When a seller lists "a magnet with associated nuts and bolts stuck to it" among the spares offered, it's time to run for the hills

As described by the seller on eBay Motors: I'm listing this car for a friend. Wow! Super-rare! 1964 Lotus Elan S1. Red with black interior and black convertible top. 44,500 miles showing on the odometer.

This 1964 Lotus Elan has been sitting for years in a garage and will require a full restoration. I looked under the car and didn't see any significant rust or damage on the frame or suspension. The car is not running. It appears to be complete, including convertible top and tonneau cover, tire jack, etc. The roof framing is in nice condition. There are three original Lotus hubcaps, an extra steering wheel, radiator and air intake hoses sitting in the trunk.

There is no key. The glass is good, including the manual slide-up side windows. The engine is a twin-cam with dual Weber carburetors. This would make a great restoration project or vintage race car. (It's too good and too rare to use as a parts car.) The car comes with a bill of sale only. Title was lost years ago in a paper shuffle.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Lotus Elan S1 1600
Years Produced:1963-1964
Number Produced:3,000-4,000
Original List Price:$3,750, or $2,750 in kit form
SCM Valuation:$18,000-$25,000
Tune Up Cost:$800
Distributor Caps:$18
Engine Number Location:back side of block
Club Info:Lotus, Ltd., P.O. Box L, College Park Station, MD 20741
Alternatives:1962-1963 Porsche 356B Cabriolet, 1961-1964 Triumph TR4, 1962-1965 Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider
Investment Grade:B

This Lotus Elan S1 1600 Convertible sold for $9,100 on eBay Motors, January 18, 2004.

As we all know by now, on eBay you can obtain old teeth, used sneakers, jars of buttons, partially worn tires and thousands of items that, up until a few years ago, most educated folk would set outside in the weekly trash. Today these delectable “collectibles” get purchased by people looking for a deal.

And while we have seen untold numbers of downright awful cars sold on eBay, this Lotus Elan may be the all-time, award-winning, hall of fame, caveat emptor description. Where to even start?

  • “I’m listing the car for a friend.” Read: So you can’t call me a liar. Is the friend the owner?
  • “Wow! Super-rare!” Compared to what? Mustangs from the same year?
  • “This car has been sitting for years in a garage.” In the lost city of Atlantis? It looks like it has been underwater in a garage next to the Andrea Doria.
  • “Will require a full restoration.” Honesty applauded here.
  • “The car is not running.” This car hasn’t run since I was in diapers.
  • “Appears to be complete.” Ray Charles agrees to this; Stevie Wonder seconds.
  • “The roof framing is in nice condition.” Of course the roof itself is missing.
  • “There is no key.” This is actually the least of the problems.
  • “Title was lost years ago in a paper shuffle.” How curious and ambiguous.

If this isn’t bad enough, as the auction continues, the seller adds more gems of description, ostensibly in response to inquisitive bidders. We’ll spare you with all the details, as by now I’m sure you get the picture, but suffice it to say, when a seller lists “a magnet with associated nuts and bolts stuck to it” among the spares offered, it’s time to run for the hills.

Of course, the “potential bidders” don’t. A bloke named “Brice” inspects the car and his comments are then added to the auction page, putting the final nail in the coffin of Colin Chapman’s once illustrious sports car:

  • “This car looks like it came out of a time capsule.” To me, that would mean that some of it could be usable.
  • “Even the headlights are straight!” What?
  • “The paint may be original.” Though falling off and delaminating.
  • “I couldn’t break the 11/16″ lug nuts loose.” The only loose nut is whoever gets behind the steering wheel.
  • “The original Dunlop spare is in the trunk. This wheel is pretty rusty.” People, it rusted in the trunk. See Andrea Doria reference above.
  • “The engine, carbs, transmission, starter and generator appear unmolested.” Is this Michael Jackson speaking?
  • “The water pump turns smoothly.” My guess? Its interior has disintegrated.
  • “The clutch pedal cannot be depressed.” The poor thing is suicidal, not depressed. Now Howard Dean-he’s depressed.
  • “There are no expired stickers of any kind on the car.” Showing no sign or trace of whom it may have belonged to, or where it came from.
  • “I doubt this car has been driven for thirty years. But it rolls! As such, I believe that the mileage (44,500) is accurate.” The coup de grace.

This Lotus Elan would best be described by folks in the industry as “absolute junk.” Call me jaded, cautious, realistic or even rude for being honest, but Elan buyers tend to be persnickety and equally cautious and educated. I am enormously suspect of the entire transaction: You couldn’t give this Elan Convertable away as a door prize at a Lotus Owners Gathering.

A major restoration on this car, to the tune of $30,000 at minimum, along with the purchase price will leave the new owner (if there is one, and if so, please call me, as I owe you an apology for assuming you are a ghost) with a car that will be at least twice as expensive than buying a good driver today for $18,000. If you had won the car with your opening bid of $100, and you were a retired Lotus factory technician, I would applaud your enthusiasm for keeping yourself busy over the next three years. If not, well, “lightningforest” (the buyer’s eBay nom de plume) has just bought himself four nice Cooper tires for a lot of pesos.-Steve Serio

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