Motor Trend   December 1958


       The LOTUS CLUB

        slight screamer

ALL LOTUS COMPONENTS are quickly accessible when four spring hooks are un-
snapped. hood and rear section are swung up. Both easily removed from car.






LOW FRONTAL AREA is typical of all Lotus models






Seating is a tight fit; lightweight seats wedge driver into firm, comfortable position so that no safety belt is needed during hard cornering.






LOTUS CLUB performed best on open highway, climbed mountain roads with ease, giving 25-mpg economy on trip.






COVENTRY CLIMAX engine displaces 1100cc, has single overhead cam, develops 75 hp at 6250 rpm in this model.




DESPITE THE FACT that Lotus "sportscars" have been around on road racing circuits for several years now, few people have seen them close up. Fewer still know anything more about them than that "They're some kind of a special, aren't they?" Even in an area as automotive-conscious as Southern California I was amazed at the questions asked, like:

"What kind of a car is it?"  

"Did you build that?"

           "What kind of a body is it?"

“What kind of an engine does it have?"

           "What country is that built in?"   

Of course the people you meet on the street are not the same ones who necessarily attend road races—aficionados who know that the Lotus is a car that has carved a niche for itself in competition. In the hands of the builder, Colin Chapman, it began to appear on road race circuits in 1953. Through its growing pains, using different engines, including a two-liter Bristol, it racked up several wins, including 11th place overall at Sebring, 1957, then fourth, sixth and ninth overall at Sebring, 1958.  New versions of the Lotus are still appearing because of two reasons: Colin Chapman strives to constantly improve the breed, and no one car is run long enough without change. That this is the policy of the Lotus Engineering Co. (London, England) is evident in its brochures, which state, "In accordance with the company's progressive policy, the right to alter specifications without notice is reserved."

My main interest in the Lotus Club was to determine if you can take a sports-racing machine like the Lotus Eleven and, without basic alterations, make it into a street machine. The Le Mans model is the original sports-racing machine, having seating capacity for only one, a built-in headrest-fin, and other minor changes that are more suited for all-out racing, including a windshield screen that wraps completely around the driver.

The basic differences between the Le Mans and Club models are these: The Club model has a live rear axle from a Nash Metropolitan, located by parallel trailing arms, with a diagonal member to provide lateral location; the Le Mans model has a de Dion rear suspension (The live axle on the Club model can be replaced by a de Dion system at extra cost.) The Club has hydraulically operated, two-leading shoe drum brakes: the Le Mans has disc brakes, outboard at front, inboard at rear. Both models have rack-and-pinion steering, though on the Le Mans model it is lighter. Gearboxes are different only insofar as ratios are concerned, the Le Mans having closer ratios. Both weigh about 850 pounds.

The exceptional road qualities inherent in the Lotus Eleven Le Mans have been carried forward into the Club. These are mainly due to the lightweight tubular frame, a sheet metal driveshaft tunnel that acts as a structural member to carry the floor and the rear engine mounts. The engine is tilted 10 degrees sideways so as to reduce frontal area. Front suspension is by swing axles, incorporating combined coil spring-shock units. The roll center is very low and greatly aids in its handling. The basic difference in handling between the Le Mans model and the Club is due to the latter's live rear axle. On rough roads the Club has a tendency to wander, or walk from side to side, taking real concentration to keep it in a straight line. The de Dion rear axle would more ably swallow up these changes in road contour.

Nevertheless, the handling of the Club model is quite wonderful. It has very quick Steering, has marvelous response and, of course, would be easy to overcorrect if you're not familiar with such a car. Taking it around a turn, no matter how many degrees there are, you never have to take your hands off the leather-wrapped wheel for there are only 1 ½ turns lock-to-lock. 

The engine used in both Lotuses is virtually the same—the 1100cc Coventry Climax four. This is an aluminum block engine with steel liners, an overhead cam driven by chain from the crank. The crankshaft is fully counterweighted, uses five bearings, and has split connecting rods to enable their easy removal. The pistons are aluminum, combustion chambers are wedge-shaped, and the compression ratio is 9.8 to 1. Power output is 75 bhp at 6250 rpm or 83. at 6800 rpm, depending on the state of tune.

To get back to the question at hand, is it a street machine—or at least one that you could drive back and forth to work? Or is it best for a competition driver who wants to move up in class, and happens to have $4709 in loose change? Let me recount some of my experiences with it after leaving Jay Chamberlain's place in North Hollywood (the U.S. distributor) until I returned it a week later. Then you can decide for yourself.

When you first stand alongside this three-foot-high (at the windshield) machine that fits into your 20-foot garage with more than four feet to spare at either end, you get the impression of fragility. Never forget it! You'll find that the aluminum body is virtually paper-thin. If you lean too heavily on the body when you're washing it, you're liable to leave a dent. You have to make sure you're not parked alongside someone who opens his door suddenly, putting a nice crease in your side. You want to park it where curious onlookers won't paw all over it and give you handprints—handprints that are outlined by the shape of the metal itself.

You can get into the car in one of two ways. I found it was much easier to step directly over the side (which is only 24 inches high) than to open the flap-down door—which makes it a shorter height to step over but increases the spread. If you have dirty shoes and clean clothes, the best method is to lift up the seat cushion every time that you get out; then when you step in you keep the cushion—and your pants--clean. Once you're standing inside, you then place both feet on the floor, and shoehorn your legs under the wheel. This is the only way to get in. Otherwise, you'll find that one leg is caught between the tunnel and the wheel, or between the door and the wheel   .  .  . and then you'll have to start the procedure all over again.

Starting was easy enough once the battery situation on this particular car was cured. You turn the key, punch the starter button, choke it if necessary, but don't pump the throttle. You don't let the engine idle too long, since there's no fan; the only cooling you get is when you're moving and air rushes through the radiator.

In town there is a definite tendency to overheat because of the lack of a fan. Several times the temperature went over 100° C, but a few minutes of running at normal road speeds dropped the temperature back to normal. The water won't boil away though, because the expansion tank catches the water that would normally be boiling out.

Since you have to back out of the garage, you reach down to the gear lever on your left, lift up, push over to the right, and drop down into reverse. At first you'll find that you'll be using both hands to do this, but as you get onto it you'll realize it's a safety factor: there is no danger of dropping into reverse (alongside fourth) when you make a snapshift from third to fourth. Incidentally, the top three gears are synchromesh and the shift pattern is the normal H, outside of the reverse position.

The driving position is quite nice, with the wheel in an almost straight-out arm position. The lightweight seats contour to your back and you're wedged down into a comfortable position. (There's no reason for seatbelts.) The pedal positions are good, with ample room between the clutch, transmission housing and steering column, and an equal amount of room for the brake pedal and throttle between the column and the side panel. The driveshaft tunnel traps heat from the engine and the transmission also gets fairly hot; it would be more comfortable if this section were padded.

Watch those water puddles! The water picked up by the tires splatters onto the inside of the fenderwell and comes through the seam where the rear section meets the driver's compartment. For the same reason, take it easy on dirt or on newly tarred sections.

If you take a trip and intend to carry any luggage or clothes other than those that you have on, you'll find there is very little room. We fitted the paraphernalia we carried on our desert and mountain trip with the car into the two small door compartments, on the ledges alongside the driver and passenger, and the rest on the passenger floor. In this way we were able to carry our camera, briefcase, clipboard, jackets, and stopwatches.

For some unaccountable reason the float bowl for the two S.U. carburetors sits between them, and all three units are directly above the exhaust headers. Even though a thin aluminum sheet separates them, the heat from the headers, coupled with the underhood heat, results in the gasoline percolating in the float bowl. This, of course, held down both our performance and gasoline mileage. Even so, we got 25.1 miles per gallon on our mountain-desert-town course of 211 miles.

Is the Lotus Club a street machine? Personally, I look on it as a good base for competition at moderate cost. It has the performance, the handling, and quick access to parts that may need servicing. With the unsnapping of two spring hooks (one on each side at the front) the hood and front fenders lift as one unit, hinging forward. The rear section opens the same way. Both can also be lifted off their cam locks and laid aside.

The Lotus Club with 4.55 rear axle gives 16.7 mph for every 1000 rpm turned in high gear. This means that at the maximum rev limit of 7200, the car is capable of 120.2 mph in top gear and 72.1 mph in third gear. Acceleration is equal to the best sportscars in its category. The Club can turn 86 mph at the end of a quarter-mile through the gears. You can't get much better than that for a sports-racing machine.

It's light, slight, but what a screamer!  /MT

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