As the essential 1960s British sports car, the tiny Lotus Elan, remains a benchmark for handling. With its pop-up headlights, curved windshield, and roll-up windows, it was a symbol of Swinging London, immortalized in The Avengers television series.
The Elan was built with a backbone frame and a glass fibre body, and had quite soft four-wheel independent suspension. Its Ford 1600cc 4-cylinder engine developed 105 hp and featured Lotus’s own twin-cam head, like the Lotus Cortina. Weighing only 1,420 pounds, early cars could do 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds, with the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 87 mph.
Four series of Elans were built between 1962 and 1973, with Plus 2 and Plus 2S 2+2 models added from 1967 to 1974. All Elans were roadsters until 1965, with a removable hard top optional, but all Plus 2 models were coupes and never sold as kits, as other Lotuses were. The Series 2 Elan arrived in late 1964, offering a full-width dash with glove box, oval taillights, a boot-mounted battery, and optional knock-off wheels.
The Series 3 fixed-head coupe arrived in late 1965, followed by a companion roadster in mid-1966. Changes were apparent in 1968’s Series 4, which had flared wheel arches and a power bulge in the bonnet. Weber carburettors were changed for Dell'Ortos (though the American market utilised Strombergs). Some of the last “Big Valve” Elans from 1971 to 1973 boasted five-speed transmissions along with 126 hp, and are frequently seen in two-tone colours. The Elan Plus 2 outlasted its two-seater sibling by about a year, as the factory geared up for the new Elite.
Estimates of Elan construction vary widely, from 9,569 all the way to 12,224, but the lower figure seems more likely. Elan Plus 2 production figures range from 3,300 to 5,200, with the same probability. In any case, finding a good one will not be easy and the discovery of rust in the backbone chassis is a profound concern. The body is light, too, and unlikely to have survived a serious crash with any kind of integrity.
A well-maintained original Elan that hails from a dry climate or a fresh rotisserie restoration by a respected shop are the two best choices for an interested buyer. Perhaps the most important detail however, is if you can fit in the car. Elans are extremely small, and if you’re over 5-foot 10 inches tall or weight more than 200 pounds you might be restricted to driving with the top down and your elbow hanging out the window.