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“The Lotus Elan is a car for the enthusiast’s enthusiast. In many ways it’s a very expensive toy … a toy to be enjoyed by very knowledgeable drivers.” Sports Car Graphic
If that was Sports Car Graphic’s take on the Elan road car, then this could prove to be the same with nobs on – apart, we feel, from the ‘very expensive’ bit; a toy to be enjoyed indeed.
Though based on at least the shell of an Elan Fixed Head Coupé, we won’t dwell on the Cheshunt iteration as what we have here is so much more; a full on race car that looks like a 26R version of the Series 4 Elan FHC – were there ever to have been such a thing. While purists may choose to look away now (or more likely won’t have made it this far anyway), those of you who not only recall the heady days of ‘Modsports’ creativity but applaud the sort of outside the box, lateral thinking championed by one Colin Chapman and also fancy some proper motorsport on a sensible budget, strap in and read on – we think you are going to like this.
The brainchild of a Lotus Elan enthusiast engineer, this racer was built over a couple of years with work commencing back in 2013, the aim being to go motor racing in something both period looking and interesting. With 26R specification Elans gobbling up £70,000 to £80,000 in build costs that was not a realistic option but undeterred a brand new Series 4 body shell was acquired from Boss Motors at Snetterton, renowned for their fiberglass work and top quality Lotus Elan bodies. The shell was then taken to MNR Sportscars near Harrogate who were given the brief to build a full race specification spaceframe chassis that would fit underneath it. With their extensive experience in Lotus 7 style road and race cars, motorcycle engine installations and bespoke engineering solutions, they were the ideal team to take the project on. Though they were given a fairly free hand the owner did specify that for safety’s sake, a sheet steel floor be incorporated under the seat along with a substantial roll cage. The intention was always to run the car with a motorcycle engine but the engine bay was configured so that alternative power units could be accommodated in the future. MNR were also able to utilise their extensive experience in areas such as fully adjustable suspension with inboard springs and dampers, race standard braking systems and so on. Once the chassis was completed (please see the photo gallery) the owner then became heavily involved in the final fitting up and finishing process.
The power unit selected was Honda’s renowned all aluminium, 1,000 cc, twin overhead camshaft ‘Fireblade’ engine which was paired with its associated motorcycle application six speed gearbox. To ensure there were no cooling issues with the engine in unfamiliar, more enclosed surroundings, an electric water pump and oil cooler were fitted while to compensate for its longitudinal orientation, the engine’s sump was replaced with a Bates Motorsport aluminium billet version; not cheap at around £500 but it does solve the inherent oil surge issues.
With its bike application sprocket replaced by a custom made flange, power was taken via a modified prop shaft to a chassis mounted Ford Sierra differential casing and internals with Quaife ATB limited slip differential. The front suspension featured rose jointed fully adjustable double wishbones and adjustable coil over aluminium body Protec shocks while at the rear similar units were mounted inboard and horizontally for the again rose jointed multi-link independent set up. Discs clamped by Wilwood four pot brake callipers were employed all round and actuated by twin master cylinders from the same manufacturer, arranged to give a front and rear split with cockpit adjustable brake bias.
Once up and running the Elan, still finished in primer, was shaken down at Blyton Park and the bugs associated with a bespoke build from scratch were ironed out. The paddle shift cable gear change mechanism was found to be less than optimal so this was redesigned to employ a system of rods and pivoting quadrants (please see photo gallery). The original clutch cable followed a somewhat tortuous route which ran too close to the exhaust resulting in it seizing so again a more elegant mechanism employing a jointed push-rod was engineered, also shown in the photo gallery. Further testing at Blyton revealed, with the help of traditional airflow indicating wool tufts, the original radiator air outlet vented into a high pressure area restricting the airflow and hence cooling performance. This was resolved by raising the trailing edge of the bonnet and drilling air vents into the downward return – fortunately the car had still not been painted. The oil cooler was also relocated from being in the water radiator’s airflow to in front of the nearside front wheel. During the process of tweaking and adjusting, the car was frequently on and off the jacks and it was found that once back on the ground, the coil springs wouldn’t always seat correctly so small helper springs were added to ensure they remained correctly located. A succession of small issues then, all of which are to be expected when shaking down any new race car, never mind a bespoke example built from scratch.
The owner had initially planned to enter the car in a Road-going Bike engined class such as the 750 Motor Club’s RGB series however the attraction of more local races with competitors he knew persuaded him to sign up for the Northern Saloon and Sports Car Championship (NSSCC) who had a specific class for bike engined cars. The car was then raced some four or five times in 2016 at circuits such as Croft, Malory Park and Oulton Park, initially (to the disapproval of the scrutineers at Croft) still in its ‘multiple shades of primer’ finish!
With some test days and just a few races under its belt, the Elan is still pretty much box fresh as they say. Very well finished and protected when new, the chassis is in excellent condition throughout and the same can be said of the suspension arms, uprights and brakes – both discs and callipers. The Elan rides on a set of exceptionally light Team Dynamics Motorsport wheels which are virtually unmarked and clad in Avon slicks.
The body, brand new at the time of the Elan’s build remember, is frankly better than that of many road cars. Not to ‘Rizla-weight’ specification, there is clearly enough material to provide some longevity whereas some racers’ bodies crack and craze in nothing more than a light breeze. Various modifications have been carried out neatly with well executed 26R-style arches, boot spoiler, NACA ducts and wing vents along with a deep front air dam and splitter all giving the Elan a purposeful stance while remaining instantly recognisable (assuming you know what an Elan looks like in the first place and as you are reading this, we can be pretty sure you do). The paintwork is also very good and some way from being just ‘race car appropriate’ and we would suggest closer to Pebble Beach than gravel trap. A removable rear screen facilitates access to the rear suspension and differential though the springs and dampers can be adjusted swiftly via an access hatch inside the cockpit. A race fuel tank is located well forward in the boot, the lid of which can be either hinged for refuelling or removed entirely to facilitate more onerous tasks.
The motive power is provided by a Honda CBR1000RR unit lifted from a 2013 vintage ‘Fireblade’ and it is ‘bone stock’, though as that equates to 176 bhp at 12,000 and a red line some 500 RPM higher, this is far from a disappointment. RGB regulations require a standard ECU be utilised so that is still present though there is also a Dynojet Power Commander V programmable unit (well liked by Fireblade users) fitted which will provide a decent uptick in performance when race series and circumstances allow.
The interior is of course primarily functional with a composite race seat, Sabelt harness (recently out of date), and a Digidash 2 fronted by a lovely 26R-style steering wheel complete with red leather rim. The attention to detail exercised throughout the car’s build is epitomised by the neat hot air screen demister sited on the top of the dashboard. A sealed battery and plumbed in fire extinguisher reside in the passenger foot-well though for race purposes this may now need to be updated.
A useful spares package comes with the car including a set of wet tyres, again mounted on Team Dynamics Motorsport wheels, two spare differentials (3.4 and 3.92) and two full sets of springs. A spare engine is also included; dating from 2008 it is the unit originally fitted to the car though after a hose parted company with the oil cooler at Oulton part, it now requires at least a precautionary rebuild.
While not quite a Haynes Manual, the documents file contains various design sketches and drawings plus diagrams of the dashboard layout, brake master cylinders and coolant flow. Wiring diagrams for both the Digidash and the car itself along with CD’s for the dashboard’s instillation are also present and there is a useful list of Ford Sierra differential ratios, identification codes and sources.
As a low cost entry into motorsport we feel you would have to go a long way to beat this beautifully engineered and constructed Elan. It is eligible for a wide range of race series and as a result of just a few emails we have had positive responses from the BARC for their CNC Heads Sports/Saloon Championship and the Classic Sports Car Club where the Elan would be welcome in their most popular race series, ‘Special Saloons and Modsports’. Aside from these National series, the NSSCC would doubtless welcome the car back and the 750 Motor Club would likely find it a class too. Then again, if going round and round isn’t your thing, the world of Sprints and Hillclimbs would be well worth looking into; in fact probably the only thing you can’t do is go to the pub in it!
With ‘pre-loved’ Honda Fireblade engines starting at under £1,000 and just £2,000 securing you the best warranted mileage examples it seems sensible to stick with this as a power unit though the chassis’ design does mean a variety of alternatives could also be considered from Ford Zetec or BD-type through to Vauxhall’s cheap and plentiful ‘Red Top’. Either way, with just 520 KG sans pilote to propel, 350 BHP per ton is very much just an entry level figure.
A bit of a clean and a spanner check, along with a fresh safety harness and possibly fire extinguisher and you could be ready to race before the end of this sadly curtailed season; in fact a provisional entry for the CSCC meeting at Malory Park on the 1st November has already been discussed.
Only on the market because of a lack of space to accommodate a GT40 build, this Elan’s super realistic reserve represents a fantastic opportunity to go racing effectively on someone else’s £.