New Cars: Lotus Elan

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New Lotus Elan? The right idea?

When it was leaked that the new Lotus Elan — now priced at £17,850 without a turbo and £19,850 in turbo trim — was to be front drive, there were plenty of Jeremiahs to forecast sales damnation. Despite a full scale motor show launch at Motorfair and a comfortably escalating order book for production that begins to reach the showrooms early in 1990, the press (and some very senior Lotus personnel) did not look likely to drive the car until the January press driving launch.

We attended the static launch at Hethel with the overseas press for the 1990 Elan, and its turbocharged brother, Elan SE. That Lotus were staging such a week long preview, with the prospect of their first overseas press driving launch to follow, underlines the importance of a £36 million investment. One placed in a two seater that is only planned to reach 3000 a year in annual production.

Largest capital outlay has been £500,000 in multi-talented machine tools, but by far the biggest gamble is in a novel approach to the problems of powerful front driven cars. If the usually painfully honest Lotus engineers are to be believed, their “compliance raft” system divorces steering and handling tasks in an otherwise conventional double arm/coaxial spring damper layout to the point at which front drive is elevated to the higher realms of driving pleasure.

Other key chassis engineering points are the sheer structural strength of both separate steel backbone and the composite body and the unusually thorough multi link layout of the rear suspension (including anti-roll bars that have drop-link attachments in best formula car fashion), all of which suggests that a 4-WD version was part of the design philosophy.

All sorts of durability test statistics were brandished. I was most impressed by three engineers, under the leadership of exCaterham Seven engineer Clive Roberts, taking a well used prototype to Snetterton and unofficially duplicating a 24 hour race with fine reliability and lap times that would have qualified toward the front of the 6-hour relay event.

At this stage Motor Sport will provide an outline technical specification and leave further comment until a chance to drive a potentially revolutionary system is realised. That will be in “full production form, with no excuses,” according to the ever ebullient Lotus Cars Chief Executive, Michael Kimberley.

Specification: 1990 Lotus Elans

Engine: Isuzu-Lotus DOHC four cylinder, 16v, cast iron block, 10:1 cr alloy head, electronic fuel injection. Capacity 1589cc (bore x stroke = 80 x 79mm). Max power, 130 bhp (a 7200 rpm; peak torque, 105 lb ft (a 4200 rpm. Also available with IHI turbocharger, intercooling, 8.23:1 cr and 9.4 psi max boost to give: 165 bhp 6600 rpm, 148.5 lb ft torque on 4200 rpm.

Transmission: Transverse engine, front drive Isuzu transaxle with 5 forward ratios. Final drive: 3.833:1 allows 20.89 mph per 1000 rpm.

Body: Bonded, rivetted and bolted glass reinforced plastics and steel composites. Single VARI-Lotus moulding floorpan. Welded steel outriggers.

Front suspension: Unequal length wishbones, coaxial spring/damper units, turbular anti-roll bar with drop link attachment and patented cast aluminium “compliance raft” upright/subframe units.

Rear suspension: IRS by upper link and wide based lower wishbones. Coaxial spring/damper units, solid anti-roll bar with drop link attachments.

Steering: Rack and pinion, 2.9 turns lock-tolock. Power-assisted on Turbo, along with air conditioning.

Wheels/tyres: Lotus cast alloy design: 6.5 x 15 Michelin MXX 205/50 15 + space saver spare on both Elans, but ZR for turbo, VR otherwise.

Brakes: Both share Ventilated front discs of 10 inch diameter, plus 7.3 inch solid rear discs; no servo.

Dimensions: Length, 149.7 inches; wheelbase, 88.6 in; width, 74.3 in (inc mirrors); height, 48.4 in (hood raised, when aerodynamic drag factor is 0.34 Cd). Track, 58.5 in (front and rear).

Kerb weight: 2249 lbs split: front, 66%; rear, 34%.

Performance: Turbo Injection 0-60 mph 6.7 secs 7.6 secs 0.25 mile 15.4 secs 16.1 secs Max Speed 137 mph 122 mph Urban was 26.2 25.9 Mpg 08 75 mph 31.8 35.2

Price: £19,850 £17,850

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