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By and large, today’s cars are quite “busy.” Their fascias zig and zag, and their interiors pack more gizmos and amenities than some modern houses. Busy, busy, busy. However, that’s certainly not a word you could use to describe this masterpiece on four wheels.
This is a Lotus Eleven, and though it’s about as spartan as cars come, it’s also about as beautiful as they come too. Designed by Lotus founder Colin Chapman, the sultry Eleven epitomized the race engineer’s famous “simplify then add lightness” mantra, and it led to racing class dominance on track. Next to the iconic Seven, it was truly a car that put Lotus on the map.
Now, fast forward to 2016, and this achingly pretty 1956 Lotus Eleven has emerged on eBay. It’s one of about 270 ever built, though if you fancy one, it’ll cost you. This Eleven lists for a tall $110,000.
Unlike some of Chapman’s previous cars, the storied Lotus Eleven was not linked to another production car—such as an Austin 7—but rather it was a blank sheet build. At its core rested a tubular steel space frame chassis, which weighed only 70 pounds. Over top, it came dressed in a sleek low-drag aluminum body, which was designed by one of Chapman’s first employees—Frank Costin, previously an aircraft engineer.
The beating heart beneath was subject to change, however. Chapman offered Lotus Elevens in either kit or fully-built form, and with a choice of a side-valve Ford 100E engine (Sports), a 75hp Coventry Climax 1.1-liter (Club), or a 1.5-liter single-seater configuration (Le Mans). The Le Mans trim also brought with it disc brakes and a supple de Dion suspension, but not much else.
These cars were devoid of anything that wasn’t deemed necessary, and a look inside this car’s cockpit shows just that. Colin Chapman would provide lights, a lid, and a windshield for road-going cars, however you can imagine he must have cringed every time these ancillaries were added.
Production kicked off in 1956 and by spring 1957 around 150 Lotus Elevens had been produced, at which point Chapman introduced a redesigned Series-2 Eleven, now with a more predictable double A-arm front suspension. When things wrapped up in 1958, around 270 had rolled off the small production line.
This particular ’56 Lotus Eleven is said to have been restored within the last couple years, and it genuinely presents very well. Its racing history is unknown, as are the whereabouts of its original 1.1-liter engine, but now it houses an even more powerful 1.2-liter Coventry Climax mill. All the better for catching up larger, more powerful cars in vintage racing events, which this car likely qualifies for.