Why doesn’t Gordon Murray own a Lotus Elise? | Top Gear
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Why doesn’t Gordon Murray own a Lotus Elise?

There’s one sub-1000kg car that’ll remain forbidden fruit to the McLaren F1's creator

  • I really hope Gordon isn’t upset by this.

    We’ve come to the headquarters of Gordon Murray Automotive to have a poke around Professor M’s exquisite featherweight car collection. Might I recommend settling back with a glass of something ice-cold and enjoying our hour-long video with Gordon himself walking TG around the family of cars he’s always promised himself? I personally guarantee you’ll finish it feeling cleverer than when it started.

    Breathtaking as the Murray bunker is, I wanted to introduce a curveball. As we know, Gordon is a man obsessed by cars that weigh less than a pre-brew teabag. That’s why his garage is teeming with sub- or circa-1000kg legends and he replaced his daily-driver Smart Roadster with an Alpine A110. 

    He’s a particular fan of Lotus. He freely admits to idolising the company’s founder, Colin Chapman – even when he was duelling him in Formula One’s classic Seventies and Eighties innovation wars. And yet despite owning several Lotus Elans and rarer-still models from the Norfolk company’s potted history, he’s never owned a Lotus Elise. Never even driven one, in fact.

    Photography: Mark Riccioni

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  • Why on Earth would the godfather of weight-saving not care for the mid-engined, aluminium-tubbed 900kg sports car Lotus is just about to kill off after a glorious 25-year run as a handling benchmark?

    To find out, I asked Lotus if I could borrow an Elise, presently brought it along to his office, and asked GM himself to have a go. What could go wrong? Only now do I start to hope Gordon is up for this. The weather looks ominous. He’s got work to do. And I’m mucking about in his car park.

    Immediately, we run slap-bang into the problem. It’s been staring me in the face as I drove the Elise down the narrow lanes around here this morning, banging my knuckles on my legs as I turned the ickle wheel, struggling to hop my size-twelves between the delicate aluminium pedals. 

  • The Lotus Elise is a small car. Gordon Murray is 6ft 4inches tall. 

    Oh, God. He doesn’t fit. 

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  • I sheepishly remove the fabric roof and hold the door open as wide as it’ll go. It doesn’t help. Gordon circles the Elise, which is somewhat dwarfed by his grimy A110 parked next door. “I’ve always wanted to drive one”, he admits glumly. “They once lent me an Evora for a while, which I thought was fabulous, but every time I think I’ll try an Elise, I just don’t fit.”

    The old saying goes that ‘Lotus’ stands for ‘Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious.’ Today we can amend that to ‘Lacking Of Thigh Upwards Space’, or ‘Little Orifice Too Unusually Small’. Don’t meet your heroes, eh Gordon? Look, Often The Ultimates Suck.

  • Being a terribly good sport, he elects to have one last attempt. I dunno, maybe he reckons he’s shrunk during lockdown. Murray gamely steps aboard over the Elise’s tub sill, and threads his legs deep down into the recess of the footwell. 

    For a moment, as he slides down the slender seatback and into position, I think we might actually have succeeded in Operation Murray Make-A-Wish.

    Maybe he’ll buy the last Elise ever off the line. Perhaps he’ll lend me a T.50 for the weekend to say thanks. I’ll ask him to put a word in with McLaren to let me drive the Le Mans-winning F1. Maybe Ron Dennis will bring it over to my house. Or Lando. 

  • But back in the real world, it’s not to be.

    “Well, I’m in, but in order to drive I would have to make a difficult choice between turning the steering wheel or operating the pedals,” Gordon reports sagely from somewhere below waist-height. Hmm. Not ideal, really. He’s being polite. The man is wedged. It looks bloody uncomfortable. 

  • It’s now spitting with rain. While the good Prof is in fine shape for a man of 74 years, I’m becoming frightfully worried about the process of extracting the father of the Brabham BT46, McLaren F1, LCC Rocket and T50S Niki Lauda from my half-baked fibreglass experiment. 

    Even if you’re an Olympic gymnast, exiting a Lotus with any dignity and skin on your knees intact is fraught with difficulty. For Gordon, it’s, well, imagine an NBA player trying to climb out of a Kinder Egg.

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  • I really, really, really hope we don’t have to call the fire brigade. 

    Mercifully, Gordon is swiftly freed from the clutches of the Elise’s diminutive cabin under his own steam, and as he clambers clear, it’s obvious his sparky engineering mind has gone into overdrive. 

  • “If I adjusted the comfort curve of the seat, could push the pedals further back, and put the steering wheel on a 30mm spacer, then perhaps…”

    He tails off, silently calculating how he’d improve upon Lotus’s venerable icon, and finally add one to the collection.

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  • Still, if anyone reading this is working on the brand-new Lotus Emira, I know a gentleman who’s in the market for a long-wheelbase version. You needn’t bother with fitting any air conditioning, or a radio. Those just add weight.

    Prefer a story with a happy ending? Read all about the lightweight specials Gordon can fit into, and treats himself to a drive in whenever the sun is shining. 

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