Why I bought an Elan by Keith I. Marshall
The first question should be ?Why did I buy a Lotus?? To answer this we have to go back into the distant past when I was growing up in England. From an early age I was always interested in motor racing, as were my mother & father. Seeing the small English teams take on the might of Ferrari was a special thrill. I guess I tend to support the underdog so when Lotus started to enter F1, they were the team I followed. (I also liked the colour scheme of their cars.)
Forward a few years into my teens & at college when I used to see an Elite occasionally driving by at the lunch hour, I was known to say many times that I would buy one of them when I was working. I thought that it was the prettiest small sports car ever & I still do.
Fast forward another few years - a Bedford 12 seater minivan, a mini van & a Hillman Imp before in 1968 I bought my first Lotus, a used white S2 Elan DHC. Why not an Elite? Well they had been out of production for a few years & the Elan was a much quicker car & a convertible. The S2 had a 10? steering wheel which made it almost impossible to keep in a straight line without locking your elbows in the door armrest & the centre console. I enjoyed the car so much that in early 1969 I placed an order for a S4 SE DHC. At that time the Europa had been launched & was the same price as a kit Elan. (I must mention that in the Uk you could by a kit, any kit from a small plastic model to an Elan & there was no sales tax on it.) The Elan in kit form was approx ?1500 & as an assembled car ?2000. The Europa was only available as a complete car & cost approx the same as a kit Elan. Now you see that there really was no choice to make (sorry Europa owners). The Elan had a more powerful engine than the Renault unit in the Europa & was also a convertible which I much preferred. The Elan with it?s twin cam engine, superb road holding & four wheel disc brakes was the quickest car across country except for a 7 but unlike the 7 the Elan was a practical everyday car. More exotic cars like a Ferrari, Aston or Jaguar may have had a higher top speed but were no match for the Elan on twisty English roads.
The ?Kit? arrived at my friend?s house one Saturday morning on a flatbed truck. The engine & gearbox were together but just lying on the truck & assorted cardboard boxes were also lying around. The body was fully trimmed including all the interior & wiring. The problem was - how to get all of this off the truck when the truck didn?t have any lifting device on it! Well the answer was to get neighbours to help to lift everything off by hand. As you can guess this was a stressful time for me, but everything got safely into my friend?s garage before the beer flowed.
The following weekend was the ?BIG? one - the attempted creation of a running Elan. The only instructions with the car were a copy of the last few pages of the manual which reads ?Rebuild instructions?. My friend Geoff whose garage we were using, my friend Howard from Coventry & I early on Sat morning started the assembly of the suspension. Apart from installing the rear struts & the differential most of the assembly went ahead with only minor problems. By the middle of Sat afternoon we were ready to install the engine gearbox. How should we do this with no engine hoist? Well that would be easy. Get lots of neighbours, two 2 X 4s & some ropes & walk the engine over the body & lower it into place! If anyone has worked on an Elan they know that there wasn?t a hope in Hell of this working so on to plan B. But we didn?t have a plan B! Geoff called up a friend who had a repair garage & asked if we could use his hoist on Sunday to finish the car. (I should mention that one of the requirements in buying the car as a kit was the government would not allow professional help in assembly.) Many Elans were assembled by Lotus mechanics but some were caught & fined plus the owner had to pay the tax owing.
So on Sunday morning we loaded the engine/trans unit into Howard?s mini van & hitched up the Elan to Geoff?s car. (Oh did I mention that he had only a couple of months previously bought a TVR which was similar in colour to the Elan?) It must have been a strange sight that Sunday morning with a TVR towing an Elan with the front high in the air followed by a mini van with it?s rear end almost dragging on the ground!
After two attempts to install the engine/trans into the car & not believing it would go we finally left caution to the wind & got it into place. Final installation of the radiator & fluids & the big moment arrived. I gingerly turned the key & music erupted from the engine plus a lot of smoke. After a few seconds of panic I realized that it was just oil burning off the exhaust system so all was well.
Now the painful process of running in the engine for 500 miles & keeping to a limit of 3000rpm. Lotus also would only warranty the car if you took it in to a Lotus dealer within the first 500 miles to get a free inspection. The car passed with no problems & thus began in May of 1969 my life with ENO 544G which as you will see is the same registration that I have on the car now in Ontario.
After 44 years and lots of TLC, my mistress is looking at least as good if not better than when she first entered my life. For a pint of beer I could bore you with many more stories about my life with her! The day spent on the docks in New York when she arrived in a container from the UK, the trip around the USA which stalled in Dallas & a chance meeting with another Elan, the non stop drive to & from Dallas to Detroit three times & on & on.
One final note of interest is that she is now registered in Ontario with the same plate # as she was in the UK, ENO 544G, life is sweet.
69 S4 SE DHC RHD Original owner
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