To say that the original Lotus Elan redefined the genre is something of an understatement. Sure, we’d had small sporty convertibles for decades before it but the Elan demonstrated that a sportscar could be more than the sum of its parts - and that power could (and probably should…) take second place to handling.
Built between 1962 and 1975, it spanned six generations plus the four-seater Elan Plus 2. Available as a coupé and a convertible, all were fitted with the Ford-sourced Kent crossflow engine, albeit heavily revised and tweaked into the iconic Lotus TwinCam. Power outputs varied but to focus on that would be to miss the point completely.
Because the little Lotus handled like nothing before and, many would argue, since: the Elan was the world’s first production car to feature a steel backbone chassis and a fibreglass body, which made for a beautifully stiff chassis. This allowed the suspension to be soft, to have a relatively long travel, and to be perfectly damped – and all this at a time when marketing departments were still insisting (some still do…) that a ‘sporty’ car must be stiffly sprung.
The steering was also light and precise, the diametric opposite of more traditional car manufacturers for whom heavy steering used to - and for some insecure souls, still does – equal manliness.
And the steering wasn’t the only thing that’s light; the Elan weighs under 700kgs, which allowed Colin Chapman’s team to enter into something of a virtuous circle, fitting smaller wheels and tyres and brakes, all of which reduced the weight still further.
The result is the sweetest handling car of a generation; no wonder the Mazda MX-5, famously closely modelled on the Elan, went on to become the world’s best-selling sportscar…