Lots of trouble, usually serious
When I bought a classic Lotus Élan, 21 years ago, I knew I was taking a chance, given their reputation for fragility, indeed the first friend I mentioned it to used the LOTUS acronym above, to relate one of his friend’s sorry tales of woe with Lotus ownership. Some said I was a “brave man”, others a fool and romantic (I’d followed Lotus in their Formula 1 racing career thorough their heyday in the 1960’s and 70’s).
So what is the reality of long term classic Lotus ownership? Well, first of all, you need to be able to manage the odd breakdown and issues as with most 1960’s cars, as well as finding a good specialist and having breakdown cover…which to be honest I’ve only used once.
So to the problems, well the first issue to rear its head was the wiring, which had a nasty habit of shorting out and on a couple of occasions starting small fires! The second fire was my one and only time I’ve had recovery. The problem is due to old wiring and poor earths on the chassis, eventually cured by a full rewire of the Car.
Élans have always had a bit of a reputation for overheating and running hot, which I finally cured with a better radiator, with a fitted electric fan…rather than the original “office desk fan affair” that was standard. However, on a hot day, in a traffic queue it will always get very hot, probably due to the triumph herald radiator design, so cooling will always be marginal.
Rear donuts on the final drive to rear wheels were designed to take some of the “snatch” out of the transmission. These are similar to the ones on the Hillman Imp, although strengthened. New ones seem to last a very short time, so standard is to buy the replacement CV drive replacement which is probably the only long term cure.
Many are the tales of water pumps “giving up” and then the issues with replacing said pump. It seems that the dynamo put excessive load on the pump, so most owners, like me, moved to alternator, which seems to cure the problem.
The chassis on the Élan is a truly amazing thing, being immensely strong, but very light and utilizing quite thin metal. My chassis, at over 50 years old, is still original, with a few small repairs. However, it has been wax injected and sprayed, with little use in the winter – when the real damage arrives!
The Élan has glass fibre bodywork, which is durable, strong and very heavy (It took 5 of us to remove the shell from a friends chassis). Whilst rust isn’t a problem, cracking of the gel coat can be. Whilst this can be repaired on most parts of the car, the bumpers and particularly the bonnet seem to suffer most. However, despite some cracking around the bonnet stays, I’ve been fairly lucky overall.
Servicing can present a few issues, particularly changing the points and topping up the brake reservoir. Both are situated underneath a pair of DCOE Webers, which make access a bit of a problem! With 4 wheel disc brakes, the cars were well ahead of their time; however the mechanism for making the handbrake work on the rear calipers is a little “Heath Robinson”. I once asked an Élan specialist how long after a service the handbrake should last? His reply, “the MOT”!
So was it all worth it, absolutely, the Élan is sublime to drive, fabulous to look at and once sorted great to own.