Miata Swap? 1971 Lotus Elan Project

The owner of this 1971 Lotus Elan S4 floats a potential pathway that the next owner might choose to follow with the car, and it is a path that might make a lot of sense. With the original engine and transmission long-gone, he suggests that this might make the Elan a prime candidate for a transplant, and suggests a Mazda Miata engine and transmission as an alternative. The Elan is located in Flanders, New Jersey, and is listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding has now reached $2,550 in what is a No Reserve auction.

The outward appearance of the Elan is actually quite promising. I don’t believe that the paint is original, as I can see a few spots where there is some overspray in evidence. The owner provides a huge collection of photos of every aspect of the Lotus, and this appears to be one solid little car. It is missing the side marker lights, but otherwise, everything else appears to be there, and it all looks to be in the sort of condition that would make this a solid little project car.

The interior of the Elan has its good points and its bad. The worst of these to me is the dash. I think that the timber is original, but the finish appears to have deteriorated quite markedly. An Elan dash usually has a far deeper gloss than we see on this car, so it may need re-finishing. The aftermarket CD player made me laugh because it looks like someone has just given up halfway through the installation process. The speedometer is also missing, and this is one item that might take a bit of work sourcing a replacement. The door trims have been cut to fit aftermarket speakers, while there is also an aftermarket wheel fitted to the car. The rest of the interior looks quite good and appears to need little more than a bit of cleaning.

Apart from the missing engine and transmission, the Elan is mechanically complete. This is where the owner floats the idea of dropping a Miata engine and transmission into the car. That is a thought that will probably upset purists, but it might also come down to pure economics. The original engine for an Elan is a great little engine, but they are becoming harder to find. I did a bit of research on availability for this article, and the best that I could do on an engine was one that was in need of a rebuild, and the owner wanted just on $6,000 for it. I’m a strong advocate for originality in classic cars, but even I have to admit that a Miata engine and transmission would potentially improve both performance and reliability, and conversion kits are now commercially available. Sometimes we just need to be prepared to compromise.

When the original Miata/MX-5 was released, Mazda was very candid about the fact that they drew a large amount of the inspiration for their car from the Elan. Maybe the idea of fitting a Miata engine and transmission into this Elan would be seen as development completing a full circle, with a modern engine and transmission finding their way into the classic that inspired them in the first place. I’m actually quite intrigued by the whole idea. How about you?


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    If the frame is solid this would be a great build to do with whatever you wanted. The original engines always gave these cars their value but to buy this at a reasonable price without any restrictions on originality sounds like fun to me.

    Like 7
  2. Mark Evans

    There is a Miata Mechanic (Daves Garage) in Oakville?Burlington Ontario who swaps out o.e. engines for Corvette engines. Miata (iron Block) Corvette (Aluminum),weigh the same. 50/50 weight distribution still there. That’s how I would go.

    Like 5
    • Kevin Harper

      The ls1 motor fully dressed in manual transmission mode is just a shade under 500 pounds.
      The miata 1.8 in the same configuration is just a little over 300. This would seriously upset the Elans balance and it would destroy the X frame. Never mind the cooling and diff and probably a myriad of other issues.

      Like 3
  3. Royal

    EV conversion time!!!

    • DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

      Unfortunately, the weight and available placement locations would destroy what is fun about these cars, namely being Light and Well-balanced.

      Like 2
  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Mark… The V8 swaps into Miatas works because the cars are build like tanks. The Lotus doesn’t even have enough frame that you have to modify them to take their own race engines. Two “Ys” at either end connected with only the tunnel. Yes an intriguing idea but with lots of extra work.

    Like 3
  5. John

    I don’t think a Miata power unit would fit. While the Miata and the Elan look a lot alike, the Lotus is MUCH smaller. The original little twin-cam did a pretty good job of filling the engine bay. Then, there would be the issue of engine torque to consider, the Elan uses a sheet metal backbone chassis. I suspect that anything with much torque would twist the little frame every time you shifted gears. A few hundred miles of spirited driving would have you needing to understand the finer points of metal fatigue. But a good little 1600 cc Ford Pinto engine and transmission from the 70s would provide a very likely and economical alternative.

    Like 3
  6. Steve Rse

    Throw in Emma Peal and it’s a go for me!

    Like 2
    • don

      I was thinking the same thing !! LOL

      • don

        Emma Peel 1966 version , I should add….

        Like 1
  7. Kevin Harper

    Fiat 124 twincam would probably fit better and can be backed up with a nice 5 speed. Fiat is pretty easy to tune to 150 hp and it would not look out of place under the hood.

    Like 2
  8. pat gill

    BMW E36 318is engine and box………………

  9. bobhess bobhess Member

    Colin would probably spin in his grave if you put something French in his car after what they did to the British team at Le Mans in the ’50s and early ’60s. Like I said above, wide open for ideas which creates an interesting environment resulting in fun with cars.

    Like 1
    • bog

      bobhess – I had to re-read your post a few times. Renault is certainly a French car and engine manufacturer, and my former Lotus Europa and countless others had exactly those engines. Colin must have thought they were light enough, powerful enough, and inexpensive enough to power those vehicles. I’ve also owned an RX7, and that engine would conceivably fit..and possibly doesn’t have too much low end torque for this chassis. (As long as we’re talking odd engine installations…)

  10. LD71

    I’d try a current Civic 3 cyl turbo & 6 speed. If it would fit would be amazing with this lightweight Elan.
    BTW, I had a Lotus Cortina that I bought with a Pinto motor in place is the original mill. Every body told me I’d be able to find a twin cam to get it back to stock but it never happened.
    But that Pinto motor could really fly anyway!

  11. Mark P

    How about a Lil Mazda Zoom Zoom Rotary Engine 13b (Port-it, Carb-it or Turbo-it) or 20r, That would get it humming down the road. That and it’s 5 spd. It’s small, lite and has the revs to get it moving along.
    Mark P

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