History of the 1974-1982 Lotus Elite
Lotus revived the Elite nameplate in 1974 with the introduction of the Type 75 Elite. The car was the first in a series of three models intended to take the company upmarket in the 1970s, with the other two being the front-engine Eclat and the mid-engine Esprit. The new Elite was a front-engined 2+2 hatchback designed in the typical Lotus fashion, with a fiberglass body mounted on a steel backbone chassis and independent suspension all-round. The rear suspension was noteworthy in that it utilized half shafts that acted as the upper suspension link as well as having inboard drum brakes (discs were introduced later). Motivation for this new car was Lotus's own 2-liter, 16-valve I-4 type 907 motor with 140 hp in U.S. trim. While the Elite was the first Lotus street car to use this motor, it had already seen use in the earlier Jensen-Healey convertible.
When introduced, the Elite was praised for its handling, comfort, utility, and design, but was criticized for reliability issues fairly quickly. This lackluster reliability was only further accentuated by the car's relatively high price and controversial kamm-tail styling. Lotus soon introduced different equipment and trim levels for the Elite with two of the noteworthy ones being the 503, which included power steering and air conditioning, and the 504 that offered a first for a Lotus: a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic gearbox. By 1980 the Lotus Elite benefitted from a galvanized chassis as well as a power bump in the form of a 2.2-liter version of the 907 motor, now called the 912. This improved Elite never came to the U.S. after Lotus's American importation agreement with Rolls-Royce was dissolved that same year.
With the previously mentioned criticisms noted, today the Elite represents a beautifully handling and relatively inexpensive way to get into four-seat Lotus ownership. Like many mid-1970s British cars, the Lotus Elite may require maintenance and parts sourcing at times, which can be expensive. The car, however, is quite affordably priced so as to lessen these pains.