This Lotus Elan +2 is an immaculate all‑time sportscar great
What do you think of when you read the word, sportscar? Its meaning can be as general or as specific as you want. On the road, it’s something non-essential, with an emphasis on the enjoyment of driving.
An open top, conservative power figure and rear wheel drive are considered attributes of the purest of the breed. Today, that shoe fits the Mazda MX-5 perfectly. Two seats, open-top, slight proportions (and weight) and soft curvaceous styling. It’s without question the definitive sportscar of recent memory. It’s not the Daddy, though.
For that, you’d do well to look at where Mazda took inspiration for the MX-5. It’s British, naturally. It has a soft or hard top, lightweight construction, compact proportions and a thrashy four-cylinder engine. You could easily believe that the MX-5 is a reborn Lotus Elan from the land of the rising sun.
The Elan was to become Lotus’ bread and butter post-launch in 1962. For its time it was very sophisticated, utilizing fully independent suspension, disc braking all-around and a steel backbone chassis onto which the fibreglass body was mounted. All-up, the Elan weighed comfortably under 700kg, sating the Chapman obsession with light-weight. Under the bonnet resided a four-cylinder DOHC Ford engine tuned by Lotus. Its effectiveness would eventually lead to Ford buying it up and re-distributing it as the famous Lotus-Ford Twin Cam. Lotus Cortina anyone?
At Breakfast Club Classic Car Sunday in August, this Elan +2 was a stunning example of the breed. Featuring a longer wheelbase, space for four and a fixed coupe roof, it’s an altogether more upmarket and exotic visual proposition. The rare burnt sand hue certainly adds to the more premium and grown-up aesthetic.
Chassis 0181 is a 1967 car – one of the earliest examples of the +2 that remains – and was originally sold as a kit. Owner Tony Butler, a key figure in the Lotus owner’s community, has had it since 1974 and has kept it in such fine fettle that a restoration is as yet unrequired. Plenty of shots were on display of it in action at Goodwood, so it’s no stranger to a hard day’s work. We expect little else from the car that Gordon Murray is said to regret not perfectly replicating the steering quality of in the mighty McLaren F1.
The Elan might not be the first thing we think of nowadays when we say sportscar but its uncompromising philosophies of simplicity and light-weight live on directly in the car that defines the breed today, as well as the minds that conceived it. It’s a lesson in avoiding over-complication while courting clever design and engineering. It’s one of the most important cars in Lotus’ history and that, surely, makes the Elan one of the most important sportscars of all time.