The most potent of the original Elans; the Sprint needs buying with care...
The pedals are close together, so care is needed. Once on the move, the engine delivers plenty of power with a wonderful barking engine note. The slick gearchange is a delight, allowing you to keep the engine at peak power. It’s the handling that astonishes though. It’s so light to control yet so uncannily good in the bends. Grip levels truly amaze, while the steering keeps you informed clearly about how you are doing. Push it too much in the wet and yes, the rear end can get lively. You’ll want to push it though, just because of how good it feels; the Elan quickly becomes addictive.
1970-1973 Lotus Elan Sprint
Power (bhp@rpm) 126bhp@6500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 113lb ft@5500rpm
Top speed 118mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The biggest problem is knowing if a Sprint is genuine. It’s very easy to make a non-Sprint look like a Sprint, as paintwork was generally the only clue. Club Lotus holds details of the original chassis records, so can help on this score. That said, Lotus itself converted some S4s into Sprints – the Sprint was really only a run-out model to shift Elans once the new Europa had arrived.
Make sure that the headlamps pop-up as they should. They are vacuum operated, using the chassis front crossmember as a reservoir. Check the nose carefully for stonechips. Finding an Elan on its original chassis is increasingly unlikely, though it may command a premium – as long as it isn’t rotten. Ideally, you need to be able to get under the car to take a thorough look.
You can still get a replacement chassis from Lotus for about £1800, though by the time it is fitted, you could end up spending £8000 or more as you really need to refresh the mechanicals and all suspension bushes while you are at it.
The windscreen frames can suffer, especially on a restoration project. Make sure it isn’t prone to movement on a drophead – which the vast majority of Sprints are. Make sure you check the hood for condition – easily forgotten if checking a car on a sunny day. Check that the windows operate smoothly.
Some Sprint coupés have been converted into dropheads. This generally isn’t a problem, due to that strong, backbone chassis, but can affect values. The chassis number is the giveaway – again, Club Lotus can help confirm what the specification was when it left the factory. Sprints also had the bulged bonnet fitted. In addition, improved bonnet catches were used.
The Sprint engine features a two per cent increase in power over standard Elans. The Big Valve engines are clearly labelled as such. They’re fairly tough as engines go, but can burn a little oil, so the odd puff of blue exhaust smoke is generally considered normal. Watch for leaks from the water pump, as the cylinder head must be removed to replace it.
An electric cooling fan is fitted, so make sure it isn’t trying to run all of the time once up to temperature. It should cut in as required. An engine rebuild will likely cost around £4000, so listen out for big end knocks and be concerned if clouds of blue smoke are produced.
Gearboxes are generally hardy, with a delightful, precise action. Crunchy changes suggest either a dragging clutch or weak synchromesh. A very few late cars had a five-speed gearbox.
The rear suspension originally used rubber doughnuts, like a MkII Triumph Vitesse. As with the Triumph, there were supply issues a few
years ago, but you can now get quality replacements. It’s generally the preferred option, though some have converted to sliding or CV joints. Listen out for creaks or rattles from the
rear end and if you can, check the differential mountings.
Suspension condition is very important. These were a ground-breaking car when new in the handling department, and they should still feel exceptionally good today. A car that feels skittish or bouncy probably needs new dampers.
Inside, most trim is available but seat frames can be a problem. Give them a good wiggle to check that they aren’t broken or loose. Later Sprints had the key on the steering column rather than the dashboard. Make sure all of the dashboard gauges work correctly.
With rising values, now really is the time to buy. It seems wrong to see a car such as the Elan as an investment though. It’s from behind the wheel that the Elan really delivers pleasure, with its age-defying performance and handling.