Restoration: Impossible

Oct 21, 2015 update to the Lotus Elan project car

Few sane individuals would view this as a salvageable find.
However, there are so few Series 1 Elans we felt we had to give it a go.
Elans are very light. A complete one weighs about 1500 pounds.
Engine? Yep, we have one of those.

About three days before heading on a trip to Traverse City, Michigan, we got a call from a reader who had just bought a Lotus Europa from a guy near that town. He told us that in the field next to where the Europa had been stored there sat a real Lotus Cortina and an early Series 1 Elan.

He asked if we might be interested in taking a look. While we were not really looking for more project cars at that very moment, the opportunity was too tempting to resist, especially since we were already planning to head that way.

When we arrived at the Lotus owner’s house, what we found was a genuine, late Mk1 Lotus Cortina that was original, right down to the owner’s manual. The only two real problems—and they were big ones—were that at least the twin-cam head was missing from the engine, and the car was very rusty after having been left in a field for some 35 years.

The Elan was in even worse shape. It had been hit so hard in the left rear that the entire trunk area of the body and rear bumper were missing completely. Only the taillight panel had been salvaged and thrown into the car.

Our first impression was the sensible one. This trip had been a waste of time, and these cars were not restorable.

This brief moment of common sense quickly faded. A quick bit of research showed us that a Lotus Cortina was quickly climbing towards $100,000 in value. If we fixed the rust ourselves, we might make something out of that one.

And while the Elan would be deemed totally unfixable by any reasonable, economical measure, we decided we wanted to save it. There are just not enough of these amazing early Elans to let this one go.

The negotiated price of $2500 for the pair of cars was the icing on the cake, and somehow made the whole deal seem to make sense. We began to load our Lotus cars onto trailers.

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Reader comments:

jr02518 Reader
Oct. 21, 2015 8:24 p.m.


Many years ago the following was written on the fender of an early Jaguar XJE roadster in need of every conceivable type of restoration,

"Jesus saves, we restore".

Thank you for all you get done at the expense of bloodied hands and untold splinters of steel or fiberglass.

This one is going to be epic.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Oct. 21, 2015 10:45 p.m.

Thanks jr.

An update on this, assuming we can make the car look the part, we have it accepted at the Amelia Island Concours for 2017.

To me, if regular guys with day jobs, can restore this horrible. horrible car at reasonable expense and then get it into Amelia, that is a story I would want to read. But, maybe I am just weird!

And don't think we are going to build a concours queen. Once done with that event, we want to rally and run track days with the car.

petegossett PowerDork
Oct. 22, 2015 5:47 a.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard:

Tim, had they see the "before" pics when they said yes???

nutherjrfan HalfDork
Oct. 22, 2015 9:45 a.m.

Makes me think of Graveyard Carz 'Phantom 'Cuda' and the cars they rolled down the mountain in 'The Italian Job'.

Bob_S New Reader
Oct. 26, 2015 7:52 p.m.

Hi TIm,

So I assume that the Elan will need a new frame after sitting in a field exposed to Michigan weather. So will you be going with a factory replacement frame or a Spyder frame? My brother Chris went with a factory frame for his restoration. Sometime I think he wished he went with the Spyder frame. There are a lot of options with the spider frame.

What series is the Elan? My guess is a series 2.



t25torx Dork
Oct. 27, 2015 9:08 a.m.
Bob_S wrote: What series is the Elan? My guess is a series 2. Cheers, Bob

It's an early series 1 car (from the article).

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Oct. 31, 2015 8:37 a.m.

Actually it is a pretty late Series 1. The frame seems to be pretty good, unlike the rest of the car, And Bill Warner of Amelia did see the before pictures, but also saw the Tornado when we started, so knows we can pull it off.

I am trying not to make this a George Washington's axe, where you replace everything and then attach the original shift knob to the recreation. The shift knob is screwed up anyway!

CertifiedLotus New Reader
Nov. 1, 2015 5:58 a.m.

I recently (this spring) completed an early S1 frame off rebuild. My car was in far better condition then yours but it had its issues and I wanted 26R components for the increased HP I had in my built twin cam.

You can follow the detailed build at

Winston HalfDork
Nov. 1, 2015 9:53 a.m.

I'm really looking forward to this series of articles! Glad you're doing a track/rally build, too.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Nov. 11, 2015 6:41 a.m.

I am trying to get started around X-mas, as I now have most of the parts I need. Still need to finish a few more things on the ramp truck and get our TR3 back together. No rest for the wicked.

Jerry From LA
Nov. 11, 2015 10:07 a.m.

If you don't mind the thread jack, what's doing with the TR3? You took a win in that car at Lime Rock.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Nov. 13, 2015 6:13 a.m.

We are going entirely through the TR and kind of refurbishing everything for the car's 20th anniversary in my care.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Nov. 13, 2015 6:14 a.m.

Found another Elan in CT that was hit in the front for $1250 (minus engine and trans). Winning! This will make this crazy project much more doable, as now I have all the fiberglass I need and a good left rear corner.

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All 1964 Lotus Elan updates

3 weeks ago

Restoration Impossible: Fiberglassing the Bottom

3 weeks ago

We thought we made good progress. Then we flipped the car over.

1 month ago

Restoration Impossible: Starting Fiberglass Work

1 month ago

Learn how to make fiberglass repairs.

1 month ago

Restoration Impossible: Working on the Wire Framework

1 month ago

Our project Lotus Elan needs some structure repair around the doors.

2 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Making a Trunk Mold

2 months ago

Our Lotus Elan's trunk has a 6-inch hole. Here's how to create the replacement piece.

2 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Grafting in a Whole Quarter of the Body

2 months ago

The left rear quarter of our Elan had been hit hard. Here's how you seamlessly graft in a replacement piece.

2 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Getting the Door Hinges to Work

2 months ago

Our project Lotus Elan is still in the beginning stages of a restoration.

3 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Preparing to Cut the Body

3 months ago

Once you cut, you can't go back.

3 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Starting to Rebuild the Missing Back End

3 months ago

We decided to start our Lotus Elan's restoration with the toughest part first.

3 months ago

Restoration Impossible: Starting Work on the Body

3 months ago

We are getting back into our Lotus in earnest.

11 months ago

Our Elan Gets a Decklid

11 months ago

After lots of searching we find a rare Elan decklid suspiciously close to where we bought our project.

11 months ago

Our Elan Gets Blasted

11 months ago

After a trip to Blast Masters, we see if the fiberglass is salvageable.

11 months ago

One Fresh Elan Engine

11 months ago

With another trip to Twin Cam Sportscars, our Elan's engine is completely refreshed.

1 year ago

A Look Inside Our Lotus Elan's Transmission

1 year ago

We refresh our project Elan's gearbox with the help of Twin Cam Sportscars.

1 year ago

Incredible tranformation: Lotus Elan Carburetors

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan's carburetors get taken from trash to treasure.

1 year ago

Lotus Elan Frame Dilema: Solved

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan's frame was bent and broken. How did we solve the issue?

1 year ago

Soda Blasting Our Lotus Elan

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan takes a trip to Blast Masters to get stripped.

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan Gets Stripped to the Bone

1 year ago

With our Lotus Elan's engine refresh underway, it was time to start disassembly of the rest of the car.

1 year ago

Restoration Impossible: A Look Inside the Elan's Engine

1 year ago

With the help of Twin Cam Sportscars, we tear our Elan's engine apart.

1 year ago

Lotus Parts Pour In

1 year ago

We find lots of parts for our project Elan thanks to our friends.

1 year ago

Finding a Windshield

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan gets some fresh glass.

1 year ago

The Parts Search Begins

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan needs a lot of work and parts. Here's the initial list of what we need.

1 year ago

Figuring Out What We Really Have

1 year ago

After lots of cleaning, we organize our project and assess the situation.

1 year ago

Our Lotus Makes it Home

1 year ago

After dragging our new project to Florida, we begin cleaning it out.

1 year ago

Our Lotus Elan's First Concours Award

1 year ago

Still in pieces, our impossible restoration project attends its first show.

1 year ago

How Not to Load a Lotus

1 year ago

We had to get three-quarters of a lotus from Michigan to Florida.

1 year ago

Restoration: Impossible

1 year ago

Meet our new restoration project: a very rough 1964 Lotus Elan.

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