The Type 50 Elan
The Type 50 Lotus Elan – An Introduction
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 +2: The +2 was longer and wider than the Elan, though in most other respects it was a grown up version of that car. The same chassis design and body attachment techniques were used, the same engine and transmission also used and the same principles employed for the steering and suspension. Clearly the interior differed, providing as it did two vestigial rear seats, suitable for children or small adults for relatively short journeys. Two prototypes were produced. The first was a development mule known as ‘The Tub’, which was a stretched S3 FHC Elan, fitted with aluminium wheel arch flares and looked rather odd. One of the Team Lotus F1 mechanics was drafted in to put the Tub together and he completed this by September 1965.
The second prototype was the better known Metier II. This was built up as a fully working car and demonstrated to the Lotus board in December 1965. Painted silver blue it differed from production +2s in several aspects, most notably of course in styling. After the decision to make some changes and then go ahead with production, Ron Hickman used the car himself and when he left Lotus in 1967, he bought it for £125. Hickman carried on using the car until the early 1970s and then scrapped it, or so he believed. The car later emerged in London before ending up owned by well-known Lotus collector Malcolm Ricketts, who restored it and ran it for a number of years. He sold it in 2012.
The first production +2 was 50/0001, registered LPW 120E in Norwich on 19 June 1967. It was used, heavily, as a press and test car, featuring in a number of publications. It was lost for many years but has recently been re-discovered and is due to undergo an extensive restoration. In late August 1967 the very first production cars became available to Lotus’ favoured dealers. Unit 50/0003 was registered in Manchester as HVU 300F on 1 September 1967 and sold to George Best, the well-known playboy footballer. He later moved on to buy an Europa.
The factory must have thought that the +2 looked particularly good in Carnival Red, since many of these early cars were painted in the LO 05 hue, which had been introduced that same year. The cars were initially fitted with a number of distinguishing features lacking in subsequent +2s, including the fitment of a smart windscreen surround in silvered metal, Alfa Romeo Carello rear lights (these became Lucas units later) and Perspex quarter lights. For the first year of production the +2 was available in both factory built and component form, similar to the Elan. However this did not sit comfortably with Chapman’s wish to take the marque further up market and in late 1968 the last component +2 was sold.
In 1969 a +2 was bought by Gerry Ashmore, a Lotus dealer running Ashmore Bros in West Bromwich, who had campaigned a Lotus 18 during 1961/2 and a Lotus 40 in the mid-sixties. For this foray into motorsport by the family oriented +2 the factory, somewhat perversely, supplied Ashmore with a very much lightened body shell, a dry sump twin-cam engine mated to a close ratio gearbox, Lotus 47 front brakes and wheels and special rear strengthening and wheels. It survived but one race before being written off by Ashmore’s racing partner, the aptly named Max Payne. Ashmore then made a second racing +2 with another lightweight body supplied by Hethel, a BRM twin cam engine and 26R-like suspension modifications. He and Payne campaigned the car from 1969 until 1972, though it’s weight and size compared unfavourably with its peers. This car, the only known racing +2 to have had any factory blessing, is still in existence. 1,592 +2 Elans were built.
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 and a power bulge on the bonnet to accommodate Stromberg carburettors for the Federal market, though domestic cars retained the Webers. In addition, warning lights were fitted in the door edges, one fog and one spot light were located in nacelles in the front valance, a map light, improved upholstery, inertia reel seat belts, nine rocker switches and eight dials on the revised dash! Road tests lauded the handling and superior ride of the executive express and many remarked on the near absence of wind noise from the slippery shape of the car. Options on the S included Lotus brand alloy wheels, Sundym glass and rear seat belts, all adding to the increased level of sophistication expected by the discerning buyer Lotus hoped to appeal to.
During late 1969 some fifty +2Ss, which were due to have been shipped to North America, were sat at Hethel. Perhaps an order was cancelled or some other reason precluded their journey across the Atlantic. Lotus decided that they would de-Federalise them as much as they could and then offer them as component cars to UK and European drivers. These ‘odd’ cars tended to have Stromberg carburettors, a boot release toggle in a recess of the passenger door pillar, toggle switches, side reflectors and single circuit brakes. In all, 1,650 +2S Elans were produced.
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. The Plus 2 had always had a complex electrical system due to the many extra components compared to the smaller Elan, so fitting an alternator as standard was a wise move. The first Plus 2S 130 was unit 7101020357L, in Lotus Yellow with a silver roof. For the Federal versions, which were introduced several months after the first domestic deliveries, Lotus retained the Stromberg carburettor set up with its ‘anti-smog pipes’ and added an extension to the top of the front seats; you’d hesitate to call it a head rest.
The car sold very well and Lotus must have been pleased with their attempt to elevate their brand into the same space occupied by Jaguar, Porsche and other performance express car makers. However, most testers noticed that on autostrada, autobahn and motorway the lack of a fifth gear made life somewhat more frantic than it should have been. In 1972 Lotus announced their five speed gearbox, based on a new Lotus casting, Lotus first and third motion shafts and Lotus selector rod mechanism and British Leyland Maxi internals. Bean Industries of Tipton, a Leyland firm, manufactured and assembled the 5 speed gearbox for Lotus.
The Elan Plus 2S 130/5 was revealed at the 1972 London Motor Show, with the five speed box available as an optional extra. At the same time an optional oatmeal coloured interior became available, proving a popular alternative to the usual black. It is impossible to say how many 130/5s left the factory, as even Lotus never recorded all the cars that left fitted with a 5 speed gearbox. We have not yet found any evidence that a single S130/5 was ever exported to North America from the factory.
In June 1973 Lotus decided to celebrate their 50th Grand Prix win by introducing a limited run of John Player Special Plus 2S 130/5s. They were all painted in the JPS colour scheme of Black with a Gold Metalflake roof, sills and thin gold coach line. They were all fully optioned with green tinted glass, oatmeal cloth seat inserts, Phillips Turnolock radio and 5 speed gearbox, although maybe two cars were fitted with the 4 speed box from new. The JPS cars all appear in the Lotus 'day book' records as ‘Black’, thus making it impossible to say with any degree of accuracy how many were made. The press announcement indicated that to begin with only 50 such cars would be produced. However, black was never an official Lotus colour so it is unusual to see it recorded. The first JPS produced was VIN 73061476L. There are a total of 115 cars recorded as black in the records up to December 1973, so that is as probably as close as we shall get to know how many JPS Plus 2s were made by Lotus.
Production of the Plus 2S 130 ended in February 1974, though this fact was not reflected in the VINs of the later cars, which reveals another Lotus anomaly. Our belief is that there was a good legislative or tax related reason that the last 300 cars all had 73 (year) 12 (month) allocated to the first four digits of the VIN. We do know of a handful of cars with 7401 and 7402 figures. We would therefore guess that from December 1973 through to February 1974, as cars came off the production line, they were virtually all allocated the same December 1973 VIN date indicators. The final domestic car was VIN 73122013L, painted all white and first registered in Norwich on 22 January 1975 as GEX 161N. During 1974 many cars sat in dealer showrooms, their vogue clearly over, perhaps not helped by the anticipated launch of the all new four seat Lotus, the Type 75 Elite. In total 1,897 Plus 2S 130 & 130/5 Elans were made.
Through our research 5,139 Type 50 Elans were built between 1967 and 1974. That is an average of some 80 cars per month. Up until recently many +2 and Plus 2S Elans were often broken for spares at the ends of their lives. It is pleasing there is now a recognition that they are cars which deserve to be restored and appreciated in their own right, having played second fiddle to the Elan for too long. They have their own elegance, dynamic qualities and driving experience, as well as an important place in the making of Lotus as an appreciated manufacturer of luxurious expresses alongside their wonderful sports and race cars.