The Lotus Elan roadster was a welcome debutant in 1962 — welcome to the manufacturer because it replaced the expensive-to-build Elite and welcomed by sporting drivers who appreciated performance-packed possibilities. It was even embraced by those who weren’t minted but could wield a mean spanner, as the Elan was initially offered in kit form like the successful Lotus Seven.
The Elan was an uncompromising manifestation of Colin Chapman’s lightweight design philosophy and delivered acceleration and top speed far ahead of its time for this class of sports car. The power came from a 1.6 litre evolution version of the sturdy Ford Kent engine that had been fitted with a Lotus-designed Cosworth twin-cam alloy head (the engine also used in the punchy Lotus-Cortina). The Elan boasted independent suspension and disc brakes all round long before these became widely used standard features. It had a steel chassis and fibreglass body that kept the weight right down.
With its streamlined shape and pop-up headlamps, this modern-looking roadster was an instant hit. The Elan’s favorable reception was complemented by the swift appearance of a hardtop option in 1963 and a two-seater coupe in 1965. The Elan’s commercial success was finally cemented by the arrival of the handsome long-wheelbase Elan Plus Two in 1967. This was a genuine 2+2 coupe with a roomy cabin, which retained all the speed and agility of its predecessors — in fact it was even a tad faster, thanks to a slippery aerodynamic shape. The Plus Two continued in production until 1975, two years after the roadster and coupe were discontinued.
The Lotus Elan would be born again in the late 1980s for a six-year production rim — differentiated from its illustrious ancestry by an M100 tag and lauded as a technical masterpiece in the finest traditions of advanced Lotus engineering.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1962 (until 1975)
1,558 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 118 mph (190 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Nobody could ever accuse the Japanese of being copycats, but it is known that Mazda bought, disassembled and closely studied a couple of first generation Lotus Elans – though of course the close resemblance of the subsequent Mazda MX-5 is a complete coincidence.