Lotus 2-Eleven – Stripped!

Published on June 24th, 2009
Praise be, Lotus’ engineers have preserved the naked aggression and spawned what you see here: a track-ready and road-legal 2-Eleven. Ned heads to Norfolk to learn more about Lotus Cars and discovers the most hardcore Elise yet.
72 victories, 88 poles, 63 fastest laps, seven constructors’ championships and six driver’s title – the innovations and the money troubles all are better known than the man himself. Understanding structures, bracing and materials undoubtedly helped him make his most audacious automotive leaps.

It’s been 25 years ever since the white-haired Colin Chapman passed away. The legendary Englishman who is the founder of Lotus might be gone but his influence remains visible everywhere; not just in the products filtering out from Hethel. In his short 54 years, Chapman managed to change the course of single-seater racing and created some of the greatest road cars including the Lotus Seven, which remains the definitive trackday machine.

There’s no door, and it’s tricky to get in. Then there’s the red button that reads start – press it and the engine makes up for the soapbox styling and cabin in a noisy way, rumbling at the sort of decibel level that will plaster a grin on any petrolhead’s face. And none of the buttons could possibly go wrong in this car because — apart from the one used to start it — it doesn’t have any.

Mind you, there’s no roof either. From the driver’s seat there is no mirror, so you can’t see yourself, which means you have no idea what the hurricane is doing to your face. As you can see from the pictures, it’s doing quite a lot. I didn’t care because this car — if you can call it that — is motoring nirvana. Because the 2-Eleven has an excess of 250bhp with no bodywork and weighs less than 750kg, which in automotive terms is feather light. It makes a Lotus Exige look fat.

You could fit such a thing with the engine from a washing machine and it would go like a fighter jet. That means you’re getting more than 450bhp per tonne, and that’s more than you get from a Lamborghini Murciélago. Obviously it has aerodynamics, so the top speed is around 250km/h, but the time it takes to achieve this is simply mind-boggling: 0-100km/h, for instance, is dealt with in just 3.5 seconds. If that sounds scary, they’re working on a more powerful and carbon-fibred version that won’t ripple your face, or so much as tear it off.

We’re talking motorbike performance here, and real superbike thrills. But because the 2-Eleven has four wheels it won’t fall over when you leave it alone, you don’t have to wear a helmet, and rubber fetish clothes are not de rigueur. Of course, when I first drove the 2-Eleven it was a lovely sunny day. The thermometer was nudging 15°C and I was on a track, kissing the apexes perfectly because I could actually see the point where the wheel touched the road, and holding power slides until I was bored with them. Honestly, I felt like a toddler who has just seen his first zoo animal.

Because the 2-Eleven looks like a racing car, it seems at home on the track. But on country roads, it causes people to drop their shopping. And out in the city it is every bit as much fun as the photographs suggest. It is absolute motoring at its frenzied best.

Maybe the front’s a little bit floaty and maybe the brakes could be a touch more powerful. And maybe I should have put on a full-face helmet because running into a cloud of dust kicked up by a passing juggernaut at 100km/h really hurts. Beside me, there’s the engine air intake trying to suck my right ear off, and with the 2-Eleven’s amusing character, I kept bursting into spontaneous laughter as if I was in one of the larger Hot-wheels die-cast car.

With such a short road test on offer I had to suss out the handling quickly. A 180-degree spin did the trick and it was such a peach of a maneuver that I wish I’d seen it from the outside. A turn of the power-assisted steering, a heavy dose of right foot and a quick lift of the clutch set the tail sliding round.

At the starting line the countdown began, the revs rose and we were off in a roar, the rear tyres slithering for grip through first gear and the tail only straightening once I’d snatched second. The short tree-lined straight went in a blur as I acclimatised to the punch of the motor, and the 7000rpm limit arrived a moment before slowing for the tricky first right-hand corner. The car turned in neatly enough, the back end followed with a little wiggle and the supercharged engine pulled strongly out of it.

The gearshift is short and direct in first and second, though third gear requires a map – I might have selected fifth, who knows – but the massive torque covered any potential embarrassment. With a fast sweeping left-hander looming rapidly, it was a relief to find that the brakes worked well. Back on the gas, and the soundtrack from the two exhausts echoed between the tall flint wall that’s scarily close to the track on the left, and the hay bales and trees to the right. My smile remained intact. Even crossing the finishing line didn’t stop me stabbing at the throttle to hear more of that thunderous mechanical grunt until the marshals asked me to stop.

I think the best thing about this car, though, is the way it looks. It’s not cool but tempting as any of the brushed aluminium toys you find in a Geneva duty-free gadget shop. Don’t worry, though, about buying a car from Lotus. The engine and gearbox come straight from Toyota and are bolted in place, so it’s extremely unlikely they’ll go wrong. And you can’t worry about the trim falling off or squeaking, because there simply isn’t any.

It really is just you, the brilliant chassis, an engine, four wheels and surprisingly comfortable plastic bucket seat wrapped leather. Oh, and a front-mounted boot that is easily big enough for a small bread roll. Again, the only really complex part, it seems, is the roof because there isn’t any. And there’s also no place to put your umbrella if god decides to give you a little downpour. Oh, and there’s no radio to warn you about the weather either.

In terms of sheer thrills, the 2-Eleven is easily a match for the Porsche 911 GT3, not to mention quicker and it costs a third of its price. That’s yet another reason why I have no hesitation in giving the 2-Eleven five stars.

I will surely head back to Norfolk, but this time in the Evora.

Lotus 2-Eleven
Price: P.O.A
Engine: 1,796cc, supercharged inline-four
Layout: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Power: 252bhp at 8,000rpm
Torque: 242Nm at 7,500rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3.5 secs
Top Speed: 250km/h
Weight: 745 kilograms
Transmission: Six-speed manual

words & pix:  Ned Aznir

Comments

  1. Posted by Nick G on June 25th, 2009, 19:03

    God Bless Colin Chapman!

  2. Posted by Ben Marr on April 17th, 2011, 06:32

    Are you sure it has power steering?

    Glad you enjoyed the car, but perhaps a little more research… I am sure that the engineers at Hethel would have been eager to help.

  3. Posted by Traffic Mag on April 18th, 2011, 12:19

    hi ben,

    thanks for the heads up. btw, i wouldn’t be sure about that as the test drive was done by a freelancer few years back and he can’t be contacted at all.

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