1969 Lotus Elan

February 2, 2009 2:48 PM

In the late 1940s, engineer and RAF pilot Colin Chapman decided to utilize the experience he gained in the skies on the ground, by building a racecar in his girlfriend's garage. While still holding down his day job, Chapmen begged, borrowed and bartered to create his prototype, which he entered in a time trial as an afterthought. Having caught the racing bug, Chapman charted a course to prove that simple, light and streamlined cars won races – and sold cars. In 1952, he was able to quit his day job and form Lotus Cars, to focus on creating and racing roadworthy aluminum-bodied speed demons. Seven years later, Lotus introduced the elegant Elite coupe, the first production car to feature Chapman's innovative fiberglass unibody construction. This ultralight monocoque design had some issues, but the weight loss allowed Chapman to maximize the car's performance. A great era for Lotus began, as their cars would dominate the international racing circuit for the next decade.

In 1962, while still on the verge of their greatest racing accomplishments, Lotus introduced the Elan. Like the Elite, it was a fiberglass-bodied two-seater, and was sold both assembled, or as a kit. But the Elan featured the now legendary smallblock 126 hp twin overhead cam engine, which was quicker and far more reliable. Zippy and economical, the Elan had a top speed of 120 mph, and was able to go 0–60 in 7.9 seconds. The Elan was also the first car to feature what would become a Lotus hallmark – a sturdy "backbone" chassis made of 18 gauge steel, which made for state-of-the-art responsiveness and handling. This body design solved the issues Chapman encountered in the Elite, and was miles ahead of any other British sports car.

In a class of its own, the Elan's success quickly put Lotus into the black, and it remained in production until 1975. When the Elan was new on the road, Jay was more interested in the American cars of the era, but a chat with Gordon Murray encouraged him to take a second look. Murray described the Elan as his favorite car of all time, and the inspiration behind the creation of his remarkable McLaren F1. Now Jay owns two Elans, one to use as a daily driver, and one to tweak up to 210 hp.

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