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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
The road-going Elan, when launched in 1962, took the two seater sports car beloved of the dashing young blades of the time to a whole new level. Rule books were torn up, re-written or generally ignored as new standards for performance, road holding, ride and handling were achieved by the ground breaking technical tour de force from Cheshunt. At that time Lotus were not exactly short of the odd race car with Types 22, 23, 24 and 25 all on the books, so the 26 or Elan (road cars got proper names) was not intended to be anything other than a sports car for the open road. However, Lotus fans had other ideas and as the factory concentrated on mega-successful single seaters and pure sports racers there was no stopping the public taking their Elans, slapping some numbers on the doors and going racing.
It should be said that, massively accomplished as a road car though the Elan was, subjected to the rigours of the race track, it quickly showed some shortcomings. Jackie Stewart himself commented “The Elan was the most difficult little sod of a car I have ever driven” and privateer racers such as Graham Warner and Ian Walker quickly modified their early production cars in line with experience gained over a number of years of sports car racing.
Though as mentioned, not part of their original game plan, Lotus were quick to accept that there was a market for a track variant of the Elan. Chapman’s desire to ‘add lightness’ to his customers’ wallets can’t have hindered the development of the Elan into the limited production ‘26R’ either. Using their own not inconsiderable experience along with that of the likes of Warner and Walker, Lotus came up with a series of modifications that are still employed today when turning an Elan into a car more suited for competition use; lower and stiffer adjustable suspension, better brakes, close ratio gearboxes, limited slip differentials, splined drive shafts, lighter and stronger wheels, tuned engines and the application of costafortuneium castings. All of these measures take the Elan from delicate, delightful sports car to giant killing racer in both domestic and international historic racing.
According to the Lotus Factory archivist, this Series 3 Elan Fixed Head Coupe left the works on 16th February 1967 in kit form, primarily to avoid a slug of Purchase Tax but perhaps also to give a chap something to do in his shed. The trail then goes cold until 1990 when it is recorded that the Elan was owned by historic racer Tim Bryan (we mean he raced historic cars, nothing to do with his age…) who kept the Elan for a couple of years. The Lotus was apparently rebuilt in 1995 and having presumably been either laid up or busy racing, in 1996 it found its way onto the DVLA computer in Swansea. In 2000 Andy Somerton, who still successfully races a Series 1 Elan with the Historic Sports Car Club today, owned the Lotus and in 2002 it was issued with FIA Papers.
Mr Somerton has since been in touch and clarified that he bought the car in 1992 and raced it until
In 2004 the Lotus went to Malcolm Saunders who raced the Elan with great success being a regular class winner and visitor to the overall podium in the HSCC’s ‘Historic Road Sports Championship’. With Mr Saunders graduating to still more focused machines such as a Tiga SC79, the Elan was sold to Mr Philip Rothwell at the end of 2007. Stalwart of Classic Sports Car Club, Mr Rothwell raced the Lotus in their Swinging Sixties series (including multiple visits to Spa-Francorchamps) along with Richard Hayhow, an experienced Elan builder and racer who had won the HSCC Classic Sports Car Championship in 1996. Mr Hayhow’s company, RNH Motor Sports, also prepared the car and it was something of a mobile advertisement for their excellent workmanship.
Having come off distinctly second best when spun around and then ‘T-boned’ by a rival at Oulton Park, the Lotus was totally rebuilt with the very best of parts, including a new race specification chassis courtesy of the renowned Tony Thompson Racing, along with a new body. Sadly Mr Rothwell died in 2017 and the Elan has remained virtually unused since this impressive program of works was completed though Richard Hayhow did treat it to one shakedown outing with the CSCC at Oulton Park in 2019; a forty minute race which it completed without missing a beat.
The Lotus’ specification is most impressive with, amongst other items, new TTR ‘26R specification’ suspension and limed slip 3.9:1 ratio differential linked to sliding spline drive shafts. Upstream a Quaife close ratio dog box with aluminium bell housing transmits the 164 BHP produced by a Craig Beck Racing all steel engine, fully rebuilt before its last race. An aluminium radiator and electric fan keep temperatures under control while a high torque starter ensures the Varley ‘Red Top’ race battery fires the engine up with a lovely metallic meshing of teeth and a minimum of fuss. A stripped out interior and items such as acrylic windows all round (except strangely the drivers’ which remains glass) ensures the Elan’s fighting weight is apparently a mere 625KG.
Naturally one tends to cut race cars a little bit of slack when it comes to cosmetic condition; it’s all about function, less about form and aesthetics. Push reset in the case of this Lotus, its cosmetic condition would put many a road car to shame - more Pebble Beach than gravel trap. The new body is straight, true and displays excellent panel fit with just a hint of the passenger door’s trailing edge sitting slightly proud of the body, though it is a well-known Elan trait and most are a good deal worse in this respect. Looking fabulous in its silver over red colour scheme, the Lotus has been painted to a very good standard though when say up on a lift, one can just make out a few sanding marks and imperfections under the final finish though we struggled to capture these on celluloid (or whatever the digital equivalent is) for the photo gallery.
The 5 ½ “ magnesium alloy Minilight-style knock on wheels are as light as they come and we all know how important un-sprung weight is, doubly so for dynamically optimised racers. These have a few chips in their finish and are clad in one race old medium compound Yokohama Advan A050 unidirectional ‘treaded slick’ tyres. The wheel spinners not perfect as the chrome has worn through in some places and over the years they have acquired a few dinks from hammer blows.
The stripped out interior of the Elan is functionality personified with a custom made wooden dashboard housing an Elliot 8,000 RPM tachometer and period Smiths gauges for speed, oil pressure and water temperature. A somewhat more modern Demon Tweaks T100 lap timer and a large oil pressure warning light plus a range of switches complete the dashboard layout. A super-supportive race seat by Cobra is teamed with an in date six point harness from Sparco while a Lifeline Zero 2000 fire extinguisher (now due a service) sits next to the Varley ‘Red Top’ race battery fitted with an Anderson plug . A Safety Devices full roll cage with all important (especially in an Elan) side impact protection is fitted along with a high level, high intensity rear light. The leather rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel is of a slightly smaller diameter than the original road car version for less frantic twiddling and chunkier of rim for the increased grip induced extra heft. A wide angle rear view mirror (along with a lovely Vitaloni wing mirror) keeps the ‘pilote’ abreast of who he has just overtaken and they are provided with a lovely aluminium gear knob and brake bias adjuster to play with.
What there is of the chrome-work is pretty good as can be seen in the photo gallery with items such as the door handles, boot hinges and window frames more than presentable. The notorious ‘Mazak’ rear lights have a good finish with just some light pitting while their lenses are un-cracked and have not suffered from undue fading as is often the case
The boot contains an aluminium fuel tank and Facet fuel pump with an all-important ‘Filter King’ fuel filter and pressure regulator. Underneath the Elan is virtually perfect with every component looking just off the shelves and ‘box fresh’. The body colour body (surprisingly!) contrasts with the chassis grey chassis (equally surprisingly) and the suspension arms have barely a paint chip amongst them.
The engine bay is race car simple, showcasing the highest standard of preparation. A lightweight alternator has been fitted along with an aluminium radiator which is paired with an electric fan. The few slightly distorted fins on the front of the radiator could be easily straightened with a little patience; there isn’t anything else that needs doing under the bonnet after all. The Weber 40 DCOEs that feed the engine doubtless give better torque than 45s and these are fed via Aeroquip hoses and fittings. On the other side a true ‘bunch of bananas’ exhaust manifold takes the gasses to a full stainless steel exhaust system.
Enough of the cosmetics, the heart of the Elan is a Craig Beck Racing built all steel engine giving 164 BHP at 7,500 RPM with a post rebuild dynamometer printout to prove this impressive number. Having done just the one race since, there is plenty of running time left on the clock and 60 PSI oil pressure at a very slightly ‘cammy’ 1,000 RPM tick-over plus a virtually full range of adjustment left on the cam chain attest to this. With similar specification Twin Cams currently costing in the £20/25,000 range, one can see why building such a car from scratch would likely prove a poor investment relative to clicking a mouse on or before 12th April.
Though we had a good opportunity to look over the Elan, an extended road test was a bit ambitious but some manoeuvring it around for photography was still required. An aircraft-style covered toggle switch activated the fuel pump in its first position and with a few pushes on the throttle pedal, a further click down resulted in the starter motor spinning the engine over enthusiastically. Having fired easily it was just a case of keeping the engine on the boil while dipping the reasonably light clutch and ensuring the dogs align correctly in the gearbox before the lever snicks into position, pretty much as any other ‘2000E’ type Ford box does. While undoubtedly firmly sprung the Elan drove nicely albeit at frustratingly low speeds, with trademark sensitive steering recognisable despite the significant upgrade in grip. The freshly rebuilt engine displayed no untoward rattles or nasty noises. The healthy 60 PSI oil pressure mentioned above is shown in the photo gallery.
The Elan comes with a more than respectable history file containing the car’s current V5C, FIA Papers dated 30th October 2002 and their accompanying RAC MSA Homologation Form.
There is also a CSCC Vehicle Identity Form from 2008 and a summary specification sheet provided by Richard Hayhow. The aforementioned Craig Beck Racing dyno sheet is also present along with a number of invoices for engine rebuilds and parts from the likes of TTR (of course), Kelvedon and Classic Car Automotive. Five MOT certificates are included dating from 1996 to 2004, tracking the Elan’s mileage from 40,000 to 43,000.
With the 2021 season looking have been given the green light the timing to acquire a virtually race-ready machine couldn’t be better. Little more than as spanner check could see you on the grid with the CSCC while some modifications would open up opportunities with either the HSCC or events requiring FIA papers, all for considerably less time and monetary investment than building something similar from scratch. Though currently biased towards the race track rather than the road there is still the temptation to jump in and say “I’m just popping out to Spa”.