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The Elan

When I was a kid in Sydney, Australia, there were, for brief periods of time, very few grey areas.  You were either a “widgie” or a “bodgie” – although thankfully I was well into my early teens when that choice became null and void. You either played football (rugby union) or else you played soccer and were forever cast as a reject. You were either a “surfie” or a “bikie” – no explanation needed there – and, yes, you liked either Holdens or Fords (although the Chrysler Valiant was in there for a while, causing confusion).  Then the Jaguar E-type arrived and a whole new battle began. You could pick your opponent without fear of retribution. MGB? TR4? Sprite? Mini Cooper S? Healey 3000?  Many of my mates, believe it or not, preferred any of these five to the super-snooty E-type, and many a beach barbie was spent with detailed analysis of how the mighty E-type would be slain by any of the smaller, more nimble, opposition. Me? I became an avowed Lotus Elan man overnight. For one thing, Jim Clark drove one.  For another…I loved them. (I loved Honda S600s and S800s when they came out, too, plus Fiat 124 Coupes, but they comprise another story). I was pretty much alone amongst my mates, although Freddy Gibson and Niel Allen very quickly supported my claims with some brilliant drives at circuits like Warwick Farm and Catalina, where their lightweight Elans were every bit a match for Bob Jane’s lightweight E-type.

Anyway, in early 1967 I was lucky enough to join my parents on a three-month trip to Europe (“it will be good for his education,” my Mum said to my unamused Headmaster).  Their itinerary included things like the Parthenon in Athens, the Louvre in Paris and Westminster Cathedral.  Mine included Edington Mains farm in Scotland, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Motor Books and Accessories in St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross Road (sadly closed as recently as this month)…and the Lotus factory.  I mentioned all this, on a sunny Australian Sunday in late February, to our local vicar in Manly, the Rev Bryan King.

“We’re going to the Lotus factory,” I said, after a particularly uplifting Matins.  “Ah. In that case,” replied the Rev, “you’ll be wanting to meet my brother.  He works there.”

It was one of those moments with which you will always live.  I can still see the glint in his eye, the smile on his face as he saw my legs tremble in shock and surprise.

Indeed Warren King worked there. He welcomed us.  The Rev’s brother was one of the key accountants at Lotus, working under Fred Bushell. Even then, before Bill Gates, the world was very small.

So here’s a picture of my Mum talking to Warren outside the still very new Lotus factory in Norfolk in March, 1967. That’s a very early, Renault-engined Lotus Europa in the foreground – I always thought it would be mine, given its registration – and below that is a shot I took of what for me just about constituted my idea of heaven – a line-up of yet-to-be-finished Elans.  They were in S3 form then (soon to be S4) and had come a long way from the 1962 prototypes and then the big-production S2s of 1963-64.  I also took (with my new Fujica Half-frame) a shot of the new building and of my Mum standing by the new headquarters.  I was very impressed, of course, that Colin Chapman had built it in green and yellow. It made me treasure even more the green pullover with the yellow stripe down the middle that my Mum had knitted for me the previous winter. I never did get to buy a Europa – although I still might, because the attraction remains strong – but I did finally buy my Elan.  It was 1974, shortly after Nigel Roebuck so kindly hired me to write for Competition Car magazine in England.  I found it in the Classic Car classifieds and paid £750 for it. It was only when I opened the log book that I discovered that its first owner had been Jim Clark’s manager and mentor, Ian Scott-Watson – and that Jim had driven the car many times.  I’m chatting here in my Williams days to another great Jim Clark man from the Borders, Bernard Buss.

So here’s to the Elan. Still beautiful after all these years. And here’s to St Matthew’s, Manly. Thanks for making it happen.8-24-2010 17-50-32_16208-27-2010_48-6-2010 18-57-52_00608-27-2010_365 Elan S3

Postscript

Yes, I did persuade my Mum and Dad to drive all the way to the Borders.  Here’s one of the highland cattle I saw very near Edington Mains; below that is the view of the Clark farmhouse as we drove past; and finally I’m saying good-bye to God’s Own Country, with a tear in my eye, peering out the back of our rented Ford Cortina at the famous red barns.  Note our “Australian Visitors” roundel – UK drivers beware! – and my Clark-esque “Esso put’s a tiger in your tank” sticker8-24-2010 19-7-12_25408-26-2010_458-24-2010 18-17-47_191

 

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14 thoughts on “The Elan

  1. Stewart Hutcheson on said:

    That was a great read Peter. It brought back memories of going to Tommy Dickson’s tiny garage in Crieff Road, Perth in the mid 60’s (66/67?) when on holiday there. There was the whole Lotus range on show and unusually they were all bright red. I’m not sure if it had been a display from a Motor Show but it was stunning. Regarding Edington Mains did you go in? I remember later on when I could drive, paying homage by just driving past and looking, not being sure if anyone was at home, apart from the sheep that is. I enjoy your reads. Jim Clark was my boyhood hero and I still remember that dreadful Sunday when studying for exams switching on my radio for music but instead having my life shattered. Its still a remarkably vivid memory. Kind regards Stewart

  2. Hi Stewart – no, we drove past Edington Mains but of course Jim had people taking care of the farm at that point because he was living in France. Alec Calder and Doug Niven, I believe, were in residence. I did, however, stop to pick up a pebble from the famous driveway! That Lotus showroom sounds wonderful. The Geoghegans were pretty good, too…

  3. Martin S on said:

    Lovely stories on the Elan, Peter. Thank you!
    What happened to your car – do you still have it?

  4. Thanks – yes, it’s still with me, running beautifully. All exactly as it was when I first saw it in 1974.

  5. bob mclennan on said:

    great happening are when you least expect them. 67 was my last year of ski teaching at Chalet Kosciusko.

  6. Steve Roby on said:

    Pete,
    Mine elan memory was in Brisbane. IAs a gofer kid I was working on my first race car, Bill Page’s Lotus Super Seven and was always in awe of Brisbane DJ Bill Gate’s red Elan racer. I don’t remember that much now in fact it may have beena later model than a 26R. Much later I discovered that he was the “manager” of the Bee Gees at the time and they were called the Bee Gees because half of them had the initials BG duh! Then when we moved to Sydney I became friends with Fred Gibson and his father, they were just around the corner from my university so I was often late for lectures absorbing racing and saw a lot of that 26R. It was there I learned from Paul Collins (your buddy’s brother) that Araldite was a genuine component used building of a Climax four pot engine.

    Great memories

    Cheers

    Steve Roby

  7. By the time I got my driving licence the Elan had already been out of production for over a decade but was still a class act and very much in demand. I have had my S3 coupe for 10 years now and I still find it fresh, although admittedly it is unfeasibly small compared to modern cars! Furthermore, I think they have come into their own as a classic car today. Excellent power to weight ratio, light and precise handling / steering, lovely styling and they don’t break the bank on fuel and maintenence. I can get over 30 mpg on a run, and do my own maintenence with basic hand tools. Leaving aside rare trim pieces like S3 rear lamp clusters or genuine steering wheels, most essential components available off the shelf too. As William Boddy wrote when he tested one ” Why don’t we all drive Lotus Elans? “

  8. allen ornes on said:

    I really enjoy all your stories of Jim Clark and his races. It was indeed a sad day for me in ’68 – had just visited the NY motor show and saw the news.
    My Elan was new in ’64, one of very few in Michigan at the time but, I thought it was the perfect car. My manager at Ford was not keen as the Mustang was about to launch – at least it had some tie in with the engine and later with F1 and Indy.
    Keep up your great work, I look at all I can find.

  9. Ray Barnhart on said:

    Hello Peter,

    Thanks for your entertaining column. We miss you on “Speed Channel” for F1, but of course we miss Speed as well — since we are stuck with NBC Sports now in the US!

    I spent a lot of time in my youth attending SCCA races here watching various Lotus racers embarrass “bigger, faster” stuff – great fun. I am up in years now at 73, but still carry my SCCA Regional license and race my own BMW “M320” (’81 320i with ’89 M3 2.5 liter engine) as well as a Honda I rent when my machine is need of work.

    Thanks again,

    Ray Barnhart

  10. Pingback: The Elan | HolaQueretaro

  11. Hi Ray – excellent to hear. Once a racer, always a racer.

  12. Thanks Allen. Yes, the Elan was very much a “Ford” in the sense that it had the same engine as the heavily-backed Ford Lotus Cortina program in the US in ’64. Lovely engine, too. Of course it could be temperamental and of course the Elan wasn’t a shining example of build quality – but then doors fell off Reliant Scimitars and TR4s brought new meaning to the phrase “flick oversteer”!

  13. Hi Steve – didn’t know any of that. Explains a lot! Where would we be but for Araldite and tank tape?

  14. Pingback: The Elan - A Las Carreras

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