- The light and nimble Lotus Elan is the embodiment of founder Colin Chapman’s design philosophy.
- This updated 1972 example was powered by a 1.6-liter engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
- This Bring a Trailer online auction ends on Wednesday, July 19.
No company exemplifies the Less Is More philosophy like Lotus does. When the little Elan was launched in 1962, it was Jaguar E-type money, with which you got a small-displacement four-cylinder engine and a featherweight chassis. But where the Jag is muscular and beautiful, the Lotus is agile and elusive.
To be auctioned off on Bring a Trailer—which, like Cars and Drivers, is part of Hearst Autos—is a late model example of that Lotus magic touch. It’s a 1972 Elan Sprint, equipped with a five-speed manual for more livability, and painted in colors reminiscent of the Gold Leaf-sponsored Lotus F1 racing team of the late 1960s.
The 13-inch wheels are shod with 185/70 Avon tires, and behind them are disc brakes at all four corners. A limited-slip differential helps keep the power down, and the cabin has been cosmetically refreshed (despite its small size, the Elan is very spacious inside).
Elan was not the first Lotus, but it remains one of the best of the breed. Of course, Mazda engineers think so, because the original Miata is almost a modern clone of the Elan.
But even the Miata towers over this Lotus. Measuring less than twelve feet long and with a curb weight of around 1500 pounds, the Elan is all about cutting every gram. For example, fiberglass hoods don’t have hinges, but instead just snap into place.
Under that hood in this case is a 1.6-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine good for a claimed 140 horsepower. When new, the engine was rated for 105 horsepower, and the Elan will sprint to 60 mph in just over seven seconds, so this car should be pretty quick. The five-speed manual is from the later Elan 2+2 and should make for quieter highway cruising.
But it won’t be boring. The Elan’s light weight means it has almost no inertia to overcome when accelerating, braking or cornering. It hovers and flickers over winding back roads with its buzzy four-cylinder engine simmering, a deep-combustion hummingbird. The closest driving experience to it is its descendant, the Lotus Elise, which stops production in 2021.
The brand’s latest product, the all-electric Eletre, has strayed far from this ethos. It’s as fast as you like with up to 905 hp, but it’s also the size of a Honda Pilot and tips the scales at 5500 pounds.
Here’s your chance to rampage against lightweight death. Per pound, the Elan may seem a bit pricey when the dust settles. But as a prime example of Colin Chapman’s adage “Simplify, and add lightness”, it will be worth every penny.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He grew up cracking his knuckles on British cars, came of age in the golden era of Japan’s compact sports performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection of man and machine, whether racing. Walter Cronkite’s career or the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his daughters how to shift manual transmissions and is grateful for the reason they give him to always buy Hot Wheels.