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Summary

Lotus Elan is the name of two separate ranges of automobiles produced by Lotus Cars. The first series of cars was produced between 1962 and 1975 as a rear-wheel drive vehicle. The second series was produced between 1989 and 1995 as a front-wheel drive vehicle.

Timeline

The first range of cars (1962–1975) comprised: Two seater sports cars: Lotus Type 26 drop head coupé (DHC) marketed as the Elan 1500, Elan 1600, and Elan S2 (Series 2). Lotus Type 36 fixed head coupé (FHC) marketed as the Elan S3, the Elan S4 and, lastly, in a higher performance model, the Elan Sprint. Lotus Type 45 drop head coupé, replacing the Type 26, delivered in parallel with the Type 36 in S3, S4 and Sprint form. Lotus Type 26R racing version of the Type 26. Four seater sports car (rear seats suitable for children): Lotus Type 50, fixed head coupé, marketed as the Elan +2.After the S2 was released the original Elan 1500 and Elan 1600 models were typically referred to as the S1 (Series 1) although the car was never explicitly marketed as such. Today, all models (S1-Sprint) are often cited collectively as the 1960s Elans. The second range of cars (1989–1995) comprised: Two seater sports cars: Lotus Type M100 drop head coupé, initially marketed as the Elan S1 and, later, for the UK market, the Elan S2.This second model was also produced in South Korea by Kia Motors between 1996 and 1999, rebadged as the Kia Elan.

Lotus Elan 1500, 1600, S2, S3, S4, Sprint

Overview

The Lotus Elan was the first Lotus road car to use a steel backbone chassis with a fibreglass body. This style of construction was to be repeated in subsequent Lotus models for nearly three decades. At approximately 1,500 lb (680 kg), the Elan embodied Colin Chapman’s minimum weight design philosophy. The Elan was technologically advanced with a DOHC 1,558 cc engine, four-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and 4-wheel independent suspension. Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren F1 supercar, reportedly said that his only disappointment with the McLaren F1 was that he could not give it the perfect steering of the Lotus Elan.In 2004, Sports Car International named the Elan number six on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1960s. The original version of the car was designed by Ron Hickman who also designed the first Lotus Europa as part of Lotus’ GT40 project bid and made his fortune having designed the Black & Decker Workmate. Because of its successful design and rigorous attention to cost control on the body, chassis, engine and transmission, the Elan become Lotus’ first commercial success and contributed to the funding of its achievements in racing over the next ten years. It revived a company stretched thin by the more exotic, expensive to build, and rather unreliable Lotus Elite, which used a fiberglass monocoque body/chassis and all aluminium Coventry Climax engine. The original Elan 1500 was introduced in 1962 as a roadster. After a very short production run of just 22 cars the engine was enlarged and the car was re-designated the Elan 1600. An optional hardtop was also offered. The Elan 1600 of 1963 was replaced by the Elan S2 in 1964. In 1965 the Type 36, a fixed head coupé version of the car, was introduced while in 1966 the drop head coupé Type 26 was replaced by the Type 45. Both Types, 36 & 45, were offered initially in S3 form, followed in 1968 in S4 form, and finally in 1970 as the Elan Sprint. Production of the Sprint ceased in 1973. The standard (Std) S2, S3 & S4 models were also available in a slightly more powerful and luxurious “Special Equipment” variant, generally referred to as the SE (e.g. Lotus Elan S3 SE). In the UK the Elan was offered as a fully assembled vehicle and, for tax avoidance purposes, as a lower cost kit for final assembly by the customer.

Production

The total production number for the Lotus Elan is not definitively known; however John Bolster, in his book “The Lotus Elan and Europa: A Collector’s Guide”, provides a number of 12,224 (S1-3: 7,895; S4: 2,976; Sprint: 1,353). This number was occasionally used by Lotus itself. See below for +2 production. Meanwhile, Paul Robinshaw and Christopher Ross, in their book “The Original 1962–1973 Lotus Elan”, assert that Lotus’ somewhat erratic record keeping at the time meant that vehicle serial numbers were not entirely sequential or consistent. Their assessment suggests the actual count to be in the range 8,676-9,153 (S1: 900; S2: 1,250; S3: 2,650; S4: 2976-3,000; Sprint: 900-1353).As of April 2018, the voluntary, and thus inevitably incomplete, Lotus Elan registry lists approximately 1,100 known remaining vehicles (including approximately 330 +2 models) in over 30 countries.

Construction

The basic structure of the Lotus Elan comprised a fabricated mild steel backbone chassis, similar to a double ended tuning fork, and a fibreglass body. The chassis was the primary stressed component, providing the necessary bending and torsional rigidity. The fibreglass body was solidly bolted to the chassis at 16 points, fitting over it like a saddle. While not highly stressed the body nevertheless added to the overall rigidity of the structure. As such, the chassis should more properly be considered a subframe – it is readily changeable and most Elans on the road today have had a new chassis fitted at some point, either due to accident or decay. The engine & gearbox are located between the front fork arms and the differential between the rear fork arms. The front & rear suspensions attach to the ends of their respective arms (turrets at the end of the arms hold the suspension springs & dampers). This design resulted in light weight, high rigidity (by contemporary standards), and easy driver/passenger access through wide door openings with low sills. Driver and passenger protection from front and rear impact was acceptable for its time, but side impact protection was minimal.

Performance

The performance of the Elan was derived from the combination of its powerful engine (by contemporary standards) and light weight. The roadholding and agility of the car also meant that high speeds could be maintained on corners, which allowed for high average speeds. By contemporary standards, the Sprint was an exceptionally rapid car and quite lived up to its name. It embarrassed almost every other supercar at the time in terms of outright acceleration up to about 90 mph. This electrifying performance was accentuated by the brilliant handling and road holding, allied to the small size and weight of the Elan, which meant that a well driven Elan on a dry road could outclass any other non-Lotus road car. Although performance results achieved by testers are affected by many variables (e.g. differential ratio, weather/road conditions, gross vehicle weight, DHC vs. FHC, etc.) the following tables provide an overview of the car’s capabilities. The following excerpt from Robinshaw & Ross summarizes Elan performance for each Series: Zero to 60 Times and Car Folio report: A few additional figures for the Sprint:

Reviews

The Elan was widely admired and praised by customers and reviewers, noted for its exceptional handling, roadholding, steering, acceleration, braking and comfort: Car and Driver: The Elan very simply represents the sports car developed in tune with the state of the art. It comes closer than anything else on the market to providing a Formula car for ordinary street use. And it fits like a Sprite, goes like a Corvette, and handles like a Formula Junior. Driving it is very simply another sort of automotive experience altogether. Most people tend to come back from their first ride a little bit glassy-eyed… Road and Track: The light and tactile steering, combined with supple suspension and a weird, physics-defying sense of zero weight transfer in corners, provides a sensation akin to flying just over the ground. I’m convinced there’s a powerful pleasure center in the brain that remains untapped until you drive an Elan. It’s almost a drug. Motor Sport: The tremendously responsive steering and handling requires similar qualities from the driver and the speeds achieved round corners and on the straight are deceptively fast. This, therefore, calls for a lot of concentration on the driver’s part. Once mastered, however, the Elan is the nearest thing to a single-seater racing car one is likely to be able to drive comfortably on the road. To master the car and explore its tremendous handling potential along that delightfully twisty piece of road one knows so well is close on perfection for the sporting motorist.

Racing

Despite the fact that the Lotus Elan has been (and continues to be) used extensively for racing it was Lotus’ first car that was not designed with racing in mind. (The earlier Lotus Elite was designed as a road car and also to compete in high-efficiency classes at Le Mans.) Nevertheless, because owners assumed that all Lotus cars were designed for racing, it soon found its way onto the track, however unsuitable. Lotus resisted modifying the car to make it more suitable for racing but eventually created a racing version of the Elan. Robinshaw/Ross quote Colin Chapman:”When we announced the Elan we said ‘This is a touring car, it is not intended for racing and have done no competition development on it.’ The fact that customers bought them and tried to race them was originally no concern of ours, but in the second year we thought, well, if these people insist on racing them then we’d better get down to some proper development. They were too softly sprung, too softly damped, tore their doughnuts apart and had all sorts of drama, but it was the name, and people thought they must be racing cars.” The result of the “proper development” was the Type 26R version of the Elan, offered from 1964 at £1995 in kit form. Motor Sport: Mechanically, the 26R differed by featuring racing lightweight competition-spec wishbones, sliding spline driveshafts in place of rubber joints, bigger anti-roll bars and a degree of reinforcement around the suspension pick-up points. Pedals were repositioned to aid heel-and-toeing, dual circuit brakes with twin master cylinders and light alloy calipers coming as standard. As did a 140bhp Cosworth-tuned ‘four’ although up to 160bhp was offered in time. Other changes included flared wheel arches, which allowed for larger wheels and tires, and a lighter body shell.

Series (model) differences

The table below provides a simplified summary of Elan updates and changes associated with each Series. It is notable that the fundamentals of the car changed very little during its eleven years of production. Each Series provided a general refresh of the car, incorporating new, modern features (e.g. electric windows, larger tires, power washers & windows, hazard & reversing lamps) and updated cosmetics (e.g. improved sound proofing and carpeting, improved DHC hood (roof) design, Sprint color scheme). However, as a low volume manufacturer, Lotus’ processes were flexible enough to change the components used during construction at will. As a result, significant variations could exist between cars of the same Series. Ongoing changes were frequently necessary for a variety of reasons: component availability from suppliers; price changes; the need to meet regulatory requirements (especially for Federal vehicles); model year enhancements; and the phase-in & phase-out of stock during the transition to the next Series. Lotus promoted the potential variation between vehicles by stating in its documentation: Lotus policy is one of continuous product improvement and the right is reserved to alter specifications at any time without prior notice.

Collectibility

1960s/70s Elans are now passing half a century old and, as a well respected Lotus and a fine example of Colin Chapman’s design philosophy, are valued today as collectors’ vehicles. In the UK they have an almost cult-like status among auto enthusiasts, commanding higher prices than elsewhere in the world. An undocumented number of right hand drive (UK market) Elans have been privately exported to Japan, where they are admired by collectors. As with many English sports cars of the period there are dedicated enthusiasts around the world, especially in Australia, Canada and the USA.The simple design of the car, with nearly all parts being readily replaceable, makes it well suited for the collector market. New chassis, bodies and drive train components are all available. There are numerous suppliers of Elan parts and restoration services, worldwide. Conveniently, the fiberglass body is immune to rust.

Elan +2

Overview

An Elan +2 was introduced in 1967 with a longer wheelbase and wider track, and two small rear seats, suitable for children. While the Elan was a two-seater sports car marketed to the single man/woman or young couple, the +2 was larger and considerably more luxurious vehicle marketed to the established family with children. Reviews reflected this new marketplace for Lotus. Motor Sport magazine reported the design goal as: it was decided to increase the interior dimensions considerably to meet the car’s maxim that it “must be capable of transporting two adults and two children 1,000 miles in comfort with their luggage”. In 1971 Colin Chapman bought Moonraker Marine / JCL and in 1974 Brian Davey working with the Naval Architect Don Shead on a new boat design was asked to help redesign the replacement for the Elan. This was finally designed by Giugiaro of Italdesign and called the Esprit which started production in 1976. While the Elan ceased production in 1973 the Elan +2 continued to be produced until 1975.

Construction

Aside from the increase in size necessary to accommodate two additional seats, the design of the Elan +2 was extremely similar to the two seater Elan. The concept of a backbone chassis with fibreglass body, powered by a Ford UK-derived drive train was maintained. Double wishbone and Chapman Strut front/rear suspension of identical design was also used, with some components (e.g. rear hubs) shared with the two seater Elan and others (e.g. wishbones) increased in size. Power assisted brakes were standard, dual circuit in some markets. In 1968 a more luxurious version of the Elan +2 was released, named the +2S. In 1971 +2S was upgraded to include the Big Valve engine, and then named the +2S 130. Later models of the +2S 130 were provided with a 5-speed Austin Maxi based gearbox, which greatly improved its high speed cruising capabilities, named +2S 130/5.

Performance

Tested maximum power: 108–126 bhp (81–94 kW) net (depending on the model). Top speed: 120 mph (193 km/h). Acceleration: 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 7.9 seconds, 0–100 mph (0–161 km/h) in 21.8 seconds.

Production

As with the two seater Elan, the exact number of +2s produced is unknown. The estimated total is approximately 5,200. However, John Bolster’s “The Lotus Elan and Europa: A Collector’s Guide” provides a number of 3,300. Fewer than 1,200 of these cars remain on the roads today.

Elan (M100)

The Lotus M100 series Elan was launched in August 1989, reviving the Elan nameplate after 14 years. A two-seater convertible sports car with front-wheel drive, designed in-house by Lotus, it featured an engine and manual transmission supplied by Isuzu, and was built with the development and testing resources of General Motors. Around £35 million (about $55 million) was invested in its development, more than any other car in Lotus history. Its design, featuring a fibreglass composite body over a rigid steel backbone chassis, was true to Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s original philosophy of achieving performance through low weight, and the name “Elan” connected the car with its 1960s ancestor.

Origins

In 1986 the purchase of Lotus by General Motors provided the financial backing to develop a new, small, affordable car in the same spirit as the original Elan (last built in December 1972). A development prototype, the M90 (later renamed the X100) had been built a few years earlier, using a fibreglass body designed by Oliver Winterbottom and a Toyota-supplied 1.6-litre engine and transmission. Lotus was hoping to sell the car through Toyota dealerships worldwide, badged as a Lotus Toyota, but the project never came to fruition and the prototype was shelved (although Lotus’s collaboration with Toyota had some influence on the design of the Toyota MR2). The idea of a small roadster powered by an outsourced engine remained, however, and in late 1986 Peter Stevens’s design for the Type M100 was approved and work began by Lotus engineers to turn the clay styling buck into a car that could be built. This process was completed in just under three years, a remarkably short time from design to production car.

Sales

Two variants were available at launch, the 130 bhp (97 kW; 132 PS) Elan 1.6 (retailing at £17,850) and the 162 bhp (121 kW; 164 PS) Turbo SE (£19,850). Initial sales were disappointing, due to the debut of the more affordable “nostalgic” Mazda MX-5 which was arguably similar in concept to the 1960s Elan, in contrast to the M100’s deliberately futuristic cant. The Elan was very expensive to make (the cost to design and produce the dashboard alone was more than the total cost of the Excel production line), and sales figures were too low to recoup its huge development costs. Altogether just 3,855 Elans were built between November 1989 and July 1992, including 129 normally aspirated (non-turbo) cars. A mere 559 of them were sold in the US, featuring a ‘stage 2 body’ which had a different rear boot spoiler arrangement together with a lengthened nose to accommodate a USA-compliant crash structure and airbag, and 16-inch wheels (optional in most markets, standard in the U.S.) instead of 15-inch as on the UK model. A coupe version of the Elan, to replace the Excel, had also been in the pipeline, but this too was shelved, and there was no direct successor to the Excel, which was also discontinued in 1992.

Series 2

Two years after the end of the original production run, a limited edition of 800 Series 2 (S2) M100 Elans was released during the Romano Artioli era (produced June 1994–September 1995) when it was discovered that enough surplus engines were available to make this possible. It was only for the UK market. According to Autocar magazine, the S2 addressed some of the concerns over handling, but power was reduced to 155 bhp (116 kW; 157 PS) and the 0–60 mph acceleration time increased to 7.5 seconds, due to the legislative requirement to fit a catalytic converter in all markets. The S2s have very similar performance to the USA vehicles, having an identical engine management system calibration and a slightly lower overall vehicle weight.

Kia Elan

After the final production run of the Elan in 1995, Lotus sold its production rights to Kia Motors, which produced its own version. Outwardly, the Kia Elan looks almost identical to the original. The most obvious difference are the Kia-designed taillights which replaced the Renault Alpine GTA rear lights of the original. Kia Motech (Kia Motor-technology) produced the car in Ansan, South Korea from 1996 to 1999 as the Kia Elan for the Korean market, using a 151 hp (113 kW) 1.8 L T8D engine instead of the Isuzu 1.6 turbo-charged unit. In the Japanese market, the car was sold as the Vigato. A total of 1,056 were produced.

2013 Elan concept show car

A new Lotus Elan was announced at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. It was hoped to be in production by 2013, but the project was cancelled before the car entered production. The car was to have featured a 4.0-litre V6 engine and was to have weighed roughly 1,295 kg (2,855 lb).

Bibliography

Arnold, G. 1981. The Lotus Elan and Plus Two Buyers Guide 1962–1975. Club Lotus Buckland, Brian (2006) The Rebuilding of a Lotus Elan – Addendum Engineering Workshop Manual. Elanman Ltd. ISBN 978-0-9552849-0-8. Clarke, R.M. Lotus Elan Collection No.2 1963–1972. Brooklands Books. ISBN 0-907073-68-9 Harvey, C. 1982. Lotus: The Elite, Elan, Europa. Oxford Illustrated Press. ISBN 0-902280-85-6. Holmes, Mark (2007). Ultimate Convertibles: Roofless Beauty. London: Kandour. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-1-905741-62-5. Hughes, M. 1992. Lotus Elan. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-194-7. Lotus Cars Limited. 1974. Lotus Elan +2 Workshop Manual. Lotus Cars Read, Robin (1989), Colin Chapman’s Lotus (The early years, the Elite, and origins of the Elan). Haynes/Foulis, ISBN 0-85429-703-0. Road & Track Staff (2012). “50 Years of the Lotus Elan”. Road & Track 64 (4): 66–74. Robinshaw, P. and Ross, C. 1995. Authentic Lotus Elan and Plus 2. Motor Racing Publications LTD. ISBN 0-947981-95-0. Robinshaw, Paul & Ross, Christopher (1989), The Original 1962–1973 Lotus Elan (Essential Data and Guidance for Owners, Restorers and Competitors); additional notes by Ron Hickman. Motor Racing Publications Limited, ISBN 0-947981-32-2. Taylor, M. 1990. Lotus Elan, The complete story. The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-011-3 Taylor, W. 1998. The Lotus Book, a complete History of Lotus Cars, 50th Anniversary Special. Coterie Press Limited. ISBN 1-902351-00-2. Wherret, D. 1993. Lotus Elan. Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-377-X Wilkins, Miles (2003), Lotus Twin-Cam Engine. Motorbooks, ISBN 978-0-7603-1692-4. Wills, Barrie (2019), ’45+ Years Without John DeLorean’ (Chapter 13 ‘The New Lotus Elan – Managing M100’). Woodbine Publications. ISBN 9-780985-657826.