Maybe if Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate had driven a Lotus Elan instead of an Alfa Romeo Duetto, he might not have ended up looking for love in all the wrong places. Today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe Series 3 would make a great graduation present, but will its price have you shouting Elan! Elan! Elan!?
Wow, I just realized that our last three NPOCP contenders have been pickups. It's like somebody put on Urban Cowboy and then did this to me. Enough is enough, but before we jump out of beds, we have to throw some love the way of yesterday's 1971 Jeep J2000 which seemed to fluff a lot of your dirty pillows seeing as it came away with a spectacular 95% Nice Price win. Okay, let's move on.
Full disclosure: We have a '65 Lotus Elan in the family, and having driven that, my opinion is clouded by its awesomeness. The following may be slightly biased because of that, so take it with a grain of salt, m'kay?
You know, one of the most famous lines in The Graduate is the admonition to Hoffman's character that plastics are the future. Seemingly in agreement with that counsel, Colin Chapman clothed his road cars exclusively in GFRP.
The original Lotus Elan established a form factor - that of the fiberglass body straddling a backbone frame - that not only carried the company for four decades, but was emulated in concept by its spiritual successor, the Mazda MX-5. Of course the Miata is a uni-body design, the backbone of which serves merely to stiffen the driveline, while in the Lotus, everything that matters gets bolted to the pressed steel box section. That main frame is in the shape of a capital Y (serif, if you can imagine) with the Lotus twin-cam sitting snug as a bug in a rug in the V and the Chapman Strut rear suspension at the bottom crossbar. On top of that is mounted a fiberglass body that amounts to little more than plastic side saddles on the mechanical hardware. It's pure engineering elegance.
So much for what's underneath, let's take a look at the topside of this 1969 Elan droptop. First thing you'll notice is that it looks amazing, a fact reinforced by the claim of a frame-off restoration and trophy finishes in a number of car shows. This being a Series 3 the window frames are fixed and the glass actuation is electric. That's despite the still convoluted top architecture. The headlights on the Elan are vacuum actuated and on the early cars the engine suckage is what kept them up. That frequently resulted in the lights droopy dogging back into their buckets when on full chat, a somewhat knuckle whitening experience. On the S-3 the vacuum hold the lights down, while springs keep them awake, making for a much safer situation.
Behind those headlights lurks the Lotus 1,558-cc twin-cam four, an engine that has how many camshafts? How many did you say, two? No, actually the Lotus four has three camshafts, as the original Ford cam-in-block remains to drive the oil pump. Yes, it was a trick question. The aluminium hemi head (this one's a Stromberg edition) bolted to Ford's cross-flow Kent block proved good for 105-bhp. That's plenty to move the 1,500-lb Elan with. . . well, elan.
According to the ad this one needs a new water pump, which means major surgery on the Twin Cam as it's buried under the front chain cover. Fortunately, Dave Bean offers a nifty retrofit kit that makes future pump changes a lot less complicated. Another bothersome issue with the Elan are the Metalastik joints on the rear axle which can deteriorate over time causing no end of problems.
The interior here seems - in the pictures at least - to pass inspection. The dash is comprised of a huge plank of wood and a molded foam crash pad that tends to dry out over time, especially if you use the center section as a pivot for pulling the hood latch levers. This one looks excellent. The Smiths instruments are lovely to behold, and while doing so you can marvel at the lack of comfort the supermodel thin seats provide. Also, those buckets lack head restraints so getting rear-ended can result in your cocoanut rolling around in the footwell behind the seat.
Actually, any kind of accident would be catastrophic in an Elan. Especially bad would be getting T-boned - considering the only thing standing between you and the encroaching bumper is a couple millimeters of fiberglass. But once you get behind the wheel and put that sweet Twin Cam through its paces, you won't be thinking about carnage.
Right now you need to be thinking about walletage, and how much of it this red rocket is really worth. The seller is asking $24,000 for what could be considered the Miata's inspiration. It's now up to you to determine whether that money would be better spent on a plethora of the Elan's Japanese grandchildren. Or if the real deal is worth that kind of scratch.
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