Lotus Elan

Adding Lightness

PostPost by: trw99 » Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:28 am

Not wishing to go off topic from Gary's Unibrain Still Active post, I wanted to pick up on something he mentioned in a recent post there.

Gary said "After this point in time, the Lotus idea of "moving up market" and the U.S. governments idea of what was "safe" all but ended my idea of what a sports car should feel like to drive. After driving the Monster Miata V8 that my friend recently bought you just can?t hide what the extra weight does to car."

This reminded me of the start of a Jeremy Clarkson review, which he wrote in the Sunday Times on 4 Oct 09. It does, I believe, make a hugely valid point about the increased sized of modern cars and does so more eloquently than I can. Although he used the Lancia Montecarlo as a comparison, he could equally as well have use the Elan. This is what he said:

"About a hundred years ago I used to spend a very great deal of time with my nose pressed against the plate-glass window of an exotic car dealership in Chiswick, wondering if there was anything in life quite so perfect as a Lancia Montecarlo.

So, when I drove one this week, I couldn?t quite believe there was one rather notable feature that I had somehow overlooked. I had spent days taking in every last detail of this twin-cam mid-engined sports car that in effect bridged the gap between the frankly rather weedy Fiat X1/9 and the frankly rather expensive Ferrari 308. You would imagine, then, that I might have noticed it was about as big as my left shoe.

I suspect the reason is simple. Back then, all cars were tiny, even big ones. That?s just how it was. So, the Montecarlo is 5?in shorter than the current Ford Fiesta and narrower too. Technically, that makes it a motorcycle.

There are more examples too. The BMW 1-series is wider and taller than the 3-series you had in the 1980s. And today?s Range Rover is nearly 20in longer than the 1970s original.
All of this raises a question. Why?

If you have been fortunate enough to look around the SS Great Britain, which is now a museum piece in Bristol, you will undoubtedly have been shocked by the size of the beds. They are tiny, more like cots, and there?s a good reason for that. Back in the 19th century, when the ship was built, people were little.

But we have not become that much bigger in the past 20 to 30 years. So why the sudden need for vast cars?

Some would cite safety, suggesting that the crash protection needed to get a car onto the market these days means the car itself must be enormous. But that?s not true. A Renault Twingo is not big and that?s very safe. A Renault Formula One car is unbelievably tiny and that?s safe enough, we?re told, to be rammed, on purpose, into a wall.

I think market researchers are to blame. They go out onto the street with their clipboards and their winning smiles and they say: ?Would you like your next car to be bigger?? And since everyone associates a big car with success and prosperity, everyone says: ?Yes.? The car companies are simply responding to that.

The fact is, though, it?s nonsense, and it?s about time the trend was reversed because I drove that Montecarlo through a Welsh town with a name I can neither remember nor spell and it was a joy. Gaps that would have thwarted even a Mini could be dealt with without a problem. Parking spaces that would have beaten a Citro?n driver were a doddle. And, most important, small cars are not seen as threatening by pedestrians. They smile at you and that makes the world a happier place.

I can think of no reason cars need be any bigger than that little Lancia. There is room inside for two people, an engine, some wheels and, unless you are Nicholas Soames, the weekly shop. Everything else in your car is just wasted air.

It?s much the same story with the little Austin Healey Sprite I drove around Mallorca on Top Gear recently. Among modern sports cars it looks as preposterous as a ballet shoe on a building site. But, actually, it?s the other way around. It?s the modern sports cars that are too big.

And that causes problems because their big, heavy bodies have to be suspended in such a way that they don?t roll and wallow in the corners. That means the suspension has to be firm. So firm that it will break your spine every time you run over a Catseye. They will also break the bank every time you fill up. And your mind when you can?t find a big enough parking space without going to Lincolnshire.

There?s another thing I?ve noticed, too, about cars from not that long ago. The pillars that supported the roof were elegant, spidery little things. This meant there was a bigger glass area, and that made life inside better, especially if you were a tomato. It meant visibility was good too. Inside a Lancia Fulvia or an old BMW CSL, you really could see all four corners of the car from the driver?s seat."

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PostPost by: garyeanderson » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:15 am

I guess there are several reasons that cars of today are on average 500 to a 1000 pounds heavier and safety is one of them. The others have to do with folk?s perception of what they want from their car. Many people spend an hour or more each weekday morning and evening in them. They want their cars to be comfortable and have many conveniences that were not available back then. 200-watt cd changers with 4 multi speaker units for wonderful sound. NVH also adds a lot of weight so that you can hear those subtle tones of what ever you are listening to. In the late 60's and early 70's, every manufacture had a stripped out base model that was in the 1650 to 1850 pound range. Today that's 2300 to 2700 pounds. Sports cars like Miata's and Honda S2000's are in those same ranges. The Monster Miata was 2320 pounds and it needs a brake upgrade in a big way but when I took a closer look, I could see a bunch of stuff that could come out and get it down to 2100, maybe a bit less. Seats in a Lotus Elan are not that heavy but still they are not as light as what Caterham offers with their carbon/kevlar shells. I haven't weighed a stock Elan seat but it feels like 20 pounds, when 10 or so would get the job done. Miata or S2000 seats are probably 40 or so. If you look at the curb weights listed for the Elan in the S4 workshop manual they list a S1 at 1410 pounds and a S4 or Sprint DHC at 1530 and the SE Coupe with the glass back window 1550, that?s an 11 year difference. were they stretching the truth? Look at the Elise when it was first brought into the market place, 1485 was touted as heaven sent. When Lotus finally got around to offering it in the U.S. with air bags and air conditioning, they bragged that it was 1975 pounds. That?s disgusting to my eyes, 1/3 of an extra car for all the crap that was mandated or thought to be necessary for them to sell it here. The folks just ate it up and Lotus sold them all. My S2 with a street hardtop after I rebuilt it without anything that wasn?t needed weighed 1260 lbs. This included alloy bell, gearcase tailshaft and diff nose. I added a bit of weight for reliability with CV?s and torsen diff and a few other Tony Thompson parts, the body was stock and the chassis was Spyder which is an additional 10 pounds. I would guess that an 1100 lb (500kg) elan is a fairly easy thing to build for the street with lights wipers and horn. All you need to is give Tony and his wife a nice vacation somewhere. Now add a 200 hp 2 liter alloy twin cam for $30,000 and go out and scare your self and put the biggest grin imaginable on your face, $80,000 and a bit of time and its all yours and still legal in any country around the globe. Not a lot of folks today want to spend money on adding lightness, even many of the folks on this forum that seem to know what weight does to a car wont do it, they want the comfort that all of the weight offers. If you want a good sounding radio, get a Walkman and save 20 pounds. The list goes on forever.

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PostPost by: John Larkin » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:46 am

I saw my Rover parked beside a Golf and was surprised to see how small the Rover looked. I checked the web for specifications and found these details...

1974 Rover 3500 V8 automatic:- 4572mm long, 1676mm wide, 1422mm high, 1298kg (Wikipedia)
2009 VW Golf 1.6 automatic:- 4204mm long, 1759mm wide, 1479mm high, 1394kg (VW UK website).

The Golf is wider, taller and heavier than the Rover. I suppose the extra weight is down to airbags, climate control, electric windows, central locking, and so on. I have not compared internal dimensions but I have been seated in each model, front and rear, and the space available is about the same.

It puzzles me that modern car producers cannot reduce weights when they have access to better materials and lighter alloys than were available forty years ago, in addition to powerful computer aided design. I suspect that the engineers are not listened to, but the marketing men and accountants are.

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PostPost by: gjz30075 » Sun Oct 11, 2009 12:18 pm

Totally agree, Tim! When I was a teen in the early '60s, I saw trend toward, longer, lower, wider, heavier cars that were coming out of Detroit and wondered what this would do to our roads and infrastructure. Wider and wider roads needed to accomodate? Pretty soon we'll have the whole country cemented over to accomodate these cars and the bulbous houses where they park for the night.

The public perception of size and weight is only relevant to what else is on the road at the same time. Certainly, American cars of the sixties, as large and heavy as they were, and not considered as 'safe' as today's cars of the same size.

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PostPost by: paddy » Sun Oct 11, 2009 1:28 pm

Clarkson did a drag race recently between a Mk1 Golf GTI and a current one - and you can guess which one won.

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PostPost by: bcmc33 » Sun Oct 11, 2009 11:03 pm

The latest MK5 Polo is larger than the MK1 Golf (16.5% by volume)

The current Ford Mondeo is larger than the MK1 Granada (22% by Volume)

And from what I see on the road in the UK the current Corsa is definately larger than the original Astra.

It's all down to competition --------- nothing to do with common sense.
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PostPost by: hatman » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:32 am

Another aspect of the continually increasing bulk/weight of cars is the modern obsession with 'passive safety', to the point where the perfect vehicle would be one in which you could crash and not even notice it, apparently.
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PostPost by: curly type 26 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:47 am

You must mean VOLVOS! :lol: curly
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PostPost by: frearther » Mon Oct 12, 2009 5:36 pm

trw99 wrote:Back in the 19th century, when the ship was built, people were little.

And have you checked out the size of the average American these days :?
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PostPost by: RotoFlexible » Mon Oct 12, 2009 6:22 pm

I recently had the opportunity to sit in an original Elite and a Seven S2. This American is tall but reasonably slender. I loved the sensation of slithering into the Seven (like putting on a pair of bike shorts) but much as I'd like to, there is no way I could drive it - my legs are too long and my feet are too big. The Elite, with its large steering wheel, was worse.

Compared to that Seven, my Elan S2 is commodious, heavy, and luxurious - the same complaints made in this thread about more recent 2-seaters. Everything is relative!
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