LONDON, England – The Lotus Elise was unveiled in September 25 years ago ( September 1995) and was acknowledged, Lotus says, as ”a once-in-a-generation car so instilled with motor industry culture that it became a legend and an icon in its lifetime”.
The technology under the skin, how it was named after the grand-daughter of the then chairman of Lotus, and the way it switched the global motor industry back to the benefits of lightweight performance, efficiency, and being ‘for drivers’.
Patrick Peal, then Lotus’ PR boss, recalls some of the less-known stories from that time – ”those that never made headlines because the Elise itself so dominated them”.
The car designated as next in the Lotus ‘type number’ sequence as Type 111 (the Type 110 being the Lotus bike which still holds the UCI Absolute Hour record and the Type 112 (an F1 car for the 1995 season).
The Elise, Lotus said, was going to be called the One-Eleven to celebrate not only the Lotus Eleven of 1956 but also the Lotus 23 of 1962 because, the automaker says, ”the Elise concept was a spiritual successor to both”. However, just a few weeks before the unveiling, Lotus chairman Romano Artioli put forward the name ‘Elise’ so a logo and promotional material was hurriedly designed and the name registered with the trademark authorities.
Peal, today CEO of the East Anglia Air Ambulance, recalled: “I’d even bought the registration plate M111 LCL for one of the disguised prototypes and hinted to the media that this was going to be the name of the new car!
In hindsight, Artioli was right. ‘Elise’ was the perfect name for the car and shared with a playful little girl – his grand-daughter.”
The original plan was to unveil the Elise at the London Motorfair in October 1995 but Artioli decided four weeks before the Frankfurt auto show, to be staged a month earlier, that the Elise should be unveiled.
His reasoning… ”the bigger the stage, the bigger the bang of publicity”.
The extremely tight turnaround meant the media images had to be taken overnight, in a studio. The chosen combination for Frankfurt was a metallic green shell/tan interior and, as Peal explained, the background colour at the studio shoot became almost as important as that of the car.
“We needed a background to offset the green – the obvious choice would have been a conservative colour such as grey but Lotus doesn’t follow convention and we chose a bright mustard yellow. It brought out the shape, lines and, particularly, the colour of the car and was a reference to the Lotus logo colours, the Team’s F1 racing cars’ livery of the 1960s and, more subtly, the spice famously grown in Norfolk!” (an English county).
The under-the-skin technology of the Elise, its maker says, were ”pioneering”. The Elise had many world firsts but it was the extruded and bonded aluminium chassis that captured the media’s excitement.
Again, in a departure from the norm, Lotus led the Elise unveiling with the chassis, followed by the full car. As Patrick explained: “We decided to unveil the chassis first, complete with suspension, brakes and sub-frame. We wanted the world to fall in love with the Elise’s technology and the engineering as well as with the actual car.
”Plus, the whole structure would become a talking point and an advertisement for Lotus Engineering.”
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The plan, Peal recalled worked and auto industry executives crowded the show stand. ”I even kept an accelerator pedal in my jacket pocket to explain extruded aluminium technology. It was so light and neat – it perfectly summed up the car and its innovation!”
September 1995 arrived and Lotus caused the global motor industry to stop, stand, and stare. Peal likened it to being on an F1 starting grid in the 1970s: “Other teams would always keep an eye on Colin Chapman to see what his latest F1 car was like. They never knew what to expect – other than it would be pioneering – and they were always taken by surprise.
”It was the same at that Frankfurt show… other car company representatives were stunned by what we had come up with, muttering ‘Lotus has done it again!’
“We knew the Lotus Elise would revolutionise the car industry – and it did! It was a brilliant time and Im so proud to have been part of it!”