An Elan with a difference

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170 bhp Broadspeed BDA under the bonnet

A few issues ago I looked into the possibilities of further developing the Elan for road and track use, concluding with some brief impressions of a 2-litre Twin Cam-engined example of the marque, as raced by David Brodie. Shortly after publication of that article we were told that a Mr. David Pannel had asked the Broadspeed concern to convert a new Elan road car to a specification that sounded far more like a racing machine than a public highway conveyance. The intended power output was to materialise as very little less than that racer we tested. Actually, a total of 170 b.h.p. was to be gently extracted from the Ford Cosworth 16-valve engine that was substituted for the normal 118 b.h.p., Twin Cam unit.

Nobody short of an experienced competitive driver would he likely to describe the production Elan as anything less than downright exciting anyway. As it emerges from Hethel the Sprint will run from 0-60 m.p.h. in approximately seven seconds and cover nearly 120 m.p.h., thus any effective conversion, especially one employing a BDA transplant, should certainly result in entertaining transport.

In fact the converted Elan emerged as a very hot piece of machinery indeed. We picked the car up at the close of a Brands Hatch club race meeting and were immediately reminded that this was no ordinary docile sports car by the injunction “slide the clutch out slowly, keep the revs above 3,000 and I bet you stall it !” As it was wet, and the only way out of the car park was uphill, it seemed extremely likely that it would shudder to an ungainly halt—especially as that high first gear will comfortably allow over 50 m.p.h. with little thought to how the driver covers the first 10 m.p.h. of his forward progress !

When we were instructed that the r.p.m. limit was “7,000, but you can use 7,500 r.p.m. if you really must” it seemed fairly certain that this would indeed be an exciting test, even if only for the number of summonses attracted by an exhaust note that gives away little to the BDA-powered F2 and F/Atlantic single-seaters. The oil pressure gauge needle wound itself round to the stop beyond 60 lb. per sq. in.; we were told to keep an extremely watchful eye on the sump level because the engine had covered only 350 miles. The unit had been built up along racing principles, and thus we could use our full quota of engine r.p.m. immediately.

The basis of the conversion was a new Elan soft-top Sprint, though it was intended to install a hardtop shortly after our test, when I believe the car was up for sale at £2,500. Following the removal of the Twin Cam unit the Broadspeed staff, already working midst a cacophony of power-drills and muffled curses to complete seven racing Escorts on schedule, begun building up a BDA. The engine is essentially similar to those sold by Broadspeed for F/Atlantic, the major differences being the standard wet sump lubrication system, bigger inlet valves (not permitted in that particular MCD-backed class of single-seater), a Tuftrided crankshaft and the adoption of roadworthy Broadspeed BD2 camshafts; their profile provides peak power at 6,200 r.p.m. Maximum torque of 125.8 lb. ft. will be found at 5,500 r.p.m.

The unit stayed at the production capacity of 1,601 c.c., but a complete rebuild included such items as a £200 cylinder head with handworked inlet and exhaust ports, 10.5:1 compression ratio, eight of those new inlet valves and a pair of the £62 BD2 camshafts.. That is the trouble with BDAs, there are so many parts to modify with double overhead camshafts and 16 valves popping up and down! All new reciprocating components were balanced, lightened where appropriate and shot peened, which includes a lighter flywheel.

Exterior modifications to go with the new engine include re-jetted and choked Weber 45 DCOE carburetters, internally polished inlet manifold, and tubular steel exhaust manifolding leading into a single large bore tailpipe. A reshaped crossmember is necessary to clear the Cosworth-based engine’s sump, while the water radiator is moved slightly further forward and a Serck oil-cooler added.

The transmission changes are pretty radical too. The gearbox was completely rebuilt to utilise needle roller bearings and new ratios to give those impressive gear speeds. The end result is pretty similar to a four-speed Group 2 touring car gearbox, with beautifully chosen ratios for someone in a real hurry. The independent rear-end retained the standard 3.77-to-1 final drive and incorporated a Salisbury limited slip differential.

An equally comprehensive conversion programme was followed to make the car stop and handle in keeping with its racing heritage. To begin with the rack and pinion steering received new steering arms and a new home on the crossmember to cut out bump steer. The four standard coil springs were replaced by shorter springs giving a ride height reduced by an inch, whilst Bilstein gas-filled shock-absorbers do an able job of keeping some of the production vehicle’s excellent riding qualities. Excellent ride characteristics by sporting standards that is, Citroën drivers probably wouldn’t recognise that this Elan had any shock-absorbers at all. Anti-fade disc pads and revised brake balance to increase the proportion of effort applied to the front wheels.

From an onlooker’s viewpoint there’s no mistaking this Broadspeed job as a sheep in wolf’s clothing; it’s a wolf, and frankly its orange paintwork, obese wheel-arches and matching Minilites leave nobody in any doubt as to its intended purpose.

For the record, it is worth recording that the specially made up glassfibre air dam (not the one used on the same company’s Capris) and 195 GP GoodYears are extremely effective in allowing straight forward progress, though I must confess that the “wing” only seems to make a difference under motorway crosswind conditions.

The step-up in size from 40 to 45 DCOEs makes the usual prompt dab, dab, and start routine even faster than usual, but they soon belch forth protest if you try and accelerate hard from less than 2,000 r.p.m. in third or fourth. Because it was wet when we picked the car up. the hood was raised, but after it tried to blow clear of the windscreen three times the following day, we lowered the PVC and left the car in a garage overnight. In turn this meant that we enjoyed the car as it is meant to be enjoyed—wind in the hair and plenty of speed.

In fact the Broadspeed Elan would work quite satisfactorily around town, when the knack of dribbling in revs to 1200 r.p.m. or so had been mastered in conjunction with slow clutch release. The water temperature would rise to 90-degrees under these circumstances, but the electric fan would reduce the coolant heat level to 85-degrees given a long jam to do its work in. Despite those wide wheels, the Lotus steering seemed as light as ever whilst the gear-change was phenomenally efficient, but I found the clutch rather heavy when dragging through London front east to west.

Under wet conditions the Elan is not at its best, though the handling and braking still provide generous margins of safety. Obviously, if the car is provoked by it flat-out throttle opening in low gear during the negotiation of a tight curve, then the driver will be presented with no grip at one end or the other, always the rear, providing sufficient power is applied. At first we could not imagine any driver hurling the Broadspeeded device about with abandon on a wet day, but with practice one finds that the limited slip differential will find a way to transmit some horsepower to a slippery surface. Those with problems that cannot be solved by the application of power—such as the strong understeer that almost any car will suffer if it is put into a slippery corner too fast—need not apply for compensation.

Whatever the prevalent weather the modified Elan’s real party-piece is in the deadly efficient manner in which it can cover British roads. Just in the same way that I found myself unable to stay indoors when we had the RS1600, or the Lotus 7, or the. Else converted Europa, or even such diverse vehicles as the AMC Javelin V8 or the beautiful BMW 3.0 CS, and the Alfa Romeo 1750 Duetto/GTV, I found there was a vague feeling of unhappiness until I had taken the Elan out for a brisk airing. In the largely pampered past six years or so that I have been lucky enough to use (mainly) spotless cars provided by other people in search of publicity for their wares, I’ve never enjoyed a trip more than the one I took in the Elan overnight to the country and back to town in the early morning.

It was only under such artificial conditions that I could understand why the owner of this car had sacrificed some everyday motoring manners on the altar of honest performance in all departments. The trouble at present is that such performance is frowned on and I can see why one eminent journalist once advised me, “never write about anything you enjoy—somebody, somewhere, will put a stop to whatever it is!” It is easy to see his point where any sort of road is concerned, for publicity draws crowds, and lots of people always seem to bring lots of problems with them.

As the Elan swooped along country lanes I reflected how much we miss inside an ordinary saloon. Would that it was practical for everyone to enjoy the thrills of extracting perfect unison front engine, brakes and gearbox, as is possible with this Elan. There’s even enough power to set the car up accurately for almost any corner at any speed up to 90 m.p.h.; it is just over this speed that one has to change out of third gear if one is imposing the normal 6,500 limit. In the lower gears 6,500 translates as 52 and 68 m.p.h., whilst in top gear I never exceeded an indicated 120 m.p.h. with the hood down. However, this really misses the point for it is the sheer verve with which the car responds that endears it to the driver, especially on the sort of switch back represented by an 80 m.p.h. crest followed by a downhill 60 m.p.h. left-hander, 70 m.p.h. right, bumpy 110 m.p.h. straight and 30 m.p.h. downhill hairpin. To follow that sort of terrain you need the Elan’s red hot needle performance package; even then you’ll actually experience the joys of drifting with little need to do more than ease the steering onto corrective lock.

We took the car to our normal track for performance tests, but after 12 not very satisfactory runs a camshaft seized in its carrier, a problem that will he familiar to W.B. from his spell with the RS 1600. The only other problem that presented itself was oil surge that materialised if the car was anything less than bung-full according to the dipstick. After the Elan was returned. I did idly wonder if the dipstick markings were correct, for such things have been known to happen before.

To my eyes the Elan represented a very healthy diversion for a wealthy man who wanted a sophisticated Lotus Seven, for it is unbelievably rapid in the sort of situations that a skilled driver could enjoy, whilst offering all the creature comforts when required, for even the electric windows worked throughout our tenure! — J. W.

Overall fuel consumption : 17-22 m.p.g

Price of engine (including £500 for production RS1600 unit) : £957.

Converters : Broadspeed Ltd., .Banbury Road, Southam, Warks,

• In a recent article on Modified Cortinas, J.W. said that the lights on a Mk. 3 Cortina remained on the sidelight position only on one side and criticised the car on this point. The Ford press office naturally told us that this was because we had been using the parking light control, which was true, but did not account for a simple bulb failure of a front sidelight, which added to our reporter’s confusion.

• Jaguar enthusiasts will be interested to learn that Warren Pearce is now trading under the name Lawrence Pearce from premises at 186 Cambridge Road, Kingston, Surrey :Tel.: 01-549.1992). Although his workshops are mainly filled with quality maintenance work these days (a Facel Vega and BMW 20(12 were undergoing surgery when we called) Pearce is still offering a number of Jaguar performance improvement items, especially with regard to braking and suspension modifications. His current pride and joy is an XJ6 which apparently accelerates and corners in a way that pleases this former Jaguar E-type racing driver, now happily fully recovered from the serious injuries he incurred at Castle Combe in 1970.