1958 Lotus ElevenS2
Year of manufacture1958
Car typeConvertible / Roadster
Lotus founder Colin Chapman formed a team of hard-working volunteers to help him create a break- through model for 1956. While production Lotus Marks 8, 9 and 10 were based on the Lotus Mark 6, the Eleven was drawn from scratch. Its closest ancestor was the works Mk 9 Le Mans racer, registered XPE 6, a test-bed for what was to come. The Eleven used a steel tubular space-frame with stressed aluminum panels. The elegant chassis weighed under 70 pounds. It was powered by the new Coventry-Climax aluminum four-cylinder engine, an overhead cam design with an impressive power-to- weight-ratio. Girling disc brakes were used, and parts adapted from all sorts of period English cars made up the rest of the machine. Covering the vehicle was a stunning aerodynamic body designed by Frank Costin: hand-made of aluminum and hinged at both ends for complete access. The Eleven was as advanced as anything on wheels.
Lotus were considered ‘scientifically designed' racing cars, with each component engineered for maximum efficiency from minimum weight.
The Chapman philosophy strived for each part to serve two or more functions, with no more mass than absolutely necessary to do the job. Contemporary race drivers saw the Lotus as THE car for winning races, even at the risk of not finishing at all.
From January 1956 when the first Elevens were hurriedly assembled for the press introduction in AutoSport or to be shipped to the USA for their race debut, cars were built as rapidly as the tiny Lotus shop could manage. The frames were made by Progress Chassis Co., with the bodies and panels from Williams & Pritchard, both practically next-door. Cars were either assembled in-house or sold as kits Elevens could be ordered in the full-spec Le Mans version which used a de Dion rear suspension arrangement, or the less costly Club version which substituted an Austin live rear axle and drum brakes all around. Lastly, a Sports version was available which was essentially a Club with a Ford 10 engine. Initially all Elevens used swing-axle front suspension modified from parts from the English Ford model 93E In the Spring of 1957, after about 150 cars had been produced, a new version of the Eleven was introduced as the Series-2. The main difference, and usually only on the Le Mans version, was the Lotus 12-type double A-arm front suspension that gave the car more forgiving and consistent handling. The S-2 had improvements to the chassis, a stronger drivetrain and could accept larger engines. By the Summer of 1958 a total of about 270 Elevens had been completed when production focus shifted to newer models, including Formula 1 cars. The Eleven was the first Lotus built in such numbers, and it firmly established the company as a serious maker of competition cars. It held such a place in Chapman's heart that future Lotus were given names that recalled it, like Elite and Elan.
COLIN CHAPMAN makes a habit of developing a prototype during the racing season for production the following year. The Mark XI for 1956 follows this policy and has a new chassis frame which differs appreciably from last year’s production cars. It is available, Lotus style, in the form of a kit of easily assembled parts. Although the chassis frame is multi-tubular in detail it is different, with the lower main tubes one inch square instead of round. The rest are 1 and 3/4 inch round tubes varying in thickness between 18 and 20 gauge.
The number of tubes are fewer, which has reduced the weight, but the stiffness has been retained by means of a stressed floor tunnel of 20 gauge light-alloy sheet.
The swinging half-axle system has been retained at the front but the pivot points have been lowered which should enhance even more the outstanding cornering capabilities of the Lotus. The pivot bearings are within a rigid steel channel section. This mounting makes for easy assembly of the whole front suspension system and the Ford axle beams have been “set” to allow for the lower roll center. A new Girling-type suspension unit with built-in bump rubbers has been used. Morris Minor rack and pinion steering with three- piece column and two universal joints has been chosen and the wire wheels are 15 inch center-lock Dunlop’s.
Although a De Dion rear axle system has been retained, it is entirely new. Universal joints are within the ends of the tube, which is 3 inches in diameter, a quarter of an inch larger than last year’s car. The De Dion tube is located by three tubular radius arms, two of which are parallel fore and aft but the third forms a semicircle at the rear of the chassis. Colin Chapman has had second thoughts about this as will be seen in the captions to the photographs.
The axle ratios which will be made available are 4.89, 4.55, 4.22, 3.89 and 3.66 to 1. Inboard rear and outboard front brakes are all Girling disc-type with 9-inch diameter discs and the latest type caliper mechanism.
In outward appearance the body is again aerodynamic but much lower than hitherto and with vestigial fins. The aerodynamic purpose of the fins on the earlier Lotus has been taken over by a head faring-type fin which is removable for ordinary road work. The body is four inches wider than last year and is well rounded at the sides making the cockpit roomy and easily accessible with neat drop-down light-alloy doors on each side. Complete car weighs 7 5/8 cwt dry.
Although generally powered by only an 1,100cc Climax engine, in capable hands the Eleven could run rings around most other racing cars. Such was the combined effect of good horsepower, low weight, unmatched aerodynamics, powerful brakes and exemplary roadholding, that the Eleven had no rival in the 1,100cc class, and was nearly as dominant in the 1,500cc class. It was competitive in the up-to-2-liter class, and on the right course could best any sports car, regardless of engine size.
After an abortive competition debut at Sebring in March, Elevens raced in England. Colin Chapman and others drove the cars to a succession of victories and track records. An epic race duel at Goodwood between Elevens driven by Chapman and Mike Hawthorn was talked about for years.
Around the world, the cars began to fill the grids of the 1,100cc sports car class (or class G), the predecessor of Formula Junior and an entry-level for international competition.
At the 24 hours of Le Mans, a team of three cars ran well with the Reg Bicknell / Peter Jopp entry finishing seventh overall and first in class.
That autumn, a specially streamlined Eleven driven by Stirling Moss and "Mac" Fraser ran at Monza, setting a series of closed track world speed records. The 1,100cc car covered 100km at 135mph with a fastest lap of 143 mph.
During the 1956 season, Elevens scored at least 148 race wins.
In 1957, with over a hundred Elevens in action worldwide, the domination continued. The highlights began with a class-win at Sebring by Chapman and Joe Sheppard.
The highlight of 1958 had to be the sweep the Elevens made in their class at Sebring. There the Weiss/ Tallaksen car finished an incredible fourth overall -- and still from only 1,100cc. Gradually however the rapid evolution of racing caught up with the Eleven, and while it was still competitive, Lotus prepared a successor. In 1959 the Lotus 17 appeared, lower and lighter, but even it failed to match the handling and overall speed of the Eleven. The true replacement finally came in 1962 with the brilliant Lotus 23 -- part of the rear-engine revolution that ended the age the Eleven had dominated.
Around the world hundreds of Lotus Elevens found more life in amateur club racing, and as school cars. Many drivers in the 1960's enjoyed their first taste of racing speeds behind the wheel of one of these old thoroughbreds -- the car that first put LOTUS in the headlines.
Built at 270 exemptions between 1956 and 1958, the Lotus Eleven was a synthesis of all Colin Chapman's experience and know-how at the time of its release. Intended for endurance and sprint races for small cars, this new Lotus, which introduced the E-names, quickly attracted a clientele of demanding sportsmen and gentlemen drivers.
In the 1990s, Jean-Pierre Delhaye found an unidentified chassis, bodywork and parts in a sorry state. He had the car restored at great expense by the best British specialists, on a new chassis, while the bodywork was rebuilt by Shapecraft. It was at this time that the car, found without an engine, received its current Coventry-Climax FWE. This was rebuilt in FWB configuration, with a long-stroke crankshaft enabling it to go from 1,216 cm 3 to 1,460 cm 3.
Owner of the CG of Lotus Eleven #511, the rebuilt car is assigned this chassis number. It was a Series 2 delivered new in 1958 and imported into France in April of that year by the famous Jacques Savoye. According to information gathered in the 1990s from Gérard 'Jabby' Crombrac and Jacques Potherat, it was not registered until January 1959 in the name of Jean Lucas's team, Los Amigos, through one of its illustrious members, the gentleman driver Jean-Claude Vidilles. Vidilles had been an outstanding driver in D.B. and Lotus cars, achieving good results at Le Mans (11th in 1956). The results of the #511 the previous season in 1958 were quite flattering, 5th in the Gd prix de vitesse de Monthelery in April 1958; 7th in the VIth Grand prix de Rouen in June; 11th in the 5th 12H de Reims and finally 6th in July 1958 in the 3H internationales d'Auvergne on the famous Charade circuit (first official race on this track) won by Innes Ireland in a Lotus 11.
it was decided to take part in the 8th Tour de France Automobile. We found #511 on September the 18th 1959 in Nice, number 122, registered in the name of Michel Dagorne and René Pichard. Dagorne, who seems to have started his 'career' at the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Maserati 200 SI, raced until the end of the 1960s, mainly in Formula Junior, taking in the most prestigious circuits, from Montlhéry to Monaco... The 1959 Tour Auto will be remembered as one of the toughest! Only 29 of the 106 starters crossed the finish line after 5,549 km, including more than 1,200 km of racing. On the first stage alone, which took the caravan from Nice to Spa in Belgium, 77 crews dropped out. This appears to have been the case for Lotus Eleven number 122. Very little is known about chassis n°511, however....
It was Jean-Pierre Delhaye's wife and then his son Anthony, who maintained it, who raced it, notably in the Lotus Trophy in the early 2000s. Its previous owner recently rebuilt all the brakes and the axle, changed the shock absorbers, and gave it a complete paint job in a superb midnight blue. It has participated in a few races, including Le Mans in 2021 in a round of the Sixties Endurance by Peter Auto trophy. The car works very well, and after a revision and the change of the carburetors (conform models supplied) to obtain the precious Historic Technical Passport, its future owner will be able to take part in the most beautiful historic events, especially the new Fifties’ grid by Peter Auto.
It is eligible for the most important automotive events: Goodwood, Le Mans Classic, the Tour Auto, the 50's and 60's by Peter Auto, the GTSCC of Flavien and Vanessa Marçais... to name a few!