The Hexagon Elan Sprint and The Datsun 160B
Of all the cars we have tested in recent months few have attracted anything like the attention of the Hexagon Elan Sprint Estate. Readers of Motor Sport may already have seen photographs of the car in our advertisement pages and we were keen to try this exciting vehicle for ourselves. We knew it was an exciting car simply because any normal Elan Sprint is an enormously thrilling and evocative car to drive and an Estate version seemed to be an extremely sensible derivative.
To fill in the background one should first mention that Hexagon are based at 26 North HiII, Highgate, London N6 and are one of the larger distributors of Lotus cars. Apart from this they have sponsored a couple of Historic Sports cars as well as a Mini and also backed John Watson’s Formula One March at the October Brands Hatch meeting. The go-ahead young directors still enjoy motoring, particularly in Lotus Elan Sprints, but they found their opportunities to drive the cars were dwindling with the increasing size of their families. Naturally an alternative is the Elan +2S which certainly offers extra accommodation but does not compare in sheer terms of overall compactness, acceleration and particularly outright agility. After all, an Elan Sprint compares with a Ferrari Dino on acceleration up to 60 and the road holding is superb.
The Hexagon directors and, in particular, Roger Perks scratched their heads and the idea of the Sprint Estate was formulated. As Hexagon already had a large crash repair shop which specialises in glass fibre work it was decided that converting cars at their own premises would be no problem. Thus the new shape was conceived, with perhaps a little Scimitar GTE influence, (Hexagon sell them as well) and very effective it looks too. The shape has made possible the provision of a flat carrying platform which run from behind the seats to the rear bumper although a space is left behind the driver’s seat for stowage of tools, map books etc. The rear tailgate aperature hinges from the roof down to bumper level, thus allowing a comfortable loading height. What Hexagon have not tried to do is to make the Elan Sprint into a four-seater, there is no provision for anyone other than the driver and the passenger but that extra Estate space is ideal for the young married man. There is plenty of room for a carrycot or baby seat or for bulky objects like golf clubs, surveyors equipment and that kind of thing or an enthusiastic motoring dog. The conversion includes a heated-rear-window and washer and wiper.
Naturally such a conversion involves a good deal of major surgery around the rear end of the existing Elan and to see a car in the middle of the job is quite horrifying. After removal of the front and rear-window glass, seats, carpets, trim, petrol filler, battery and various other equipment the rear of the body is cut off. A one-piece fibreglass moulding produced by Specialised Mouldings of Huntingdon, of the exterior estate shape, is positioned with a jig and bonded into place. The entire section is double skinned and the roof has a foam polyurethane layer laminated in which adds strength and acts as a damping medium. When all this is finished, just like they say on the Morecambe and Wise Show, “You can’t see the join”! The tailgate is manufactured from three mouldings and is strengthened internally with a steel tube. A new wiring loom is installed in order to cater for the changed position of the battery and the addition of the rear wiper and heated rear window. Then it is a matter of fitting all the glass, new window frames are made specially, and retrimming the inside. No suspension or other mechanical changes are made.
The unladen kerb weight is increased by about 42 lbs. but the extra weight is offset by what is certainly a better aerodynamic shape. Thus Hexagon reckon that a slight improvement in both maximum speed and fuel economy may result although this would only be marginal. What do Lotus think about it? The official reaction from Sales Manager Barry Carter was that they are all for it, particularly if it sells more Elans. The prototype has been to the factory where it was looked over with interest and, of course, the normal Lotus guarantee is not invalidated although Hexagon are responsible for anything that might go wrong with, for instance, the rear-windscreen wiper.
On the road we found the car we tested, the second to be built, performed exactly like an Elan Sprint with the exception that it definitely did feel more stable on the Motorway at high-speeds. The Estate rear also means that the rear view mirror has to be re-positioned and the new position was certainly not very satisfactory but this is easily remedied.
However, our one major criticism concerned the hydraulic rams that held up the rear door. These are actually the same as used on a Scimitar GTE where they only support a window and frame. In the case of the Hexagon Estate the structure is heavier and the rams could not hold the weight—others of more sturdy dimensions need to be adopted. The rear suspension strut housings do, naturally, intrude somewhat into the estate area but not to any great degree.
The advantages of the Elan Estate are numerous and the car obviously has a wide appeal. But there is one major snag and that is the price. As has been explained the conversion is a major job. The cost of converting a new car purchased from Hexagon is £595, which brings the total price up to £2,430 if the car is originally constructed from a kit, even more, if not. This is very similar to the price of a Reliant GTE (fully built up) but cheaper than an Elan +2S. But Hexagon do not really see the Elan Estate as a direct competitor to the Reliant model which they feel appeals to a different sector of the market. Of course, the whole operation might be more economical if one had an Elan Sprint with the back end damaged and someone’s insurance company happened to be footing part of the bill. So if we see someone doing a crash stop at a zebra crossing when we are following a little too close behind we might just think they had been reading this article! Seriously the Hexagon Elan Sprint Estate will surely have a great deal of appeal to the many really keen Elan owners who have a nagging suspicion that it is about time they bought something more staid simply because they need the space. — A. R. M.
* * *
Just before the London Motor Show opened, Nissan-Datsun’s new Publicity Agents in this country offered one of the latest Datsun saloons for road-test and being cosmopolitan in my motoring outlook and aware that it is now a case of Europe versus the rest of the World, I accepted. The medium-sized coke-bottle-waisted family saloon in a nice shade of olive green Amino alkyd enamel, was delivered promptly and in good order. It has an impressive specification, embracing an alloy-head overhead-camshaft four-cylinder 1,595 c.c. engine and coil spring suspension by trailing arms at the independent rear end. Everything about the car is well contrived. Before the driver there are three anonymous instrument dials, a clock, a similar-size speedometer with trip and total mileometers and a combined fuel and temperature gauge. To the left there is simulated wood panelling with an easy-to-open useful cubby hole with non-lockable lid and shelf below it, and in the centre of the facia an open stowage well and the the easy-to-understand controls for an efficient heater, with three-speed blower.
The facia abounds in plastic pressings, curved outwards towards the nearside for convenient driver observation. There are well-devised air-vents at the extremities and two more in the facia centre. The doors have sill-locks with finger grips and very well-placed pull-out interior handles, and good lift-up external handles. The gaitered central gear lever controls a fairly smooth-functioning gearbox, (lift for reverse) the clutch is light, and although the hand-brake is the old-fashioned pull-out-and-twist, fly-off type on the facia, for left-hand operation, it is well-placed and convenient unless you have enormous hands. There is also a pull-up choke-cum-hand-throttle, and a l.h. stalk for turn indicators and for lamps selection, with a flick action for dip or main-beam, once a lamps-knob convenient to the right-hand, as are the wipers/washers knob and tiny hazard-warning knob, has been used.
The boot is self-locking and the mighty bonnet props open to reveal accessible sparking plugs, fillers, dip-stick (no oil required after 750 miles) and Hitachi battery. There are dual head-lamps. The h.t. leads pass through a grid on the top of the valve cover and that to No. 4 plug is somewhat in the way of the dip-stick. The plastic front seats are very comfortable and have lever-type squab adjusters. There are carpets, two keys for excellent locks, and a lockable fuel-filler flap. The painted door sills which clash with the “wood” facia, lack of vanity mirror and non-anti-dazzle mirror, absence of over-rider rubbers and ugly wheel knave-plates are noticed but generally this Datsun is a well-made and nicely-contrived car. There are good window winders and door pulls-cum-arm-rests.
The engine likes some choke for some time from cold. It revs. freely but is somewhat noisy, and lack of low speed torque called for care in step-off. On British Motorways it becomes a bit breathless and throbby at top pace but there is useful acceleration and the cornering is good, the i.r.s. providing a good follow-through line with no real roll but a good deal of initial understeer. The disc/drum brakes are effective. Fuel is fed by a Nikki mechanical pump and the radiator is a Nihon, filled with Nissan-Datsun anti-freeze. Petrol thirst in local running with several cold starts came out at 28.3 m.p.g. of 97-octane and the tank gives one over 325 miles once it has been topped-up. The horn pushes are a trifle near the end of the steering wheel cross-spoke, so that occasionally it sounds off when unwanted; the steering is light but vague and rubbery, at three turns, lock-to-lock, plus sponge. The tyres were 13 in. Dunlop SP68s, the number plates Hill’s. This Japanese five-seater saloon points the way the opposition from the Orient is shaping, for it is a convenient and likeable car, rather akin to the older Vauxhall Vivas in performance and with a pleasantly light feel to it; but the noise and lively ride render it fatiguing on long journeys. The price, as tested, is £1,154.31. A useful car but not, I think, one that represents any particular challenge to European factories. — W. B.