Cohort Outtake: Lotus Elan – A Study In Extremes

Lotus Elan Sprint rq

I’m not going to be able to do the brilliant little Elan proper justice today; that may have to wait until I catch up with the one that has eluded me twice now here in town. But this shot posted at the Cohort by William Rubano couldn’t be passed up: one of the lightest and nimblest sports car ever, along with a giant Pontiac hearse. Darter fish meets whale.

Lotus Elan backbone-frame

The Elan was perhaps Colin Chapman’s most important car to date, inasmuch as it actually made money, something Lotus cars rarely achieved. Its predecessor, the beautiful Elite was much too expensive to build and sell profitably, with its complex fiberglass monocoque and all-alloy Coventy Climax engine.

The Elan had a very rigid steel backbone chassis and a fiberglass body. Thanks to that rigid frame, the Elan was a superlative handler, as its fully-independent suspension could work to maximum benefit. These principles eventually became commonplace, but in 1962, it was something of a revelation.

Lotus Elan fq

Under the hood, the Elan was more pragmatic too, using the 1557 cc Ford Kent iron block engine with a two-valve alloy DOHC head designed by Harry Mundy. Depending on model, between 108 and 126 hp were on tap, and given the Elan roadster’s 1516 lb (688 kg) curb weight, performance was sparkling: 0-60 in 7.9 seconds,  and a 120+ mph top speed. The Lotus-Ford engine was later adopted and built by Ford itself, and used in the Ford Lotus Cortina, among others.

Lotus Elan Emma Peel

Emma Peel in the Avengers helped make the Elan a household word, and Mazda bought two of them to examine very closely when they designed their first Miata. I better stop now, or what will therebe left to say when I finally catch up with that pesky and noisy Elan in Eugene?