Lotus Elan front three quarters exterior

Lotus Elan

BUYER’S GUIDE

Lotus Elan Review

As beautiful to drive as it is to look at, the Elan is the perfect road-going expression of Lotus’s engineering ethos and racing success…

What Is It?

Dinky, lightweight and packed with clever engineering, the Elan is arguably peak Chapman-era Lotus and one of the great British sportscars of the 1960s. A pragmatic twist on the bold but fragile Elite, the Elan put a steel backbone into the fibreglass body and combined it with cleverly repurposed mainstream parts to create a car that was beautiful, incredibly light, fabulous to drive and both affordable to buy and profitable for its maker – a trick Lotus repeated with the Elise some three decades later.

With its pop-up headlights, peppy twin-cam four-cylinder engine, all-independent suspension and cute looks the Elan also set a template for Mazda to reimagine for itself into the MX-5, which has since gone on to become the world’s biggest selling sportscar. Proof, if required, that Lotus nailed the formula decades before.  

Corrosive Areas

Backbone chassis

Suspension towers

Gearbox, engine and diff mounts

Checklist

  • Elan – or Lotus Type 26 – revealed in late 1962 with sales starting in 1963; small initial batch of 1.5-litre cars soon replaced and/or updated with 1.6-litre engine to become Elan 1600
  • Earlier Elans were also sold in kit form for owners to complete assembly at home
  • Series 2 launched in 1964; joined in 1965 by a new Fixed Head Coupe variant with the Lotus model number Type 36
  • Special Equipment upgrade also introduced with power upgrade to 86kW (117PS), servo-assisted brakes and close ratio gearbox
  • Series 3 launched in 1966, changes include electric windows necessitating obvious frames on open cars that remain in place when windows drop, more luxurious teak dash and much improved hood also introduced
  • Elan +2 launched as a more luxurious and spacious option, all things relative; distinctive long and low look is significantly different from the ‘regular’ Elan
  • Series 4 launched in 1968, look for bonnet bulge to clear US market Stromberg carburettors and wider, squared-off rear arches to clear wider tyres and rocker switches on dashboard; Drop Head Coupe now known as Type 45
  • Sprint arrives in 1970 with more powerful 94kW (128PS) ‘Big Valve’ engine and option of Golf Leaf inspired two-tone liveries
  • Sprint liveries iconic but if you’re paying the premium for the real thing make sure it’s not an earlier car in Golf Leaf colours – look for S4 body and correct ‘Big Valve’ stamping on cam cover for starters
  • Front suspension and steering system adapted from Triumph parts; check they have been lubricated and maintained as required
  • Rear suspension uses ‘Chapman Stut’ independent layout using clever combination of repurposed Ford parts and bespoke components
  • ‘Rotoflex’ rubber bushings used on driveshafts in place of conventional constant velocity joints and require relatively frequent replacement – check for any sense of transmission ‘wind’ on acceleration; some cars may have had these replaced with CV joints at some point
  • Ford-based engine is generally sound when looked after properly, though a rebuild if required won’t be cheap
  • Most UK cars used Weber carburettors though Strombergs used for US-spec models and head is not cross-compatible; Strombergs also used for a period on later S4s before Lotus reverted to Webers
  • Cooling system can be a weak point so check for signs of overheating – rock the water pump on its mountings for signs of play
  • Gearboxes generally tough but check for usual signs of wear and unpleasant noises; a tiny number of late cars came with five-speed gearboxes
  • Vacuum operated pop-up lights can cause bother so make sure they raise and lower smoothly and in unison – some owners replace the system with electric lifters
  • Relative ease of replacing steel backbone chassis and even entire GRP body runs risk of ‘Trigger’s Broom’ history but if you want a car to enjoy as intended is a pragmatic way to refresh an otherwise tired Elan
  • Galvanised replacement chassis backbones available from Lotus (look for LR stamping) while Spydercars offers a popular alternative with detail improvements to improve access to engine and running gear for servicing

How does it drive?

By all accounts as well as you would imagine by looking at the specifications. With a kerb weight of less than 700kg, power of around 115PS (depending on the model), sharp rack and pinion steering, all-independent suspension, disc brakes all round and a feisty twin-cam powering the rear wheels via a slick-shifting four-speed manual the Elan isn’t fast by the numbers. But it’s an absolute delight to drive, the quick steering alive through the skinny-rimmed wheel, the power to weight ratio giving gutsy performance at the speeds that matter and the lithe suspension built to make the best of tight and twisty British B-roads.

Enough to make contemporaries like the much-loved MG B feel rather agricultural in comparison, the Elan combines classic looks with modern driving manners that are still relevant today.

 What’s good?

All of the above is clearly a strong start, but the Elan fascinates even at a standstill. You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the cleverness that went into its construction, and how it reimagines for the road the mindset that took Lotus to so many race victories at the time it was on sale. And, indeed, was developed by the same people.

The fibreglass body meanwhile swerves the corrosion issues plaguing most other cars of this vintage, and while the steel frame underneath can obviously corrode it’s also relatively easily swapped for brand new replacements from both Lotus and respected specialists like Spydercars.

Repurposed components from mainstream cars of the era also make it cost-effective to run and relatively easy to find parts for and there’s a large and passionate community of owners and specialists supporting them.

What’s bad?

Well, you wouldn’t want to crash one for starters, the notorious fragility of Chapman’s racing cars is one of the less appealing carry-overs into the Elan’s minimalist construction. If not exactly hand built there was, shall we say, a slight lack of consistency in the way some were put together as well, and niggles with electrics and the like can cause frustration and be hard to rectify.

From home-built projects to modified cars hot-rodded with replacement engines or other tweaks it can be difficult to find examples that haven’t been messed about with at some point in their lives as well, and originality can be hard to prove. Clever and lightweight as it is that (literal) whiff of kit car from the glass fibre construction may put off some still snooty about Lotus’s ‘garagiste’ background.  

Which model to choose?

Setting aside the more spacious but perhaps less graceful +2 variant, the classic Elan evolved through four main generations and then into its final Sprint version which was especially popular in its classic Gold Leaf livery. Each have their merits, the earlier cars celebrated for their purity and, in drophead form, cleaner in their looks for their frameless windows.

The extra power of the SE spec cars and later Sprint has obvious appeal, but unless you’re a real speed freak probably isn’t the decisive factor it might be in contemporary rivals. Many consider the S3 to be the moment the Elan ironed out some of the wrinkles but was still true to its original purpose, and if you’re looking for an open one the much-improved soft-top on this generation is easier to live with.

Ultimately the best advice is to pick a couple of key attributes you really favour and then find the best example you can afford.

Specifications

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

86kW (117PS) @ 6,000rpm (SE trim)

Torque

147Nm (108lb ft) @ 6,000rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 690kg

0-62mph

7.0 seconds

Top speed

115mph

Production dates

1963-1974 (all series)

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Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

The best sub-£100k investment cars for 2024

The best sub-£100k investment cars for 2024

In the current climate of spiralling interest rates, soon £100,000 won’t get you more than a Mars bar and a packet of crisps so, while you still can, get the money invested in the dream machine you’ve always promised yourself.

We’ve got something for everyone here, from limited-edition hot hatches to big-engined GTs and a history-defining super saloon. Will any of them appreciate it? That remains to be seen but at the very least, you will enjoy owning them.

1. BMW M3 CSL

As sure as the earth is round and what comes up must come down, a BMW M3 CSL must feature on a list of the best investment cars for less than £100,000. Using what is widely accepted to be the best BMW M3 – the E46 M3 – as a base, the CSL stripped it of 136kg weight (and fog lights), stiffened up the chassis and blessed it with a carbon-fibre airbox that produces one of the best induction noises we’ve yet encountered.

Power, meanwhile, went up by 17PS – to 360PS (265kW) – and 0-62mph dropped from 5.2 to 4.9 seconds. The elephant in the room is the BMW’s automatic single-clutch transmission which is, well, slow and not very good. The question is, do you drive around the gearbox’s limitations or save yourself the bother and retrofit a six-speed manual? Jerky auto or not, the CSL seems like one of the safest ways to make money on a car that can still be had for well under £100,000.

2. Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

There’s something delightfully endearing about putting a large engine in a small car and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S proves that to the full. To create it, Aston took the smallest and lightest chassis available at the time and then fitted it with the 573PS (421kW) 5.9-litre V12 from the DBS. The result? A top speed of 205mph and 0-62mph in just 3.7 seconds.

Thankfully, Aston also sorted out the chassis. The V12’s suspension sits 15mm lower and is 45 per cent stiffer than the standard car’s, giving greater composure without sacrificing comfort. Perhaps the best part of the V12 Vantage is its pumped-up looks courtesy of long bonnet vents, wide sills and aggressive front and rear bumpers. It’s far more striking than the standard car. Yet, manual versions of the V12 can still be scooped up for well under our £100,000 limit. You can wager it won’t stay the same for long. 

3. Lotus Carlton

Few cars define their era quite as well as the Lotus Carlton – the fastest saloon of its day, the Daily Mail launched a campaign to ban it, while smash-and-grab robbers found themselves an ideal getaway vehicle. Law-abiding drivers also loved the Carlton. Lotus got the styling just right adding a subtle body kit and a (slightly less subtle) rear wing in what would become a blueprint for the modern performance saloon.

The performance, meanwhile, is impressive even today. The Lotus’ 382PS (281kW) twin-turbo 3.6-litre V6 is good for 0-62mph in around five seconds and with no nannying speed limiter (ala a contemporary German performance saloon), the Lotus was good for 177mph. Sadly, the delights of the Lotus Carlton have not gone unnoticed and a clean one will set you back close to our £100,000 self-imposed limit. Cheap for such a large slice of motoring history. 

4. Maserati Gransport

As a Maserati that goes as well as it looks, the Gransport brings cause for celebration.

Even without the distinctive ‘boomerang’ tail lights of the original 3200GT, the Gransport cuts an athletic figure that’s enhanced with a subtle body kit and 10mm lowered suspension, giving a sense of menace that was absent on the original. Subtle changes were made beneath the skin, too.

In the Gransport, Maserati’s 4.2-litre V8 produced 400PS (294kW) – ten more than before – you get adjustable suspension and a sports exhaust that gleefully opens its flaps at 4,000rpm. Even the Cambiocorsa automated manual gearbox gives faster shifts.

The result is a car that’s as happy grand touring as it is dissecting your favourite B roads and with prices still low – you can pick up good examples for less than £40,000 – the Gransport makes for a tantalising used buy that’s ripe for appreciation.

5. Porsche 997 911 GTS

If the 997 represents the sweet spot in Porsche 911 production, then the GTS provides the icing to the proverbial oily cake – it’s one of the best road-going 911s ever built. The 997 has the small size of the 996 but without the goofy fried egg headlights, while a slick manual gearbox and hydraulic power steering mean it still feels like an analogue Porsche.

But the engine is the superstar. With no turbos to choke its voice or responses, the GTS’s 408PS (300kW) 3.8-litre flat-six gets from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and will hit 190mph flat out. It’s a spine-tingling experience and the fact you have to work for it only makes it better.

By contrast, newer 911s – faster and more accomplished, true – struggle to match the 997’s engagement, which makes the GTS seem like a bargain when good manual examples can be had for less than £80,000. 

6. Ferrari F430 manual

Predicting the next Ferrari that will shoot up in value isn’t easy, but we reckon a manual F430 is a safe bet. Looking like a shrunken Enzo can only be a good thing, but more than that the F430 brings the world of old and new Ferrari together. So, while you get a screaming flat-plane crank V8 mated to an open-gate manual gearbox, you also get a manettino dial on the steering wheel linked to the F430’s electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

The result? This Ferrari can pull your heartstrings like few other cars, but there’s always an electronic safety net to fall back on. Sadly, the delights of a manual F430 have not gone unnoticed and while you’ll get one for under £100,000, you’ll pay a significant premium over an identical automatic.

7. Lotus Elise 240 Final edition

While some investment cars are reaching middle age and will likely require a bit of work, the Lotus Elise 240 Final Edition was only introduced in 2021. As the name hints, the Final Edition is the runout version of Lotus’ bestseller, coming complete with unique paint jobs and badging, and a lovely set of forged alloy wheels.

The Final Edition shows you what 25 years of Lotus Elise development looks like so while it weighs 200kg more than the original it comes packing a 243PS (179kW) supercharged four-cylinder that would make mincemeat of the old Rover K-series. Factor in daily usability that eclipses the abilities of the original Elise and there are plenty of less enjoyable ways to spend a hard-earned £50,000 or so.

8. Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition

The outgoing Honda Civic Type R’s styling (more like a billboard saying “race me” to anyone in visual range) might not have been to everyone’s tastes, but few could argue with the way the explosive Honda drove. Its 320PS (235kW) 2.0-litre engine hunted the redline like any self-respecting VTEC should while turbocharging delivered performance which made the official 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds seem unduly pessimistic.

The Civic Type R could annihilate A and B roads in a way that would embarrass most supercars, thanks to a stiff chassis and the expertly damped suspension’s ability to absorb any bump or camber you cared to throw at it. A swift glance at the rapidly rising speedo was the only clue to how outrageously fast you were going.

Buying as a long-term investment? Then you best seek out the Type R Limited Edition, barely used examples of which can be scooped up for less than £55,000. As the best example of the best hot hatch of the current era, prices can surely only go up – can’t they?

Get an online quote now
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Sunday from 10:00 - 14:00
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