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Classic Lotus models are known for their sleek looks and strict diets, but Lotus itself was not completely immune to various questionable trends in the automotive industry. And this goes for design, as well as engineering. By the early 1970s, the boutique British automaker traded Jag-like curves for something a little wedgier, a form claimed by some to be “the shape of things to come.” The sports car maker also moved in the direction of practicality, seeking to offer something a little easier to live with on a daily basis rather than building cars solely for weekend blasts on B roads.
And that’s how the Elite Type 75 came about, offering four seats in a shooting brake wrapper.
Powered by 2.0- and later 2.2-liter inline-fours, the fiberglass-bodied Elite entered production in 1974, and to make itself a little more daily driver-friendly it even offered an optional automatic transmission starting in 1976. Yes, this is still a Lotus we’re talking about — the company went through phases of trying to court “regular” car buyers in order to boost sales. The wedge-shaped Elite was one such attempt, and it stayed in production until 1982. Lotus managed to sell just north of 2,500 cars during those years.
The Elite was not a runaway commercial success (even by Lotus standards) due to its high price; there was just no way to match the production costs of mass-market automakers. A slightly larger 2.2-liter engine that arrived in 1980 did not help increase sales, as the Elite still existed in the strange niche of a high-priced, four-cylinder shooting brake. Current values for the model place concours-condition examples just shy of the $15,000 mark, and there are plenty of cars below $10,000 that can be bought with a few ill-considered, wine-fueled internet auction clicks.
The Elite (pictured) was upstaged by the Eclat, which was basically a fastback coupe version of the same car.
But is the collector car market ready to give the Elite a second look, especially as the lesser-known cars of the 1970s and the 1980s gain popularity?
There are a few reasons why this is unlikely to happen in the near future, even as other wedge-shaped sports cars with flared fenders gain value.
First, the Elite is overshadowed a bit by the Eclat — essentially a fastback coupe version of the model — as well as the earlier, much more collectible Type 14 Elite. Second, the Elite’s D-pillar still invites comparisons to a certain, infamous AMC model, and low values have kept these cars from getting overrestored. This means that a lot of the Elite shooting brakes on the roads today are driver examples, and that the worst examples disappeared a long time ago. Third, rarity does not equal collectibility. The Elite was a rare attempt by the company to approach something resembling a mainstream car, but it ended up being one of the most expensive four-cylinder cars of the time. A beefier engine may not have helped as the Elite was not that big of a car and still adhered to the simplify-then-add-lightness mantra. Finally, Lotus was able to satisfy just about all the demand it could muster for this model during its production years, and even the Eclat coupe attracted only modest interest during this time.
Lotus is rapidly approaching another everyday car phase with an SUV in the works that will inevitably invite comparisons to other commute-friendly models in its past, as the company tries once again to branch out of its sports car niche.