Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan (Road & Track 1/63)

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Lotus Elan (Road & Track 1/63)
Magazine Title: Road & Track
Published: January 1963
Author: David Phipps
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The Elan shares only the name Lotus in common with the Elite, but the specifications predict success in production class racing.
Elan chassis is deep central backbone, shaped like X in plan view.
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The introduction a new Lotus is always of interest to motoring enthusiasts. In just over 10 years Colin Chapman has produced 25 different models, some of them in several forms. Now comes the Mark 26, the Elan, a fully-equipped road car with 1500-cc, 100-bhp dohc Lotus Ford engine and a very reasonable price tag (£1090).

At first sight the Elan looks relatively conventional-apart from its recessed headlamps. It is front-engined, with rear wheel drive. (There is still a lot to be said for this layout in a 2-sealer, even though most racing cars are rear-engined.) Chassis and body are separate items, but the disadvantages of such a layout are overcome by providing torsional stiffness of an order normally found only in the best unitary designs; this has been achieved by basing the chassis on a deep propeller shaft tunnel (of 16-gauge sheet steel) which is in effect a large-section rectangular tube. Deep, flanged side members run forward on either side of the engine to a cross member which incorporates mountings for the front suspension; a similar layout at the rear provides pick-ups for the rear suspension and final drive unit.

Torsional stiffness over the wheelbase is 4000 lb-ft per degree, which goes up to 4500 lb-ft with the body attached. It was as result of tests on this chassis that Chapman decided to make the monocoque Lotus 25 Formula I car; for once, instead of racing improving the breed, the breed improved racing.

Front suspension is by unequal-length double wishbones and coil springs, and at the rear a "Chapman strut" layout is used. Steering is by rack-and-pinion. Engine, suspension and final drive arc all mounted on rubber blocks to minimize noise and vibration; although the Elan will undoubtedly be raced, it is first and foremost a touring car.

On the Elan, even more than on previous models, the Lotus policy is to use as many mass-produced components as possible, to keep the reliability factor up and the price down. Thus, the engine is based on the 5-bearing, 1500-cc Ford 116-E unit, fitted with the Lotus dohc cylinder head. The 4-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox and 3.90:1 final drive gears also come from Dagenham, and the rear suspension units bear a very strong resemblance to the front struts of the Ford Classic. The front uprights are basically Standard-Triumph parts, but the wishbones are of Lotus manufacture at both front and rear. And the Metalastik joints at either end of the drive shafts (which permit the elimination of sliding splines and also provide insulation against the transmission shock common in cars with chassis-mounted differential gears) have been extensively proven on Lotus Formula I cars.

The body is made of resin-bonded fiberglass, and consists of only five moldings-body shell, hood, trunk lid and two large, wide-opening doors (which are mounted on pins, rather than hinges). The hood pivots on nylon runners and is opened from inside the car by pulling two catches; if necessary it can be completely removed in a matter of seconds.

The retractable headlamps are a feature of the body styling which allow the fender line to be considerably lower than would otherwise be possible. Each headlamp is coupled to a vacuum cylinder, which is in turn coupled to a large vacuum reservoir, and the system is actuated by manifold vacuum. The control switch also turns on the lights, and incorporates a "flashing" device.

It is claimed that the top and sliding side windows make the Elan completely weatherproof, and to this end special attention has been paid to sealing at the top of the windshield (which is surrounded by a fairly substantial molding) and side windows; clip-on "cant rails" serve the latter purpose, and also provide mountings for the hood supports.

The standard of finish is high (if one can base judgment on the only "production" car yet built) and the interior is well equipped. The seats have generous fore-and-aft travel, and their runners are so arranged that with the seat in its most forward position the cushion is at its highest point and the backrest at its most upright; in rearward positions the cushion becomes lower and the backrest more reclining.

A 3-spoke wood-rimmed steering wheel and an attractive wooden gear lever knob are standard, and the instruments include tachometer, speedometer, oil-pressure gauge, water temperature gauge and fuel gauge. The 8-cu-ft capacity of the trunk is supplemented by further space behind the seats, and there is a small glove compartment in the instrument panel.

I have not yet had a chance to try the Elan but Jim Clark states that the ride is superb, and that the handling is even better than that of the Elite. Maximum speed is over 1 10 mph (at about 6500 rpm with the standard final drive gearing), with acceleration to match.