Saturday 24th August 2019,

Lotus Elan S4 1968 – 1971

In the beginning there was the Lotus Elite with a stressed glass-fibre body, decades before carbon-fibre was invented. The glorious and elegant Elite was beset with niggling problems, usually cleared-up in the `after-market`. The glass-fibre shell was just not strong enough to absorb the stresses of the road. That`s the final analysis.

Colin Chapman`s mind was not only brilliant but also constantly looking for answers and innovations. Without the wonderful Elite the superb Elan could not have happened. Today we call this a `learning curve`, life is hard at the `cutting edge`.

The Elan was born in 1962 and continued until 1973, getting better by the year. Initially the Elan was also available as a kit-car. Opinions vary as to when Lotus stopped supplying kits but I can tell you that I helped to build one in 1969. In 1963 a hard-top was offered as an option and in 1965 a proper FHC was available. The car went through four main series with a host of very good options available `ex-works`, particularly engine tuning. We have chosen the S4 of 1968 as our subject classic car.

The chassis;

The now legendary steel back-bone chassis was introduced. This chassis was deep-sided and narrow in gauge, giving great strength with excellent flexibility. Steel turrets were incorporated at the rear to carry the Chapman struts. The front suspension of the Lotus Elan consisted of unequal length wish-bones and coil springs. The rear suspension used lower wish-bones with Chapman struts.

The differential was chassis mounted making it a deDion set-up. Rubber `donut` couplings were used on the drive-shafts, a weakness usually replaced by CV joints after-market. Rack & pinion steering was employed with a telescopic steering-column. The Elan had servo-assisted disc brakes all round. The wheels were 13 inch Lotus steel with centre-lock knock-on fitting.

The Body;

The car was designed by the inspired Ron Hickman and was a work of art. The shell was a one-piece glass-fibre (GF) moulding with a forward tilting bonnet. Vacuum-operated retractable headlights were employed. The boot was quite respectable for a small sports-car at 6 cubic feet. The interior was also beautiful but cost dictated the use of black vinyl rather than leather. A walnut facia carried all the necessary instruments. The bumpers were nicely integrated into the body and made from reinforced glass-fibre.

The power-train;

The motor was originally a Ford Kent, pre-cross-flow 1498 cc push-rod OHV. Master-engineer Harry Mundy designed an alloy twin-cam head for it, with chains driving the camshafts. Soon the engine was displacing 1558cc. Twin Weber DCOE carburettors were fitted along with a four-branch exhaust manifold. With the standard compression ratio of 9.5 to 1the motor produced 115 bhp and a torque rating of 116 ft/lbs. In a car so light (kerb-weight 688 kgs) the all-important power-to-weight ratio was 167 bhp per ton. The 0-60 time was 7.8 seconds with a top-speed of 120 mph. The Ford 4-speed, all-synchro gearbox was standard.

Driving impressions;

The figures do not reflect the true performance of the Elan. It was said that disc-pads would last years because the handling was so good you never used the brakes except in traffic! That may sound a little hyperbolic but until you drive one you will never be able to imagine what it`s like in corners… incredible! It`s like driving on Velcro!

That said, many owners came to grief trying to find the Elan`s limitations. It was a very forgiving and responsive car but it did not suffer fools gladly. In my humble opinion the Elan was one of the best sports-cars ever made… anywhere.

Lotus Elan S4 1968-1971
Body Type2 seater Drophead/Fixedhead coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo Volume170 L6 cu. Ft.
Engine1.6 Kent with Lotus DOHC
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1558 cc95.1 cui
Power86 Kw115 bhp6000 RPM
Torque157 Nm116 ft. lb4000 RPM
Power/weight167 bhp/t
Top Speed193 km/h120 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph7.8 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight688 kg1517 lb
GD Star Rating
Lotus Elan S4 1968 - 1971, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

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