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Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan Published: 16th Feb 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
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Clark and Rindt drove them, and you can make yours a winner with some mods for road and track. Here's our top tips words by Alan Anderson images by magiccarpics.co.uk & classic motoring

The Elan is an all time great which is why modifying one needs to be done with care or you’ll spoil it. And it has to be said that many Elans would benefit from a thorough service and set up by a known expert more than any bolt on tweaks. So before you spend lots of money to make sure your car goes faster and corners better ensure the basics are spot on first!

BEFORE YOU START

Being GRP the body can’t rust but the chassis makes up for it! And it’s this sole component that will make-or-break a good Elan. As its famed handling is dictated by the chassis, rust or poor accident repairs will always compromise any improvements you intend to carry out. New ones are available for £1800. Incidentally, after 1980 Lotus galvanised replacements, so zinc plating means it’s already been changed.

The famous Twin Cam is known for oil leaks and failing water pumps, which, thanks to modified types available from the likes of QED and Burton Power, no longer means a head off job to replace. Timing chains wear; see if all the adjustment has been used up – they’ll certainly need replacing if the engine is to be hotted up.

The transmission is essentially Ford and suspension and steering Triumph Spitfire although the Elan tiller differs. But it’s not unknown for Herald one to be fitted to save money – so check!

HOTTING ONE UP

The ‘Twink’ is well served by specialists and parts supply is excellent. In fact today you can rebuild one to a superior standard now than ever before. But, it’s a costly business because if you need a new block or cylinder head you are looking at around £1700 for the former and £4000 for the latter. The later ‘L’ block fitted to the late 60’s cars is better and stronger, with six rather than four flywheel bolts.

You can use a conventional (711M) ‘Crossflow’ block; better availability and significantly cheaper plus allows an easy 1700cc rebore although the domed ‘bowl-in-head’ pistons need to be changed, along with other details. However, if you are racing to historic FIA rules, this may now be allowed.

The Twin Cam came in three tune states: 109bhp, 115bhp for the SE and 126bhp as found on Elan Sprints. Burton Power says a reliable 140bhp is attainable for road use, by way of uprated cams, heads and re-jetting the Weber DCOE carbs whereas Kelvedon Lotus claims a similar output simply by careful rebuilding and blueprinting; the guy Kelvedon use is an ex-BRM man, who used to make Lotus tuning gear. Race units see the thick end of 200bhp but are unsuited for use on the road.

First job for many could be a careful top-end rebuild and decoke, which alone can release a few extra horses, followed by a rolling road tuning session to optimise the jets and ignition timing; TCs can be sensitive to this, and an adjustable cam sprocket (under £70 from Burton Power; 0208 518 9196), allows fine tuning to the valve timing for further inexpensive gains. Indeed, Cars & Car Conversions back in 1973 proved that a stock Elan tuned in such a way can yield almost SE power (back to our careful rebuilding and setting up again). The exhaust manifolds are prone to cracking, which is the best excuse to fit a better alternative along with a free-flow system like expert Paul Matty’s own.

Fitting a Big Valve top-end (head and cams) to a normal Elan is a sensible first step for 126bhp, although the pistons also need to be changed to suit. All the major players such as Burton, Piper, Newman QED and Kent Cams produce sportier camshafts, which up the ante to around 135bhp, if a Sprint-type head is installed, and 10bhp more with a more performanceorientated alternative. Sprint cams are as good as any, particularly for road use although they are becoming hard to obtain.

The TC head is unusual, insofar the inlet tracts are cast into the head. For those who don’t care about originality, this design readily lends itself to modern throttle bodies and engine mapping. Quorn Engine Developments (QED) 01509412317 offers such a set up but it runs into thousands.

If you stick to carbs, then don’t junk the existing DCOE. The stock 40s are fine for road use and only need to be replaced by larger 45s for in excess of 150bhp; going overboard here can mean less power, say experts. In terms of prices, expect to pay around £240 for new cams and £5-600 for a good reworked head, although this varies according to tuner.

It’s almost essential to fit ‘breaker-less’ electronic ignition to any TC, regardless of its state of tune. For modded engines a performance distributor, with altered timing curves, is wise, and costs under £150 but do complement with performance ignition leads and a good sports coil. If your racing category doesn’t allow electronic ignition, you’ll need the Lucas 43D4 distributor upgrade, which allows Mini Cooper S points to be used, costing around £60.

At the bottom end, thoughts should turn to having the crank balanced. It’s safe for most tunes but for racing-like spec, or continual revs above 7500rpm, you need to go for a steel alternative along with rods although it costs well over £2000.

Bear in mind that there is a smattering of period tuning gear around for the engine: BRM, Ian Walker, Lotus, Jeff Uren, Wilment etc. But if originality isn’t critical then a dirt cheap way of gaining more power is to fit a Mondeo Zetec engine. Available in 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litres, the latter gives 136bhp standard and an easy 160+, cheaply plus even the standard transmission bolts straight on, but the sump will want modifying. As a used TC costs up to £2000, it’s worth a thought.

Speak to Spydercars (01733203986) who is renowned for this conversion that works a treat coupled to the Ford Type 9 five-speeder rather than the frail and dearto- fix Austin Maxi-system Lotus employed.

HOTTING YOUR CAR UP

BUDGET

* Rolling road session
* Careful head rebuild
* Electronic ignition
* Sports air filters
* Sports exhaust set up

FULL THROTTLE

* Full rebuild & blueprint
* Modded cylinder head
* Sprint spec camshafts
* Fuel injection, mapping
* Zetec engine swap

HANDLING THE POWER

This is where some thought is required as it’s easy to over do it with an Elan. So first decide the percentage of road and track work is envisaged and uprate accordingly, although even then, Elan experts like Spydercars of Peterborough and Kelvedon Motors, claim many make the suspension too hard and too low.

By all means fit uprated dampers as the
first step and then add sports springs, but
anything over 300lb rating will be too hard,
even for track work plus make the car
jittery on the road.

Spyder’s Sean Reeve – who makes cracking ‘modernised’ Elans using Zetec engines and Sierra running gear, along with a special fully adjustable rear suspension – dislikes polybushing for the very same reason and recommends good quality standard replacements instead.

Kelvedon Motors makes its own specification Leda dampers plus offers a selection of anti-roll bar sizes depending upon whether it’s for road and track.

Another well known Elan specialist, West Midlands-based Paul Matty, not only offers suitable upgrades for any Elan but has also developed a special kit specifically for the Plus 2 (comprising of spring, dampers and a beefier front anti-roll bar), that it is claimed makes the larger car handle better than the two-seater.

A common Elan failing remains the Triumph/Imp-inspired ‘doughnut’ Rotaflex driveshaft arrangement, which not only snaps but also made the Lotus difficult to drive smoothly. Spyder’s upgrade doesn’t employ solid driveshafts, as used to be the practice, but a mod of the originals and costs some £672 including new couplings.

If the chassis is past it, there’s the option of a stock but improved replacement (with less rust traps) plus also the 26R racing type which is stiffer, care of reinforcing gussets and boxing in the rustprone front turrets; Spyder charges £540 for this uprate although Reeve admits the gains for road use are pretty marginal and many owners wouldn’t notice the difference unless their original chassis was really past it, an opinion endorsed by Kelvedon Lotus.

Final alternative is Spyder’s renowned ‘spaceframe’ replacement, which while compromises originality (although to be fair it is a well known and accepted mod) is more rigid by design plus enables a better rear suspension to be utilised, so it’s your call at £2118. Whatever you opt for, reckon on a couple of grand on top for a specialist to carry out the changeover.

You don’t need to go overboard on brakes and tyres either! For many just a good overhaul along with better pads (try EBC) suffices before opting for a P16 caliper (used on Plus2s), or better still Wilwood. Even with Spyder Engineering’s re-engined Zetec Elans, which can kick out as much as 220bhp, the tyres employed to put the power down are positively weedy compared to a modern car – 185/60 x14!

Sean Reeve says you don’t need anything bigger while owners and specialists we also spoke to claim ultra wide tyres can lead to the light front end aquaplaning all too easily.

Finally, let’s talk five-speeds. Lotus used Austin Maxi clusters on the Sprint and 130/5. A Sierra Type 9 is the obvious modern solution and thanks to Ford keeping the same bellhousing bolt locations since ’59, fits on, although it still needs extra work. The Ford 2000E four-speed ‘box is such a lovely thing, it’s a shame to throw it away. So don’t – use a higher axle ratio instead if you want quieter cruising, until Kelvedon finishes developing a road-friendly five-speed gear cluster for the famous 2000E ’box. At present it uses racing gears which are a bit too harsh and noisy.

BUDGET

* Geometry and chassis check
* Uprated dampers, anti-roll bar
* Sports springs, stock ride height

FULL THROTTLE

* Spyder chassis and suspension
* Uprated racing spec 26R chassis
* Modern driveshaft couplings



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