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Lotus Elite-Excel

Lotus Elite-Excel Published: 11th Jan 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Colin Chapman’s failed attempt at making it in the Porsche market means his 1970 wedge wonders will come good soon. So buy now!

Colin Chapman took a bold move when he ditched the iconic Elan, moving away from sports cars to the money making GT market, something he yearned to do.

On paper, his radical Elite and Eclat/Excel trinity were modern GTs of the Porsche 924/ 944 mould that, sadly, never quite caught on with Lotus lovers and soon became forgotten fancies. Yet while they were designed in the ’70s, this Lotus range is right at home in the 21st century and make fine GT classics that are already finally coming good.

Dates to remember

1974

Launched, codenamed M50, to replace the Elan with an all new front-engined design (using a Lotus engine first seen in the ill fated Jensen-Healey), this time as Porsche-level sports hatch.

1975

Somewhat less than complimentary remarks on the hardly pretty wedgeshaped styling resulted in the cheaper more conventional fastback offshoot called Eclat with the base model saddled with a four-speed Ford transmission. Otherwise, the trim and specification is similar to the Elite.

1977

Eclat Sprint is added to the range wearing a different, more sporting rear axle ratio and extra badges and bling as identification (very rare finds).

1978

A much needed S2 surfaces boasting numerous changes, the chief one being a bigger 2174cc engine, giving much needed torque. Trim and build quality takes a turn for the better at the same time.

1981

Final Eclat and Elite models are named the Riviera, coming complete with lift-out roof panel and rear spoiler.

1982

Big changes under the skin. The Eclat Excel (known simply the as Excel soon after) was on the face of it, a simple smoother facelift, but actually it was virtually a new motor car. The chassis had to be totally redeveloped to accept the new Toyota Celica/Supra running gear, something that the supposedly upmarket Elite strangely never gained. SE had 180bhp with a nice auto (SA).

Buying advice

All vary enormously condition wise due to how they have been looked after and you should check out a few to establish a reliable datum. Don’t be surprised to find an earlier model fitted with Excel running gear either. Chassis rust is a problem on pre-May 1980 cars, which weren’t galvanised so check for rot and repairs. The Excel’s bodywork is much better than the earlier Elite/Eclats which in turn are superior to the old Elan. The area that’s most likely to rot is the front and rear cross-members plus the steering mounts. Other trouble spots include the windscreen surround and wiper wheelbox. Excel engines are the most troublefree, but their special Nikasil coating on the bores gets worn away and that leads to worn pistons and liners. Exhaust manifolds crack and expect out-of-tune and clapped out carbs. Fourspeed cars rare, but the Maxi-based five-speed gearbox gives trouble and parts are getting hard to find. The front suspension bushes wear and maintaining the inboard rear drum brakes is nothing short of a nightmare. Expect the trim to be poor and leaks almost a given.

What makes this classic so special to drive and own in 2019?

Not everyone’s favourite Lotus but the driving qualities of a good one are not in question, especially the handling and road holding that humbled not only the older Elan and Europa: an Excel lapped the Lotus test track only fractions slower than the mid-engine Esprit Turbo! The 16 V Vauxhall orientated engine is no paragon of refinement, and lacked torque in earliest 2-litre form, but goes well if in good tune and gives fair economy. All models are quite family friendly with ample room for a small brood with the hatchback Elite Scimitar GTE practical, too.

Best buys & prices

This Lotus is a car that’s best to buy on condition rather than individual model because quality restorations will always outweigh their street value even though prices are rising, due we suspect to the soaring values of S1 Esprits from the same era. There’s generally little difference between Elite and Eclat values (around £8000 if in good order – over £10K for better ones), but the superior Excels have a price band of £5000 to £15,000. A restoration project will set you back from £1000 upwards, but make sure it’s complete.

From £2500 target price £9000



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