David Rose, the current owner of a 1963 Elan, tells the story of its journey to Australia, its rich racing history, restoration and now a new-found home in the UK.
The long journey to Australia
Elan number 26/0202 was one of the earliest Elans built and one of the very earliest to arrive in Australia. As an early car, it is one of the rare ‘Bourne’ bodied Elans – Bourne Plastics, in Lincolnshire, England, won the contract in 1962 to build Elan bodies. Bourne went on to make 250-300 bodies before Lotus took manufacture back in-house in late 1963. Bourne-built cars wear a small badge in the engine bay bearing the body number.
Success in the hands of a famous Queenslander
Bill Gates will be known to many as Brisbane DJ, Lotus racer and first manager of The Bee Gees. The story goes that Bill, his friend Bill Goode, a sponsor of Bill’s radio show Platter Chatter and singer Barry Gibb all shared the same initials – they agreed to use this as inspiration and subsequently named the band the BGs, later The Bee Gees.
Bill loved cars, was also an owner of a Cooper S and MGB which was used to tow his speedboat. He drove his new Elan from Sydney home to Brisbane and over the course of the next 3 years had considerable success racing the Elan at all of Queensland’s race tracks.
The racing history of the little red Elan is well documented, with many period photographs too – wins came at Lowood in October 1964, at Lowood again in 1965 as well as twice at Lakeside. In 1966 Gates and the Elan won at Lakeside and Surfers Paradise. They raced in the Australian Grand Prix meeting at Lakeside in 1966, achieving 3rd place in the Tasman Cup and sharing the meeting with Lotus greats including Jim Clark and eventual winner of the Grand Prix, Graham Hill.
A big crash and long restoration
Gates went on to take delivery of a red Elan 26R which is now owned by Vaughan Stibbard (the two cars always raced as number ‘50’) and the S1 was bought by Lex Harris for road use, bearing the Queensland number ‘NUA 222’, and was later owned by fellow Queenslander Geoff Ansell. It is believed Ansell was the owner when the Elan was badly damaged, with a crash approaching a bridge. The rear of the car was very badly damaged and was off the road for many years, owned by Ray Hilko and then from 2001, Jeff Rowse from Brisbane.
Over the course of a 10 year period Jeff undertook an incredible restoration of the Elan, including restoration of the original chassis. In 2011 the Elan emerged as new, a factory specification car, just as it had arrived in Australia 48 years earlier.
Soon after the restoration, the red Elan was reunited with Bill Gates, the 26R and mechanic Jim Bertram at the Lakeside Historics event.
Leaving Australia and re-connecting with the racing roots
In 2015 the Elan made a 3 month journey by sea back to the UK. Having bought the car unseen from Jeff and despite a fully documented restoration, it was a relief to find the car in such beautiful condition when it arrived in Worcestershire.
The car now sits alongside a GTS spec racing Elan, a Climax Elite and Lotus 18 FJ. Despite infrequent use on the road and now with a beautiful 145bhp twin cam, the Elan has made it back on track and also, in 2021, it ran at the world’s oldest motorsport venue, Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb close by in Worcestershire.
Torn between keeping it as a road car and using it as it once was, to race, the car is a welcome edition to the early Elans in the UK and, as some Australian Lotus fans have said, should find its way back home Down Under some day.
For those interested in early Elans there is a dedicated Facebook Group – Lotus Type 26 – S1 and S2 Elan and I would be very interested to learn of further details of this red Elan’s history – please email firstname.lastname@example.org