Lotus Elan

66 Elan S3 History Lesson Needed

PostPost by: elanfan1 » Fri Jun 12, 2020 7:30 am


What is your likely ownership ‘style’ to be do you know yet? Are you leaning towards just drive, enjoy and maintain or are you likely to want to go down the originality route? This forum supports both mindsets aswell as those that modify. Certainly it’s worth getting the car running, drive it and get a feel for it. You’ll probably be shocked it’s a relatively quick car by today’s standards but I doubt you’ll have driven anything that handles as well as it does.

Probably worth familiarising yourself with davebean.com (California Lotus parts) as well as RDEnterprises. Don’t know whether you have it with the car but the chrome grill that covers the air intake between the windscreen wipers is missing. It’s just a sprung fit.

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PostPost by: Andy8421 » Fri Jun 12, 2020 9:41 am

Chris, welcome to Lotus ownership.

A couple of things that may help -

Lotus were a small volume producer, and while highly innovative, didn't have the resources to iron out all of the wrinkles before a car went into production. Expect ownership to be a long sequence of tinkering to keep the car in top form. For me that is part of the pleasure in owning the car.

US collectors have a fetish for 'matching numbers'. Forget it with the Elan. Many of the cars that have survived are like the Ship of Theseus, and even if you came across one that was untouched from the day it rolled off the production line, it is anyone's guess what bits were fitted originally. This is particularly the case around model changes, where the stocks of parts from the old model were used up before new parts were introduced. Lotus weren't great at documenting the cars, and many of the records that were kept were destroyed in a flood in the 70s. The car's serial numbers aren't sequential (possibly for accounting reasons) and the there is speculation about how many of each series were actually made. All part of the charm, in my opinion.
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PostPost by: trw99 » Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:26 am

Andy, may I pedantically pick you up on "The car's serial numbers aren't sequential (possibly for accounting reasons)", please.

The only key identifying number for each Elan Lotus built is the Unit Number. They are sequential. However, what is not is the order in which they were built. So Unit 4567 may have been built three weeks after Unit 4678. Some were built months apart. Please also bear in mind the only dates we have for the majority of Elans are the invoice dates, not the date they rolled off the production line.

Cars were allocated their Unit No fairly early on in production, usually I suspect when body met chassis. That needs confirmation and perhaps was different at Cheshunt to Hethel; something I shall have to explore in the future.

You also mentioned that "there is speculation about how many of each series were actually made." I and Mark Kempson have had a stab at this in the past and written articles for Club Lotus News magazine. My current calculations (which do change with new information) are produced below, for interest.

1500 - 8 + 2 prototypes
1600 - 899 + 1 prototype
S2 - 1,911
S3 - 2,085
S4 - 2,758
Sprint - 1,429
Plus 2 - 5,139

Apologies to Chris for going off piste on his post.

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PostPost by: Andy8421 » Fri Jun 12, 2020 12:34 pm


At the risk of dragging poor Chris's thread further into the weeds, my point about unit numbers not being sequential is that there are gaps in the numbering. Referring to Robinshaw/Ross, the last S4s had a unit number of 9824, from then on a new numbering approach was adopted incorporating year and month of manufacture.

Using your numbers (which are relatively close to the Robinshaw/Ross numbers), only 7661 Elans would have been produced by this point - therefore the unit numbers must have gaps and aren't sequential. I couldn't find the reference to the comments about the reason for this (the suggestion was that by missing out some unit numbers, sales figures could be inflated), but I don't think I am making it up - although at my age that is always a possibility.

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PostPost by: Chris Forrest » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm

Good morning all. What a wealth of discussion and more importantly some great questions. I hadn't even stopped to consider. I certainly do not mind mud and welcome the opinions as it is a great way to learn history (debate is also fun).

Steve, I am definitely a driver. I don't like to have something sit. This one definitely needs to be run. It looks fast sitting still. The biggest downfall of this is that I am not a mechanic and have limited skills in this department. So the word "tinker" may apply to minor cosmetic replacement issues (like with the air intake) for me to deal with but when it comes to an engine, I am afraid that is above my pay grade. I would like to keep the car as original as possible, assuming that is what I have to start with. I have a suspicion from some old photos that the Elan was resprayed in early 2000 from its original blueish color.

So, super enjoyed the history lesson and the wonderful stab at the numbers Tim. I will keep you all posted as this project develops.

Best wishes,

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PostPost by: elaninfuture » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:12 pm

This one is about 350 from mine -- 5525

Tim. In your numbers, are you putting the Elan Coupe in with the S2 or S3 category? In my documentation from Andy Graham, he states that it's neither.

His language:

The Elan Coupe (type 36) was introduced from unit 4510 in September 1965 and was sold
alongside the Elan S2 convertible. The Elan S2 & Elan Coupe was replaced by the Elan S3 in June
1966 from unit number 5811 and was called the Lotus Elan Drophead and Elan Coupe in the US.
From unit number 7400 in November 1967 the ‘Super Safety’ model was introduced primarily for
the Federal markets and featured improvements for occupant protection. The S3 ran until unit
number 7894 in March 1968 when it was replaced with the S4 model. The unit number sequence
was shared with both the Coupe/FHC and DHC models and all markets and with some records
missing, this makes calculating the exact numbers difficult with the limited information left. Based
on unit number sequence and data available to date your car is approximately between the 68th
and 147th Elan Coupe sold direct to US distributors (from launch to your car).
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PostPost by: trw99 » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:22 pm

Andy, Unit 9835 was the final Elan of the old numbering system, a DHC S4 delivered to the USA, it's Federal Plate confirming it came off the production line in Dec 69.

The excellent Robinshaw & Ross book covering both Elan and +2 was published in 1995, since when we have identified many more cars, have carried out much investigative work and been able to get closer to the actual figures than the intrepid authors were with their more limited pre-mass internet resources.

The gaps in the numbering you mention are where records for the particular car do not exist. They do not mean the car was not built. Indeed, I have been able to fill in some of those blanks from details of the car provided by owners. I have also investigated the anomalies that were thrown up by Tony Rudd's propensity for retrofitting some cars, which led to duplication in some cases. The article I wrote on that subject is attached.

I believe the inflation of numbers you recall refers to the now well known time, very early in production, when Lotus decided to add 3000 to the Unit number at car 0050, which duly became Unit No 3050. It seems pretty certain that this was done for homologation reasons.

2016 Oct Retro Fred 710000.pdf
(727.84 KiB) Downloaded 68 times
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PostPost by: Unibrain » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:37 pm

Great looking car. Please take a moment and add it to the Lotus Elan Registry. In the notes add as much information about the car as you can.
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PostPost by: Brad B » Mon Jun 15, 2020 7:13 pm

Hi Chris,
It’s great to see an Elan enthusiast in Crescent City. I drive a 67 drop head, and live just 26 miles away, north of Brookings. Would love to meet for a beer at SeaQuake sometime, or take an Elan caravan up to Patrick Creek?
Cheers, Brad Baum
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