Runs And Drives: 1979 Lotus Eclat Sprint

1979 Lotus Eclat Sprint

We’ve actually featured quite a few Lotuses lately, granted they have mostly been Lotus tuned Ford Cortinas, but they are still rare! It seems like most of the love for classic Lotuses is directed towards the Elan and occasionally the Elite. That’s a real shame though if you ask me, just because they weren’t all beautiful to look at doesn’t mean they weren’t fun to drive. This Eclat is a bit of a wedge, but it’s a wedge that handles well and has room for the family! The seller picked it up at an estate sale in Arizona and has gotten it running and driving. It has cosmetic issues and we don’t know what the interior looks like, but with a $6,500 asking here on Hemmings, it might be worth taking a look at! Special thanks from Larry K for this tip.

1979 Lotus Eclat Bumper

So compared to the Europa, the Eclat is actually quite handsome (in my book at least). It certainly doesn’t have the looks of the Elan, early Elite or even the Esprit, but for a wedge it looks pretty good. I wouldn’t mind being seen in this one after a good cleaning and some bumper treatment! I’ll admit, I’m a bit worried about if there are any corrosion issues hiding underneath. More on that in a moment.

1979 Lotus Eclat

Lotus is a rather small manufacture and has always been a bit of a boutique brand. Colin Chapman was an engineering genius, but building cars isn’t cheap. That’s especially true if your main goal is to build the lightest cars possible without a massive price tag. Exotic materials like aluminium, magnesium and titanium do wonders to save weight while retaining strength, but they aren’t cheap! Fiberglass and steel tube on the other hand is fairly light, strong and best of all, cheaper to work with. The combo seems like a great option, right? Well the body might be rust proof, but the sweet steel chassis isn’t and is highly prone to rust. Many of these cars were rusted out after being on the road for only a few years. The seller of this one doesn’t state the condition of the frame, so that is something you’ll definitely want to have a closer look at.

Lotus Eclat Sprint

These are really fun little cars and while they aren’t the best looking Lotuses, they have gotten better with age. I see these cars gaining more interest in the future, especially with collectors who were teens when these cars were new. Even if you didn’t have a poster of an Eclat on the wall, it looks enough like a DeLorean or one of the other iconic ’80s super cars to bring back feelings of nostalgia! If this one isn’t rusted out underneath, I think it would be a great car to save. There can’t be many left and even fewer still on the road, so hopefully someone will save it even if it is rusty! So do you think $6,500 seems like a fair price for a driving Eclat project?

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Comments

  1. van

    I liked it better after James May made a camper out of it

    • Bobsmyuncle

      LOL I wouldn’t have made the connection!

      I actually like the shape, sort of a softened wedge. Bet it would look great in silver.

    • Tim

      James May’s camper was built on an Excel, the Eclat’s successor. I may be splitting hairs, but…

      • van

        Oops
        Good thing I have lots of hair

  2. Matt

    I believe markets shift with generational taste. While it may never gain, or even come close to the following of a Hemi Cuda, it does hold potential with the later year generation x-ers . At the end of the day, It’s a Lotus and there aren’t many of these Eclats left in the world. For $6500, I think it’s worth a second thought, but maybe that’s just because I own one myself. :-)

  3. Dolphin Member

    I can’t help wondering what Colin Chapman thought of the pop up headlights and the plastic/foam battering-ram bumpers on this creation of his. There must have been some engineering-based conflict about them.

  4. Scotty G

    Needless to say, I love the look of this car, and especially in yellow! I’ve always liked yellow cars if it isn’t the darker, taxi-cab-yellow that some manufactures have used over the years. I bet that if a person showed up with a trailer and 50 $100 bills they just might be taking this one home.

    I would love to have this car but I’ve never owned anything this “exotic” before and I’d be worried that I would be in way over my head, mechanically. Too bad that the Barn Finds team doesn’t have the space, or time, to work on a few different cars at once, I would absolutely love to own this car after someone knowledgeable and honest has gone through it with a fine-toothed comb. Maybe Edd China could give it the once over..

  5. Tim

    I have two Eclats, a ’78 & ’79, and they are a delight to drive. I also have an ’80 Esprit S2, and can confirm the stories that the Eclat actually handles better than the Esprit… which is no slouch. Reportedly, Chapman liked to be seen in the Esprit, but he liked to drive the Eclat.

    Federal cars were jacked up to meet bumper and headlight minimum heights. Install a set of Euro springs plus shocks with adjustable spring seats, and lower it back to the original UK/ Euro ride height, and the handling is amazing.

    Stock wheels are 14″ x 7″, and the selection of available performance tires in 14″ sizes sucks. But there are some nice options in DOT Road Race tires that will fit and perform quite well. I autocrossed mine with 225-50x14s all around.

    The Elite-Eclat’s nose is very low, even in Federal jacked-up ride height. Pop-up headlights were the only way to get them up to minimum legal height without totally re-designing the front end. Also, retractable headlights were all the rage back in the 70’s. It was a fad, everybody had ’em, so Lotus also used them. It was the 70’s.

    The front & rear bumpers were molded out of self-skinning foam, like so many Britcars of the day. It’s not the car’s most attractive feature, but if you think back to the 1970’s, there were a lot of really ugly crash-bumper experiments on the road, as companies struggled with how to deal with the requirement. The foam bumper doesn’t age well, and it’s hard to find an original bumper that looks good… especially if the car has spent time baking in the sun. This one looks particularly bad… it’s toast. Original foam replacements are no longer available, but fiberglass reproductions are. There are several sources, but the only one that comes to mind at the moment is SJ Sportscars in the UK. Give Steve a call.

    The early chassis was prone to rust, but the really bad reputation comes out of it’s home market, England. It’s wet there a lot, and when it’s not wet it can be damp. The primary rust point was the top side of the rear suspension cross-member. The body sits right on it, and any moisture that wicks into the gap is held there for a long time. Later Elite-Eclat chassis were hot-dip galvanized and survive quite nicely. Unfortunately, none of them came to North America. Spyder cars makes a reproduction chassis for the Elite-Eclat. Also, Lotusbits.com, a breaker/ salvage yard in the UK that specializes in Lotus, has limited supplies of original, serviceable chassis. They can also supply the later Excel chassis as a roller.

    If anyone here buys this Eclat, they should subscribe to Lotus4Seaters on YahooGroups.

    Tim

    • Scotty G

      That is excellent information, Tim! Thanks for sharing that. A quick search did indeed turn up replacement bumpers: http://www.sjsportscars.co.uk/index.php?mod=10
      I have a message in to the seller of this car to see if there are any interior, engine, or underside photos, now that the bumper replacements aren’t a worry.

      • van

        Don’t suppose reproduction 17″ Pantera wheels will fit, they look great

  6. Tim

    Scotty G,

    There are not many mechanics in North America who are familiar with the Eclat, and only a few more who are familiar with the 907 engine. Anyone living far from the nearest Lotus support should view the Eclat as a personal project. One you take care of yourself.

    The Eclat is not mechanically complicated. There are no computerized engine management systems, so you just need basic tools. If you have good mechanical skills, you should be able to do most of the maintenance work. The cars are small compared to most, and compressed, so there are a lot of tight spaces that are hard to reach. It helps to have a mechanically inclined 8-10 year old at your disposal.

    The engine is robust if well cared for. It requires routine maintenance, and it’s not wise to ignore it. Especially with regards to the timing belt. The 907 is an interference engine, which means that if the belt skips timing or breaks, the pistons will wipe out all the valves…. and the valves will beat the crap out of the pistons. The timing belt tension needs to be checked and adjusted as required on a regular basis. And the belt needs to be replaced every 24k miles / 24 months, whichever comes first. That’s not hard to do in the front engine layout. My personal record is 45 minutes.

    Tim

    • Scotty G

      I used to be able to do both front disc brakes on my former ’91 Dodge Spirit or on my former ’02 Saturn SL-1 (5-speed) in less than an hour, but I think your record is even more impressive, Tim!

      The seller sent me five additional photos if anyone is interested: three interior photos and two engine photos. Actually, it looks better than I thought it would! But, the body would need some work and I don’t think a paint job would be super cheap – add in $1,000 for shipping over a possible offer of $5,000 and a person would most likely have over $10,000 into this car without too much trouble, for bumpers, bodywork, and paint. And that’s without any interior, engine, suspension, or chassis work that may be needed.

  7. Bill

    Some really good information here! I actually found myself clicking back on the link thinking I’d like to bid. Then reality set in. No time to get to stuff I’ve already been ignoring for years.

  8. Tim

    Van,
    Pantera wheels are 5-bolt, and the Elite-Eclat wheels are 4-bolt 14″ x 7″ with an 18 mm (0.709″) offset.

    Tim

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