Colin Chapman’s Lotus project has been a significant success story, from humble but enthusiastic beginnings up to World Championship Grand Prix winning and Indianapolis-victorious level. This is attributable to Chapman’s genius and drive, allied to the fact that he was a genuine motoring enthusiast before he became a business tycoon—and still is. So far as the sort of Lotus cars you can buy and use on the road are concerned, what is more sporting than a Lotus 7, perhaps home-assembled from the kit, what was more covetable than the Lotus Elite, even if commercially it didn’t quite come off, or more effective as a car which is very safely very fast than the current Lotus Elan?
The Elan can be likened to the better sports cars of the vintage years, inasmuch as it is race-bred, highly individualistic, built in a factory where enthusiasm is evident on all levels and, as a car, has quick high-geared steering, pulls high axle-ratios, has a twin-cam engine, a manual gear-change of a kind which should please the most blasé driver, centre-lock wheels, and can be equipped to suit individual tastes. There the comparison most certainly ends, because the backbone-chassis Lotus Elan is one of the lightest, fastest-for-its-size and finest “road-clingers” of all time, in the modern manner, a credit to the Ford components it uses so effectively. Moreover, it is a British-built sports car.
It is for this reason that we feature it fairly prominently in the articles below, in this rather special issue of Motor Sport published during the month of the London Motor Show at Earls Court. The Lotus factory is at Cheshunt but is soon to move to Hethel—and Hertfordshire’s loss will be Norfolk’s gain!—THE EDITOR.
“It’s the nearest you can get to a racing car for everyday use on the road.”—Sid Fox, Director, Motor Racing Stables.
“The Elan is a fantastic road car, with a great racing record and background.”—Jackie Oliver, Team Lotus driver.
“It’s all right—I like it.”—John Miles, Willment team driver.
” Why can’t we all have Elans?”—William Boddy, Editor, Motor Sport
THE Lotus Elan, or Lotus 26 as the purist might call it, is sufficiently well known by now to need little introduction. In our opinion it is the most sensitive and rewarding car available to the public, demanding in the sense that it won’t tolerate bad driving, satisfying because of the way it responds to a modicum of skill. To reinforce this opinion we talked to three satisfied customers, quoted above, who probably demand far more from their cars than the average customer. Jackie Oliver and John Miles race Elans which are far from standard (we’ll describe the modifications later) but, for the record, Motor Racing Stables have just announced that their three standard Elans purchased for tuition have now completed a total of 10,000 laps of the Brands Hatch short circuit with no mechanical failure whatsoever.
So much for what we think of the car. We regard it as an outstanding success and so do the Lotus people themselves, for when it was announced production was planned at 10 a week—at the moment production is running at 40 a week, and when the new factory at Hethel, Norfolk, opens its doors on November 25th the capacity will rise to at least 60, possibly 70, a week. So far the credit squeeze has not hit the company very hard, partly due to the strenuous export drive now resulting in a third of the output reaching America, another third going to Europe. It is relevant to ask at this point how it has so succeeded. The entire history of car production is studded with lost causes, not all of them complete failures, and in this day of amalgamation and growth it is a little surprising to find a small but efficient organisanon which is actually doing all it claims to be achieving. Even now there are perhaps half a dozen small enterprises which must be hanging on grimly by their fingernails in the face of the economic difficulties, all of them in a class which Colin Chapman’s outfit was part of only five or six years ago. Clearly he has outpaced them, and will continue to do so judging by his future plans, and this can be traced to about six factors which reflect great credit to the organisation.
When Jim Clark’s Lotus-Ford won at Indianapolis last year, John Eason-Gibson, Secretary of the B.R.D.C., wrote that this was just as much a reward for Chapman’s pitwork as his design skill. His mind, if we understand it correctly, is constantly planning and scheming, always one jump ahead of the next man’s. He is a constant nightmare to race organisers whose regulations have to be Chapman-proof, to suppliers who have to deliver the goods or suffer the sharp edge of his withering invective. Enormous success on circuits of the world must have greatly helped Lotus (Sales) Limited, but this wouldn’t be enough if the Elan was no good, or terribly unreliable.
The Elan is renowned principally because it is a brilliant car, the product of a small team which has no use for committee work and the inevitable compromise. It is not strictly true, however, to give all the credit to Chapman himself, for working on his concept, and with his approval, is a devdopment group led by South African-born Ron Hickman. This is the first success-factor. Second, surely, is Chapman’s business acumen, which speaks for itself. Third, the competition record and the prestige which goes with it, especially in the export markets. Fourth, a most useful liaison with the Ford Motor Company which has supplied not only a remarkably useful power unit for the Elan, but the background for a good deal of the Team Lotus record. Fifth, and this is a master stroke, the Elan is so designed that it can be readily assembled by the home handiman with limited mechanical knowledge, thus avoiding purchase tax liability and making the Elan available at a most reasonable price. For the tecord, the great majority of these cars are sold in kit form, the actual number being a secret between Lotus and H.M. Customs and Excise!
Elite to Elan
To understand how the Elan was planned, developed and produced we must go back to the days of the Elite. The first spark or inspiration probably came from Peter Kirwan-Taylor, later a director of Lotus Cars, who wanted a ready-to-go GT car for racing and road use. He, John Frayling, and Ron Hickman, tthen a Ford designer at Dagenham got together with Colin Chapman at the Earls Court Show in 1956, put the idea of a car based on the Eleven, and without any delay the project was got under way. The Elite was a joint effort by Kirwan-Taylor, Chapman, John Frayling, Frank Costin, Hickman, with Peter Cambridge working on the interior. Only a year later, the Elite made its appearance at the Motor Show, and Lotus Cars were in business as a company retailing to the public at large, as opposed to the racing fraternity. The Fourteen, as the Elite was designated, was a pure glass-fibre monocoque powered by, a 1,220-C.C. Coventry-Climax engine, absolutely perfect for GT racing though doubtful as a road car, unless you stayed near home! To quote Chapman : “We knew a lot about racing Cars by then, but nothing about production. We got to know our customers pretty well; they were always calling on us to have their cars put right, but their attitude was always ‘the Elite is fabulous while it’s going.’ We learned a lot.”
The monocoque construction proved its point, though. It was immensely strong, as Ciraham Warner of the Chequered Flag proved when he rolled one at high speed at Zandvoort. Between 1957 and 1963 about 1,000 Elites were built and a great number of improvements were made, including complete revision of the A-bracket rear suspension on a Series 2 modification. From a production point of view the Elite was both difficult and expensive to produce, involving six major mouldings and a number of smaller ones with a back-to-back laminate process.
Ron Hickman had joined the company as Design and Development Engineer in 1958, acquiring the immense problems of glassfibre moulding—also the experience, of course. It is not really possible to pin down the actual date when the Elan was first envisaged, but it was really meant to be a 2 + 2 replacement for the Elite, still using monocoque construction. It was, however, to be made in a single mould known to plastics engineers as monolithic, or to Hickman as a unimould—whatever you call it, it was going to simplify the production and reduce cost significantly.
Going through the history with us, Hickman says that designing open road cars is far more difficult than designing closed cars, ” but we did not know that at the time.” To which Chapman added : “Designing road cars is ten times more difficult and expensive than designing racing cars—we quickly learned that!”
The Elite’s replacement was taking shape on the drawing-board, claiming more and more of the development team’s time. Chapman was raring to go with his ideas on suspension, and before the plans were finally decided about the body construction it was decided to try out the running gear. Without delay, Chapman sketched out a backbone chassis and this was made up, purely and simply to test the suspension and drive layout. It was quickly realised that this was just perfect as a road car, and remember that at this point the procedure had been exactly as in the design of a racing car. In other words, unencumbered with production problems, a most advanced form of chassis and suspension had been envisaged.
It was also realised that one-piece monocoque construction was going to be exceedingly difficult, for an open spots car, and it was with a mixture of glee and relief perhaps that it was realised the backbone chassis lent itself very nicely to the installation of a glass-fibre bodyshell. Not only that, but it was going to be cheap to produce, so economies would not have to be sought on the overall specification.
By this time, in 1961, Lotus were aware that Ford were busy on a 1,500-c.c. engine. With remarkable foresight Chapman asked Harry Mundy and Richard Ansdale to get busy designing a twin-cam head, and when this was done Cosworth Engineering constructed the unit. At 1,499 c.c. it gave a level 100 b.h.p.; in exactly this form it was installed in a Lotus 23 for Jim Clark to drive in the Nurburgring 1,000 km. in September 1962. It led on the first tap, to the chagrin of Scuderia Ferrari, the surprise of 100,000 spectators, the amazement of Jim Clark, Colin Chapman, and Keith Duckworth, to name but a few.
At which point the 2+2 project was set aside (but not forgotten) is not altogether clear but by the beginning of 1962 the Elan scheme was hardening. It was to be a two-seat sports car with fairly luxurious fittings, and above all else it was to be a nice, refined, practical model to sell to the public. Hickman says that where the Elite was 6o% beautiful, 40% practical, the Elan was to be 60/40 practical and beautiful. Even now he sticks to this, believing that the Elan is not particularly graceful. Hickman intends that the next car will meet both ideals equally. Big motor manufacturers are quite prepared to let the Press visit their styling departments and view artists’ impressions of possible future models, saving in guarded tones that they won’t see the light of day. Likewise, Hickman’s office is adorned with impressions of a 2–2 distinctly reminiscent of the Elite, but the usual disclaimer is made—for this year, anyway.
It is not quite true that the Elan has a one-piece body mould, since the floor and wheel-arch pressing is made on one mould and the upper part on another the two parts being bonded and finished when curing is taking place. No less than 110 metal inserts are used to attach the body to the backbone, for attaching the doors, the seat mounting points and so on, each one requiring a special bobbin developed by Hickman (he wishes he had patented it). Even this small part of the design is an article in itself, but the bobbins have a shear strength exceeding a ton, which means that if you sit an elephant on an open door the bolt will break before the surrounding bodywork—but not under warranty! On this point, the Elan has the incidental but important advantage that it is much easier to repair than an Elite. We have heard pessimists say that an Elan is not a safe car in which to have an accident (what is?), but this can be fairly countered by the known safety advantage inherent in glass-fibre, in that it breaks up at a uniform rate and spreads the shock and deformation rate over a relatively safe band.
By the middle of 1962 the Elan was taking shape, and finishing was mainly a matter of detail. For instance; Hickman was quite bothered about the headlights for, as the clay model picture shows, the Elan was fitted with lights which did not then conform with the law on height, so retractable mechanism was designed. He wanted to avoid hydraulics or electricity for the operating mechanism, designing a manual lever to do the job from the driving seat. Probably a great many people on the M1 were surprised to see Colin Chapman’s Jaguar 3.8 rushing up and down at top speed, with a pair of pop-up headlights mounted on an outrigger at the front. In this way the mechanical force required to rase the lights was calculated, a useful experiment which only days before the Motor Show of 1963 led to vacuum operation. When the car appeared on the stand the lights had never been operated on a test vehicle, but they didn’t break down and by the end of the 10-day marathon they had undergone the equivalent of 15 years’ use—point made!
A cheap replacement was designed for the Seven, based on the Elan, and this is the car we illustrate. It was to have a very simple two-piece body with the nip part bonded to the floor panel, the beading trimmed with brightwork. It was to be spartan, very cheap (up to £75 less than the Seven), and just about everything was to be an extra—even an automatic gearbox, it is interesting in note. An Anglia 105E engine (in standard form) was to be the basic power unit, a rigid axle was to be fitted, and the end product would, quoting Hickman’s memorandum, “be inferior to an Austin Healey Sprite (or an M.2 Seven) only as regards comfort—seats, doors, weatherproofing—convenience, appearance, finish, noise level, road-holding and carrying capacity.”
It is to his credit that Hickman did not blush when he allowed us to carry the drawing and memorandum out of his office! This car, of course, was never made, and we feel that when the Seven is replaced it will have none of the disadvantages mentioned.
The letters NVH won’t mean much to the public, but have absorbed the minds of the design team. They stand for noise, vibration, harshness, and are the key to the difference between the Lotus Elan and other glass-fibre, do-it-yourself sports cars. An immense amount of work has gone into eliminating these factors and the 400 detail modifications that have been made since September 1962 are largely to do with the niceness of the car as it is today. Chapman says that regarding the production rate, his development costs are out of all proportion; an economist might think him a fool. His problem is balancing the economic feasibility of improvements with the cost, and in relation to what the big manufacturers can do his changes are vastly more expensive. But, as we said before, in limited production it is less of a problem to make a specification change, and no less than 200 further refinements are in mind for the future. The Elan will certainly be with us, much as it is now, for at least another five years. It is significant that, year by year, between 50 and 70% of the development team’s time has been taken up with current models, this being an exceptionally high ratio by any standards.
Very few real modifications have been required in production; in fact since the first prototype was designed. The original prototype had inboard disc brakes at the rear, but torque effects produced a severe judder at the back if the brakes were applied between 40-50 .m.p.h. Apart from that the car moved up to 10 inches against the hand-brake, due to take-up in the rubber doughnuts, so the discs were taken to the outboard end, with the consequent rise in unsprung weight. Ah well, Chapman can’t win all the time! Larger callipers were fitted when the Series II was introduced, and the early doughnuts gave some drivers trouble (oddly enough, not always the fastest drivers).
A year ago the Coupe (type 36) was introduced, and it is entirely due to Ron Hickman ‘s design team, notably Brian Luff, that the bodywork can be made on the same moulds as the new (type 45) open car. This, of course, means that it can he offered at virtually the same price with the triple advantage that it has increased the market, the sales, and the profit margin, also increasing production flexibility.
The problems that are involved in modifying the body shape are great. Since the cars are made with eight sets of tools, each set has to be altered, taking up a week at a time, with consequent slowing down and difficult phasing in production. We are breaking an embargo by a few days to mention that no less than 20 schemes were tried to get a satisfactory air extraction system working on the Coupe.
At one point it was thought that the Elan would lend itself nicely to special coachbuilding efforts, but this was a fallacy for three reasons. First, it was later realised that eo;ichbuilders like to have an underpan to work on, building upwards. Only Frua, and Ian Walker for one Swiss customer, have really tried to tackle the matter of designing a complete, fully Stressed bodyshell around the backbone. Second, upon a compact chassis there is no scope for extending the range beyond that of a two-seater. Third. customers really do pay for size rather than styling, and any special job could only be more expensive. Any attempt to produce a cheaper version would founder, just as the Mark 7 replacement did, upon the high cost of the chassis, equipped with running gear. By introducing the Coupe, appealing to older and more discriminating customers. Lotus really solved this problem for themselves. Even now the sales of the Coupe haven’t stabilised sufficiently to quote a definite ratio compared with the Convertible.
As Chapman said, the Elite was designed as a track car, and they found out afterwards how to make it work as a road machine. Conversely, the Elan was primarily for road use, and just as happened with the E-Type Jaguar, customers got their hands on it and rushed straight out to the circuits to meet with varying success. Of course the potential was there, but quite a fair amount of sorting out was needed.
First thing to remember is that the engine was not meant as a competition unit, either. That is what we are told, anyway. Jim Clark’s Nurburgring epic was simply a trial, but Ford got very interested and only a few months later the Lotus-Cortina made its debut. That’s another story, too. The first 50 power units made were 1,499 c.c., but a very early decision was made to increase the bore by 1/16 in., taking the capacity to 1,558 c.c. in production. Thus a 1 mm. increase in bore, permitted by the F.I.A. regulations, would take the engine conveniently to the limit of the 1,600-c.c. class; very handy. The power went up to 105 b.h.p. also.
Keith Duckworth was asked to develop a competition version of this unit, the early Cosworth unit appearing with stronger pistons, new camshafts, bigger counterbalance weights on the crankshaft, and a bigger clutch. At the factory Steve Sanville and his engine and transmission staff had been developing the engine and running gear for road use, and quite a number of improvements have taken place.
Engine development becomes complicated at this stage. The Cosiworth units as just described gave 140 b.h.p., but all such engines were quickly modified to Phase II which gave the same power reliably, with the help of stronger rods, better gudgeon-pins and different pistons. Due to production difficulties B.R.M. were asked in 1965 to prepare some of the competition engines, and now, with dry-sump lubrication, the engines from Bourne are giving 155-160 b.h.p. Equipped with fuel injection they are giving up to 185 b.h.p., as raced in the Team Lotus-Cortinas recently, while a carburetter version with fuel injection cams and inlets has given 168 b.h.p. so far. For the future, the new F.2 Cosworth unit with a 4-valve head, giving in excess of 200 b.h.p., will be very convenient.
Oddly these super engines have been used mainly in the saloons, no-one having progressed beyond 160 brake in an Elan as yet. That must be next on the agenda.
If you say it costs £1,200 to knock four seconds off the short Circuit at Brands Hatch, it sounds an awful lot of money. A lot of work is done, though, to take the price up to £2,450, the price of a Competition Elan available from Lotus (Components) Ltd.; this is about the same price as a new Formula Three car.
Explained by John Joyce, the development manager, the chassis is modified at the rear with the pick-ups raised to lower the (strengthened) cliff. carrier, thus lowering the suspension. The backbone. is strengthened at the front and rear, but not to any great extent. Bottom wishbones at the rear, and the top wishbones at the front, are rose-jointed to facilitate camber adjustments.; Armstrong racing struts are fitted, different springs, dampers and anti-roll bar adopted. The rack-and-pinion steering assembly is rigid-mounted. Magnesium hub carriers replace alloy at the rear, while magnesium is also used for wheel construction and the diff. carrier, all to save weight. Incidentally, the 13-in. knock-on wheels pioneer another development, having a special type of cone fitting.
The intermediate driveshaft incorporates a B.R.D. roller spline, and the outboard driveshaft assembly carries smaller discs to alter the braking ratio. An oil cooler replaces the scoop on the diff., partly because of the extra heat generated in racing conditions and partly because a limited slip unit is fitted, naturally running hotter. The gearbox is not modified, apart for ratios, but alloy replaces steel for the bell-housing and tailpiece.
Twin master cylinders with an adjustable balance bar are fitted in the braking system. An aluminium radiator, an oil cooler, Perspex headlight fairings, and a safety rollover bar make up the equipment side. By the time all this has been done, a special lightweight body having wider wheel arches is needed to keep the weight approximately the same as on the road cars, at just under 13 cwt. Special seats, seat belts to choice, extra instruments, and a leather-rimmed sterring wheel are all included in the specification. Joyce thinks it is the only competition car equipped with a cigar-lighter, but he’s not sure.
Under development at the moment is a rally version, which has been entered a couple of times under Ian Walker colours, but confidence that it would last a rough and tough event like the R.A.C. Rally sounds tentative.
Following their normal policy of racing one car of each type made, Team Lotus had a great deal of success last year wita a competition Elan in the hands of Ray Parsons.
Assembly and Sales
At the time of our visit the bodies, constructed in Norfolk. were being brought to Cheshunt for final assembly, but by December the whole operation will take place under one roof in a new factory. The offices will also be located at Hethel, so that-as far as motoring is concerned Cheshunt will disappear from the map. In keeping with the organisation’s outlook, the office suite will be completely open plan with plants, trees and fountains to break up the office atmosphere.
The power units are delivered by the J.A.P.-Villiers Company, Wolverhampton, who take the basic parts from Ford at Dagenham and do the assembly with special parts, starting with a special crankshaft and working upwards. Blue cylinder heads are fitted on the standard 105-b.h.p, engines, and green heads. on the 115-b.h.p. Special Equipment engines also developed by Steve Sanville’s staff, having special cams, chokes, jets and exhaust system. These represent 25% of the output. All the engines are bench run for an hour before installation, helping to build up a marvellous reputation for reliability.
Assembly is a pretty straightforward job, especially since most cars are sold in kit form. In an unguarded moment, Graham Arnold, the Sales Director, admitted that glue techniques have improved considerably since the early days when customers came back from Spain complaining that their Elans had reverted to kit form. Customers who do build the cars themselves are invited to take the completed job back to the factory to have their handiwork checked over.
It is surprising, but not altogether out -of character, to realise that every Elan made now has electric windows. This actually avoids the problem of having a bulky winder mechanism in the doors and is a cheap comfort factor regarded as a sound investment.
Over 500 people are employed at Cheshunt, and many of them will be moving up to Norfolk. Lotus directors are very confident that locally recruited labour will he of high quality in any case.
To sell the cars, Lotus have 39 main dealers in Britain, four in America with 200 agents, and with European outlets there are about 350 dealers altogether. Graham Arnold spends much of his time chasing about the overseas markets fighting a personal crusade against Porsche, even going to the trouble of entering local events when there is time in order to take on the Stuttgart company on a neutral battleground.
An interesting aside to the Elan story is the development of a Cortina with independent rear suspension. Two have been made—Jim Clark runs one of them, Cohn Chapman the other, but so far Ford have declined to take any special interest. Notable customers for the Elan have included Prince William of Gloucester, Lady Sarah Curzon, Viscount Gormeston, Stirling Moss, The Yardbirds, and the Jordanian Ambassador.
Through the Elite, the public were first able to get first-hand experience of Lotus design. It may have been a salutary experience for some of the customers, but roughly in line with the company’s racing record of the time. As the racing record improved, so did the product, and the two facts may be allied, for Chapman learned the hard way that to win a race the car must cross the finishing line. By now, we need no convincing that the lesson has been thoroughly assimilated in all departments.—M. L. C.
ROAD IMPRESSIONS OF THE LOTUS ELAN
Motor Sport has not been neglectful of the Elan—we have written of its road behaviour previously and the Continental Correspondent, after driving one to Monza and back, commented very favourably on this highly-desirable Lotus. The remarks which follow are based on recent experience of the latest version on the constipated roads of England and less congested by-roads of Wales. After lunch with Colin Chapman and his executives at Cheshunt, when all manner of motor racing topics were aired, I was handed over a dazzingly yellow-hued coupe, its colour enabling this small low vehicle to be easily seen by other, perhaps more pedestrian, road users and, I hope, being in some way radar-repellant. It was the newest of the range, a fixed-head coupe with electrically-operated windows, in Special Equipment guise, developing 115 b.h.p. by reason of high-lift camshafts, special Weber carburetters, and a 4-branch exhaust manifold, and pulling a 3.5 to 1 axle ratio in conjunction with semi close-ratio gears.
Appart from being told not to use the choke and warned that, though light, the clutch is fierce, there were no special driving instructions issued to me as Graham Arnold. Lotus’ Sales Director, sent me on my way. The Elan was, however, turned out for test in a manner of which the great Daimler-Benz Press organisation would not have been ashamed. In the boot were a gasket-set, a spares-kit containing hoses, plugs, brake pads, rotor arm, decoke set. etc. and a workshop manual, apart from which I had also been issued with an instruction book, sales literature, servicing-vouchers, a Lotus tie-pin and day and night telephone numbers in case of emergencies. All of this was most reassuring, although I only intended to go a few hundred miles, and it effectively emphasises the progress made in Messrs. Lotus’ affairs within a comparatively short space of time.
It was, too, intriguing to drive one of the fastest A-to-B coupes out of a factoiy where racing cars from 250 c.c. to Indianapolis-size are prepared and saloon racing Lotus-Cortina Fords made ready for battle.
One’s first surprise about the Elan is its quite astonishing docility . Alffictigh I had the S/E coupe capable of some 120 m.p.h. or more, the twin-cam 1,558-c.c. Ford power unit is quite happy idiling along in top gear at around 1,500 r.p.m., which is comfortably below the town speed-limit of 30 m.p.h.
This was just as well, because it wasn’t until some 45 miles after leaving Cheslunt, and then only for very brief occasions, that I was able to exceed about 50 m.p.h., so choc-a-bloc with mimsers were our infernally narrow roads. So the Elan’s docility didn’t come amiss, and I was also pleased to discover how quietly it runs with the windows shut. Engine and exhaust noise certainly belie the vivid performance that is released when it is p0ssible to depress the right foot.
The new electric windows are extremely worthwhile. Lotus will tell you that they are a good sales gimmick and almost as cheap to install as maritally-wound window glasses. Maybe. But this little coupe gets internally hot within and as the driver is apt to be pretty fully occupied if he is enjoying himself as he should be, to be able to get some fresh air on tap merely by pressing a conveniently-placed flick-switch is indeed a blessing. Admittedly this sudden exposure to blasts of outside atmosphere on the face and neck of a perspiring driver may well give rise to new ailments, in the category of “Lotus elbow” known to owners of open Lotus 7s, but this problem will have been resolved by new ventilating arrangements in time for the Motor Show. Underscuttle air inlet doors are already provided but tend to promote chilly feet.
In addition to the convenience of windows which go up or down, slowly but surely, under electric control, with separate switches for driver and passenger, the adjustable racing type bucket seats are effectively supporting and comfortable. Forward visibility is good due to thin screen pillars, even if the small steering wheel is a trifle high-set for the low seating position (but it is adjustable to individual requirements), nor do I think I walk with a permanent kink through driving the Elan with my legs biased to the right in the loot-well containing the close-set but conveniently located pendant pedals; a wide transmission tunnel necessitates this off-set to the off-side, and divorces passenger from driver. It does, however, enable a lipped tray to he formed on top of the tunnel, from which the very stubby gear lever protrudes, and if the rearward extension restricts movement of the left elbow to a greater extent than the padded door limits movement of the right elbow, I found no cause for serious complaint.
The interior of the fixed-head Elan is quite luxurious. The facia and its extension downwards to join the aforesaid transmission runnel is in dark polished wood and it abounds in unlabelled flick-switches and knobs, all sensibly situated for quick manipulation. The Smiths dials are confined to a small 140 m.p.h. speedometer with trip and total odometers, a matching electronic tachometer reading to 8,000 r.p.m., with the red sector commencing at 6,500 r.p.m., a fuel gauge, and a combined oil-pressure and cylinder head temperature gauge, this last-named normally registering 40-45 lb./sq. in. and 85°C. or 96°C. in heavy traffic.
The pull-out handbrake is invisible under the scuttle on the right, but is perfectly easy to feel for and operate. There are three interior lamps (one for map-reading) with courtesy action, and the headlamps, normally recessed, pop up and flash a warning if a knob convenient to the left-hand is pulled out—although this occupies perhaps a whole second longer than conventional flashing of normal lamps it is a small penalty to pay for aerodynamic efficiency, clean glasses, and the panache of being able to retract one’s lights, especially as the Elan has Italian Stibel high-note horns of great penetrating power!
Two toggles on the facia release the bonnet panel (which can be infernally difficult to open with the fingers and the panel of which has to be lifted off as it doesn’t stay up, also a tricky operation for one person), stalk-levers look after lamps dipping and the twin indicators, which have Carello repeater units on the front wings, there is a facia pull-out ash-tray, and provision frit a radio (£4o extra, Radiomobile on the test car), the screen-wipers’ control is combined with the washer’s control, and there is a wooden-lidded, unlockable lined cubby-hole in front of the passenger. A warning light remains on until the handbrake is released.
This Lotus Elan is a genuine two-seater coupe, by which I mean that although there is very useful upholstered stowage space behind the seats, by no manner of means could a passenger be carried therein. There is a coat hook on each side, suitable for hanging a mini-skirt on. And there is a useful shelf ahead of the big back window. The upholstered boot, with lockable, self-supporting lid, enables far more luggage to be accommodated therein than the external size of the car suggests—plenty in addition to a full-size suitcase, the spare wheel being under the floor and the Exide battery tucked in the n/s rear corner. To say that driving the Elan is immense fun is almost an understatement. The 15 in. steering wheel with its three drilled metal spokes is very small and its rubber rim is cased in a lace-up leather gaiter. The tiny central gear lever with its polished wooden knob bearing a tiny Lotus badge is right where it should be and clicks from slot to slot in a precise but very notchy “mechanical” manner, unimpeded by spring-loading, except for that which safeguards reverse. There is considerable gear lever “fizz.”
Normally it is unnecessary to use more than about 5,500 r.p.m. to not only keep the Elan at the head of the queue but to leave the opposition out of sight. The car I drove didn’t have the ignition cut-out and 7,000 r.p.m. was perfectly permissible. Using considerably less than this, maxima of 40, 60, 85 m.p.h. and 120 m.p.h. are available in the respective gears of the Lotus-Ford gearbox. “The ton” comes up along the average short straight—on private test tracks, of course! There was no time to take performance figures, although the go-ahead Lotus organisation did suggest flying the car over to Jabbeke for a day’s timing! I have, therefore, to be content with their claim of 0-60 m.p.h. in 6.8 sec. Acceleration continues to be impressive beyond 80 m.p.h., so the Elan is a match for all but the big-engined GT cars in this respect.
All this performance is achieved without any feeling that the 1.6-litre Ford engine is working at all hard. The exhaust note is unobtrusive, the noise within the car entirely tolerable. As for road-holding, the Elan goes round corners, in the wet as in the dry, faster than any normally-skilled fast road driver will have an opportunity to exploit and does this in a pleasantly neutral manner, with neither oversteer nor understeer bias. Very rarely indeed is it possible to make the Dunlop SP41 tyres protest, and if the car does get out of line, mere wrist movement of the light steering, which is geared 2 1/2-turns lock-to-lock with not an atom of lost motion on the Alford and Alder rack-and-pinion mechanism, serves to flick it back where it belongs. The whole question of road-holding can best be summed up by saying this is undoubtedly one of the very safest very fast road cars it is possible to experience.
The suspension is firm but definitely not soggy. So the ride is good, while the wheels remain glued to the ground; roll is a word associated with jam and undergarments but not with Elans. . .
The backbone chassis is so rigid that the coil spring and wishbone i.f.s. and Chapman coil strut i.r.s. have to do all the shock absorption. This does give rise to some thump and transmission of movement, while the steering kicks back at times but the glass-fibre body naturally remaais free from mechanical rattles. The ride becomes choppy over undulating surfaces.
Ground clearance (normally 6 in.) is not the Elan’s best point; it is one of the very few cars which bottomed on the road that I am pleased to call my drive, although not after passenger and luggage had been removed, and did so over main-road bumps of the more severe kind even when lightly loaded. However, I am assured this has now been cured, by fitting stiffer rear shock absorbers. Another weakness was lack of guttering on the doors, so that they deposited rain on the seats when opened after a spell of wet-weather parking.
To light steering and a light clutch must be added light pedal pressure when applying the Girling 9 1/2 in./10 in. disc brakes, which are splendidly progressive in action, very powerful, and free from the squeal sometimes experienced with disc anchors. The hand-brake holds quite effectively in spite of being applied to the rear discs.
The test car had Teleflex reel-type safety belts, there is generous crash-padding and the glass-fibre body is a further safety factor in the event of impact.
The engine picks up speed very smoothly (5-bearing crankshaft) and cleanly (twin 32 mm. Weber 40 DCOE18 carburetters) a rather violent flat-spot only being experienced very low down in the rev. range. There is, admittedly, transmission snatch accompanied by subdued squeaking due to the use of Rotoflex rubber couplings in the rear-wheel drive-shafts but I did not find this sufficiently noticeable to merit criticism.
Reverting to the interior appointments of the Elan, the black upholstery contrasts nicely with the plated door cappings, which incorporate built-in “pulls,” and the pile carpeting. There is even a vanity mirror in the n/s vizor, for the benefit of girls who go out in Elans. The doors shut properly, lock easily, and have effective “keeps.” They open sufficiently far for any normally agile person to enter and leave easily—anyone who cannot cope is probably too old to want an Elan anyway, although I believe the customers are aged from 18 to over 80. . .
The name LOTUS is set across the boot lid, the familiar Lotus badge is on the nose, the “Coupe S/E” wording on the body sides, and the badges proclaiming Lotus to have been the World Champion Car Constructors in 1963 and 1965 and Indianapolis winner in 1965 are proudly displayed on the body. The screen is of Triplex non-craze laminated glass. The coupe top cuts off the view at oblique road junctions and the close proximity of the pedals makes it necessary to rest the left foot under the clutch pedal. The dipstick and oil-filler are extremely accessible, and cold starting was instantaneous.
The engine, having a c.r. of 9.95 to 1, naturally deserves the best petrol, which it consumed at the rate of 28.8 m.p.g. in mixed traffic and open-road driving. Just over a pint of oil was needed at the end of 800 miles of highly enjoyable motoring. The tank, filled through a good quick-action filler, holds 10 gallons.
To sum up, only by driving a Lotus Elan fast and far can you appreciate the subtle fascination exerted by this very fast, compact, extremely safe-handling sports car. It is a car which keeps young men young and makes old men younger and is one of the few cars which can average 69 without exceeding 70.. ..—W. B.
Continental Notes and News, June 1935
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