ELegANt in old age

Jun 28 2012

History time!
This year marks the half century milestone for a lot of influential British metal;

Notable graduates of the class of ’62 include the MGB

Ford Cortina

…and Triumph Spitfire

But it’s another iconic Brit’ that has influenced this post, the lovely Emma Peel’s (don’t fib, you had a crush on her too) car of choice;

For those that were deprived of The Avengers (not the superheroes, the other ones) in their youth, the saucy spy Miss Peel would dart from one adventure to the next in her sexy Lotus Elan. When I was first exposed to the show (reruns, I’m not that old), I didn’t really care about girls, but glimpsing that lovely Lotus was worth sitting through the terrible fight scenes and awful music.

(Elan sketch by jimbo16v, from the Retro Rides art contest)

The Elan was released to the world in ’62, and Chapman’s slinky roadster re-wrote the rulebook for small sports cars and has performed well in it’s motorsport aspirations until this day. The punchy 1600 Lotus Twin Cam (based on a Ford engine, and incidentally making an appearance in the Lotus version of the mk1 Cortina mentioned earlier) put out ~100bhp. This may not sound much nowadays, but the svelte Elan subscribed to the philosophy that Lotus became synonymous with, “Simplify, then add lightness”; the Elan mounted a lightweight fiberglass body atop a rigid steel backbone. Independent suspension and disc brakes at each corner (pretty revolutionary at the time) garnered high praise of it’s handling abilities, and made it a properly chuckable little thing.

In fact, the Elan was held in such esteem that it is widely agreed that Mazda used it as a main inspiration point for the venerable MX5, another small roadster that delivers a big wad of fun despite a modest power output.

During its 13 year production run, the Lotus went through various iterations and bodystyle varients, but all remained true to the underlying principles that made the car so special in the first place.

The name was revived in 1989 for the m100 Elan, Lotus’ first (and only) commercial foray into front wheel drive cars under their own brand label. The design used an Izuzu-sourced lump, and followed it’s ancestors’ with a fiberglass-over-steel construction. Despite the unconventional layout, the m100 was said to handle excellently, and to this day still ranks well on lists of fun FWD cars. Unfortunately, poor financial control over the project and disappointing sales meant that the m100 nearly ruined Lotus. Oops.

So anyway, Happy Birthday Elan, thank you for your contributions to the motoring world. And for introducing me to the lovely Emma Peel.

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