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Here at Berlinetta we put the health and wellbeing of our customers and clients above all else. We therefore continue to follow government advice and take precautions in line with public health guidance on COVID-19 on a daily basis. At present our online auction platform remains open for business as usual but even though buying and selling online is completely safe, inspecting and then collecting your new vehicle demands special care and attention to protect all involved. We have come up with ways of doing this which we believe are 100% safe and which we would be very happy to talk you through in detail, but the headlines are:
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“It is not cheap, but to anyone contemplating buying a cheaper two-seater sports car, I would sell the television set, the washing machine, give up smoking, even give up drinking, but scrimp and save and buy an Elan and you won't be disappointed.” Denis Jenkinson
OK, steady on DJS, we love an Elan more than most (in fact they might well be in our ‘Top 1’ list) but there are some things... Also, have you seen what laundrettes charge these days?
Unfortunately, selling your television set and washing machine won’t make much of a dent in the cost of a half decent Elan but at least modern taxes on smoking and drinking will help perhaps even more than they did back in the ‘forty-a-day’ days, however, the point Jenks was making is just as valid now as it was then.
Maturing from race car maker to fully fledged Road Car Manufacturer was never going to be easy for Lotus and while the firecracker Seven was a staple of the enthusiast, making a decent return on such a relatively low priced machine was always going to be hard and it became more a way of keeping the race car mechanics busy (and paid) in the off-season. With the gorgeous Mark 14 Elite, Lotus, to a degree, cracked the ‘up’ part of the market and the innovative GT sold well enough. The trouble was that as the selling price went up, much to Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s satisfaction, the manufacturing costs went up even more and while turnover jumped dramatically, profits took a nose dive.
What was needed was a premium product that did away with the costly manufacturing process involved in producing the fibreglass monocoque and race derived engine of the Elite. Committed to the ‘egg shell’ concept but with the market demanding an open car, Lotus engineers struggled to find a solution and while pencils were being chewed in the design office a test rig for the running gear of the proposed roadster was needed. For expediencies sake, the development guys fashioned a simple, steel backbone chassis and went testing. So impressive were the structural stiffness results and dynamic performance of the mule that the two seat open cockpit monocoque holy grail was quietly shelved; the backbone chassis was clearly the way forward and destined to remain the basic building block for all Lotus road cars for the next thirty-five years.
With the structural integrity taken care of by the immensely strong chassis, the lightweight body was just something to keep the weather out and to give the occupants somewhere to sit. Simplicity was the name of the game with pure lines unsullied by overt decoration and though the Elan was always going to struggle to match the exquisite beauty of its Elite predecessor, it came respectably close.
Under the fiberglass skin sat a technically advanced package of mechanical goodies worthy of a company founded on engineering excellence who were about to go on a run of Formula 1 success that yielded seven Constructors Titles. Independent suspension all round, a twin overhead cam engine and four wheel disc brakes were the highlights and made for an alluring machine that while not exactly cheap, was affordable to the dedicated enthusiast – particularly if they were prepared to take DSJ’s advice. The whole package made for what is consistently held up as a consummate drivers car of unparalleled ability and pure driving pleasure that can count amongst its fans, F1 and "F1" car designer extraordinaire Gordon Murray and the Mazda Motor Corporation…
In production since 1962, Lotus’ policy of continual development (even if this was sometimes carried out by their customers) paid dividends and by the time the fourth series arrived in 1968, many of the early car’s “idiosyncrasies” had been consigned to history. Minimal weight gain due to a better understanding of where the fiberglass body could be made lighter plus stronger running gear and more luxurious trim all meant the Series Four is considered by many to be the cream of the Elan crop.
Built at Lotus’ Hethel factory in 1969 this Elan was registered ALP 291H on 11th August 1969 to a Mr Keith Rogers who kept the car for eight years before selling it to Mr John Fitton on 10th January 1978. Photographs on file suggest the Lotus was finished in ‘Burnt Sand’, a rather nice period colour current from October 1967 to October 1970, though described by the third owner of this car as ‘horrible Lotus Brown’ - each to their own - and it was configured as a fixed head coupe though more on that later. Bills on file from the 1970s and 1980s attest to ongoing maintenance including an engine rebuild in the mid 1980s and a note in the Elan’s history file states the Elan was ‘driven hard but not thrashed with an indicated 135 MPH once being achieved on the M56’! We assume the M56 is quite downhill…
Though successfully MOT tested on April 4th 1987 with 23,371 miles indicated on the odometer, it was purchased by a pilot, Captain Derek Smith on 19th May 1987 for £3,300 (Bill of Sale on file) with the intention of conducting a full restoration. Just six days later the work was started by Captain Smith who meticulously documented progress right down to the exact time the body was removed from the chassis (17.00 hours on Saturday 30th May since you asked). Over the next four years the restoration continued starting with a new galvanised Lotus chassis (LR 2051), the engine was rebuilt by AKS Engineering and the body repaired and repainted in Jaguar Dark Racing Green. The running gear was rebuilt with progress photographically recorded throughout (again, photos on file).
A house move and change in marital status resulted in the Lotus being advertised as a 90% finished restoration project in the 25th July 1991 issue of Exchange and Mart which yielded at least five written enquiries, though for some unknown reason a sale was not completed. What is known is that by 1993 Captain Smith had sadly passed away and the Elan was inherited by his son Malcolm, also a pilot; Lotus was clearly in the blood, both father and son being Club Lotus members with Malcolm and his brother already Elan owners. Clearly having an emotional attachment to his father’s project, Malcolm decided to have the restoration completed and he contacted Mick and Susan Miller who had earlier advised Captain Smith and are renowned for the outstanding quality of their restoration work. After some discussion a brief was outlined in a letter to the Millers dated 7th May 1993 which makes it clear that by this stage the decision had been taken to virtually rebuild the car again, to the exact specification Malcolm required; drop head coupe bodywork finished in ‘Norfolk Yellow’ with black leather trim, double duck hood and Wilton carpeting. The letter also included myriad smaller details such as deleted badging and indicator repeaters, body colour bumpers, green tinted glass, a walnut dashboard with no ashtray or cigarette lighter and even green tinted instrument lighting. Tellingly Malcolm also gave Mick carte blanche to effectively start again with the engine if he or his builders of choice, Holbay, felt the work already carried out by AKS was of a ‘less than high standard’; clearly no corner was to be cut. As is so often the case with top quality specialists, Mick did not expect to be able to make a start for almost a year and in reality it was January 1995 before he could even provide an estimate of the likely cost of the project; something in excess of £14,000 plus VAT. Even then work did not get underway until the autumn of ’95 though after some two and a half years gestation, the project actually only took six months or so to complete. There is a detailed final account on file which lists every item of the restoration from big ticket items such as the brand new Lotus drop head coupe body and associated closing panels at some £2,600 before VAT, down to new door handle gaskets at 72p the pair. Running to seven pages and some 250 items, it is hard to imagine any part of the finished car that was not either brand new or refurbished to as new condition and it is a frankly eye-watering illustration of the sheer number of components that make up even a relatively simple car. Including VAT (then just 17.5%) the bill came to just under £20,000 including what looks to be a very reasonable £5,500 in labour, especially as that included preparing and painting the new body-shell. This document was accompanied by a covering letter from Mick explaining that the project had turned out to be a lot more expensive than was originally estimated due to the large number of missing or unusable parts. To quote the insurance valuation produced at the time, “This car is virtually new and has been rebuilt to the highest standard…” which must have sweetened the pill somewhat as would have the estimated replacement value of £24,000.
Photographs on file of the car taken during and after the restoration certainly show it to be in frankly stunning condition and one could have been forgiven for tucking it away in a climate controlled garage. However, that was never the owners intention for what was to then be his everyday car and just ten weeks after collecting the Elan (with its freshly zeroed odometer) it was at Lotus main dealers Daytune for a service having covered a mightily impressive 4,000 miles. There was little let off for the rest of the first post-restoration year with over 16,000 miles covered. Following this, usage tailed off to average a mere 6,000/year until 2002 by which time it had covered nearly 53,000 miles and since then the Elan has virtually put down roots clocking up on average just over 1,000 miles between MOTs though it did see 4,000 miles pass under its wheels in 2012.
So twenty-five years and 78,512 miles later, how is the Lotus looking? In short, amazing and a true testament to the standard of Mick Miller’s work, doubtless helped by the stepping off point of a brand new body and chassis. The paintwork (actually ‘Norfolk Mustard’) is still virtually blemish-free with a great depth and glassy finish, there being just one slight mark inside a door shut as shown in the photo gallery. There are no signs of any of the dreaded crazing that frequently affects fibreglass bodies and the panel fit is excellent throughout, as shown in the photo gallery. Longevity is the absolute litmus test for quality and this superb example is a testament to Mick’s skills. The chrome-work, clearly well cared for since its restoration when virtually all of it was replaced, is still in lovely order including the susceptible ‘Mazak’ light units. Inside, the leather is just taking on that nicely ‘mellowed’ feel while the carpets and dashboard are still in excellent shape. The underside and engine bay are perhaps a little more functional but do have the look of being well maintained with the chassis still well protected.
Yes, covering that sort of mileage will take its toll mechanically but the Elan has been maintained to the highest standards and there are a raft of bills with the car for consumables such as brake pads, tyres, trunnions and ball joints. Rebuilds have also been carried out to the major components of the drivetrain using renowned specialists such as QED (engine), JR Dain (gearbox) and Alan Voight (differential). The weather gear (hood, full tonneau and hood envelope) has been replaced but the leather interior and burr walnut dashboard are those fitted by Mick and are now just nicely mellowed.
Over the years, many improved components have been fitted such a solid drive-shafts and an aluminium fuel tank courtesy of Sue Miller, a set of stronger hubs and an aluminium radiator/swirl pot combination from Tony Thompson Racing along with Spydercars’ rear struts and tubular wishbones. Adjustable suspension and brand new, slightly stronger than original, steel wheels have been fitted while Kelvedon provided twin throttle cables, heavy duty engine and differential mounts plus a ‘PowerLite’ high torque starter. A Burton cartridge water pump kit and uprated alternator are driven by Wilcox ‘Poly-V’ belts and pulleys while silicone water hoses, an Aldon Ignitor ignition system and custom made stainless steel exhaust system round out the engine related goodies.
The proof of the pudding and all that but driving the Elan certainly didn’t disappoint with all the usual attributes of light and direct steering, a super-positive gear change and puppy dog levels of enthusiasm to take off down the road present. Feeling more spritely than a Sprint (never mind a Sprite) it is no surprise that there is a dynamometer print out on file from Ric Wood Tuning which shows 140 BHP being produced at 5,500 RPM.
The impressive History File (case) referred to and shown in the photo gallery contains a number of registration documents of various vintages along with correspondence and an enormous number of bills relating to the Elan’s maintenance and restoration. There are also nearly twenty MOT certificates, a spare set of keys, an Owner's Handbook (in poor condition) and copious photographs of before, during and after the Lotus’ restoration.
As mentioned, we do like our Elans here at Berlinetta and this is one of the best we’ve seen and driven. With a restoration carried out on what seems to be a cost no object basis, this Elan is proof that doing it right with the best of components and people can produce something with genuine longevity. Given one can be confident that today it would cost two or three times as much to achieve the same result, the old advice to buy someone else’s bills seems very good indeed.