The Lotus Elite that should have won Le Mans

22nd March 2022
Adam Wilkins

Motorsport history is littered with stories of unfulfilled potential, and this unique Lotus Elite has just such a tale. Despite its outwardly standard appearance, under the skin it has a one-off mechanical package that bestowed it with pace that suggested Le Mans-winning potential. But fate would dictate that it would never have its chance to find out whether it had the reliability and good fortune to claim victory at the round-the-clock race.


The secret to its race-winning pace is a 2.0-litre Coventry Climax engine in place of the usual 1.3-litre, the engine bay having been cut and strengthened to accommodate the larger mill. There was more: the coil-spring front suspension, steering rack and brakes were liberated from a Lotus 18 Formula 1 car and the fuel tank was relocated for improved weight distribution. The stock outward appearance was deliberate, the hope being that any competition success would help to sell standard cars.

It wasn’t without its problems in early testing, the car’s nose-heaviness promoting understeer and the brakes needing work according to reports at the time. Without time to develop the Elite LX, as it was called, Lotus offered it for sale with a list of what needed doing and a promise of factory back-up. Mike Taylor bought the car, and was entered into the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix in his Lotus 18, a week ahead of the Elite’s Le Mans entry where it was to be driven by Innes Ireland and  Alan Stacey. Things started to unravel in a tragic way at Spa. Taylor suffered career-ending injuries in a crash, and Stacey was killed the following day when he was hit in the face by a pheasant.


In practice at Le Mans, Jonathan Sieff tried the LX but elected to drive his own Elite 1.3 instead. John Whitmore stepped in, but after half a dozen or so laps came across a stricken Sieff whose 130mph crash left him with life-threatening injuries. As it transpired, he survived but the events of those few days led Ireland to flee Le Mans and the Elite’s entry was cancelled. Could it have won the Le Mans 24 Hours? Nobody will ever know.

What we do know is that 6 SME made its first public appearance in many years at the 78th Members’ Meeting. Owner Nick May bought it in 2014 and immediately dispatched it to Classic Team Lotus for preparation. It took many years, because the Coventry Climax engine was beyond repair and a replacement proved elusive. In the meantime, the mechanicals were overhauled, but the bodywork required no work at all. It all came together just in time for 78MM.


Speaking to Nick after qualifying but ahead of his race, he told us: “It was finished last week, so I’m new to it and I haven’t driven at Goodwood before. It’s all a bit of a learning curve. We’re not here to make it perform as it should, we’re more interested in being here and showing the car and making sure it runs alright. No heroics. 

“We ran it once at Hethel last week on Thursday. It hasn’t done an hour yet so qualifying was a baptism of fire. It was alright. Obviously need to do some suspension set-up work on it. It was reliable, did everything it should do and very pleased with it so far.”

Did Nick think it was capable of Goodwood greatness? “It’s a unique car so I don’t want to do anything silly with it,” he said, “but it has a lot of potential. It should be quite strong with that engine.

“I noticed yesterday that down the straights we could keep up with the E-types. We just need some fettling to make it go around corners and stop. We know how much power it has but we don’t necessarily publicise it. We just say it’s enough.”

A fairy-tale race result eluded Nick and the Elite, starting 22nd on the grid and pushing forward to 20th come the race’s end. But by the time the Elite returns to Goodwood, perhaps a dream result will come to fruition. 

Photography by Pete Summers.

  • Le Mans

  • 78MM

  • Members Meeting

  • Lotus

  • Elite

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