A celebrity name in a car’s history file can massively inflate a classic car’s value. And if the car in question is from a blue-chip sports car brand with serious motorsport heritage, the numbers can get pretty crazy. Just ask the guy who parted with $1.95 million for Steve McQueen’s 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo Carrera.
But it is still possible to buy a cool car with a great badge and a genuine superstars’s name in the ownership documents. This Lotus Elite was once owned by F1 legend Mario Andretti and is expected to sell for just £10,000-12,000 ($12,000-14,500) when it crosses the block at H&H’s Pavillion Gardens auction on November 30.
Andretti drove for Lotus in the late 1960s but became a fully-fledged member of Team Lotus in 1976, and by 1978 he’d capitalized on the ground-effects technology of the revolutionary Lotus 78 and its 79 successor to win six races and secure both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
Understandably, Lotus boss Colin Chapman wanted his hot-shot driver to be seen in the company’s road cars, so issued Andretti with this left-hand drive, British-registered Elite in 1976. The front-engined, two-plus-two Elite was a massive deal for Lotus when it was introduced in 1974, part of Chapman’s plan to take the Lotus brand upmarket and escape its kit-car roots, having sold the rights to the Seven to Caterham in 1973.
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The basic concept of a steel backbone chassis topped with a fibreglass body was familiar enough to Lotus buyers, but the angular styling with its practical opening hatchback definitely wasn’t, and neither was a newfound level of luxury that included power steering and automatic transmission options for the first time on a Lotus.
Also new was the aluminum Type 907 DOHC 2.0-liter engine that would eventually go on to power the more famous Esprit in modified form. Andretti’s car was rated at 155 hp (158 PS) and would have been good for zero to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 7.8 seconds and 126 mph (203 km/h) when new.
Not today, though. We don’t know when Andretti handed back the keys, but the car’s last registered keeper bought it in 1984 and it last passed a UK MOT roadworthiness test in 2013. The current owner says the Elite has recently received a minor service and a new battery but would benefit from a new clutch and some attention to the brakes. But provided the backbone chassis hasn’t disintegrated, it should be a fairly straightforward project.
It’s certainly an interesting one. The Elite’s funky 1970s styling made it unfashionable in the 1990s and 2000s, but the wagon-back coupe looks cooler with every passing year, and Mario’s is a great name to be able to drop at the gas station when someone asks you about it. And then there’s the price: $12-14k is beer money for a car with this many talking points.