Lotus Elan

Making an Elan reliable

PostPost by: Flying Banana » Tue Oct 06, 2020 2:00 pm

Hi. I've recently acquired a 1966 S3 FHC Elan (pre-airflow) and joined the forum as a place to obtain and share knowledge. I also have a 1969 Alfa Giulia which is a half way house Alfaholics "GTA-R" spec (where Alfaholics is to Alfa as TTR is to Lotus), so am happy with Weber carbs, dizzy based ignition systems, etc.

The car has a few TTR bits on (driveshaft conversion, various bushings, mounts, etc) and has a QED built engine, so mechanically is fairly strong. The gelcoat has got moisture in it at some point so the paint is covered in micro bubbles - a full respray is required at some point.

In the interim, I'm interested in the collected wisdom as to all items I should either replace in the interests of reliability, or things I should specifically check in terms of wear items. For example, I've found that the inner steering column moves a bit in relation to the outer column, so I'm guessing the top and bottom bushes will need replacing. I think this will be a fun job.

In conclusion, what fails on Elans?
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PostPost by: tvacc » Tue Oct 06, 2020 5:21 pm

I am sure others with more knowledge than I will chime in. But what comes to mind is:
Water pump. If not been done already, a removeable cartridge water pump is more reliable and nice to have.
Keep a fan belt and throttle cable in the car.
Heater valve
The front and rear seals on the motor and front diff seals seem to leak more on Elans than other cars.
Rear wheel bearings on an older car. Replace in pairs.

That is all I can think of at the moment.
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PostPost by: MrBonus » Tue Oct 06, 2020 5:31 pm

In my experience, everything can fail on an Elan, especially given the relative age of many of these unrestored cars.

Rewiring the car, converting to negative ground, and switching to an alternator
CV joints in place of the donut joints
Various switches can intermittently fail/need to be cleaned up
As mentioned, water pump and monitoring seal leaks (the cam cover gaskets and bolts are notorious for leaks - not really a reliability concern, more of a quirk)
I've had both master cylinders leak with time
Ditching the old vacuum-based headlights for electric units

And on and on and on... I think I could name a bunch of minor issues I've had in two years that aren't on the standard "list" of reliability concerns but have been addressed at some point on this forum.

I think my car would have had fewer issues had the prior owner driven it more often.
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PostPost by: tvacc » Tue Oct 06, 2020 6:02 pm

I do think an important part is something the previous poster touched on. Drive the car. Elans do not like to sit. I am very guilty of that. I have two that I have not driven all year. One since last summer 2019. I plan to drive it from my storage location back to my house in about 2 weeks. I wonder if it will make it.
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PostPost by: Flying Banana » Tue Oct 06, 2020 7:51 pm

Thanks all, that's a very useful list to start with.

I was planning a negative ground conversion, switching the dynamo to an alternator and a geared starter motor as some of my "to do list" over the winter. I'll check the resistance over the switches and replace any which are a bit suspect.
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PostPost by: TBG » Tue Oct 06, 2020 9:05 pm

Drive it - drive it - drive it. They are no more unreliable than any other well maintained car, but like lawn mowers and wives they do not like being put away and ignored. As I have stated before, over 200k miles and counting in all weathers and all over the continent - this side of the pond that is. Drive the bloody thing - simples!! :lol: :lol:
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PostPost by: Famous Frank » Tue Oct 06, 2020 10:42 pm

Everyone has already hit the main culprits. Get rid of the donuts, go to negative ground, replace the useless 2 watt generator with a new mini alternator, and drive it! You might also bleed the brakes and if the brakes need work replace the caliper pistons with stainless units and replace the old rubber brake lines. Enjoy! That’s a wonderful model of the Elan line up!
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PostPost by: steve lyle » Tue Oct 06, 2020 11:40 pm

If you click on my Elan entry in my signature, you'll see the list of things I've upgraded/repaired over my ownership period (5 years). It'll give you some idea of what's failed on mine.
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PostPost by: mbell » Tue Oct 06, 2020 11:47 pm

In terms of leaving you stranded I think the ignition system is most likely. Be very careful about the parts and their quality, the quality of replacement parts can be very suspect. Also look for any wiring modification by previous owners. The coil power goes via a switch in the glove box which is another common failure point.

After that a good check if the brake system for it's condition. It's likely single circuit so one failure means no brakes.
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PostPost by: tvacc » Wed Oct 07, 2020 1:15 am

I forget to mention the distributor. Points are fine, but Petronix has left me stranded 4 or 5 times with different cars. I just moved to buying Powerspark. They are a UK company and for like $$200 US$ I got a electronic distributor, wires and coil. I now have Powerspark in 4 of my Lotus and Caterham cars.
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PostPost by: quaybook » Wed Oct 07, 2020 7:40 am

Make sure you have the heavy duty engine mounts not the standard ones. TTR and others sell them. With a QED engine your probably already have them but, in my exprerience, the standard ones currently available fail on the carb side with depressing regularity. Last time it happened to me I was at the top of the Buttertubs pass in Yorkshire with my 92 year old mother on board. Convenient!
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PostPost by: Flying Banana » Wed Oct 07, 2020 9:08 am

Thanks all for your responses so far.

TBG wrote:Drive it - drive it - drive it. They are no more unreliable than any other well maintained car, but like lawn mowers and wives they do not like being put away and ignored. As I have stated before, over 200k miles and counting in all weathers and all over the continent - this side of the pond that is. Drive the bloody thing - simples!! :lol: :lol:


That's the problem - not driving things. I'm generally short on time, so don't get to drive very much for pleasure, hence my wanting to make things as good as they can be for a seldom used car. I also have a 1998 Caterham Superlight R which hasn't moved for 3 years, so that also requires a light recommissioning... That's also due to the car being a one trick pony and that trick not being very aligned with being a socially responsible road user!
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PostPost by: Craven » Wed Oct 07, 2020 10:43 am

Avoid corroded or seized hydraulics by changing brake and clutch fluids for silicone.
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PostPost by: TBG » Wed Oct 07, 2020 11:50 am

"That's also due to the car being a one trick pony and that trick not being very aligned with being a socially responsible road user!"

Love it!!! :D :D :D
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PostPost by: steve.thomas » Wed Oct 07, 2020 12:19 pm

Don’t forget the main battery earth connection to the chassis under the car. Many people move it to one of the rear turrets.

On the subject of steering column bushes, do a search on this forum as someone has posted a very good guide. If I remember rightly the workshop manual is not entirely correct!!

In my experience the water pump is fine as long as you don’t run with the fan belt very tight. I suspect the poor reputation is more to do with the difficulty of replacing it than it’s failure rate. But it must be worth considering if the head is off for any reason.

No-one has mentioned the front trunnions yet (oil or grease!) - either way do it regularly, it’s no fun if one lets go. Luckily i was going slowly...
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