“LOTUS +2S 130 has great reserves of performance and safety combined with luxury and head-turning style. LOTUS expertise ensures perfectly balanced handling and superb road holding which, with powerful non-fade braking and vivid performance, give the car primary safety - the ability when in capable hands to avoid accidents caused by other people's mistakes or the driver's own errors of judgment.”, Lotus Cars Ltd Elan +2S 130 Sales Brochure.
So it seems even Lotus owners could be subject to ‘errors of judgement’. That is telling it like it is... As Lotus strove to move their range upmarket and their balance sheet out of the red, the Plus 2 version of the Elan became the backbone of that strategy; it extended the Elan ownership demographic by another perhaps ten years with a hopefully associated increase in their customers’ disposable income. The additional two seats helped but an altogether more luxurious machine was required so +2 became lush, plush, +2’S’ and the DIY build option was finally withdrawn in an attempt to improve build quality – putting your wishbones on upside down is apparently a bad thing. A performance hike was provided with the Big-Valve version of the Twin Cam engine giving 125bhp hence the “130” suffix. Obviously. Don’t ask us, we didn’t come up with it.
In the recent past, the market has started to appreciate the qualities the family man’s Elan offers and prices have consequently increased dramatically allowing greater sums of money to be spent on restoring and improving them. Enter Spydercars in Cambridgeshire who for over thirty years have been restoring and improving Elans, initially with a chassis repair service then complete new Lotus-style chassis, their own designed space framed version and finally alternative drive train and running gear packages to bring the darling of the 1960s right up to date. We at Berlinetta have to admit that in the past we have been of the ‘if you want modern running gear, buy an MX5’ school of thought but the recent chance to examine a two seater Elan running the full Spydercars Zetec conversion won us over and this +2 has only served to further our enlightenment.
As the original Elan backbone chassis was conceived as a temporary test bed for the car’s drive train and running gear, the body and mechanical components can easily be separated – the workshop manual pretty much says ‘Undo bolts, remove body’ – into two distinct parts and while restoration of the standard oily bits is hence facilitated, it is just as easy to drop the body onto a brand new rolling chassis, complete with modern drive train and suspension components; hey presto, swinging 60s looks with a 21st century driving experience not to mention Focus rather than Anglia reliability. It is a tribute to the original Elan concept that this can be achieved by simply and cost effectively updating some mechanical components, whereas the substantial re-engineering required to achieve the same result with other classic icons such as the Jaguar E-Type can send costs spiralling towards the £250,000 mark.
A Spydercars conversion, it should be stressed, is not just a case of wedging a Zetec lump into a car designed to take little more than half the power and there is a tried and tested package of improvements that combine to produce a well-engineered and very capable machine that successfully addresses some of the weaker areas of the original Elan. Their super-strong spaceframe chassis is the backbone (sorry!) to which tubular wishbones (adjustable at the rear) with adjustable springs and dampers are attached. Beefier uprights and hubs are utilised so one might hope to see more than twenty thousand miles out of their bearings. Fourteen inch alloy wheels allow substantial 10” discs, vented at the front, to be fitted and these plus their associated callipers, modern twin master cylinders and servo provide improved safety levels and as a bonus, a functioning handbrake, something foreign to most standard Elans.
Solid drive shafts are paired to a Ford Sierra final drive, generally with a 3.64:1 ratio limited slip differential. Upstream of this Ford’s five speed MT75 gearbox is employed and this is mated to the same manufacturer’s sixteen valve 2.0 twin cam Zetec engine which on Spydercars specification Jenvey throttle bodies and Emerald ECU gives some 180 to 190 brake horse power with considerable further potential.
This Elan +2, the 294th produced, was first registered on 19th January 1968 and having passed through the hands of just four owners it was purchased by a Mr Divit in 1993 who kept it until 2007 when it was purchased by the most recent long term private owner. The Spydercars conversion was then carried out, mostly by the owner with some professional help, along with a full body restoration and the Elan was completed in 2014, being successfully MOT tested in August of that year with four miles showing on the replacement speedometer. A pair of large history files contain not only an extensive photographic record of both the comprehensive body restoration and chassis build but also a large collection of invoices which detail over £19,000 spent with Spydercars for parts alone plus over £5,200 for the assembly of these and the fitting of the body with paint and bodywork costs in addition to this. Once completed, the owner found time for only limited use of the car, though this did include one good run up to the Shetland Isles. Before long he heard the five words most feared by classic car owners, “We need a new kitchen” and the car had to be sold. We sold the car back in the spring of this year and the buyer, who is lucky enough to have a flexible collection of classic and modern cars, has enjoyed and further improved it over the summer before part exchanging it, giving us the opportunity to offer the car once more.
Some years after its refurbishment the body shows no sign of any crazing and the panel fit is very good. The paint is in similarly fine order with just some very slight micro-blistering evident though this is only noticeable under close scrutiny and it proved impossible to show it in photographs.
The chrome-work is very good to excellent throughout with a bill for over £1,000 on file for refinishing the bumpers and window frames. The door handles are very good and even the prone light units and boot hinges have only minimal pitting. There are no cracks to the light units themselves though there is some misting of the front wind screen as shown in the picture gallery.
A ‘Monza’ fuel filler is fitted to the Spydercars aluminium fuel tank though this may benefit from some adjustment to its fitting as we noted the filler pipe is not at quite the right angle to the body.
Purchased new when the Elan was rebuilt, the Minilite-style alloy wheels and Lotus logo centre caps are in excellent condition and naturally their Yokohama tyres are barely worn.
The Zetec engine was supplied by Spydercars, fully dressed with their own specification inlet and ignition systems as detailed above and it looks made for the engine bay being dimensionally similar to the Elan’s original Lotus-headed Ford unit – if a little ‘drier’. With perfect wiring and plumbing lines, silicone hoses (carrying Evans waterless coolant) linked to a bespoke aluminium radiator, the installation looks ‘factory’ and about as far removed from a ‘Fred in his shed’ job as it is possible to be. Condensation has given one or two unprotected surfaces a light dusting of corrosion and an hour with a proverbial oily rag would doubtless improve things cosmetically. The same could be said of the +2’s underside which has not been detailed but still looks more than presentable with only a little road grime and a light surface rust to the drive shafts.
Being such an early +2 the Elan pre-dates the ‘S’ trim level and it was consequently the lightest variant of this model. The interior looks for the most part to be original with the four small dials in what appears to be the dashboard it left the Factory with, still equipped with a period Philips ‘Turnlock’ radio. There is a replacement Lotus-logoed tachometer, possibly from a later model though the basket weave trim again appears original. A brand new tailored carpet set in black is supplied with the car with the footwell sections already fitted. A lovely Moto-Lita steering wheel looks as recent as the rebuild and its slightly smaller diameter and thicker rim suit the upgraded car’s character admirably well. There is some wear on the passenger seat backrest and though presentable throughout, for us there are some quick wins to be had by smartening up the interior for little financial outlay. The boot is fully carpeted and fitted with a useful security/safety cut off switch.
It was a slightly surreal experience looking at a Lotus model we are more than familiar with, hearing it fire at the first time of asking and seeing it immediately settle to an even idle with not a hint of any temperament of any kind. We are big fans of the original specification cars, a degree of recalcitrance and all, but we could definitely appreciate what people see in Spydercars’ interpretation of Chapmans feather weight GT. Coupled to that, a blip on the throttle, a snort from the stainless steel exhaust and the original cars’ character is again evident.
Built as a labour of love with a good level of attention to detail exemplified by the likes of Aeroquip brake lines and correct silver on black (or in the case of the front, silver on intake grill) number plates, this is a great opportunity to enjoy a re-engineered classic car while attending to one or two cosmetic issues in the cabin. Factor in the Spydercars ‘list price’ of a freshly completed example at around £47K and examples that have covered more miles and been back on the road for longer at about £10K less and this machine looks very appealing indeed.
Registration number: OJF 730F
Chassis Number: 50/0294
Engine Number: 2222