Sitting Since 1980: 1967 Lotus Elan SE Coupe

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For those who love the Mazda MX5/Miata, this is where the story of that car really began. The design philosophy of the Elan was used to provide the guiding principles behind the Miata, and best encapsulated the Colin Chapman philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness.” Our feature car is what is referred to as a Lotus Elan S3 Fixed Head Coupe, which was a model produced between 1965 and 1968. Barn Finder Roger spotted this little British classic for us, so thank you for that Roger. Located in Santa Anna, California, you will find the Elan listed for sale here on Craigslist with an asking price of $16,950.

Due to poor record keeping and a somewhat chaotic system of assigning chassis numbers to vehicles, there are no definitive build totals for the Elan, regardless of which series we are looking at. Various estimates seem to place Elan S3 production at around 2,600 cars. This particular car looks quite promising. The owner doesn’t give any specific details about the state of the frame, but the fact that the bolt-on panels appear to be nicely aligned, including the doors, is cause for some optimism. The owner also says that the car has never suffered any accident damage, and it is also a real bonus to see that the original Dunlop knock-off wheels are present and in good condition.

What is under the hood is what is said to be the original 1,558cc Lotus twin-cam 4-cylinder engine. This is coupled to a 4-speed manual transmission. Being an Elan SE, that little engine produces 115hp, as opposed to the 105hp of the standard engine. The Elan also features 4-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and a weight of a mere 1,510lbs. This provided great performance for such a diminutive car, with the top speed reaching 120mph. The owner doesn’t give us any information on the state of the engine and transmission, which is a significant source of frustration. It’s to be hoped that the engine can be revived without requiring a rebuild, as this can be an expensive process.

Now to the inside of the car, and the first thing that you’ll notice is that it is right-hand-drive. The Elan was imported from the UK in 1980 and has never seen the road in the USA. These facts may be off-putting to some people, but all of the correct import paperwork is present, so that’s one bureaucratic hurdle out of the way. The interior will require plenty of restoration work, but thankfully, it does appear to be complete. The biggest issue is going to be replacing the dash pad, but there are a number of specialist businesses who can source this for you. It’s nice to see that the original, hand-stitched leather Lotus steering wheel is not only still present, but it is also in good condition.

There are a lot of unknown factors to consider with this Lotus, the main one being the state of the engine. It is to be hoped that it is able to be revived, as if it can, that will represent a significant cost saving during restoration. It’s also worth considering the relative value of this car once restored. It is possible to locate  1967 Elan for under $30,000, but the condition of vehicles in that price range is usually quite average. If you want to get your hands on a really nice one, you won’t get any change out of $40,000 That makes this one an interesting call, but it does show a lot of promise.

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  1. NotSure

    Someone’s dream either died or was murdered outright when the car was imported in 1980. Otherwise why bring it over if you had no plans to use or restore it
    ? I hope that someone falls head over heels with this charming young lady and gets her back on the road!

    Like 3
  2. motoring mo

    So it ran 13 years, and has been parked since then for 39 years.

    I get it. RHD would make a trip to the bank or In-N-Out so inconvenient…

    Like 2
    • Marc

      But would make a mailman very cool.

      Like 4
  3. sir mike

    Needs saved but what condition is the frame in??? New ones can be had though.The motor…block part… might need a rebuild which is not that expensive but the head and Webers will need professional attention…$$$$

    Like 4
  4. Martin Horrocks

    Engine box and chassis plate are pretty much worth the asking price regardless of condition – but not quite, so haggle. It would be almost certainly be cheaper to buy a good one, in any case.

    As Sir Mike suggests, after 13 years of use in UK the frame is almost certainly rotten, but as the car needs a total rebuild, conversion to LHD would be part of that equation and not very difficult.

    Like 2
  5. Oilyhands

    Seeing this brings a tear to my eye…… When I lived in England I was driving home from work one afternoon, on the other side of the motorway one was fully ablaze …. no sign of emergency vehicles, and one very sad owner…. the tragedy even 30 years later make me sad! Such a iconic little car.

    Like 3
  6. John

    As with most Lotii, this will be a labor of love. You will be very unlikely to ever make money on it. Having said that, these little cars were actually quite simple and easy to work on. The motor is basically a Ford, the head, while complex, is also quite conventional. Weber Carbs have a huge body of knowledge available at the click of a mouse. The interior will likely need to be gutted. You can see the shape of the dash. The seats were never good in the first place so finding suitable replacements will reward you with comfort. The hardest parts to obtain will be the glass and the top. The frame is a welded up sheet metal assembly, and if not repairable, can easily be replaced in the average car nut’s garage (provided that the average car nut has a well above average wallet). These are amazing little cars to drive. But, you MUST realize that they are little (take a look at what Jay Leno looks like driving his) so be prepared for proper diet if you intend it to be a daily driver. But its an amazing little car to drive. Didn’t I just say that?

    Like 3
  7. Gazzer

    I saw one parked next to a Miata at a car show. It truly was tiny in comparison.

    Like 2
  8. Bruce

    In terms of smiles per miles these are about as good as you can get. The handling and road manners are nothing less than specular. They win races because they corner so much faster and they are so light as compared to the competition. The biggest flaws are the vacuum operated lights and the wiring. Both are easily solved as there have been many improvements by numerous companies over the years.

    As to the frame, both sheet metal replacements and tube type replacements are available, not cheap but both are much stronger than the original and can be had in very galvanized form. Switching the dash and pedals is not that difficult as they were planned to be switched from the factory. (GREAT PLANNING LOTUS). Just figure on replacing the wiring harness as a whole, the insulation ages on the originals and is almost certainly a problem.

    Kits are available for the interior and including seats, door cards, top and all the rest. Not terribly expensive, but a warning if you live in a warm state do not go with a BLACK unless you wish to burn your bottom. Tan is a much better choice. I speak from experience of driving a MGA in Texas. OUCH.

    Mechanically these are relatively simple cars, different but simple and relatively easy for almost anybody to restore. No body rust which is wonderful but lift off the body and do a serious check for frame rust. Keep every kind of lock tight available when you do restore one of these as they do tend to loosen fasteners over time. This goes for engine, transmission, and chassis parts. You then have a much smaller chance of doing the same job twice or more often.

    WARING. you are or will be the SMALLEST THING ON THE ROAD. There are motorcycles that weigh more. Your eyes will be about the same level as the center line of 18 wheelers road wheels. Drive this as if everybody else on the road is trying to kill you. SERIOUSLY!!!! They may not really be trying to kill you but frequently they will not be able to see you. If you make a mistake you die, if somebody else makes a mistake you die. Who says that PARANOIA is a bad thing!!!? Now you can drive this car away and around almost all accidents but keep that attitude in mind. If you do you will have an amazing car that looks amazing, gets great mileage and will leave you with face cramps from all the smiling.

    Like 4
  9. Howard

    Ah, I remember my Elan, bought used in 1966, sold in 71. Headlights used to retract when going uphill, Replaced plastic vacuum line with metal brake line tubing. easy to work on.
    Really small and really fun.

    Like 2
  10. Little_Cars Little CarsMember

    @ Adam–“The design philosophy of the Elan was used to provide the guiding principles behind the Miata?” I beg to differ. I have NEVER heard that the Lotus was an inspiration to the designers of the Mazda. MGB, yes. NEVER read anywhere that they must have used cues from the Lotus. I will admit, however, that I see the resemblance to the second and third gen Miata.

    @Bruce, your description of the driving experience is spot-on. The driving philosophy for a lot of us Spridget owners as well. Smiles per mile. Street legal go cart. Safety Fast!

    Like 0
    • Jesse Jesse MortensenStaff

      Put a photo of an Elan next to one of a Miata. Them look under the hoods of each. People say inspiration came from the MGB, but I’d argue that the Miata has more in common with the Elan.

      Like 1
      • ccrvtt

        I have never heard the MGB story before. I always thought it was the Elan that was the inspiration. I came to that conclusion when the Miata was introduced and it was corroborated by contemporary journalists.

        Having owned two MGBs and attempting to fit into a Miata I can unequivocally state that the Mazda is a much tighter fit (6’3″ – 200#).

        Jesse is right. Don’t argue.

        Like 0
  11. Little_Cars Little CarsMember

    I won’t argue with you that looking at them today, there are commonalities to point out. But at the time of the Miata introduction I doubt the average buyer knew what a Lotus Elan was. Arguably, the MGB or Triumph offerings (which ceased a mere 9 years prior) were what the designers were hoping to capture. By the 3rd generation Miata, the brother of Aston Martin and Jag engineer Ian Callum was brought in. For the next generation Miata, Alfa Romeo became the inspiration. On looks alone, the Miata has more than a passing resemblance to the Lotus. Engineering wise, it was British Leyland and Italian carmakers that Mazda had their sites on.

    Like 0
  12. Little_Cars Little CarsMember

    Mea culpa, Jesse and ccrvtt. Guess I was reading the wrong mags and hanging around with a specific class of British gearhead back when I took my first test drive.

    From the 1989 archives (thanks doctor Google and Wiki) –The return of the sports roadster

    The MX-5 was envisioned by its designers as a small roadster with a minimum of unnecessary weight and complexity, a direct descendant of the small British roadsters of the 1960s such as the Triumph Spitfire, MG Midget, Lotus Elan, and Porsche 550 Spider. By the early 1980s, roadsters had all but vanished from the market, sacrificed to the increasing safety and anti-pollution regulations everywhere. The MX-5 would thus mark the return of the roadster, using modern technology allied to the tradition of the roadster type.

    Like 0

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