The early Christmas present that gave Lotus its Elise

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One month before Christmas 1994, Lotus took delivery of its first prototype Elise chassis from Danish specialist Hydro. Everyone in the factory, from the engineers and technicians to sales and management, were thrilled.

Made from extruded aluminum sections that were bonded, rather than welded, together the structure weighed just 150 pounds. Reports from that day say it was like everyone had received the the best present from Santa, “People couldn’t resist stroking, tapping and caressing the smooth silver anodized structure.”

With the factory approaching its annual holiday shutdown there was a race to get the prototype up and running. Christmas Eve was the finish line, but even by six o’clock on December 24th there was much to do before the car could turn a wheel.

Lotus-Elise-Prototype-One
Lotus

The car’s Vehicle Architect Richard Rackham will never forget that fateful Christmas past: “The excitement had been building through the day, lots of people were guessing how much the running car would weigh and we had a little sweepstake going. The enthusiasm of the technicians, I’ve never known anything like it. We were all getting stuck in as we wanted this thing to roll.”

The car was extremely rudimentary, a rolling chassis with Lotus Seven fenders, a basic windscreen, two seats and a pair of afterthought headlamps that would very definitely be needed later that night when Rackham and Project Manager Tony Shute crept out onto the Lotus test track for the very first time.

Lotus-Elise-Prototype-One-2
Lotus

“It was icy, but a brilliant moonlit night; it was one of those magic moments,” remembers Rackham.

Sadly there are no decent photographs of this momentous event as nobody had a suitable camera, but two security guards did manage to capture the debut drive on grainy CCTV.

Rackham, Shute and the rest of the team were jubilant. “It was an amazing period, a real learning experience of what could be done in a short time with the right team,” he says.

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