The 1960s were the brilliant Indian summer of British sports-car manufacturing, when its factories offered a fascinating choice of high-performance open two-seaters and coupes, all different in character from each other, each destined to become a valuable classic.
Outstanding among them was Colin Chapman’s Lotus Elan, a sophisticated little jewel introduced in 1962. At the heart of the car was a welded steel backbone chassis supporting supple, fully independent suspension incorporating the ingenious Chapman strut layout at the rear. Cradled between two front arms of the chassis, its powerplant was basically a Ford block with Lotus’s own aluminum twin-overhead camshaft cylinder head. It may well be the only four-cylinder engine fitted with three camshafts, the original lateral one that was part of the Ford design being retained for the distributor.
Swept volume was initially 1498cc, and later 1558cc. At the curbside the Elan weighed a mere 1,526 lb.-very low for a fully trimmed and equipped road-going two seater. Molded fiberglass bodywork was a Lotus in-house effort of perfect proportions and utter simplicity. The Elan was quite a performer: the 118 mph maximum of early variants might have been expected of such a slippery, wind-cheating shape, but acceleration was dashing indeed for a comfortable road car with less than 1600cc on tap. Aided by well-chosen close gearbox ratios, the century mark could be reached in 26.8 seconds.
In all respects the Elan rewarded the capable driver. Steering was light and direct, handling was poised on the long-travel, correctly damped suspension, braking was powerful and progressive. Instantly outdating most of its competition, it became Lotus’s best seller yet by a wide margin.