It got me thinking: what comes to mind when we think of Lotus? Lots of Trouble Usually Serious maybe, or - more positively - Simplify, then add lightness? Does any other British car company inspire such a wide-ranging host of reactions as Hethel's finest? It's either pilloried by acronym for fragility or lauded for its individual sports cars; each supposedly embodying the philosophies of its founding father, the legendary Colin Chapman.
After all the firm's reputation was built on lightweight speedsters, started many years ago by its innovative road and racing cars from the era when ACBC was still in charge. It started with the successful Mk lll 750 racer, and then went on, working through such beauties as the aerodyne Mk Vlll, the beautiful Type 14 Elite road car and the iconoclastic GP racers, the 18, 25, 72 and 78.
Chapman was a man of rare engineering prowess - industrious, intelligent and purposeful - continually striving to improve his own products, most of which weren't quite good enough for his own perfectionist personality. He was a gifted designer, and he was also clever enough to employ talented people around him, men like Frank Costin or Tony Rudd or Peter Wright, or to choose suitable engines and parts from the likes of Coventry Climax, Triumph or Ford.
1961 Type 14 Elite, though, spotted in the PH classifieds and on offer for £60k. The Elite was a car as brilliant in its design as it was dreadful in its execution, but such beauty as it possesses must surely, like love itself, be worth the pain. Buy with caution. Own with enormous pleasure. In fact keep it in your living room and just look at it and you shouldn't have any problems with it at all.
The Elan followed soon after; to some even prettier than the Elite in certain guises and more modern, with a steel backbone chassis. Alas, despite much work, its reputation for mechanical fallibility, as with the Elite, goes before it. This was the car, though, that, in tiny drop head form, inspired the MX-5. Driven by Emma Peel in The Avengers, it inspired a whole lot more than that.
relatively late 1975 model, with a 105bhp 1.6-litre twin-cam engine, in our classifieds for a modest £30k. Remember, this car could knock off the 0 to 60mph sprint in 6.6 seconds, according to contemporary road tests, and gripped like the proverbial limpet.
A brace of eye-catching Esprits and Eclats and new Elites followed in the 1970s and '80s, and prices for them range these days from temptingly low to outrageously expensive. For example there's a 1988 2.2 Excel in our classifieds for £6,400 which, on the face of it, looks good value for something that's so handsome - but be warned: you'll need a sizeable reserve of dosh.
Elan Turbo SE proved a 6.5 second 0 to 60mph flyer. It had a plastic body and a backbone chassis, too, just like the original Elan. Now, around £8k would secure you this one.
As Shed mentioned, there are a whole heap of cars that have used Lotus know-how over the years, including Proton (who were also previous owners of the firm) and Isuzu, a leaf on the GM tree, as was Lotus for a time. There was also the Lotus-Cortina, of course, the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton and the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, among others. There's no need to dwell on the unfortunate DeLorean project, except to say that if you can put up with what the car eventually emerged as, you could purchase what must surely be, in the inconceivable logic of the classic car market, an appreciating asset, for just £32k here.
The Elise is all very well, but it's just too heavy and compromised. Enter the 340R, a stripped-down and extreme version and a concept car dream that made the showrooms. Extreme? No doors; no roof. Power came from the familiar Rover-derived engine, so expect 0-60mph in 4.3sec and a top speed of 130mph. With its stiffened suspension the 340R was super sharp, amazingly agile and wonderfully rewarding on road or track, and grip was immense, thanks to bespoke semi-slick Yokohama tyres.
Only 340 were built (see what they did?) and finding one is tricky. It's rare to catch one in our classifieds, but this one is a mere £70k, £30k less than the 430 Cup. Worth taking a risk? Worth taking a helmet, maybe, and some good waterproofs.