Lotus Eleven

Though there was much gnashing of teeth over the Land Rover Defender last week, the British stalwart marched triumphant into the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, with a convincing 82.8%. We now have 43 slots down and a mere seven left to fill. Things are beginning to get tight, so let's move on to something better able to fit in the tiny and uncomfortable spaces we've got left. With a wind-sculpted shape and dominating track record, purity of concept and unwavering devotion to engineering, this week's long-awaited entry proves that might does not always make right. Indeed, sometimes the victor is he who carries the lightest burden.

The Lotus Eleven is a special kind of racing automobile, just as Lotus and its founding father are unique icons. Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was an early visionary in the racing world; he developed a series of design philosophies particularly adaptable to the sport. Chapman is famous for his notion of "adding lightness" as a primary means of improving performance. But he also developed a means by which each of a vehicle's parts could serve two or more functions—with no more mass than absolutely necessary to do the job. Lotus cars were designed not with just with passion, but with hard, applied science.

Lotus Eleven

The Lotus Eleven Series 1 was designed to be a success. The previous 8, 9, and 10 models had been based on the first car built under incorporation, the Lotus 6. A new design was developed for the 1956 racing season. True to form and philosophy, the lightness of the overall design was astonishing. The bare tube frame tipped the scales at an astonishing 65 lbs. The space frame was augmented with a hand- formed, stressed-aluminum body designed by in-house aerodynamicist Frank Costin.

Lotus Eleven

For the top of the line LeMans racing model, the well-developed De Dion rear suspension was adapted for work in the Eleven; a lightweight swing-axle design used in the front. The Coventry Climax engine came in sizes ranging from 750cc's to 1098cc's and was tuned to produce up to 100 hp at 7000 rpm. Coupled with a final weight just over 1000 lbs, the Eleven possessed and enviable power to weight ratio. The Club was targeted at amateur racers and substituted a live axle from an Austin, as well as drum brakes all around. The least expensive Sport was effectively the Club model, equipped with an inexpensive and reliable Ford 10 engine producing 36 hp.

Lotus Eleven

These diminutive racers were far and away a success for Lotus, with production exceeding any previous model (the total run was 270 cars). It was said that if you wanted to win on the track, you had to drive a Lotus. Perhaps more important than the commercial success was the incredible racing success the Eleven had. During its first racing season in 1956, the Eleven could boast no less than 148 track victories. Stirling Moss piloted a model specially equipped for high speed to a Monza victory, setting a new lap-record speed average of 135 mph, with a top lap speed of 143 mph. The 24 hours of LeMans saw Lotus snare victory in the 1100cc class, with a seventh place overall finish. Consider that last one for a second: a car possessing a mere 1100cc running only 27 laps behind the legendary Jaguar D-Type with over three times the displacement. Astounding.

Lotus Eleven

For virtue in the field of design, and for pointing the way for future race, we recognize the Lotus Eleven as a shining example of all that engineering can and should accomplish. Here, Chapman and his engineers developed novel solutions to complicated problems, simplified design to the point of obviousness, and still pushed toward the state of the art. Where others saw the need for more power, Lotus saw the need for less of everything else.

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