What do I need to look out for when purchasing an Elan?
This is by no means an extensive list but should give you a good starting point!
The most obvious answer is: Abuse and Damage. Inspect all the panels for ‘starring’,
cracks and fresh paintwork. Always inspect the car when it’s dry and there
is good natural light. Red cars are very prone to fade and pinking. On red cars
compare the bootlid with the soft-top stowage cover to gauge the level of fade.
Panel alignment on the Elan is not that good, particularly between the soft-top
cover and doors. Gaps between the front headlamp pods and bonnet/hood are rarely
even. Numerous stone chips on the front bumper nearly always indicate that the
previous owner has been a tail-gater. Tempting as it may be to test drive the
car with the soft-top down, don’t. Insist on driving hood up for at least
part of any test drive to judge its fit, particularly at the rear where the soft-top
bares down on the stowage cover. Badly aligned or damaged tops tend to lift up
along the rear edge as speed increases. This can be expensive to rectify if the
hood frame is bent. The top inevitably damages the top of the storage cover over
time, which is normal. However, if uneven chaffing of the paintwork in seen, this
could well indicate a soft-top alignment problem.
Always look out for non-standard items such as wheels, exhaust and engine components.
In the UK modified cars are not looked on favourably, and this should be reflected
in a lower sale price. Drive at least a couple of standard Elans before you consider
anything that’s tweaked to be sure it’s what you want. Always insist
on having all the modification documentation if you buy as it will prove invaluable
if something goes wrong.
If possible put the car on inspection ramps and check the underside for damage.
Most cars will have some minor scrapes and scuffs along the underside tray because
of the low ride height. However, be sure to look for any signs of chassis damage/repair.
The oil and inter-cooler that are mounted low down behind the front spoiler are
particularly prone to damage, so check carefully. The Isuzu engine and gearbox
are not particularly leaky, so excessive oil around the sump and gearbox should
be viewed with suspicion. Check the general condition of the suspension components
and drive shafts, making sure that corrosion has not taken hold particularly around
the wishbones. If you suspect chassis damage there are a number of geometric tests
that can be carried out, although most of these are probably not practical on
a quick inspection. Please refer to the Lotus service notes. Wheels are always
worth a very close inspection. Kerbing of the front wheels not only spoils their
appearance but can also knock the steering and suspension out of alignment. Tyres
should be checked for uneven wear, and the brake discs for unusual scoring. The
rear discs will very likely show signs of surface rust, this seems common, particularly
if the car is not used regularly in a damp climate.
An important safety warning: A number of owners have experienced loose front
hub carrier ball joints. For some reason the nuts can work loose so always check
their tightness at regular intervals. Strangely enough, Mark Hughes makes a reference
to an incident involving “a loose lower ball joint” during the cars
development in his excellent book on the Elan. So beware.
Electrics should be thoroughly checked. Try everything! Check the lights, radio,
central locking, wipers, indicators etc. Pay particular attention to the electric
windows, although not as troublesome as the original Elan, the motors can fail.
The windows are also prone to scrapping on the internal door guides. Check the
glass for chips and scoring as it will indicate if work is required. If there
are electrical problems they can be very tricky to track down. It is also worth
letting the engine run at idle to make sure the electric radiator fans operate.
When this happens it is also worth turning the engine off and listening for the
buzz of an electric coolant pump (the engine does need to be hot and it will only
operate when the ignition is off).
It’s difficult to say what you should look out for on a test drive. If
possible try and drive a few Elans to give yourself some idea of how the car should
feel. Listen out for obvious things such as knocking drive-shafts and unusual
clonking noises from underneath the car. The suspension on a good Elan is remarkably
quiet. Listen carefully while cornering for wheel bearing noise and brake disc
chaffing. The car should feel solid (although it will probably rattle!) and tight.
It should also track straight as an arrow unless there is obvious road camber.
You must check the brakes. Do they stop the car efficiently and in a straight
line? The gearchange is nothing special but you should be able to select all the
gears easily, although reverse can occasionally grate a little. If there’s
a suitable ‘straight’ stretch of road check turbo operation. Depress
the throttle fully (3rd gear) and check the boost gauge registers some boost!
Note: If you can’t find the boost gauge you’re not test driving an
SE! It should show up-to 0.4 bar below 3000 rpm rising to a maximum of around
0.5-0.7 bar at high revs. Have a quick glance in the rear view mirror to check
for exhaust smoke. Although Lotus stipulate 0.65 bar max. Lotus mechanics say
0.5 bar is a normal indication on the dash gauge. If boost looks unusually low,
the turbo is either faulty or the wastegate has seized. The latter is certainly
After the test drive listen to the engine with the bonnet raised. The engine
should idle smoothly and there should not be excessive tappet noise. On some cars
the idler gear can be noisy. This is best checked by depressing the clutch. If
the noise disappears you will know what it is. Unless very bad idler noise is
rarely a serious problem.
Service history is always banded about as being a guarantee that everything
will be OK. It may give you some confidence that the oil has been changed regularly,
but it certainly does not automatically guarantee that the car is in good order.
If you are ever in any doubt always have an independent inspection by someone
who knows the marque. Take your time and do plenty of research before parting
with your hard-earned money.