By Colin McKay.
Lotus Elan, 1968, S4, Drop Head Coupe (convertible). Standard specification: bolt on wheels, 105bhp, unboosted brakes, unperforated seating vinyl, no fancy chrome strips.
I purchased my Elan in Hong Kong, in 1987. The vendor would not let me test drive it, which I thought, at the time, unusual. However, there weren’t too many Elans in Hong Kong – I wanted it, so not a biggie. At least it wasn’t until I started driving it. The front right hand wheel kept rubbing the top of the wheel well. Further investigating revealed a badly repaired chassis that had split almost completely through on the offending side.
Thinking a quick chassis change would see me back on the road again turned into a 23 year labour of love. What was revealed was a pretty well neglected car that was 19 years old with only 34,000 miles on the clock.
Some of the major defects: split chassis, inoperative lights, metal stitching of a crack in the head, bog inches thick on the front right hand side etc.
I started the restoration in Hong Kong. The engine was pulled apart, head taken to QED in the UK, new chassis and numerous other parts ordered from Chris Neil’s in the UK.
The chassis change part of the restoration was fairly straight forward. The engine was reassembled with new rings and bearings and the overhauled head refitted. However, the body was proving to be a big job. Scraping various layers of paint (at least three in it’s relatively short life) with anything sharp I could lay my hands on, proved tedious. It also revealed a lot of damage to the front right hand side that would need fibreglass work beyond my ability.
So from 1987 to 1996 either the chassis or body was hanging from the roof of our garage whilst work was carried out on the other.
In 1996, we packed up our house, Robyn and our two daughters moved back to the Gold Coast to continue their schooling. The 40′ container also had the Elan in it for its journey to its new home.
Work restarted in about 2003 when I also returned, permanently, from Hong Kong.
The body was sent to John Woodlands who had done several Elan bodies for club owners. The paint job was carried out by apprentices at a tech college. This has proven to be a good job, as it is still in fairly good condition.
Not wanting to install the engine, after all the years in storage, as is, I asked Greg Bray to disassemble it, check everything, and reassemble a leak free engine. It has run faultlessly for the past 12 years.
In 2009 a friend invited me to take the Elan to his factory for final assembly. This pleased Robyn, as finally doors, bonnet, boot disappeared from the guest room, and the instrument panel finally left the table in my study.
The next year saw the engine and gearbox mated to the new (23 year old) chassis and the body lowered, from a two post hoist, to complete the car.
2010 the engine was started for the first time in 23 years and the first drive was a long looked-forward-to event.
In the ensuing years I have made some improvements to make the car more reliable and safer; mainly cooling, braking and lighting.
At the moment, the Elan is awaiting a new water pump. This is a major job on the twincam, and needs some thought and expert opinion.
Over the years, Robyn and I have had some great driving holidays in the Elan. Generally after the Biennial Lotus gatherings, and on the excellent Grand Tours organised by Ken Philp.
Since owning the Elan, I have had occasion to call on friends for advice, namely Craig Wilson and Greg Bray. Great to have knowledgeable friends.
I look forward to being back on the road, as the Elan always elicits a big grin, from me, and admiring toots, thumbs up etc from other drivers.