The end may truly be nigh for Lotus. The dimunitive roadster pictured above is likely the last “true” Lotus. New Group Lotus CEO Danny Bahar has the troops in Hethel working away on a lineup of at least five high-end sports cars and GTs that will start rolling out in 2012. Bahar wants a cross between Ferrari and Porsche instead of purist kit cars, and at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which starts March 1st, Lotus and Mansory will announce a partnership. While the five concepts that Lotus showed last fall are certainly striking, what they most certainly are not are Lotuses – at least not as envisioned by founder Colin Chapman. Having the Swiss twits add their “tuner” touch is certainly a song from a different hymnal.
The Elise has remained remarkably true to Chapman’s vision through its 15-year run. Despite having to deal with modern crash and emissions regulations, the Elise and its hard-top counterpart the Exige were the cars that Chapman would be building were he alive today. The success of the Elise and its various derivatives undoubtedly saved Lotus from extinction following the debacles that were the Elan and then the aborted M200.
“Add lightness and simplicate” may or may not have ever been uttered by Chapman, and the man was certainly not averse to technology. There was a turbine powered all-wheel-drive car that nearly won at Indy in 1968 and he created the ground-effects race car starting with the 1977 Lotus 78. But his most successful creations were always the fundamentally correct examples like the 7 and the original Elan.
The new lineup is larger, heavier, more luxurious and nothing like the Elise we know and love today. The Club Racer that will debut in Geneva is a parting shot at what was Lotus. The engineers stripped it down even further by deleting noise insulation – who knew the Elise ever had noise insulation? – and substituting a lightweight battery, thus cutting the already svelte mass by another 24 kg. This is the way it should be done at Hethel and it doesn’t look like it will ever happen again.
Instead, alongside the Club Racer, Lotus will also announce the a new partnership with Mansory. For those that don’t recall, Mansory is the outfit behind some of the most godawful customizations of recent years, replete with big wheels, gawdy paint schemes and wildly overwrought body kits. We’ll spare you the gory details but the future is not bright for Lotus if this is the direction they are taking. With a lineup that is expanding far too rapidly and “design help” from an outfit with absolutely no sense of where to stop, I fear that Lotus may soon be buried for good. Don’t look Colin, they know not what they do.
Thankfully there are enough Elises and Exiges on the road that we will have something to remember the company by for some time to come.