Paris Motor Show – preview

Held in one form or another since 1898, the two-week Paris International Motor Show that kicks off this Saturday is nearly as old as the automobile, itself.  As the world’s oldest manufacturer-based auto exhibition, the Paris Show has witnessed the debut of many of the 20th century’s greatest concept and production vehicles.  Held in alternating years with the Frankfurt Motor Show since the 70s, the Paris exhibition continues to hold sway as the season’s first major auto show, offering manufacturers a springboard to gauge public opinion and shape agendas for the following year.

This year promises to be no different, with several manufacturers presenting anxiously awaited production models and cutting-edge concepts.  Chief among such companies is Lotus, the esteemed British sports car outfit that has been owned by Malaysian automaker Proton since 1996.  Lotus recently leaked images of the concept car it will officially unveil this week, the Elite (picture above).  Though the car lifts the name of the curvaceous 60s 2-seater revered by marque enthusiasts, little else about the new car evokes the idea of retro.  Envisioned as an optional retractable hardtop capable of hybrid powertrain technology, the proposed Elite is a 2+2 seat coupe that in normal configuration would be powered by a 5 liter V-8 projected to produce 611 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque.  As the car is purely a concept, performance figures and technical specs are subject to drastic revision and are therefore largely moot, but Lotus hopes the car to be typically performance-oriented with a sprint of 3.5 to 3.7 seconds to reach 60 mph from standstill.

Given the company’s longstanding relationship with Toyota (the Japanese manufacturer has for years provided engines for the Elise and Evora that capably propel the lightweight sports cars), it is hardly surprising that talk has finally emerged regarding the implementation of hybrid technology into a Lotus.  But it would have been nice if Lotus’ design team had managed to come up with a body as scintillatingly sexy as the Elise or Evora, let alone something remotely worthy of the classic Elite nameplate.  Rather, with its wedge-hatchback configuration, the new car looks a bit like a Celica on steroids, in early photos at any rate.  Call me crazy, but a projected price of just under $182,000 should probably warrant a shape slightly more curvy and exotic looking.

Where exactly the new Elite would fit into Lotus’ model line-up also remains to be seen.  Tentatively scheduled for production in early 2014, the car might be positioned as a premium flagship (as its price would suggest), which would be a first for Lotus branding.  As a 2+2 seater, the Elite could also be primed to replace the Evora, though that is unlikely given that the Evora only entered production last year, and Lotus has typically kept models in production for many years.

The incomparable original:  a 1960 Lotus Elite (below) sits on the field of the 2010 Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance.

At the other end of the sports car spectrum, Ferrari will officially present the SA Aperta (pictured below), which is essentially the first production level open top version of the V-12 powered 599 GTB Fiorano.  An homage to design company Pininfarina’s 80th birthday, the car is named for Sergio and Andrea Pininfarina, the son and grandson of founder Battista “Pinin” Farina.  Aperta, of course, is Italian for open.  The car is Ferrari’s first limited edition V-12 roadster since the 550 Barchetta of 2001, which similarly celebrated Pininfarina’s 70th anniversary.

Though the powertrain of the SA Aperta is almost identical to recent 599 variants, the body has been revised to ride lower to the ground, and to feature rollbars requisite of a true open-top car (the only weather protection offered is a light softtop).  As is usually the case in roadster conversions, the chassis has been stiffened to retain the structural rigidity previously assured by a hardtop.  With a stated power output of 670 horsepower, the SA Aperta would seem to utilize the same retuned 5,999 cc motor found in the 599 GTO that debuted in April.  Only 80 SA Apertas will be produced, and all have already been sold.  For those who missed the boat, though, take heart.  History would suggest an even more exclusive tribute model will appear in another 10 years.