the winter of 1977 I was on holiday on a christmas P&O cruise
on HMS Canberra, sailing to Rio Di Janero and back. One afternoon on board
they were showing the bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me" and when I saw
that white esprit dive off the edge of the pier, in that instant, I was
seized with the Lotus insanity. This fatal affliction never really left
me and 14 years later in early November 1992 I took delivery of my first
Lotus. Funny how things that intensely affect you when you are young come
around.... 22 years after that movie I also worked on the 19th Bond film.
Just 22 years old and still a little 'baby-faced', the chaps up at London Lotus didn't appear to take me that seriously when I first showed up for a test drive. Still, Andrew Webb took me out and showed me a few swift bends and took a couple of roundabouts at porsche-crushing speeds. Back at the showroom I surprised them all and pulled out my deposit but as I remember they still seemed to feel that something would probably fall through, I would not get the finance or insurance. I paid £24,000 for a nearly new 1992 Elan SE with 6k miles on the clock.
few months later I was down to Bell and Colvill and began a relationship
with their service department which has proved invaluable over the years.
Of course I picked up one of their motosport leaflets and within weeks
had the BBR turbo boost conversion carried out. The car then went up to
Storm to be shod with 17" speedline alloys with low profile Goodyear Eagle
gsd rubber and then to doncaster to Scorpion exhausts for a sports unit
which was more or less just a straight piece of stainless steel piping
! (click on the thumbnails).
mods transformed the car gloriously. With an extra 45bhp (210-220 in
total) the car reached 100 in just under 15 seconds, made an awesome
noise and handled far keener and accurate than the standard car which
I always found a little soft and vague. Turn in was much sharper, feel
through the wheel was improved and the midragnge overtaking punch matched
almost any car on the road. Although the drive was less forgiving and
a touch nervous, it was significantly more challenging in terms of choosing
your line etc.. Also, with the muscular alloys poking out beyond the
wheelarches it really looked like a very special Elan. In those days
there weren't many around as well - in fact the sports car explosion
was only just underway so there weren't many nice sports cars on the
road at all. No bmw, alfa, mercedes, fiat, mgf, boxter etc.. just mx-5's,
Griffith's, MR2 coupes, Calibras and Corradas. Club Lotus meetings would
comprise of maybe just 6 or 7 elan owners and performance parts like
the scorpion exhaust were available at under 100 pounds. And with so
little on offer for the spectator or pedestrian, everyone glared at
this car when it went by !
|HANDLING & STYLE|
still have a big soft spot for this car. It was my first proper car and
self-employed, working from home, I virtually lived in it. Despite the
car's numerous critics I still feel that this car was way ahead of its
time. In one way it represents the ultimate form of safe transport and
still is, in my mind, a car for the masses for the future. The asking
price now seems cheap by today's standards since it was in truth a very
modern and sophisticated bit of kit.
I personally feel, that to this day the car's styling is something of a revolution. No vehicle looks like an M100 and no matter how much you stare, your mind can never quite control and understand all its curves. It is a shape which is highly ambitious and progressive in the extreme - Lotus will never stop being daring and on the edge, it is one of the things they do best. The Elan is like a mini-spaceship especially in the snug sculpted cockpit.
In the end the Elan's triumph was its very downfall. The handling was both too good and too clinical - all you could do was just go faster and faster and faster. Being driven by the front wheels it was limited from the outset in terms of adjustability but for sheer speed and security over the twisty and bumpy stuff, it was virtually unequalled. If you braked mid corner at some ludicrous speed, the car just stopped or slowed if you lifted off. If you were going really too hard ( and I mean very very hard), the front wheels just drifted wide and the understeer was corrected by easing off a litttle: so simple and so safe. The car had an amazing ability to lose its own mass. Over fast country lanes it shrunk in size and left you with a distinct feeling that your very limbs were part and parcel of its extremely rigid chassis. So agile - so chuckable.
At the tail end of the hot hatch age, Lotus manufactured a new vision of the sports car. Whilst not everyone agreed with its super grip, super safe character, nearly all expressed that it was yet another landmark technological achievement and praised its huge capabilities. Most notable was the Elan's patented 'interactive wishbone' technology which involved the use of a separate casting mounted on rubber bushes between the chassis and inner wishbone mounts. This allowed fore and aft compliance but still accurately controlled suspension geometry. Road noise isolation, reduced torque steer effects and lower steering effort (due to reduced castor angles) were a first for the front wheel driven car. High costing for the production line (the cost of just tooling the interior came to more money than the cost of the complete Excel production line), world economic situation and inert public reaction particularly in the US, forced Lotus to cease production in August 1992.
|PROBLEMS & MISHAPS|
the car's almost science defying handling (like one very yellow rollercoaster)
I managed to unstick it 3 times. Once was on a roundabout on the Leatherhead
turn off from the M25 when I wanted to conquer the car and went faster
and faster till the back broke loose and executed a almighty 180 degrees
(it was 4 am in the morning).
On another occasion I was driving hard down the back roads around Gatwick, near Newdigate Rusper etc.. and suddenly realised that I was approaching a T junction (the straight road I thought it to be turned out to be a horse track). At around 90mph I locked the front wheels and instantly and irreversibly spun to the left, screeching all the way to the junction sideways. By the time the car came to a stop it was at exactly 90 degrees, in perfect line with the crossing road of the T junction but also, rather fortunately, placed squarely within the center and kerb of this new road.
On the corner of the junction and spreading out to the distance was a huge lake and maybe 5 fisherman were standing peacfully with their rods held outstretched. Their heads had tracked me from the moment I spun and they were all staring at me in utter horror - I engaged 1st and drove on in an extremely puposeful manner, thinking about that chap on the beach in 'the spy who loved me' who sees the emerging esprit then looks at the label on his bottle.
I had my one and only car accident in the Elan. It was a minor affair with a black taxi down the Fulham road who wasn't looking where he was going. The damage to my bonnet (fibre glass indentation the size of a cigarette packet) came to £3000 and three years after the incident, everything was settled in my favour in court. The Elan was generally reliable although after the bbr conversion the gearchange cables often came loose and on more than one occasion I had to get home with just a couple of gears. Bell and Colvill performed several warranty repairs for me for problems that had arisen from the bbr conversion and also fitted a new gearbox in 1993 under the generous 3 year Lotus warranty. I also had to have a new oil sump fitted after I scraped it on some outrageous country road.
Very memorable moments include my back tyres getting slashed once in a pub. The most embarassing time was in Brighton when I thought it might be a nice idea to get a picture of the car on the beach. Of course the pebbles grounded the thing and it wouldn't move an inch. It was extremely embarrasing as a crowd of sunday folk gathered up on the promenade and stood there staring as 6 helpers lifted the thing back onto the pathway. Also in Wardour st., Soho, I lost reverse gear as I made a wrong turning down a dead end - 5 chaps from the ncp had to push me back out again. Finally, in Germany I carved a tyre up on the autobahn and had to use the space saver (max 50mph) to get to amsterdam and back home.
drove over 40000 miles in around 2 and a half years in the Elan. It took
me all over the UK on various weekned breaks and on a drive through west
Europe through France, Luxembourg, Germany, Holland and Belgium.
After almost 3 years I was ready for more action. The Elan was beginning to bore me a little and every day I lusted after the S4 that little bit more. As a first car and a somewhat novice driver, its handling and dynamic qaulities had served me well but in 1995 I was ready for something a little bit mid-engined and a touch more powerful. It was time to grow up a little !