As Colin Chapman and Lotus became more successful on the race track, he realised he needed a complimentary business in series production cars. The Lotus IX was the first car to be bought by enthusiast drivers in meaningful numbers. The Type 14 Elite was then introduced in 1958 as Chapman’s first foray into a closed car designed for the road, though it too found its way rapidly onto the track following first deliveries. Unfortunately the car failed to make money for Lotus and in the early 1960s Chapman sought to introduce a car that would help establish him as a serious manufacturer. The M2 design project under Ron Hickman became the Type 26 Elan and was introduced to an appreciative public at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show.
The Elan at its inception was primarily about the chassis design and the engine. Both were to influence other Lotus cars on and off the track for over ten years.
Elan 1600: The first Elan series was the 1600, though it is now more commonly referred to as the S1. Some reckon this to be the purist form of the Elan, , lacking as it does the side window frames and slightly chunkier body of the later Series 3 and 4 versions. Units A, B & C were the M2 prototype cars. Unit 0001 was registered 997 NUR and given to Jim Clark; it is the red car he is sitting on the bonnet of in the iconic Lotus advert of the time. Unit 0002, registered NPN 169, was the first Elan sold to a member of the public, Mr Richard Foster. READ MORE
Elan 26R: Colin Chapman apparently indicated that the Elan was never intended to go near a race track. But new owners thought otherwise and many private racing teams saw the potential of the Elan as a race tool during 1963, notably Ian Walker. . READ MORE
For those of us of a certain age, our first introduction to the Elan was watching Emma Peel of the Avengers TV series. She actually used two cars, a white S2 and a metallic blue S3. READ MORE
Elan S3: In June 1966 Lotus Sales Director Graham Arnold got what he wanted with the introduction of the S3. The car gained further refinements, including such luxuries as electric windows, which required window frames to be fitted to the doors, revised bodywork, full width teak finished dashboards and other changes. At the same time the Type 45 Elan made its debut. It was the Drop Head Coupe (DHC) version of the S3. Elans always had black interiors, though a small number, probably no more than 30 S3s, were fitted with red interiors; now very rare, of course. Speak to the men at the factory building and testing Elans at this time and they tend to agree that the S3 was the best of all versions of the Elan. It certainly sold very well for Lotus and, by the time production ended in May 1968, 2,084 cars had been built.
Elan SS: By the middle of 1967 the motor industry, particularly in North America, was coming under attack from safety campaigners such as Ralph Nader. Safety features had to be built into new cars and this preceded an upgrade to Elans. However, as an interim measure Lotus produced the SS (Super Safety) version of the S3, principally for the North American market, though some SS Elans were sold in the UK. They had flush fitting instruments, were fitted with the later style rocker switches, with red as opposed to the later white lettering, and had collapsible steering columns and inward facing wheel spinners, as well as several other features. Some cars had all of these items, others just a few, in typical Lotus fashion! Unit 7400 was the first SS Elan and they were phased out after the introduction of the S4; some 350 to 450 having been produced.
Elan S4: The S4 was introduced to refresh the Elan design and incorporated a slightly different body, with wider and squarer wheel arches to accommodate marginally larger wheels and by now universal radial tyres. The dashboard was changed to incorporate flush fitting rocker switches and several other improvements made. The Federal Elans got seats incorporating a vestigial head support. These changes were introduced as a result of safety legislation and by way of keeping the Elan at the front of sports car sales. The new series hit dealer forecourts in late 1968, unit 7895 being the first S4. Around this time Steve Sanville, Lotus engineer and his team worked up a SE twin cam engine to produce 124 bhp, by use of a D-type camshaft (based on that used in the Climax Stage III FWE engines), higher compression ratio and changed jetting and chokes to the Webers. This rare engine did find its way into some production Elans, for which the H prefix to the engine number was used. In early 1969 Stromberg carburettors replaced Webers, which necessitated a new cylinder head incorporating a different intake manifold and a bulge built into the bonnet to clear the dashpots. Why the change? Apparently purely for cost reasons. However it proved to be fortuitous as Federal cars had to comply with anti-smog control measures; Strombergs were thence fitted to all Federal Elans for the rest of production, though domestic cars returned to Webers in 1970. In all 2,778 S4 Elans were made.
Elan Sprint: By 1970 the Elan was becoming jaded compared to some of its rivals, at least in the eyes of contemporary road testers. Graham Arnold realised something had to be done to maintain sales. Tony Rudd, newly arrived at Hethel, breathed some of his BRM magic on the twin cam to produce the 125 bhp Big Valve version. This was to be fitted into what would be known as the Elan Sprint.
Let us now turn our attention to the larger Elan built by Lotus, which reflected the growing Chapman family, the wish for Lotus to appeal to the family driver and to move the brand up-market: the +2 Elan.
The Type 50 +2 Elan was a reasonably logical extension of the Type 26 Elan concept. It built upon Ron Hickman’s inspired design and his was again the creativity and genius that got the larger car into production, matching Colin Chapman’s desire for a sporting family-friendly Lotus car. The design project M20 got underway in June 1963, even as the earliest Elans were being put together. However, due to various factors, not least of which was Chapman’s frequent absences from Cheshunt as he bestrode the Formula One and Indianapolis stages, it was not until June 1967 that the +2 was introduced. Having moved to Hethel in late November 1967, all production +2s were made there.
Elan +2S: In early 1969 the +2 went through its first upgrade to become the +2S. This took the model further upmarket in image and included many features to distinguish it. Amongst these were a larger boot area, pull-down rear squabs, reclining front seats, collapsible steering column, a 118 bhp SE engine fitted as standard
Elan Plus 2S 130: With the advent of production of the 126 bhp Big Valve engine at the beginning of 1971 Lotus could look at upgrading both the engine and refreshing the rest of the car. The same upgrades that came with the Sprint were applied to the Plus 2S 130, including the stiffer Rotoflexs and reinforced final drive housing. In addition the car came with a metallic silver roof to give a two tone effect, though one could still specify a mono paint scheme if desired. The extra power of the Big Valve engine helped to refine the performance of the larger car and keep it competitive with some of its competition.