Farewell my lovely – final thoughts on a recently departed Elan

| 13 Mar 2012

My 1966 Lotus Elan S2 has gone. Just think of the size of hole that will leave in my life – or would do had it been sold outright rather than swapped for a far more family friendly Elan +2 and a wodge of money that should keep the bailiffs at bay for a few months.

You can see a lot more on my new car in the May issue of C&SC (and we also have some video we'll be uploading), but this is a plan I have been hatching for a while with my co-conspirator Paul Matty because I couldn't handle the thought of not being an Elan owner and he was sympathetic to my plight. Hell, even my eBay ID is Elan-related.

To begin with, I thought I would get away with this whole parting thing fairly unemotionally, but even just a pre-sale evening spent sorting through my files, looking for bills and photos to pass on with the car, had me going all misty eyed (others might call it welling up), so I decided I might as well wallow in it.

I'm not sure how old I was when I realised I wanted an Elan. It was certainly long before I drove my first sometime in the late 1980s. That one ticked all the cliche boxes as I was driving down a single-track lane around Chobham, Surrey, and the lights decided it was time for bed.

It was a full decade of loafing, followed by meaningful employment, before I indulged myself for real.

I had been running a Lancia Delta Integrale as a company car at C&SC and, when the publisher could no longer stomach the bills – which wasn't after very long at all – I opted out of the company car scheme in order to buy a classic.

Thing is, it would have to be a classic that I could use every day, rain or shine, and that, I assumed, would rule out an Elan. Then I spoke to some people, including the very helpful Don Hands, who convinced me that the Elan's bad rep was undeserved and I went on the hunt for one.

I probably drove 10 and picked the worst of them. The little home-restored S2 didn't brake or handle as well as many, but I was so tired of tarted-up, overpriced Sprints by that stage that its unpretentious simplicity appealed massively.

It was with Rupert Richards at Capital & General in Cheshire and I paid him what I thought was an insulting £8500… only to discover when I spoke to the previous owner that he still made a profit out of it.

With the Triumph 'Beast' as my back-up I went up there with mate Humphrey Hale to pick it up and he got very angry with me on the way home when, having called a breakdown service, I insisted on mending it myself while he and the chocolate bar-munching RAC man looked on.

Since then it's been everywhere: in Autocar a few times, What Car?, on a book cover and even in a dreadful film about Brian Jones (as street furniture for a millisecond or two, see below). And then there are all my own adventures, including not getting very far on the Winter Trial, all of which came to an end with a suitably eventful road-trip up to Matty's (windscreen wiper flew off, not for the first time, in torrential rain) last Wednesday.

Never one to fight shy of boring people with my own self-indulgence, I thought it would be nice (for me, not necessarily for you) to pick out five highlights of my 13-year ownership.

1. MSA Motorsport Classic, 2002.

This was the first time that the C&SC team took part on one of these events en masse and it was brilliant. Like one of our Poor Boys' Tours, but with loads more people who all felt the same about classics and wanted to use them. Starting at Britain's mini Nurburgring – Cadwell Park – we visited Prescott, Donington, Rockingham and more, and had a whale of a time. The sun shone on us, too, except for one passage, and against all odds proved to be the best bit. Quite an accomplishment because it was was all great. When the torrential rain hit Donington most of the classics came in, but the C&SC team stayed out. Eventually most of our crew dropped away, too, but Mick Walsh in the Duetto and myself in the Elan just couldn't stop lapping. Donington is a wonderful driver's circuit and, even though neither of those cars really suits its long power sections, it was thoroughly addictive. I was starting to wonder if I would have to go and refuel when the marshals finally had enough and waved us in.

2. Goodwood (and others) at night

Nothing beats a night-time blast in a convertible sports car with a clear sky and a slight chill in the air. It may be a bit perverse, but I prefer it even to daytime running with the sun beating down on my fast-thinning pate. Of many great journeys, two I remember most vividly were back to town after the Goodwood Revival Ball. No traffic on the roads, just me, the slight yellow glow of the paintwork being nearly as bright as the headlights, and the wonderful noise of that Weber induction and pea-shooter exhaust.

3. Prescott Hillclimb Drivers' School

Did this twice in my little yellow Lotus. A decade apart. And, according to the ad hoc percentage scoring system, I got worse. I blame the fact that being in an Elan heightens people's expectations. And the fact that I didn't care if the best line was to drive straight over the 'dragon's teeth', I wasn't doing it in my car. A wonderful venue, perfectly suited to the nimble Elan, if not to its rather less nimble driver. Had a blast at Shelsley, too, when Paul Hardiman and I swam over there for a press day and I vividly remember Morgan Plus 8 owner Jeremy Holden egging me on through the Esses as he passengered.

4. Many Poor Boys' Tours

For me, regardless of what I have been privileged to drive in the course of a year, the annual highlight of life on C&SC is when we all get away in our own classics for a day or two. Thanks to our annual Poor Boys' Tours – and I have been on them all apart from the very first – we have been to some great places and had some big belly-laughs. Whether it was watching Hardiman and Richard Heseltine refusing to give quarter on the twisties of the Isle of Wight or a foray into France, they all have many happy memories. The Elan was my chariot for many of them, including the hottest-ever Le Mans Classic. The rate of attrition on our tours is astonishingly low (barring the famous Loton Park distaster, or series of disasters as would be more appropriate), mainly because you have however many people, each with a boot full of tools and spares, all chomping at the bit to dive into an engine bay. Preferably someone else's, but their own if need be. Thanks to this, and my Elan's myth-debunking reliability, I became very blasé about equipping myself for these trips. So much so that on our run to the wonderful Cassel classic meet (lead image) I deliberately filled my boot with no more than an adjustable spanner. And never needed it. Of course, these trips are great whatever you are in, but that's precisely why they provided some of my most memorable Elan adventures.

5. What happens next?

Well, it's no longer my car so it is no longer at my behest, but I did hear some very encouraging noises when I dropped it off. And that made me happy. I have always steadfastly retained the Elan as a road car first and foremost. So, even though Matty's best chance of making money would be to dress it up as a 26R and send it racing, he said "it won't become a racer". He also seemed to be going down the route of suggesting that the only acceptable solution was to completely rebuild it (largely to get rid of a drooping nose that he has never liked), and that would make me very happy indeed. We'll see, but the truth is that I got so much from that car that it doesn't really matter, I have more than enough memories to last me a lifetime.

So farewell NPB 580D, we had a blast.

Oh, and hello MND 629G, may our time together be just as long and rewarding.