The four-seater Elite hatchback, which appeared in 1974, was the first of three larger, more expensive Lotus models designed to replace the Elan and Europa ranges after they had been phased out. Unfortunately, not only was the Elite launch seriously delayed due to various problems, a last minute recalculation of the production costs also forced the company to increase the price of the new car by almost 170 percent, pushing it way beyond the target figure of £3,500. And if all that wasn't bad enough, the effects of a worldwide recession were by this time having serious implications for specialist auto manufacturers, especially companies like Lotus who were attempting to move themselves up-market.
Although the styling of the new Elite was obviously intended to appeal to more affluent customers, beneath the sleek fibreglass body was a tried and true backbone chassis which could trace its heritage back to the original Elan, with independent suspension and disc brakes all-round. Handling was as capable as ever while performance came from a Lotus-designed, 16-valve, 1,973cc four-cylinder engine which generated 160hp sufficient to give a top speed close 125mph. Sadly, a reputation for poor reliability still remained a bugbear for the marque.
Based on the same chassis, suspension and engine combination, the cheaper Eclat fastback was introduced in 1975. However, this was a particularly bad year for Lotus, only 536 cars were built at the Hethel factory near Norwich and the company posted a loss of almost half a million pounds. The situation improved slightly in 1976, with output up to 926 cars, but Lotus barely broke even. A healthy surplus in 1977 couldn't disguise the fact that Lotus needed to diversify and as part of this process Colin Chapman handed over control of road-going car production to Mike Kimberley.
Oil prices doubled in 1979, causing a second recession which again hit Lotus really hard. Despite an increase of engine capacity to 2,174cc in the Elite and Eclat, sales in North America slumped and total output in 1980 was just 383 cars.
By 1982 the Elite and the Eclat models had reached the end of the line. Together with the untimely death of 54 year old Colin Chapman in December due to a heart attack, this made it one of the worst years in Lotus history. Nevertheless, the cars produced through these troubled times have since gone on to join other classics from the Lotus stable and are now enthusiastically preserved and enjoyed by drivers in many countries. Included are road and comparisons tests, long term reports, a technical analysis plus full performance data. Reported on are the Types 75 & 83, S1 & S2.2 Elites and the Types 76 & 84, S1 & S2.2 Eclats/Sprints. Advice is offered on acquiring a good pre-owned example of each.