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Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan Published: 18th Dec 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
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The Elan was always the car Lotus F1 aces drove on the road and their reasons for doing so are as valid now as they were more than half a century ago

Why you may fancy one

The Elan became – witness the success of the copy-cat MX-5 – and remains the blueprint for the modern sports car and so has rightfully taken its place in the classic car hall of fame. Elans are as brilliant as they ever were and, thanks to 55 years of experience and development work, are now a more durable and desirable prospect than when Lotus made them, eradicating that old acronym of Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious.

History

1962 The Elan was the car that saved Lotus let alone put it on the production car map, the company having made a loss on every Elite it sold. Basis for the Lotus Elan was a simple but extremely rigid X-frame backbone chassis with all round independent wishbone suspension featuring those famous ‘Chapman struts’, topped by a cute fibreglass body (penned by Ron Hickman, who went on to design the Black & Decker Workmate).

Power was courtesy of the now evergreen Lotus Ford twin cam unit, via a Ford Corsair/ Classic-based transmission and Anglia 105E axle assemblies.

Launched at the Earls Court Motor Show, the Elan featured initially a 1499cc Ford-based engine but it didn’t take long for the classic, slightly enlarged 1558cc block (mainly for motorsport purposes) to take its place – a unit that was to power the Elan until its demise just over a decade later.

1964 Series 2 Elan launched with larger front brake calipers, a full-width wooden dashboard and tidier Vauxhall FB Victor single-piece rear light clusters.

1965 In September the Series 3 coupé arrived, complete with closer ratio gearbox, a longer boot lid (to cure water leaks) and a boot-mounted battery, plus electrically powered windows for a luxury touch.

1966 Optional Special Equipment model became available in January, with 115bhp, an even closer-ratio gearbox and servo-assisted brakes. The S3 convertible surfaced in June, with the same amendments as the coupé.

1967 Elan Plus 2 goes on sale, albeit as fixedhead only with a foot extra added wheelbase and wider track. A power hike to 118bhp restored the performance of this much heavier derivative.

1968 Elan Series 4 introduced, identified by flared wheelarches and a reported 50 revisions but now fuelled by Stromberg carbs (for a short period due to poor running). Plus 2S supplemented the standard version, boasting an even more upmarket interior, replacing the Plus 2 completely that summer.

1971 Ultimate Elan Sprint with 126bhp big-valve engine, stronger transmission and two-tone paint is announced. The same engine was also transplanted into the Elan +2S 130, which also had an optional fivespeed gearbox from October 1972.

Driving

Elan was probably the first sports car that had to be driven with fingertip finesse rather than hauled by the scruff of the neck like old sports cars and set new standards for handling. Early Elans are a bit frenzied at speed but later cars gained higher ratios although they are still not best as cruisers.

But the Elan was seriously quick in its day and even now rarely disappoints. Autocar clocked a Plus 2S 130/5 at 121mph dead after it sprinted to 60 in a vivid 7.7 seconds, and the smaller, lighter Elan Sprint is even quicker still. Yet what makes the Elan still so zippy is not simply its excellent power to weight ratio, or even its great handling, but (like the Mini) rather its diminutive dimensions that ensure there’s lots of road room to play with in safety – unlike all later Lotus models!

Best models

General view is that anything other than an S4 running on flat-spot prone Stromberg carbs is best although some specialists say these instruments can be made to work okay. Some believe the Plus 2 is the nicer car but popular picks are always the convertibles. If you like a modern twist, Spyder Cars of Peterborough sells rebuilt Elans with modern Ford mechanicals (including fivespeed transmissions) for a classic that offers Golf-like ease of running.

Prices

While rising in value, Plus 2s are always worth less, but otherwise there’s no real variance in values across the years, apart from at the very top where S1s and S2s have a £5000 premium over later cars. The best +2 can be worth £30,000 while Elan Sprints or anything with a famous owner or racing past command £50,000 and upwards. It all sounds highly pricey, but Elans are surprisingly dear to restore and so, in many cases, it is better to buy the best you can from the start.

VERDICT

This Lotus is not one of those classics which appeals to those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing; it’s not easy to put a price on the pleasure a good Elan offers on the right roads. But you get what you pay for.

Five top faults

1. BODY Glassfibre means accident damage is worry, as proper long term repairs are specialist
2. CHASSIS Even if the car has only been lightly kerbed, the frame can easily distort, so check for
trueness; new ones are available and better than any patchwork repair
3. FAKES Some coupés were crudely converted into a convertible; their chassis numbers start at 36
4. SUSPENSION Needs expert setting up with everything A1 or an Elan will never drive as well as it should
5. TLC Run one like an MGB or a Ford Focus, with similar levels of neglect, and this Lotus will more than likely prove to be unreliable. On the other hand, with regular love, owners speak of strong durability



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