Chasing the Magic: 1969 Lotus Elan

When Colin Chapman designed and built the Lotus Elan it was doubtful that he understood just how legendary these cars would become.  While not especially fast in a straight line, the handling was described as otherworldly.  While many people want an Elan like this 1969 Lotus Elan for sale on craigslist in Raleigh, North Carolina for $14,000, few actually pay for the ownership experience.  Fewer still keep the cars for long.  Why?  Thanks to reader Chuck F. for tipping us off to this black beauty.

I have written about a few Elans while in the employ of Barn Finds and each time been the recipient of anger from Elan aficionados who feel I have slighted the car.  In these writings I usually mention the same two things: handling and reliability.  In short, there is obviously something special about the handling of these cars, but Lotus build quality in that era was abysmal.  No other way to put it.  Colin Chapman wanted to build race cars.  Street cars paid the bills.  Peter Egan, Road and Track’s legendary columnist and feature writer suffered with a lifelong love affair with the Elan.  He wrote of what ownership was like in an article that sums up his experience with Elans.

Yet here we are over 50 years later, and we are still talking about Elans.  Some of you may even be thinking about making an offer on the Black Elan in these pictures.  As you can see, it is nearly completely disassembled, and the body is on a dolly because the old frame needed refinishing and likely a bit of repair.  All of the rest of the parts are there and ready to be refurbished and reassembled.  The seller has hundreds of pictures of disassembly and has rebuilt some of those parts.  This has the look of a labor of love that just became too overwhelming.  This is, of course, a familiar tale when it comes to Elans.

So, what is it about Lotus Elans that draws us into the car’s web?  Colin Chapman’s design philosophy centered around making his race cars as light as possible.  Lightness allows for more speed, both in the corners and on the straightaways.  Some drivers complained that the cars were so light and fragile that they were death traps.  Yet, Chapman never had to look far for drivers.  People want these cars partly because of the legend surrounding them and partly because they believe that they will be able to experience that magical driving experience that they keep hearing about.

Let’s hope that the next owner of this Black Elan can find that magic.


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    4 pictures, no look at the frame, most of it in boxes for $14,000? Maybe the owner had his stash in the boxes and smoked it all to make room for the parts.

    Like 9
    • 8banger 8banger

      ha ha!

      Like 3
  2. RoughDiamond Member

    It’s always a good idea to make whatever you’re selling appealing and this Seller falls way short of the mark.

    Like 10
  3. Tiger Ty

    Sold my 72 Elan Coupe 6 years ago, great body, interior, running great, with 22k miles for $14k. I was the second owner. Sadly the first owner died in ski accident in 74 and her parents pulled it into their garage where sat for 18 years.

    Believe or not I paid $2k for it, put about $3k in parts, untold hours of personal labor, when I sold it, I thought I was taking advantage of the guy, but it was what he wanted.

    No way $14k for this, looks more like a parts cars, maybe 1 to 2k at best.

  4. mike

    Another terrible Craigslist ad.Does it come with a mtr??

  5. Doug C

    I spoke with the fellow who bought Peter Egan’s Elan a couple of times. The first time he said that he had needed to chase down a number of issues with the car, more than he had expected of a freshly restored car.

    The second time, a year or two later, he said that the car had been quite reliable after those first issues were sorted.

    Maybe he meant reliable by Elan standards, not sure.

    I can’t say I have enough experience with other sports cars of the period so say if other British sportscars are more reliable. One thing I find is that the space and access to mechanical parts is difficult in an Elan. I eye the pop-up nose of a Spitfire with envy.

    Like 2
  6. Steve

    My fist Elan I owned for 20 years. 100% restored on a new frame to original spec other than an alternator conversion, electronic ignition and electric fan. The only time I had a breakdown was an after market electric fuel pump. My Elan #2 I have sorted out previous owners mistakes and it is now problem free. Most of the Elan’s shortcomings result from tinkering, abuse, modifying and neglect.

    Like 9
    • RallyAce

      Like any British car, 90% of the electrical problems are actually mechanical problems.

      Like 2
    • James A Wattwood

      Your final sentence is perfect. Same folks that think SU carbs are a mystery or need constant adjustment. Not unhappy about the article, happy to keep the cars on the down low. My Elan has been in our family for 52 years and passed around among various family members. My 911s, Caymans and Z cars are all long gone. The Elan remains. So simple, so pure.

      Maybe they are not for everyone, but the are definitely for me….

      Like 1
  7. Richard Coutts

    Had an Elan SE4 in UK in the early ’70s, mechanically very reliable but electric windows gave problems. Fast, 126 mph on the M1 motoway and 90mph through roundabouts. Tendency to aquaplane on very wet roads. Often dislodged the exhaust on trips to Devon. Exciting car to drive and own. Wish I still had it.

    Richard Coutts

    Like 2
  8. Racer417

    So Jeff Bennett, what do you base your comments on? Specifically:
    Few are willing to pay for the ownership experience.
    Fewer still keep them for long.
    In my 40+ year experience with Elans and their owners, this is nonsense.

    Like 2
    • Robertv

      Yes when it comes to elan listings and the associated text, I look for some indication that the writer has owned one. If not, it’s usually uninformed heresay, your honour. This one alas a new low. I rest my case. Buy one, restore one, drive one. Then….let’s talk!

      Like 1
  9. Mark Ruggiero Member

    Wish I still had my S2, drove it all thru college. Around Boston, up and back the turnpike (think James Taylor), 128 end to end, how short sighted to let it go.

    Like 4
  10. Howie

    Posted 6 days ago, and nobody has jumped on it?? GLWS.

    Like 1
  11. RC Graham

    Mark, we all do what we gotta do in life. There is a time for every purpose under Heaven. – Byrds 1965. If you’re not rich, you can only hang onto these things serially. More money = greater number you get to keep. Witness Jay Leno. Be glad for the memories. In the end, it’s all you have, anyway.

    Like 2
    • Mark Ruggiero Member

      Well said, RC. The first lp I ever owned was Little Deuce Coupe. The second was Turn Turn Turn. All good memories. Can still see that blue Deuce with that amazing chromed engine…

      Like 1
      • RC Graham

        The first LP I ever bought was supposedly The Beatles (c. 1964). In little letters, it said “by the Buggs”.

        Oh well, I was 12, and didn’t know any better.

        The next was “Downtown” by Pet Clark. Clearly, my musical taste was lying dormant.

        The third was my watershed acquisition: “Disraeli Gears” – Cream. THAT was the ticket.

        Over the years, my brother and I have collected between us more than 5000 Vinyl albums. The two you mentioned are among them, and I still have them. My first 45, was “Nobody But Me” – Human Beinz. Had to wait 2 weeks after paying my $.99. It was sooo worth it.

        The second was “Straight up” – Paula Abdul.

        In a way, it was nice that used records had no value (unlike the cars I’ve had). I was able to acquire a substantial collection for an average price of less than $1.00 ea.

        And still have them all.

        Like 2
  12. Larry

    It seems like most of the cars in “Barn Finds” are truly Barn finds, yet, as in this case, the owner says “Here is a pile of parts. You can put it together but I want the price based on a complete, ready to run, three year old car.

    They never think that their car is on the East Coast and it costs $3,000 to get it to the West Coast. That alone puts the car out of reach for a hobbyist.

    Like 2
    • Jim Bennett

      I’ve been trying to get details on this car for a few months, to no avail. He says he’s selling it for a friend and that the guy will get back to me. I’m close enough to drive up and check it out but I’m still waiting for something, anything from the “owner”.

      Like 2
  13. Chinga-Trailer

    Actually, I think this is a fine Craigslist ad and choice of photos – there is just enough there that if a person is interested, they can contact the seller with their questions, or even better, make a personal inspection. To buy a car, this or any other, simply on the basis of online photos and a description, takes one one who’s been “smokin’ something funny!” One might say, a lazy buyer gets what he deserves!

  14. Mitch

    Old cars basically need once to sort things out, then they
    work. Since their roll-off from the production line techniques
    and materials improved much, running today an old car
    is not a problem. Except some who still need unleaded gas.

    A friend of me have 40 classics in his underground parking,
    most of them British some Italian and few Germans.
    He says the British where the simplest to fix Italians are
    more advanced and need a different treatment and the
    Germans (Mercedes here) have broken from non-use. One
    of his daily is a Humber Spectre and a Rover P 6.

    What he says covers my own experience.

    I always liked Chapman’s philosophy of lightweight and
    simple cars. Like TVR. Other favours are the Lotus
    Excel and the Eclat.

    14k for a parts bin depends how compete the car is,
    basically with a disassembled you can start from scratch
    to rebuild it. Hard to decide from far without seen it.

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