Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"...How Fast WAS It...?"

Jay Leno says in the video that the Lotus Elan inspired the Mazda Miata.  I "always" thought that the MGB inspired
the Miata.  Both, for example, have all-steel unit bodies designed for high volume production.  The Miata has an
almost uncanny look and feel of an updated MGB, especially from the cockpit.  A more apt inspiree would be
the Honda S-2000.  Whatever.  The Elan remains the design and performance benchmark of the small,
open, 2-seater sports car.

I've been waiting (for a year!) for the final Jay Leno video on the demon-tweaked Lotus 26 R his shop has been building.  Leno has alluded to the car being finished, but we still haven't seen it.  Except in this short "bystander" video:

But in double-checking the website, I came across this video of his "only slightly modified" Elan, which I hadn't seen before:

Jay waxes poetic about how fast the Elan was and is.  I wish I'd had a chance to drive one.  I can attest to how fast they were back in the day.  The Alfa GTZ I crewed for raced against one at Mid Ohio at an SCCA National in June, 1964.  This C Production event turned out to be a three-horse race: the GTZ, a Porsche 904, and a Lotus Elan.  The rest of the grid finished half a lap or more further back.

The GTZ was an all-out race car built to compete in the FIA's 1.6 liter GT class: tube frame, superleggera aluminum body, 5-speed box with racing ratios, factory-tuned engine making 175 horsepower.  The 904 was a less "to the max" race car  but with its 4-cam racing engine, it ruled the 2 liter GT class in Europe.  In the States, in C Production, "acceptable modifications" were allowed to the Elan, but it was essentially a production car.

The race was won by the 904.  Although the GTZ led, it just didn't have enough torque to get away from the 904, and finished second about 3 car lengths behind.  The Elan retired.

But for 70% of the race, the Elan had no trouble staying in touch with the leaders, sometimes threatening second, although it was giving up 50+ horsepower.  It gained yards and yards on the leaders though the Carousel onto the pit straight, where I was watching.

Lotus 26 R: the Elan brought up to full FIA GT spec. for international racing.  Even faster than an SCCA-prepped Elan.
But still a "GT racer" in the original meaning of the term, in that it was a production car modified for racing, not a race
car "built down to" the FIA's GT rules.


Eric Johnson said...

Actually I think both you and Jay are correct. The original Miata/MX5 certainly owed a lot of its appearance to the Elan, but in concept there was an obvious desire to create a modern sports car with the wide appeal of an MGB, the world's most successful sports car prior to being usurped by the Miata. In fact I recall shortly after the debut of the Miata that Road & Track's Japanese correspondent visited with the design team at Mazda. During that visit he noted a large container with multiple exhaust pipes protruding from it, The engineer explained that those were all the different exhausts they had tried in the quest to get the Miata to sound like an MGB! Personally I've always lusted for an Elan, but have enjoyed my over 30 years of MGB ownership as Elans have grown progressively farther out of my reach.

Pilote Ancien said...

Welcome, Eric! I loved the B!

Wannabe Hotshoe said...

One of my all-time favorite cars. Eric's right, lust is a proper emotion. During the early 80's I enjoyed watching a British Racing Green right hand version dispatch parking lot orange cone autocross courses very quickly, consistently contesting fastest time of the day. It was pretty much a stock vehicle The driver was that good. SHE moved to California so I lost track of her local club successes. Bravo car and driver.

Anonymous said...

Why no mention that this model was also Emma Peel's car in the classic British TV series The Avengers?

Pilote Ancien said...

Anonymous: Maybe because "The Avengers" didn't run on U.S. TV? 'Nennycase, I never saw it.

Post a Comment