NZ Classic Driver
THE LOTUS POSITION
The Lotus Elan was my dream car from an early age. Perhaps it was the combination of Jim Clark and Diana Rigg (as Emma Peel in ’60s TV show, The Avengers) both driving Elans. Jim Clark was my Formula 1 hero while Emma Peel was… well, let’s just say she made an impression on an impressionable young man.
My first Elan experience was during a race meeting at the Winton circuit in central Victoria. I was in the passenger seat but I fell in love with the Elan’s nimbleness and handling. It made my long-door Triumph TR2 seem ponderous. As life would have it, 30 years passed before I owned an Elan.
I bought a 1970 Series IV convertible, fitted with a hard top, from a motor bookshop owner and historic racer in Sydney. I drove it home to Melbourne, which was brave considering all the horror stories I had been regaled with. But those doing the regaling weren’t Elan owners.
My Elan was set up for competition but was still usable as a road car. For the next seven years I enjoyed the car on both road and track. I competed in historic meetings and hillclimbs, as well as enjoying Club Lotus runs. The Elan was a delight to look at and a delight to drive. It handled beautifully and was surprisingly comfortable.
As with any car used for competition, I spent money on the Lotus but in the main it wasn’t spent because things broke. An engine rebuild with a Datsun steel crank made the long trip down the main straight at Phillip Island on full noise less harrowing. The car never let me down and only once attempted self-immolation, but the flames were quelled before any damage was done. An accident at Calder Raceway forced a complete rebuild. The Elan’s simple design eased the pain; it was easy to take the body off the chassis. I got it repaired at a fibreglass boat building company while I worked on the chassis and running gear.
So why is the Elan my favourite classic car? I’ll let McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray explain: “… clever packaging, reasonable boot, minimal size, light weight, high power to weight ratio, fine vehicle dynamics, superb steering – a real little driver’s car. For looks, only the racing Ferrari Dino 206SP did better.” Murray’s Elan FHC features in a fullpage picture in the book, Driving Ambition, the story of the McLaren F1. Several other senior people at McLaren also owned Elans.
Of the 41 cars I have owned there are only two that I would love to have back in my garage; the first is the Elan, and second is a ‘pagoda’ roof Mercedes 230SL.