1971 Lotus Elan S4 Drophead

Simplify, Add Lightness: This is the fundamental principal that Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman set for all of his racing and road machines. Like many other legendary racing constructors, Lotus started in a shed, where an Austin 7 was deconstructed, modified and rebuilt into a racing special. The seed was sown and soon Chapman was building competition cars as well as customer road cars to fund his racing efforts. Lotus grew into one of the most successful teams in Grand Prix racing thanks to Chapman’s creativity and relentless pursuit of his design edicts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, road cars had become an increasingly important component to Lotus’ bottom line. The innovative Elite was one of the first Lotus models to feature the revolutionary backbone chassis, paired with a stressed glassfiber monocoque body. With power from the delectable Coventry Climax engine, the pretty Elite was quick and agile but it was also delicate and the body was prone to stress fractures and twisting. For 1962, the Elite’s replacement, the Elan was a much more sensible design that fully utilized the backbone chassis concept as the main structure. The strong and light steel chassis was again mated to a fiberglass body, but this time, the body was unstressed and therefore not subject to the same sorts of problems faced by the Elite. Suspension on the Elan was independent all around and power came via a Ford “Kent” four-cylinder of 1500cc (for only the first 22 cars before the 1600 replaced it) topped by an advanced twin-cam, 8-valve cylinder head designed by Harry Mundy. Ford were so impressed by the performance gains of the twin-cam head, they purchased the rights to the design and renamed it “Lotus-Ford Twin Cam”.

The Elan was the mainstay of Lotus production through the 1960s. With seven different variants over 13 years or production, (including the four-seat Elan +2) it was the biggest success the company had seen and proved a winner in racing form as well. Since its inception, the Elan has been a perennial cult classic and an icon among British sports cars. The Elan served as the direct inspiration for the Mazda MX5 Miata and has often been imitated but never duplicated. There are few cars that combine the Elan’s delicate feel, virtually perfect steering and gutsy, eager twin-cam engine. As a result, they remain highly collectible and well sorted examples are always in demand by enthusiasts.

This lovely 1971 Elan is an S4 Drophead that has been fastidiously maintained by its enthusiastic previous owner. It has been treated to a quality restoration where it was refinished in attractive and period correct Bahama yellow over a black interior. The restoration quality is very good, and appropriate for a car that is at its best out on the road. While precise panel alignment was never Colin Chapman’s first concern, the body on this example does fit well and is consistent with factory standards. The signature knock-off wheels are finished in silver as they should be and the car sits on proper radial tires. There’s no real chrome or brightwork to speak of on an Elan, but what little there is on door handles and window trims is in good order and well presented.

The black interior is trimmed in original spec vinyl upholstery which is both good looking and hard wearing. Another signature of the Elan is the simple, flat wood dash panel, which is in excellent condition. All switches, instruments and electrics work as they should, a sign that this car has been carefully and properly maintained.

That careful, specialized maintenance is evident under the small fiberglass bonnet. The Lotus Twin Cam looks great with no leaks or drips to speak of and clean, tidy presentation all around. These are robust little engines, but they do require knowledgeable service and thankfully this car has been treated exceptionally well.

Few automobiles capture the essence of the sports car as well as the Lotus Elan. It is a car that is quite literally the benchmark on which other sports cars are measured. Even Gordon Murray lamented that his only disappointment in his masterpiece McLaren F1 was that he couldn’t have the steering from a Lotus Elan. That speaks volumes for what an important and desirable car this is. With this fine, high quality example, you can experience that sensation first hand.

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