Source: Flickr / classicargarage
Happy 50th Birthday to the Lotus Elan!
Last year the car world celebrated the Jaguar E-Type’s 50th birthday with a boom in classic Top Gear fashion. Such a great car deserved an over-the-top celebration.
This year marks the Lotus Elan’s 50th birthday, a car less known and less cherished by most but in terms of performance and engineering, the Elan deserves some attention.
Think back to the late-50s, early-60s. It was a world filled with heavy cars 25-feet in length, big fins, V8 engines, drum brakes and lazy suspensions but the Elan was the anti-trend.
Lotus first introduced the Elan in 1962 in roadster form only. At the time, it was quite revolutionary due to Colin Chapman’s rethink of what a sports car should be. It was tiny, even next to its wannabe cousin the Mazda MX-5 Miata, it’s petite. But within this tiny design was a perfect balance of simplicity and cutting edge technology.
The car had a 4-cylinder twin-cam 1558cc Ford Cosworth engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and 4-wheel independent suspension. The tires/wheels were 155x13’s, tiny but sufficient, for a few good reasons. Any larger or heavier and the engine would strain due to added weight and friction.
It had a steel backbone subframe with a fiberglass body which made it a seriously light-weight car, about 1,500lbs, so the little 4-banger wasn’t so small compared to the weight. The engine was behind the front wheels (front-mid), even on such a small car. With a person in the driver’s seat, the car is slightly heavier on the back wheels, perfect weight distribution without a driver.
Underneath, the car had only what it needed. The exterior design complemented this. Simple body panels encased the frame, pop-up headlights for use only when necessary, and body-molded bumpers (credited as the first production car to have them) made the car aerodynamic.
The Elan was truly a driver’s sports car with an engineer’s mindset… Small, fast, and lightweight can’t lose. The original car, which included a roadster, hardtop, coupe, and a later added 2+2, had a 13-year production run which ended in 1975. In 1989, the Elan name was revived and produced until 1995 with the help of Izuzu and General Motors. In 2010, Lotus shocked the world at the Paris Auto Show with a new Elan concept amongst many others.
Fortunately, Lotus will be the featured marque at this years Goodwood Festival of Speed celebrating its glorious history and toasting the present and hopefully generating enough interest to keep the sports car brand alive.