Golden grace: 50 years of the Elan

8th July 2012

The 2012 Lotus Festival celebrates 50 years of the original Elan with a special race exclusively for the classic 60s sportscar.

Launched at the British Motorshow in October 1962, the Elan quickly established its place alongside the legends of that decade, which included the Jaguar E-Type, AC Cobra and Ferrari GTO. However, whilst these were heavyweights, the Elan weighed just 670kg and its 1600cc four-cylinder twin-cam engine provided it with enough power to keep up with its contemporaries, and made it light enough to out-handle them too.

Designed by the late Ron Hickman OBE, who went on to design the Black and Decker WorkMate, the Elan’s innovative backbone tube chassis allied to fibreglass bodywork provided the basis for every Lotus road car until the mid 1990s, whilst its pop-up headlights started a performance car trend. Buyers could even save on purchase costs (and tax) by assembling the car themselves.

Instantly a hit, four revisions during its lifetime also spawned a fixed-head variant, plus the high-performance Sprint that could complete the 0-60 dash in just 6.6 seconds, a time many modern fast hatchbacks still struggle to reach. A 2+2 version, often referred to as ‘the Elan for the family man’ even outlived the two-seater by two years.

Very much defining the zeitgeist of the 60s, including regular appearances in the Avengers TV series as Diana Rigg’s car of choice, seventeen thousand Elans were produced by the time production ended in the mid-70s. Not only did this include the road-going versions, but also the 26R racer, which helped establish the Elan’s reputation as a formidable race car – after all Lotus’ reputation came from the track. Some of the best competition examples will be taking to the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit for a celebration race at the Lotus Festival, whilst many owners’ examples can be found surrounding the track this August.