The Elite was launched in 1959
as a sophisticated and
superb handling GT and was the first vehicle to use a
glassfibre monocoque comprising floor, body and a centre
structure with its opening panels secured in place afterwards.
The Elite's most distinctive feature was its highly innovative fiberglass monocoque construction, in which a stressed-skin unibody replaced the previously separate chassis and body components.
Unlike the contemporaneous Chevrolet Corvette, which used fiberglass for only exterior bodywork, the Elite also used this glass-reinforced plastic material for the entire load-bearing structure of the car, though the front of the monocoque incorporated a steel subframe supporting the engine and front suspension, and there was a hoop at the windscreen for mounting door hinges and jacking the car up. This body construction caused numerous early problems, until manufacture was handed over to Bristol Aeroplane Company.
The resultant body was both lighter, stiffer, and provided better driver protection in the event of a crash. The weight savings allowed the Elite to achieve sports car performance from a 75 hp (55 kW) 1216 cc Coventry Climax all-aluminum L4 engine.
Climax-powered Elites won their class six times at the 24 hour Le Mans race as well as two Index of Thermal Efficiency wins.
The overhead-cam 1216cc engine powered the car reaching
a top speed of 189 km/h.
What made this vehicle unique
was its quick handling. Its front used coil-sprung damper
units and MacPherson struts were used at the rear.
This resulted in excellent cornering which luckily, was
not at the expense of comfort. High specification disc
brakes were used on all wheels, and it also boasted rack-and-pinion
Advanced aerodynamics also made a contribution, giving the car a very low drag coefficient of 0.29 — quite low even for modern cars. The original Elite drawings were by Peter Kirwan-Taylor. Frank Costin (brother of Mike, one of the co-founders of Cosworth), at that time Chief Aerodynamic Engineer for the de Havilland Aircraft Company, contributed to the final design.
But this car did have its downfalls. Its shell caused
a great deal of vibrating, and ventilation was also poor
- it was actually impossible to wind down the windows!
It was also quite pricey, being more expensive than a Jaguar XK 150.