For over half a century, it’s been Lotus’s sole commandment, the words to live by penned by company founder Colin Chapman: “Simplify, then add lightness.” And since 1952, the company has never strayed far from that mantra, from the barely street-legal Lotus 7 to today’s Exige and Evora, no one does flyweight driver’s cars better than Lotus. If you want brutal speed, save your pennies for the Bugatti Chiron. But if you want corner-carving brilliance that can beat any car in the world in the twisties, buy a Lotus.
Of course, Chapman’s edict has also been easy to follow because Lotus is — and seemingly always has been — broke, so it’s essential to wring everything it can out of its parts. It doesn’t have the resources to sink millions into developing ultra-limited edition models like Lamborghini, and it certainly isn’t capable of building a technological powerhouse along the lines of the LaFerrari/McLaren P1/Porsche 918. Instead, it has continued to refine its Exige, Evora, Elise, and 3-Eleven, making them simpler, lighter, and yes, faster than some of the most formidable hypercars in the world.
Take the Porsche 918 Spyder for example. The hybrid hypercar is a technological triumph. With 887 horsepower on tap, the most advanced road-going Porsche in the world can scramble from zero to 60 in under 2.5 seconds, and tops out at an incredible 210 miles per hour. The only thing more impressive than its performance may be its price; starting at $845,000, you aren’t likely to see one at your local Porsche dealership anytime soon. And yet, Lotus’s diminutive, no-frills 3-Eleven just beat it around Germany’s Hockenheimring by 0.1 seconds during a test for German magazine Sport Auto, making it the fastest car to ever lap that circuit.
The 3-Eleven is as close to the embodiment of everything Chapman worked for as we’ll probably ever see. After the lap was marked down in the history books, Lotus chief Jean-Marc Gales had nothing but praise for the car and its driver:
Christian [Gebhardt, Sport Auto’s chief driver] set a fabulous lap in less than ideal conditions. We knew from the outset that we have created a simply phenomenal car that is capable of great things, and this lap record proves that beyond doubt. This is the ultimate embodiment of the Lotus design philosophy; it’s a beautifully engineered machine that doesn’t carry one ounce of excess weight. With 460hp on tap and race car handling at your disposal, this car is the ultimate giant killer.
Gebhardt had plenty to say about the car too. In his review, he said, “The Lotus 3-Eleven is an amazingly fast and track focused car in which to have a lot of fun at the limit.”
At just 1,900 pounds (in race-spec), the tiny roadster is a no-frills Evora-based speedster that can scramble from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds thanks to a 460-horsepower Toyota-sourced supercharged V6. Top speed is 180 miles per hour, though with a thin composite body, no windshield, and an optional passenger seat, we wouldn’t recommend trying it without unless you’re wearing a helmet — and on a closed race track. Starting at $129,000, it isn’t cheap, but compared to the 918 Spyder it’s an absolute bargain. Unfortunately, Lotus has been largely absent from the U.S. market of late, so getting your hands on a road-legal 3-Eleven might be difficult. But if you really want one for track use only, we’re sure Lotus would be happy to oblige.
We’re living through one of the most exciting times in automotive history, and exotic and ultra-complex cars like the 918 Spyder and its ilk are a huge reason why. This embrace of new technology is making virtually every car safer, faster, and more efficient than it was even five years ago. And yet, as gearheads, there’s a part of us that love seeing an analog little luddite fly in the face of the status quo, and show the world that the basic principles set aside by a visionary building cars in a shed over 60 years ago are as relevant as ever. Lotus’s latest record is one to be celebrated. We hope it never changes.