Tech Tips: The Agile Lotus Elan

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Written by Ed Higginbotham

From the Jan. 2016 issue

Posted in Buyer's Guides

The Lotus Elan was the climax of the golden age of British roadsters. The fiberglass-bodied sports car served up a fantastic driving experience that is sought after to this day. We asked a couple of experts what it takes to keep these beauties on the road and running smoothly.

Expert:
Frank Filicicchia
Famous Frank’s Lotus Parts
1797 Danforth Drive
Marietta, GA 30062
(678) 596-1207

I love the idea of keeping an Elan bone stock and original. It is so easy and tempting to modify an older vehicle, but when we go to a car show or an auction, we learn it’s very hard to build something better than the factory. And values for original cars are certainly on the rise.

Let’s start with keeping the Elan 100-percent original-looking. Tire size on the stock wheels should be 120x13 inches or 145x13 inches, and certainly no larger than 155x13 inches. Interesting fact about the wheels: The holes in the rims are the shape of the Lotus logo.

Thinking of the body, notice that the distance between the bumper and the headlight bucket is shorter on the right side than on the left side. This was an error when the original molds were made, but it gives the early Elans (S1s and S2s) something weird for their owners to talk about. This error was corrected on the S3 (1967) and later Elans. If you ever find an early S1 or S2 Elan and that distance is the same, the front of the car has been clipped or heavily modified.

Let’s think about reliability for a moment. There are a few modifications away from stock I would consider. They can easily be returned to stock because they don’t require any frame or body modifications. First, replace the horrible nothing-watt generator with a small 40- or 50-amp alternator. Dave Bean Engineering has a good conversion kit. Ray at RD Enterprises has one also, but his may need additional bracket fabrication. An alternator will resolve 90-plus percent of any electrical issues. You will never use the name Lucas in vain again. To do this, it would be best to reverse the car from positive ground to negative ground. If changed to negative ground, the tachometer will have to be modified. Nisonger Instruments does this.

Another mod would be to replace the rubber doughnuts in the rear axles with either sliding spline axles or, preferably, constant velocity joints. The rubber doughnuts available these days are all suspect in their quality, and you have no idea how many years or decades they have been on the shelf. These things broke when they were new.

Today, with EPA laws limiting what chemicals can be used, they are more suspect than ever. When a doughnut breaks, the axle flails around and then typically hits the lower control arm, frame and fiberglass. Worst of all, it could tear a hole in the fuel tank. We advise owners not to continue using doughnuts. Additionally, they will most likely need to be replaced every two years–and they can be a pain to replace.

Someone would have to be on all fours to see the axle mod, and most people would look under the hood and never notice that an alternator had replaced the generator.

While we’re talking reliability, you may consider strengthening the motor mount and the steady rod mount area at the differential. These crack on a regular basis. A little gusseting will make for years of trouble-free service.

Expert:
Steve Smith
Twin Cam Sportscars
6085 Deacon Rd
Sarasota, FL 34238
(941) 923-0024
twincamracing.com

As with all fiberglass cars, keeping the ground connections effective will go a long way toward reliability with the electrics. Mechanically, the most popular modification these days is fitting CV joint half shafts and eliminating the Rotoflex couplings.

There aren’t many Elans out there that haven’t had some fiberglass repairs at some time. Stress cracks and crazing can all be repaired, but it’s a time-consuming job to do it properly. Check the aluminum bobbins ’ condition. They sometimes corrode, especially where the battery ground attaches to the trunk floor. They are replaceable, but again it’s a time-consuming and messy job.

Chassis condition is crucial. The main rust spots in the chassis are the front cross member and suspension towers. Keeping the drain holes clear in the towers reduces the chance of dirt buildup and rust. If they’re neglected, rust can work its way into the tower bases and the vacuum tank/cross member. Replacement chassis do not hurt values.

If I were taking on an Elan project, the first thing I would check is the brakes. I don’t care if the car doesn’t go very well, but I do care if it doesn’t stop.

Maintenance is pretty straightforward with Elans. Checking all of the fluid levels is as routine as it is with your average car. Carb attachments to the manifold—either Weber or Stromberg—can affect running. The O-rings can deteriorate over time and leak air, and the double-spring Thackeray washers usually get overtightened.

Don’t adjust the timing chain tensioner without checking the condition of the chain first. Doing so requires removing the cam cover.

The distributor is not very accessible under the carbs. If the car still has points, it’s easier to remove the distributor and service it away from the car. This means retiming the ignition, but that should be part of the tune-up anyway.

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