The Lotus Elan Was Lighter Than An F1 Car

Formula 1 is a prototype racing series, which means the cars change every season. The technology involved in the sport sometimes seems unattainable, which is why whenever a road-going car bears any resemblance to an F1 car, it’s worth taking a look. The Lotus Elan is one such car, in a particularly effective way. Modern vehicles are heavy from safety equipment and size and will never be simultaneously affordable and as light as an F1 car. To find an example that fits these criteria, we have to look back at the Lotus Elan

The Lotus Elan was a technological masterpiece

Lotus Elan on display in England
Lotus Elan on display in England | John Keeble/Getty Images

Lotus built the first Elan for production in 1962, and it was a technological masterpiece. It was the first car Lotus ever built with a steel chassis underneath glassfiber monocoque, keeping the weight down to a scarcely believable 1,500 pounds. The car employed soft, long-travel independent suspension, a rack and pinion steering system, disc brakes at every wheel, and a 1.5-liter inline-four with dual overhead camshafts. Originally sold as a roadster, Lotus eventually built a coupe version in 1965. The result was an extremely rigid and one of the best-handling cars ever made. Unfortunately by the 1990s the Elan became front-wheel-drive and lost some of its edge.

The engine partly came from Ford

1965 Lotus Elan racing in England
1965 Lotus Elan racing in England | Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

Lotus’ twin-cam engine made as much as 126 horsepower in the Elan. It was chain-driven and used a cast-aluminum cylinder head, saving a bit of weight along the way. Owners have squeezed more horsepower out of the engine by changing the camshafts and rejetting the carburetor. Other owners have swapped the engine for something more powerful or with a different torque curve. Although a V8 swap probably leans more on the unreasonable side, some owners have managed to fit an inline-six under the hood.

The Lotus Elan holds its value

1971 Lotus Elan Sprint driving in England
1971 Lotus Elan Sprint driving in England | Photo by Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

A first-generation Lotus Elan costs upwards of around $20,000, but due diligence is paramount. It’s still an old car and can suffer from rust. Depending on the condition, it may also need rebuilt suspension. Check the cooling system and the engine’s overall condition. While it is lighter than a modern F1 car, the Elan ages like milk. Classic and Sportscar recommends against an original chassis, as it may have weakened by cracks over time. Elans had problems with leakage. Dampness can wreak havoc on the electrical system and seat mounts. Despite all of this, the Elan is going up in value. 

Is a Lotus Elan worth buying?

1965 Lotus Elan racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
1965 Lotus Elan racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion | Allan Hamilton/ Icon Sportswire

If you’re an avid collector, surely the Elan already exists in your garage. It’s one of the lightest cars ever made and is almost unmatched in handling ability. Unfortunately, from its age, an original Elan may not be the best idea. Consensus shows the Elan deserves as many upgrades as possible for performance and safety. It may even be one of the best cars for electrical conversion. However, faster cars are available that handle just fine out of the box, for less money.

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