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1974 Lotus Elite

The sloping wedge we see here was the second time Lotus used the Elite name in its lineup. The first was back in the late 1950s when the Elite was a super-light coupe weighing 1,110 pounds. This original Elite remained in production from 1958 to 1963, replaced by the entirely more famous Elan. Lotus would leave the Elite name dormant for some time until it was ready to use it on an entirely different sort of vehicle. Debuting for 1974, the Elite shed its light on a compact coupe body for a wedge design with a hatchback. It was the sort of thing the British and select other humans call a shooting brake.

Though it was still considered a sports car, the Elite’s new persona no longer focused on being light and bare bones. Much more a luxurious grand tourer, the Elite paired its 2.0-liter inline-four engine to a manual transmission of four or five speeds or an optional three-speed automatic. The 2.0 was a more modern engine than Lotus used in previous vehicles, featuring dual overhead cams, an aluminum block, and 155 horsepower. This engine would go on (with modifications) to power the Esprit.

The original, simple tiny Elite was turning in its grave — but that was the plan. All Elites had four comfortable seats, room for cargo, and wood on the dash. Lotus was in the middle of a product revamp and image revitalization, the goal being competition with bigger and more serious manufacturers. And those manufacturers didn’t just offer tiny composite coupes. Lotus’ rivals had larger, more serious cars with buttons embedded in their wood panel dashes.

Lotus continued with a fiberglass shell for the Elite, mounting the whole thing to a steel chassis from the predecessor Elan and Europa. The slick (though blocky) shape made for an impressive drag coefficient of just .30. The Elite’s design had considerable input from Lotus founder Colin Chapman, and along with the similar Eclat, would become the last two roadgoing cars with significant Chapman influence.