The late 1960s marked a turning point for Colin Chapman and his Lotus Company; the car racing manufacturing business had grown dramatically since he raced his Lotus Mk II for the first time in Silverstone in 1950. Typically light and simple, the Lotus 49 of 1967, with its new Cosworth Ford DFV unit, was campaigned with great success by F1 icons Jim Clark and Graham Hill. But it was outshined by the triumphant wedge-shaped Lotus 72 of 1970, which, in the stylish black and gold John Player Special livery, took the young Emerson Fittipaldi to his first F1 World Championship in 1972. From the tiny, poised Coventry Climax-powered Elite of 1957, Lotus road-going cars were efficient and fast, offered exceptional handling and cornering power but did not compromise on comfort and ride. The Elan Sprint coupe was one of the most desirable fast cars of its time, and time has in no way diminished its appeal. Powered by a rugged Ford-based twin-cam straight four, Elans had put on a little weight, as creature comforts such as fitted carpets and improved ventilation systems were introduced. The promising young Tony Rudd was asked to find more power from the engine. His response was the smooth, seemingly unbreakable 126-hp unit with "big valve" cylinder head. Top speed was maintained, while acceleration from 0-60 mph was a fleeting seven seconds. The present owner acquired this Lotus in 1988. During his ownership it has seen relatively limited use, but has been attended to when necessary, and work carried out has included restoration of the chassis and engine rebuild since when it has been run in, covering a mere 1,000 miles. The paintwork and interior are in good presentable condition throughout. Although renowned as an Achilles' heel of the model, the electrics are reported to be good, including the windows, and electronic ignition is fitted.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1967 Lotus Elan Sprint S3

This car sold for $10,145, including buyer’s premium, at Christie’s London auction, held March 24, 2003.

The Elan is a much-loved English 1960s groovy kinda car, much the same way the Chicago Cubs are a much-loved kooky kinda baseball team. Everyone roots for the underdog and prays that someday they will have their moment in the sun. And so the Cubs almost win; the Elan almost makes sense. Underdogs with endearing qualities get people interested . you want to be the one who says, ” See, I told you one day this team would prevail!” or “I told you I could drive the Lotus all the way to the deli and back without calling for a tow truck!”

In theory and on a sunny summer day with the English Classic Car gods looking favorably down on you (your own Emma Peel by your side), the Lotus Elan could be a great joy to own and operate. Unfortunately, the gods Lucas, Glassfibre, Rust and Chapman all have to be well liquored up for those four horsemen to be in agreement on letting you drive peacefully on that sunny day. There’s the rub. English car gods are rarely in benevolent agreement. Let me explain how I know this.

My reticence towards the 1960s Elan comes from being a Lotus dealer. I’ve had the honest-to-goodness pleasure of selling these fine sleds from Hethel since 1991. Since that time, Lotus has sold the “new” M-100 Elan, the Esprit SE, S4, S4S and V8. These modern Loti are built to a high quality and are truly underappreciated by the masses. These cars are all great joys to sell.

Except that every potential customer mentions his Uncle Fiskus who owned an Elan that never ran. They rant about engine fires, parts falling off and lights going out at 70 miles per hour. And the punchline-these beautiful and pointless stories always segue to, “Are these new cars any better?” Frankly, I could guarantee that Uncle Fiskus would be happy in a new Lotus. But old myths die hard.

Ferry Porsche built his cars to run forever; Colin Chapman built his early cars to fall apart the moment the warranty ran out, plain and simple. Read the Lotus history books-anecdotally, it’s always mentioned that Chapman understood that more parts sales lead to higher profits.

The Mazda Miata is truly successful because it does everything the Elan was meant to do, and never breaks. Lotus should be flattered that it inspired such a great success.

The Sprint S3 is a magnificent design that simply sputters from marginal engineering. This car should be heralded in classic circles. Instead, where do you think the saying, “Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious” comes from?

The Elan that was sold at auction here seemed like fair value. Logic dictates that a more completely restored car would be a better overall value, as the spread between a basket case vs. a concours winner is not that extreme. The condition of this car falls in the middle and the price is accurate to the marketplace. If it had been an open car, even though it would not handle as well, it would have brought as much as $5,000 more.

I’m a little surprised this Elan was found to be auction-worthy by Christie’s; nicer cars are easily found. Nonetheless, for not much money, the new owner can go play boy racer, and pretend he is Jimmy Clark or Graham Hill-at least until he needs to call the tow truck. Again. -Steve Serio

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