But I haven't seen a race-spec Lotus built by Colin Chapman himself in a very long time.
Granted, this 1957 Eleven is not a proper barn find because it's being kept in a heated garage alongside other prized classic cars. And it also looks like it just got a restoration and it's getting a lot of pampering. But it rarely comes out of storage so it's hard not to consider it a barn find. Especially since it was documented by Hagerty's Tom Cotter for the company's "Barn Find Hunter" series. And amazingly enough, Tom found the car within walking distance from his vacation house in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
So what's the story of this race car and why is it an important find? Well, the Lotus Eleven was built back in the 1950s when Colin Chapman was still leading the British carmaker. And it came to be in an era when racing was still about lightweight cars devoid of driving aids. More importantly, this Eleven was also driven by Chapman itself, which is a rare feat since he didn't do much racing.
If you're not familiar with the Eleven, it was built from 1956 to 1958 as a replacement for the Mark IX. Crafted around a tubular space frame and designed by aerodynamicist Frank Costin, the Eleven tipped the scales at only 1,000 pounds (454 kg) and was aimed at the 1,100cc class. And it became one of the most successful cars in this category from its arrival until the late 1960s.
Notable achievements include class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1956 and 1957, similar victories at Sebring, and a class world record of 143 mph (230 kph) for a lap at Monza. In 1957, an Eleven fitted with a 750cc engine won the Index of Performance at Le Mans.
Speaking of powerplants, the Eleven was primarily designed to run with a 1.1-liter four-cylinder designed by Coventry-Climax. However, some cars were also fitted with 1.5-liter Coventry engines and 1.2-liter Ford mills. Customers also raced them with Maserati, DKW, and Saab powerplants.
So what's the story of this particular Eleven? Well, the cool thing is that the owner has had it since... hold on tight... 1979. That's when he got it for "not a lot of money" from the folks over at Lotus. And he kept it ever since, treating it like a garage queen but also taking it out for the occasional spin.
And the car has an impressive racing history to brag about, including the 1957 Mille Miglia. Fitted with a 1.1-liter Coventry-Climan engine, it was driven by Colin Chapman, Gregor Grant, Cliff Allison, and Innes Ireland. And it comes with a big stash of documents and vintage photos. On top of that, it looks almost as clean as when it left the Lotus shop to leave a mark on the racing scene.
It's an incredible time capsule and fully-fledged legend that's probably worth a lot of money. But we won't find out how much because the owner isn't willing to let it go. If you're into vintage Lotus racers, this walk around is all you need to learn more about one of Colin Chapman's greatest creations. The Lotus bit starts at the 5:50-minute mark.