Lotus Eleven Le Mans Series 1 1956
Chassis no. (see text)
Engine no. 6863
1,172cc Coventry Climax FWA inline four, SOHC
83hp at 6,800rpm
BMC 4-speed manual transmission
Twin SU carburetors
*Eligible for this year's HRRDC under 2 liter championship
*Highly competitive Frank Costin design
*Le Mans Specification
*Beautiful - no nonsense - polished alloy presentation
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
Colin Chapman enjoyed enormous success with the Lotus Mk6, and the ever-restless engineer continued to improve it through subsequent series before Chapman approached Lotus number eleven, determined that he and aerodynamicist Frank Costin — who had brought science to the art of Lotus panel design — would pencil the proposal on clean sheets of paper. Not only was the resulting car smaller and lighter, it had the spectacular look of a winner — and it was a formidable competitor, taking the checkered flag almost 150 times in 1956 alone, its first year on campaign. This included a win at Le Mans in the 1100cc class and a seventh overall, only 27 laps behind a powerful D-Type Jaguar. The Lotus Eleven is still the most successful track car in Lotus history.
In some ways the Eleven stayed true to its predecessors — stressed aluminum panels draped over an exceptionally light (some 70 pounds) steel tubular structure — but in all dynamic respects it was a significant step forward. The Eleven was offered in three versions: A Club model, aimed at amateur racers and equipped with a modest 36hp Ford 10; and the Sport, powered by an all-new 1098cc aluminum Coventry Climax inline four. Both were fitted with live rear axles and drum brakes. The Le Mans featured such go-faster tweaks as four-wheel Girling inboard disc brakes, a de Dion rear axle, and specific transmission ratios.
The handcrafted bodywork for all Elevens was hinged front and rear for quick access to essentials — just as importantly, the car retained Frank Costin's vision of a sleek racer devoid by superfluities. Compared to Costin's previous Lotus, the Eleven had a lower, more streamlined bonnet, achieved by inclining the engine about ten degrees, which in turn required a revised sump and oil intake. Chapman also came up with a better cooling system to overcome the nose's smaller air entry. For racing, a wraparound windscreen and head fairing were available. Costin was confident the fairing alone provided the stability that might otherwise have been obtained with wing or spoiler. A 9.5-gallon tank was on the driver's side; an optional 11-gallon tank sat within the left-side body panel; the battery and spare tire were placed in the rear.
The CC engine was built in unit with the new gearbox, based on an Austin A30 case; all Le Mans transmissions were fitted with close-ratio gears. Chapman delighted in having parts perform more than a single role, and an example here was designing the transmission tunnel as a stressed member. The rear axle was an in-house makeover of BMC parts and, of course, could be fitted with a range of ratios to suit particular circuits. Steering was through a shortened rack-and-pinion system from the Morris Minor, graced with a quick 1.75 turns lock to lock.
Holding to convention, the front suspension was swing axle but now had a lower pivot point to reduce roll stiffness and thus moderate understeer. Girling coil-overs were fitted up front and also on the rear suspension, which was built around a new de Dion tube that, among its advantages, saved ten pounds of unsprung weight. Here again Chapman's innovation was clearly in view: The de Dion was pierced so that the tubular half shafts could pass straight through, giving them more length and reducing deflection at the universal joints. Two pair of radius arms located the axle either side and one was triangulated to absorb lateral forces.
Just 27 inches high at the base of the windscreen and with a curb weight of only 1,360 pounds, the Eleven was designed to cheat gravity and air of their performance-robbing barriers. The result was an elegant melding of engineering and design that rarely has been achieved in the search for speed.
The present owner of this shining Lotus Eleven is no stranger to the type, having owned and raced another Eleven in more than 300 vintage races, both in Europe (including a win at the '83 Monaco Historic GP) and back home in America. Keen to add to his Lotus collection, he found another Eleven in the UK, though it had been badly crashed — when and by who is unknown. Its long recovery to health began in the early '80s and included a completely new body from Williams and Pritchard. While most of the damaged panels were discarded, the owner retained the original doors and center section.
The underlying structures and mechanicals were attended to in the US. Completed over the last three years, the restoration used a host of original parts, including the suspension, gas tank, differential, throttle assembly, instruments, and carburetors.
Though this Eleven has lost its original chassis plate, and its provenance is unknown before the accident, Lotus experts have deemed this spectacular car as authentic. It has not been campaigned since the restoration, so a complete review of its structure and mechanicals is recommended before this treasure is returned to the track, where it belongs.
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