Lotus Elan

Poduction number questions

PostPost by: midmillotus » Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:03 am

I'm reasonably sure this topic exists already on this site somewhere, in which case where do I look?
I would like to know how many of each model Elan were produced, ie. 26 S1, 26 S2, 36 S3, 36 S4, and 45 S3 & 45 S4, and.........what were the " unit numbers" of the first & last cars of each type/config. approx. ?
Also, were the unit numbers consecutive and accumulative over all the variants or were there different series of numbers for each mark type for instance ?
Approx. how many S3's were built at Cheshunt?
Am a present owner of a Seven S2 (for 35 years) in New Zealand doing research for eventual replacement with an Elan, but am finding there are dodgy examples out there. The practice of creating 26Rs from chassis plates annoys me. Of the original handful (how many?) of 26R's built at Cheshunt, only 3,000 of them are left now! heh heh. Have come across the remains of such a "donor" car with no identity ! What do I do ?? Where are the chassis plates usually located on Elans , and do the Cheshunt Elan plates resemble that on my Seven ?
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PostPost by: Elan45 » Thu Jul 20, 2017 12:44 pm

I can't tell you how many of each model were made, but it bothers me that viable Elans are being destoyed to give some measure of legitimacy to air cars made of all new parts.

Look on the frame on the top surface, just in front of the RH engine mount. You should find a 45-xxxx or 36-xxxx number at that location, if the car is truly a S3. This number will be the same as the chassis number or unit number. Re-production chassis plates were available, which would have been mounted to the top surface of the firewall bulkhead on the exhaust side of the car.

Do you have any photos of the car in question? Good luck.
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PostPost by: knockoffnut » Thu Jul 27, 2017 2:51 pm

This is a HUGE topic without a definitive answer. I have spent significant time doing some research on build quantities, chassis numbers, unit numbers and engine numbers especially on the early cars. I can tell you that there are fewer cars built than the numbering sequence would imply, since Lotus "skipped ahead" a number of times to the next bigger round number. I believe there is evidence that they skipped ahead between somewhere 100 and 200, in the upper 300's and 400's and I have only ever seen a few cars with numbers in the 500's and 600's. If you look at the unit number of the last Elan built, the total Elan production was significantly less than that number. Early unit/chassis numbers ran up to around 500 and there were a few cars in the high five hundreds, and 600's and then there was a jump to the 3000's. The jump was not from 300 to 3000 as some people had once speculated. Lotus was also very casual in the early years, building cars out of sequence, grabbing the next body that was the right colour for an order, changing body suppliers, and sometimes building multiple cars with the same identity, presumably to save a bit of tax when money was very tight. because of this they got out of sequence with frame/chassis numbers and unit numbers and did a jump ahead reset to get back into sequence. Engines (and I am talking about Lotus Head numbers here) were built generally in sequence, except for some racing and development engines which had very different numbering sequences. Engine numbers run generally in sequence (They were expensive so presumably there were not a lot of extras laying around) but engine production was shared between Cortinas, Elans, single seaters and other track cars, spare racing engines etc., so there were significantly more LTC engines than there were Elans. Layer on top of this the varied practices of selling complete cars, kits, and the different companies (Lotus Components built racing cars while Lotus Cars built complete cars). This is a topic which justifies a large book, rather than a reply to a post. BTW I do not (yet) have a copy of the complete numbering sequence record, which has been pieced together from various sources, and of which Andy Graham has a copy, but I have spent some time studying it, and trying to understand it. If anyone has a copy that they would be willing to share please let me know. If anyone has better information to share I would be happy to hear it. I would love to be able to collect more information, and work towards some more definitive answers about production quantities and chassis/VIN numbers
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PostPost by: knockoffnut » Thu Jul 27, 2017 3:05 pm

To answer some of your specific questions: Chassis and unit numbers generally ran in sequence (ish) through type 26, 36 and 45 (S1, S2 S3 DHC, and Coupe, and S4 DHC and Coupe, while type 50 (+2) restarted with their own numbering sequence, which was by the way, generally the Lotus practice for other "types" with each Lotus "Type" having its own chassis number sequence from 1 to XXX. Lotus was a small builder and built Type 6/chassis number 1, 6/2, 6/3 etc. the Type 7 chassis 1, 7/2, 7/3, etc. With the Elan, Lotus transitioned from a garage builder to a production car company and began consolidating its numbering system during Elan production, and then switched over the a more "normal" international VIN number system in the early seventies, to fit better with the various government systems.

S1 production ran up to approximately unit number 3800 but there was a gradual transition between S1 spec and S2 spec over about 100 cars. S1 production is likely significantly less than 1000 cars in total due to the jumps ahead in the sequencing. I believe total Elan product (not +2) to be around 8000 cars.
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PostPost by: midmillotus » Fri Jul 28, 2017 2:10 am

Thanks guys for your time in posting your replies, very informative. I realise now what a minefield the issue is !
My enquiry was brought about by 2 Elans I saw for sale in USA. One had what looked to be an S1 body with a mis-matched glove box lid, listed as a 1967 (!) car, unit no. 265056. The other was a 1966 S2, unit no.265667. I was suspicious of the serial numbers of these early cars being in the five thousands of course.
As for photos of the "left-overs", no I don't have any - an accident damaged body and a chassis of unknown condition along with some odds n' sods. I haven't seen them in the flesh. I wouldn't commit to such a big task without an identity given the instruments/panel, wiring, drive train, etc. presumably went into the 26R creation along with the identity. Would like to right the wrong somehow of an innocent pretty little 26 becoming a bogus 26R, but...........
Cheers, Rob
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PostPost by: Maulden7 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 9:04 am

Graham Arnold always maintained that the Elan production record numbers were deliberately inflated & confusing, & that this was partly a tax avoidance measure, which supports knockoffnut's conclusions!

However, it would be nice to know the truth.

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PostPost by: rgh0 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 10:43 am

Knockoffnut

Have you been able to see a pattern in the head numbers used on the twin cam after Lotus stopped putting the engine number on them around 1967

The are of the format "AANN" such as AB12 and stamped in the rear of the head

Later heads have later letters in the sequence and I have speculated that the first letter is the year the second letter the month and the number the head built in sequence in the month. I am not sure what they did if they made more than 100 heads in a month or 1200 heads in year so perhaps it was all just sequential

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PostPost by: trw99 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 10:57 am

In January 2015 I published an article on Elan production numbers in the Club Lotus News magazine. I have copied it below. Unfortunately the tables do not translate very well from Word to the forum.

There is a danger that certain myths, repeated often enough, end up becoming fact. This is something we should all beware of, for the sake of future generations of Lotus enthusiasts and historians!

"The Elan ? How Many?

A year ago in the January 2014 edition of Club Lotus News we looked at how many +2 Elans were built. It is now the turn of the Elan. Again we are faced with the fact that there will never be a definitive answer to this, though we have done our best. Apart from the disregard for future historians, perhaps forgivable given the tight business environment of the 1960s, Lotus had what would now be considered a somewhat cavalier attitude to record keeping, certainly in the earlier days before the move to Hethel and the company?s listing on the Stock Exchange.

At the risk of repetition, we need first to look at the way in which Lotus allocated unit numbers. The first iteration of the Elan was known as the Elan 1600 (in fact the Elan 1500 on introduction but that soon changed; only 8 production Elans, plus the 3 prototypes, were fitted with the 1500 engine). However, for convenience we now refer to it as the S1. Incidentally, many people forget that the S stands for Series. Thereafter, of course, we know that the Elan progressed through an additional four series, ending with the Sprint. The first point of difficulty arises here because the actual change over date for the introduction of each series and each type is often cloudy, as we shall find.

Again, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we must consider how Lotus allocated Unit, or VIN, numbers. As an aside, early Elans were allocated additional separate chassis and body numbers. These were annotated in the records up until early 1966, but not thereafter, though subsequent body numbers can be found crayoned into the underside of body panels. VIN numbers began with 26/0001; that is the Lotus Type number followed by the Unit number. At 26/0049 there was a mighty leap, with an addition of 3000 apparent units, such that the very next car off the production line was 26/3050! (See below for more on this extra 3000). All subsequent Elans were numbered in order up until unit no. 45/9832 at the end of December 1969. So on the face of it, it appears that 9,832 Elans were made up until this date. However, it will be seen that we clearly have to deduct the 3000 ?out of nowhere? numbers to get a fix of 6,832 Elans of all types built to end 1969.

It is entirely possible that a few unit numbers were not allocated, but we just don?t know. It is sometimes alleged that Lotus carried out certain operations to avoid paying tax, or that some cars became ?grey? and disappeared from the production run to be finished off by factory workers at the weekend. There may well have been some incidents like this, but I believe we must bear in mind that with the telling of the stories tends to come exaggeration, so that folk begin to feel that this sort of thing went on all the time. We suspect that it did not and we are probably merely talking of a small number of cars. In addition, after the move to Hethel it is our contention that Lotus began to get its act together in the run up to becoming a public company, so underhand goings on were less likely.

What we shall never be able to pin down are the specific change over dates from one series to another. Although Lotus give indications in the Workshop Manual and Parts List, there are known examples of Series that fall outside of those numbers. In addition, we have what have come to be called the Series 1 ? Elans, which combined some, but not all of the S2 changes. The changeover date to S3 is especially tricky, since the Type 36 FHC applied to some S2 cars. The S2 and S3 Coupes (FHC) were made together for nearly a year between September 1965 and June 1966. From VINs 4510 to 5810 the new Coupes were allocated the next chassis number as they came off the production line, irrespective of being a S2 or a S3. So for example 5411 could be a S2 and 5412 a S3. Although this doesn't affect the overall totals, that?s an overlap of 1300 cars. We estimate that somewhere in the region of 30% to 40% were S3 Coupes, so perhaps between 390 and 520 of these overlap cars. Then there were the Super Safety S3 Elans, introduced toward the end of their run, mostly for the Federal market; remember Ralph Nader? Well, he?s to blame! The S3 SS, which had its own official badge, incorporated a number of S4 features, before the S4 was introduced. The Parts List gives VINs 7400 to 7894 as SS versions, though we know that some earlier cars, such as 7279 had SS features. And it?s only after years of sleuthing that we have managed to pin down, reasonably accurately, the change over from S4 to Sprint by VIN.
So all in all it?s impossible to say how many pre-1970 Elans were destined for the Domestic or Export or Federal market with any degree of accuracy. It?s similarly impossible to number the total DHC or FHC Elans. However, we know you would like us to have a stab at some sort of breakdown, if only for curiosity?s sake! So we shall take the Lotus VINs in the Parts List as our guideline.

Series To VIN Total
Elan 1600 or S1 3899 899 (deduct the 3000)
Elan S2 5810 1911
Elan S3 7894 2084
Elan S4 9832 1938
TOTAL 6832

Don?t ask how many 26Rs were officially built by Lotus! Their figure is included in the S1 and S2 totals above. Guaranteed to get the pundits agitated! As are questions such as what was the VIN of the final pre-airflow FHC? What car had the first Stromberg carburettors fitted? We just don?t know and neither does Lotus.

From 1 January 1970 Lotus revised the way in which unit numbers were allocated. The format became 7004080030C. This breaks down as 70 ? Year of manufacture; 04 ? Month of manufacture; 08 ? Batch number; 0030 ? Unit number; C ? Letter to denote Elan type, C being the standard S4 DHC for the domestic UK market. From 1 January 1972 the batch number was dropped, so the format became, for example 72060710G.
We now have to look at how many of each Type of Elan were made from 1 January 1970 to end of Elan production in March 1973. Fortunately we have that data and, since there were 11 Types, it is best to present the figures in tabular form:

Type Letter Number Made Elan S4
A 95 Standard Domestic FHC
B 5 Standard Export FHC
C 128 Standard Domestic DHC
D 3 Standard Export DHC
E 665 SE later Sprint Domestic FHC
F 86 SE later Sprint Export FHC
G 899 SE later Sprint Domestic DHC
H 103 SE later Sprint Export DHC
J 70 SE later Sprint Federal FHC
K 319 SE later Sprint Federal DHC
TOTAL 2373

So we now have two total production runs of Elan Types, to add together (6,832 and 2,373), giving us a total of 9,205 Elans built between 1963 and 1973. That is an average of 77 Elans a month!

If we look at our friends Robinshaw and Ross? book on the Elan and Plus 2, there are a variety of total production figures. They quote a LDC leaflet total of 12,224; this is a figure also given in the Bolster book. Harvey gives us a figure of 8,650; Nye and Ward say ?some 12,200?. Robinshaw and Ross end up concluding that between 8,676 and 9,153 Elans were built in total; they weren?t far off!

How do we account for the leap in VINs by 3000 then? We probably need to look at the start of the Elan?s racing career in the hands of Ian Walker and Graham Warner and the subsequent introduction of the 26R. Lotus were required to homologate the car for competition use with the RAC and FIA. At the time the rules required that a minimum number of standard cars had already been manufactured. If we look at the production figures it doesn?t take long to realise that Lotus was such a small volume producer and so the chances of having made the full complement of cars required for homologation were slim. The substitution of a figure 3 for the 0 as the first number for each unit would have given the impression that actually many more cars had been made. Although we now know this was done from unit 26/3050, cars carried on coming off the production line with VINs indicating 26/0100, 26/0200 and so on for a while. The point at which that was changed by the factory and the 3 substituted for the first 0 on the actual VIN plate is not known.

So to round off this look at production numbers, it might be interesting to total all Elans and all Plus 2s made to get a total production figure for the 1963 to 1974 period. We concluded that 5,244 Plus 2s of all varieties were made; add that to the 9,205 Elans built and our grand total is 14,449."

Since writing this article I and Andy Graham have carried out additional research into what we ended up calling the Retrofit cars. Again, I wrote an article about these cars for the same magazine in October 2016, in part of which I said:

"So what do we now know about refreshed Elans? We have previously written about the S4/Sprint. 79 S4 Elans were converted to Sprint specification; they all retained their original Unit numbers. However, many more cars were reworked and then given a new Unit number. These cars are identifiable by their 710000 VINs, missing both the month and batch digits. Currently we have a confirmed list of 65 such cars, covering the C, E, G, J, K Elan types & L Plus 2 type. Unfortunately many of the Elans are in the batch of records that were destroyed during the flood in the old fire station hut at Hethel in the late 1970s. Currently, we are nowhere near being able to confirm all of our current thoughts and deductions with regards to these retrofit cars, which is often the way with Lotus records. However, our best guestimate is that 202 Elans of all types were refreshed."

This means that, with this knowledge, we need to deduct those 202 cars from the total all Elan production figure from the first article, of 14,449, which gives us a current best estimate of 14,247 made.

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PostPost by: midmillotus » Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:17 am

Apologies for opening such a large can of worms team !!
Clearly, a lot of research and hand-ringing has gone on over the years, all very educational.
Thanks again for the responses.
Rob
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PostPost by: DrinkMan » Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:38 am

This is a great read. Lots of mysteries involved. Dare I ask - "How many S2 S/E were built?"

(don't worry, I don't expect an exact answer, or any answer at all)
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PostPost by: knockoffnut » Sun Aug 20, 2017 7:29 pm

Hi Tim, You mention that unit numbers jumped from 26/049 to 26/3050, but I know of quite a lot of cars with numbers like 26/078, 26/35X, 26/46X, 26/47X, in fact I own one, so I am pretty confident that there were a lot of unit numbers between 50 and 100, between 200 and 300, between 300 and 400 and a few over 500, (but it appears that there were also big jumps in the numbering of each of the "hundreds" as they rounded up to the next even hundred) and I have seen a small number of cars in the 600's as well. I am sure that we have members here with chassis or unit numbers in those sequences. Feel free to jump in people..!
as for engine numbers in the higher numbers, that was not an area I focused a lot of attention, so for now I couldn't guess. As for S2 S/E cars, I would guess less than 50 of those, as I believe they came out after 26/0450 and the series three cars came out son after (keeping in mind the number jumps in the 500's, 600's and then into the 3000's.
As far as 26R production, what I have heard is that there were just under 50 (maybe 49?) S1 26R factory cars, and 50 S2 26R factory cars, built by Lotus in the racing division, thus having the unique chassis number sequence, plus a few of customer cars with regular unit/chassis numbers which were converted in period to 26R specs for racing by the factory but which retain normal production chassis numbering. there have, of course, been many more than that built recently. I believe that there are at least 2 replica 26R's for each real, factory 26R.
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PostPost by: paddy » Sun Aug 20, 2017 7:45 pm

knockoffnut wrote:I know of quite a lot of cars with numbers like 26/078, 26/35X, 26/46X, 26/47X, in fact I own one, so I am pretty confident that there were a lot of unit numbers between 50 and 100, between 200 and 300, between 300 and 400 and a few over 500, (but it appears that there were also big jumps in the numbering of each of the "hundreds" as they rounded up to the next even hundred) and I have seen a small number of cars in the 600's as well. I am sure that we have members here with chassis or unit numbers in those sequences. Feel free to jump in people..!


The other source of possible confusion is that the unit numbers jumped by 3000 but the chassis and body numbers didn't.

The Lotus day book listing all cars across the transition in fact shows the transition occurs from unit 048 to 3049. All cars listed after 3049 are in the 3000 range, at least in the book.

I'm unit 3071 (but chassis 087, body 062) and the handful of other cars I've seen in the vicinity all have unit numbers in the 3000 range.

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PostPost by: trw99 » Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:34 am

Paddy is right.

As I wrote in the article "... cars carried on coming off the production line with VINs indicating 26/0100, 26/0200 and so on for a while. The point at which that was changed by the factory and the 3 substituted for the first 0 on the actual VIN plate is not known." I should have made it clear that reference then was to Chassis Nos.

What appears to have happened is that the VIN plate, which tended only to carry the Chassis No on these earlier cars, continued using the 26/0### sequence, whilst the accounts and sales departments immediately started using the new 26/3### sequence for the Unit No.

Meanwhile, Chassis Nos carried on in the 0## sequence. Subsequently, the Unit No began to be scribed onto the side of the VIN plate and it was always shown in 26/3### sequence.

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PostPost by: paddy » Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:56 am

trw99 wrote:The VIN plate, which tended only to carry the Chassis No .... Subsequently, the Unit No began to be scribed onto the side of the VIN plate.


Yes; there wasn't anywhere on the plate for the unit number to appear. I don't know at what point they started to be added.

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PostPost by: lottex » Mon Aug 28, 2017 6:57 am

Does anyone know as to when these early S1's started to adopt for example the aforementioned unit number, eg 3071
We're all the very first cars identified this way.
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