Remembering a time when speed was a safety feature


Author: James ElliottPublished:

One of the joys of reading old motoring literature is the effusiveness of the prose, which is often shoved into the shade only by the outlandishness of the claims it masks.

Whether it be in adverts, owners' handbooks or manufacturers' literature, there seemed to be a tacit understanding in the 1960s that, like US bhp figures, a lovely bit of flowery writing was far more important than the information actually being useful. Or true.

Recently, I think I discovered my favourite example of all because as well as outrageous cheek it demonstrates a certain ingenuity to get around a bit of a thorny issue.

While sitting in my Elan +2 reading the owners' manual but avoiding tackling the actual job I had set out to do because of the finger-eating weather, I distracted myself by happening across the section on safety features.

Now, it is not as if this is filled with bare-faced lies, but what amuses me is the straightness of the face with which Lotus, clearly feeling obliged by the sensitivities of modern '60s safety-conscious (or at least death aware) society, must have conceded that it was imperative to have a section on the engineered-in systems provided to keep skin and bone together like everyone else did.

Unfortunately, there is a stumbling block – Lotus has signally failed to engineer in anything to specifically protect its driver and their passengers. No matter, they would get the wordsmiths on to it and make do with what they had.

Hence the rib-tickling passage starts:

"The Elan +2 has been built with safety in mind and incorporates "in-built" safety features, which we feel, when sensibly used, should assist in avoiding an accident."

Crikey, I thought, I know I haven't had the +2 that long, but I am yet to consciously deploy any of these state-of-the-art safety features.

I was rapt as I read on to discover what they might be. Hold your hats because here, verbatim, are a few of them.

"Excellent visibility including a very low bonnet line."

"Powerful servo-assisted brake discs." OK, I'll give them that one.

"Light, accurate, high-geared steering requiring the minimum of movement to change direction." See what they've done there? They – and I presume that they is the great Graham Arnold – have sold the Elan's superb steering as a consciously "in-built" safety feature because it means you can miss things.

"Excellent road-holding and very high cornering ability." Look, they've done it again. The fact that it is a brilliant drivers' car means it is inherently safe.

"Vivid acceleration… ensuring rapid overtaking with the minimum of delay." So the fact that you can hit things going very quickly is a safety feature. That's genius. And that's it, all the amazing "in-built" safety features that the +2 has to offer.

Of course, that's not what it is all about and Lotus isn't the first and won't be the last to "repurpose" speed and performance as safety features for expediency's sake, but the bravado of their attempts did amuse me.

The next time I am driving far too quickly, overtaking on a sharp corner heading towards a truck whose numberplate will decapitate me as my low bonnet line dives under its front axle, I will say a little prayer of thanks to the considerate chaps at Lotus!



I remember an old E-Type book I used to have and in the section about it getting bigger and heavier and uglier over the course of its lifetime due to more stringent safety regulations (mostly in the US), it went something along the lines of 'the introduction of such features ignores the fact that some cars are more capable of avoiding accidents in the first place.' Anyway, love the name of the Seat Belt Centre building. Can't imagine any modern thrusting IT 'solutions' company wanting to base themselves in Inertia House!


I appreciate your article is tongue in cheek James, but I fully agree with with the 60's Lotus point of view, having in the past owned, (and survived), a series 2 baby Elan, an S3 Seven, a Europa Twin-Cam and a Mk1 Elise. They all steered, braked, gripped beautifully, and when overtaking spent a minimum of time on the wrong side of the road. They were also compact, and therefore more difficult to hit!

It would be interesting to see how driver behaviour changed if airbags, seatbelts, ASC, ABS etc. on modern vehicles were all declared illegal.

James Elliott

I'm glad it was taken in the right spirit PaulJ!

Group Editor, C&SC

Pre 80s TVR

Shades of Peter Wheeler. He refused to equip cars like the 180+mph Cerbera with airbags, saying he would prefer it if he could put a metal spike in the middle of the steering wheel as it would deter people having accidents in the first place.

Mind you, I read recently somewhere that around 70% of accidents involving TVRs didn't include other any cars, so obviously it didn't work...


TVR Car Club Pre80s Editor

Chris Martin

Well I think you are selling Hethel's wordsmiths short James. While it is true that a nimble fast small sports car has the two advantages that PaulJ mentions; it will be on the other side of the road for less time, and it is a smaller target to hit, the exact wording of the claim states the safety features "should assist in avoiding an accident". They do not claim to help you in any way once the fan and the pooh have a coming together, just help you avoid it in the first place.  Was that not always the wisdom of driving any Lotus? It was a common sentiment even among the Grand Prix drivers of the Chapman years. Just think, if the sixties Elan was made safe we might not have had The Beatles 'A Day In The Life', it was not the car's fault that the Guiness chap jumped a red light and 'blew his mind out in a car". Regarding the other point about the building in the top photo, do they test the newly fitted belts by driving the car in question into the front fence? If so, you may want to take your Lotus elsewhere for new belts. Chris M.



I like the bit above the Safety section.

Roughly translated: "We strongly recommend you keep in touch with your Lotus dealer who will be able to inform you of any life-threatening cock-ups we might have made during the production of your motor car."

Chris Leopold


This thread has also reminded me of picking up my new Elise in 1997, (after being on a 10 month waiting list - how times change). Later that evening I was reading the owners handbook, which stated that all passages in 'bold type' are safety related and of the utmost importance. I was reading one such passage which contained a sentence going overleaf which went along the lines of 'If this happens you must immediately' Then I tuned the page which began a new topic in non-bold type!

The next day I contacted the now sadly closed Peter Smith Sports Cars (my local dealer) who got the factory to FAX the rest of the paragraph and suggested I cut out the relevant wording and stick it in. Does anyone know if the handbook was reprinted eventually?

When I first had the car there was a problem with it jumping out of 5th gear occasionally, and we were due to drive it to the Tarn region in southern France on holiday. The factory Fax was again pressed into action and they sent me the useful information that, in the unlikely event of further trouble, the nearest dealer was in Paris...

Happy days and happy memories of a great car.


Every single page of the handbook that came with my Audi TT is dotted with risible safety information in bold text that would insult the intelligence of a donkey. To give just a few examples:

"WARNING: Always take the key with you when leaving the vehicle... Always take care not to injure the rear passengers when closing the tailgate... Do not leave children in the car if the vehicle is locked... To avoid injury, always keep an eye on the windows when pressing the button to close them... Never allow two children to share the same seatbelt... Always keep your feet in the footwell while driving - never rest them on the instrument panel or seat... Carelessness while using the cigarette lighter can cause burns... Cleaning products used for car care can damage the health if misused... Do not use corrosive fluids to clean the seat belts..."

Now if you'll just excuse me I shall finish this pint of T-Cut, extinguish my cigarette in the fuel tank provided and carefully retrieve my daughter's severed head from the tailgate.



While running vehicle on a highway we should be first give more importance to speed, timing and attention all the three concepts are quite eligible to prevent accidents in roads and highways. Therefore safety is the first concern while driving and in order to protect these issues we should be more conscious on our behavior in roads or otherwise concern Injury lawyers or experts to get better compensation after any kind of fatal crashes.

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