There’s no escaping it really. The Lotus Elise GT1 is largely forgotten with good reason. It was competitively fairly useless. Of all the manufacturers to throw their hat into the ring of a discipline dominated by big bank balances and leading-edge budget-no-object R&D, you wouldn’t imagine it to be pokey old late’90s Lotus. Alas, they did, and the results were predictable – but undeniably cool.
APR 06th 2017
Four reasons the Lotus Elise is actually the coolest GT1 car
Yet here we are musing over it, following an utterly spectacular appearance at the 75th Members’ Meeting. It brought a guttural V8 furore/curvaceous yet vast super sportscar body combo, both to the Members’ Meeting and to grids in period, not seen since the days of Lola T70 MKIIIBs, gnashing away at the rubbery heels of Porsche 917s in the Group 5 era. So without further delay, here are a few interesting things you might not know about the cool-despite-its-failure Lotus Elise GT1!
It’s powered by American muscle
If you were there to catch the GT1 high-speed demo at 75MM, or have watched and heard our video on it – or were indeed there in the flesh to watch and hear these cars compete – you probably nod knowingly when reading that the Elise GT1 is packing some serious American muscle. During their GM days, Lotus helped develop the C4 Corvette ZR1, which made use of the new 5.7-litre ‘LT5’ V8. It is this V8, albeit heavily modified with a flat-plane crank, that sits amidships in the Elise GT1, making all that furious blood-gargling noise. The 3.5-litre turbo V8 from the preceeding Esprit GT1 had a tryout, but was not especially reliable (are we surprised?), hence the Chevy lump got tapped in.
It had a final outing in 2004
Yes, in spite of the poor performance the Elise GT1 put in when it was new, people obviously saw potential in it. They had to be optimists looking at a then-7-year-old car that achieved a best placing of fifth in its day, throughout a career comprised mostly of DNFs. American sportscar crew 'Team Elite' entered chassis #05 into the LMP1 class at Sebring, the results were predictable – seven laps in the gearbox gave way. Funny how such an ineffective car caught people’s attention, even today with its appearance at 75MM.
It had a Bitter Sister
Still more people saw potential in it. One of the former factory drivers, Mike Hezemans, noted that the main areas where the GT1 fell short were in its powertrain and aerodynamics. The road-derived engine couldn’t match the bespoke builds of Mercedes and Porsche for consistent grunt. A replacement in the form of 8.0-litre V10s courtesy of GT2 class Chrysler Vipers would be dropped into the two re-purposed Elise chassis – which would also receive a sleeker, more aerodynamic body courtesy of Bitter Cars. They would never complete a race, with mechanical gremlins again haunting the project.
Just one road car was made
The classic get-around story of GT1 homologation is often told in the context of the 911 GT1 and CLK GTR, but the Germans certifiably toed the line by comparison to Lotus. Twenty-odd legitimate 911 GT1 road cars were built and indeed still circulate today. Not so with the Lotus. A singular road car was built, running the 3.5-litre turbocharged V8 of the Esprit, and never left Lotus’ ownership. Incidentally, you could levy the same charge at Toyota, whose barely-a-GT TS020 GT One had only two road-going siblings.
Photography by Jochen Van Cauwenberge, Drew Gibson and Jayson Fong
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