Lotus Car Company
By James Groth for The English Car Company
European and American auto manufactures were pressed into building planes, tanks and parts for war machines during World War ll. What these automobile manufactures learned from this experience was that in order for planes to achieve maximum speeds they needed to be constructed as light as possible and have a design with the least wind resistance.
During the early years of the 1950’s aerodynamics played a dramatic role in terms of creating designs with a low drag coefficient that helped win races.
Pictured below is a Lotus Eleven made from 1956 to 1957
Pictured below is a British Spitfire, the fighter plane that won the “Battle of Britain” in 1940 and kept England from German occupation.
Enter the role of the aerodynamicist and tubular space frames. It was an aerodynamicist that designed the sleek Jaguar C-type and D-types that won LeMans 1951, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1957. What these race cars along with the 1952 Mercedes Benz 300SL had in common were an aerodynamic body and a multi-tube frame. These ideas were developed originally for military use, in particular fighter planes.
Pictured below is a Jaguar D-type winner at LeMans from 1955 thru 1957
Pictured below is an illustration of the tubular framing used in fighter planes like the Spitfire a design that was adapted for racing by Colin Chapman.
The founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman was a racer and engineer who did his own design work on the early cars. Chapman’s design philosophy was to have a wind cheating shape made with parts as light as possible and to have them perform multi functions. This allowed for better handling and required less power to create speed.
The Blueprints of Lotus Eleven
A non headrest version of the Lotus Eleven
In order to further improve on his design philosophy Chapman hired Frank Costing to design the Lotus Eleven. Mr. Costing at the time was head of an aircraft flight test aerodynamics program. Costing’s curvy designs were captivating and made of ultra thin aluminum. To give an idea of how thin the bodies were compare them to an average kitchen sink which is18 to 20 gauge in thickness and so were the bodies of Lotus Elevens.
An unpainted alloy body Lotus Eleven
The space frames used in the Eleven were comprised of 1 inch or three quarter inch tubing either round or square with the frame weighing in at mere 56 pounds. The entire
car weight is under 1000 pounds. This gave the Lotus a power to weight advantage in every class of racing it entered.
The chases of a Lotus Eleven weighing in at 56 pounds
The profile of the Lotus Eleven shows it sleek aero design even without the headrest
The Costing design, particular in profile has the look of a scaled down Jaguar D-type. However, the Lotus Eleven was not meant to directly complete with the D-type. Due to the small 1100 cc to 1500 cc motors usually fit the Elevens’s they ran in a different class than the 3.4 liter Jaguars. The final design of the Eleven was so aerodynamically efficient that Road & Track stated “… it only took nine horsepower to push it along at 60 mph.”
Lotus Eleven’s and replicas compete yearly at historic car races world wide.
The Eleven’s design proved successful on the track where it was the perennial favorite to win the 1100cc to 1500cc class. The best test of endurance and reliability continues to be the 24 Hours of LeMans and it was here in 1956 that the 1100 cc Coventry Climax Equipped Eleven won its class.
A 1956 Lotus Eleven
Further, success came in 1957 with the LeMans model featuring a wrap around plastic wind screen and aerodynamic headrest. In 1957 an American team of three drivers finished ninth overall in the 24 Hours of LeMans with a 1100cc motor. A 750cc Coventry Climax equipped car also finished an outstanding 14th overall winning the “Index of Performance” category. Victories came all over the globe including Monza wth Sir Stirling Moss setting a class world record of 143 mph.
Lotus Eleven’s continue to be regular wining competitors at historic races.
- Manufacturer: Lotus Cars
- Production: 1956 – 1958
Body and Chassis
- Class: Sports Car
- Layout: FR Layout
- Engine: Conventry-Climax FWA (1098 cc) SOHC Inline 4 cylinder
- BMC A30, 4-speed
- Wheelbase: 2,159mm (85.0 in)
- Length: 3,403mm (134.0 in)
- Width: 1,500mm (59 in)
- Height: 810mm (32 in)
- Curb Weight: From 412kg (908 lb)