Fun all the way — until it’s time to park
“A nice car”. Thus spoke D.S.J. after a 240 miles in the Eclat 2.2, the latest and revised uprated version of the Eclat which was first introduced at the end of 1975; those who read D.S.J. regularly will know that such words are not used lightly. Motor Sport did a full test of the Eclat Sprint for the June 1977 issue, shortly after the high performance version of the car had been announced, acclaiming the car’s superb handling and roadholding capabilities. It was in May last year that the Eclat was re-vamped to become the Eclat series 2.2, and it has lost none of its fun appeal in the process, but has gained in flexability and creature comforts at the expense of a rather hefty price tag—the car as tested would set you back some £17,600.
The chassis remains unaltered, apart from considerable improvements to its corrosion resistance abilities, with a similar suspension set up — wishbone and coil springs at the front, trailing arm independent at the rear supporting the car through long coil springs. Telescopic dampers co-axial with the springs are used all round, and an anti-roll bar is fitted at the front. The static unladen setting for the camber angle is 0° at the front and 30° negative at the rear, while a 6 mm. toe-in is specified for the rear wheels and 3 mm. for the front. The brakes, surprisingly, are disc on the front wheels and drum at the back, servo assisted, and the steering is by rack and pinion which on the test car had the optional power assistance with a slightly higher ratio giving 3.1 turns, lock to lock. The wheels are 7″ x 14″, in alloy, and are fitted with Dunlop 205/60 VP 14 tyres.
The main changes, however, are in the engine which has been re-worked to give better performance, tractability and efficiency with improved economy. The 907 engine of the original 2 litre Lotus Eclat developed 160 b.h.p., but was somewhat peaky. The 912 engine is now of 2.2 litres (95 x 76 mm.), retains the same layout five bearing crankshaft running in an alloy block with an alloy head containing four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts, but has been arranged to give the same maximum power at 5,500 r.p.m., with considerably more torque throughout the engine range and to be more economical with fuel. (It is not, by the way, the same engine as currently fitted to the Sunbeam Lotus, which is code numbered 911 and has significant cylinder head and carburation differences as well as a completely different sump design.) Breakerless ignition is used.
This engine is coupled to a five-speed Getrag gearbox which is an absolute delight to use. The ratios are: –
Overdrive top 0.813:1
Styling changes include a new spoiler at the front to help improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and to increase air flow through the radiator, re-designed door sills, and a new rear bumper arrangement incorporating larger rear lamp clusters. The headlamps are halogen units and are now electrically operated — the original Eclat followed the earlier Elan in having its headlamps raised by vacuum.
The interior has been updated, and the test car was trimmed with charcoal grey cloth upholstery over a pale grey carpet. The front seats are extremely comfortable, if a little low for the shorter driver, while the rear seats are intended only for occasional use and are somewhat lacking in legroom as well as padding (presumably to give a reasonable amount of headroom): Lotus describe the car as a 2+2, and normal sized adults could use the rear seats if they had to, although front leg room would be reduced. The central spine of the car makes for a high transmission tunnel, which the short driver would find comfortable as an armrest. The handbrake is mounted atop this tunnel, and as a result is difficult to apply hard. Switches for the electrically operated windows flank the roots of the handbrake lever and fall readily to hand. The short, stubby gear lever is positioned in just the right place so that the hand transfers from it to the wheel and back again absolutely naturally.
A central console houses a radio, air conditioning controls, slide switches for the hazard warning lamps, heated rear screen and lights and a digital clock. Instruments, which look rather dated and out of place in the Eclat, but which are none the less effective for all that are arranged in front of the driver, showing from left to right — fuel level in the fifteen gallon tank, engine speed, oil pressure & water temperature, road speed and voltage. Below these is a row of warning lights, conveniently obscured by the broad horizontal spoke of the leather rimmed wheel. Stalks operate the indicators and single wiper. There is no rear screen wiper, as the shape of the car and the air flow make it unnecessary — the Eclat threw dirt up at itself below waist level, and managed to cover its rear lamps and number plate in one quite short country journey, but no evidence of this filth came anywhere near the rear screen. which stayed clear throughout. Mind you, this was not much help, as it is nigh on impossible to see much through the rear window except sky, or a lorry driver’s cab — and that is unlikely other than in a traffic — as the high coil attachments at the rear dictate a high rear ledge which for me was well above eye level. Combined with significant rear quarters and high seat backs, reversing into parking spaces was not easy, even with the excellent electrically adjustable external rear mirrors. (A joystick switch in the driver’s door enables the driver to adjust either mirror by selection with an adjacent rocker switch.)
Oddments accommodation is somewhat lacking, the glove compartment being full of fire extinguisher on the test car and the tray between the gear lever and the handbrake taking little more than a pair of sun glasses. There are pockets in the sides at the rear, but these are not much help if the rear seats are intended for occasional use only. The boot is a reasonable size, and has the battery located in the offside corner. The under bonnet layout is very tidy.
From cold, the engine needs a little encouragement to start from the choke, operated by a short travel pull out knob on the left of the steering column, but soon runs without this aid, settling down to a steady tickover at just under the 1,000 r.p.m mark quite quickly. The first impression on the road is one of complete stability: the car sits on the road like a hump on a camel — it belongs there, and it requires quite idiotic driving to make it do anything different. The ride is very firm, but not at all uncomfortable, and in D.S.J.’s words, the suspension really works and follows the road rather than fighting against it. Roll is obviously a word that the Lotus engineers have never heard of for the Eclat corners very flat and tends to slide in a deliciously controllable manner rather than roll — and you have to be going really quickly to achieve that on a dry road. It is this characteristic which endows the Eclat with much of its charm and attraction for the sporting driver.
The engine, gearbox, steering and brakes all match the quality of the suspension. The 2.2-litre unit revs freely and whisks the car up to 60 m.p.h. in just a shade over 7 sec. Top speed is claimed to be 132 m.p.h., and I can see no reason to doubt this perhaps conservative figure. Second gear is good for the magic 60, third for 84 and fourth for well over 110, which shows how nicely spaced the ratios are. The change is beautifully light and precise, and the downward snick from fifth to fourth as one steadies the car for a fast curve is a real pleasure. The steering is light, high geared, and precise — an example to other manufacturers. Brakes are absolutely sure-footed and have a pleasantly progressive action.
A journey to Oxford one Saturday afternoon just before Christmas was a real pleasure. The road from Hungerford via Wastage is usually fairly free of traffic, has one or two straights, but mainly meanders along the natural path dictated by the rolling downland through which it passes. The Lotus lapped it up as a cat drinks cream — wishing it would last longer, but only enjoying it when taken at the fastest comfortable speed. The lovely gearbox and free-revving engine made short work of overtaking the few cars which got in our way and the wide open curves enabled we to explore the excellent steering and handling characteristics of the Eclat. Driving through the crowded market place in Wantage, the engine showed its flexibility by being quite happy in stop-start driving conditions, even though it was prone to kangaroo type jumps if I tried to make it pick up from walking pace in bottom gear without de-clutching, due to the twin Dellorto carburetters hunting slightly if the throttle is opened under load at low engine speeds.
Back on the open road, less hilly north of Wantage, and more straight, the Eclat soon whisked me into the dense traffic of Oxford on a busy Christmas shopping afternoon. Parking was the main problem, and I really cursed the high rear window ledge as I took four bites at a parking space I should have been able to fill in one, but the return journey made up for it all. It had rained slightly, and the road was quite slippery, but the Lotus never put a wheel wrong sliding in a beautifully controlled fashion round those sweeping curves as the excellent headlamps showed the way ahead and the single wiper kept the screen clear of rain and spray.
Altogether a lovely car to drive, but Lotus do still have this reputation for lack of reliability — many friends who have had Lotus cars told me to expect trouble, and a couple of passers-by made similar comments when I was washing the below waist line filth off before returning it, but hopefully all that is over with the Series 2.2, as it certainly should be at the price. My only trouble with the car was a loose battery connection which had me worried when I met D.S.J. after his spell in the car — it had driven into the car park, but was completely dead when I came to start it A tap with a wheelbrace effected a get-me-home repair. Thereafter, despite refitting very carefully, the battery cover (slightly top heavy as it also contains the jack and wheelbrace) kept coming adrift under hard cornering, rushing about in the boot.
I don’t think that the car would have a 450 mile range (as claimed in the advertising blurb) if it was mine, for my fuel consumption was only a shade over 19 m.p.g., giving a range of just under 300 miles, but perhaps my consumption figure is indicative of the pleasure the car gave me. Lotus claim 29 m.p.g. at a steady 75, and a 20 m.p.g. return on the so-called urban cycle. — P.H.J.W.