical note Lotus builds very few of their own mechanical bits besides the engine, chassis parts and the body. The rest of the parts are far easer to get then you might expect. Many exotics are like that sharing parts with mass production cars and if you know which is which you can save huge amounts of money.

    A caution that works for this car and my Esprit. Do not purchase it if you are too tall or you do not like to be looked at. Both cars attract human eye balls like a magnet attracts steel filings.

  12. Badhuis
  13. Stiffler4444

    Damn, I like the look and the colour. Still not saying it’s pretty, but fun does often come in a homely disguise.

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks. Don't post your car for sale in the comments. Click here to get it featured on the homepage instead.

*

Notify me of new comments via email. Or subscribe without commenting.