Same Theory, Different Canvas: Two Lotus Lightweights

The 1960s were a significant time for Lotus. Success on the race track trickled down to the road cars, and Colin Chapman’s company rose up the ranks from a specialist to a major British manufacturer.

Chapman was well known and often quoted for his “Simplify, then add lightness” approach to car building. On the track, his cars were thought of as fast but fragile. On the road, they were revered for their delicate handling characteristics. Two cars that were key in supporting Lotus’s success were the Elan and Cortina. They were different cars built for distinct purposes but shared a degree of commonality in parts and technology.

Elan Cortina SH 006

Seeing either of these cars outside of a historic race event is rare nowadays, but both of them together? That is a real treat. The beauty of the British Sunday morning breakfast meet is that you never know what you will see. In this instance, it was two significant cars from the Lotus history books.

Elan Cortina SH 001

The Lotus Cortina

In 1962, Colin Chapman met with Walter Hayes from the Ford Motor Company to discuss elevating Ford’s motorsport presence in Europe. Hayes was impressed with what Chapman was achieving with Ford Kent-based engines.

Elan Cortina SH 017

Cash-strapped, Chapman was keen to help, and an agreement was made to homologate the Type 74 Cortina 2-door saloon (Mk1) for Group 2 racing. Ford and Lotus did it by building a performance-oriented road car.

Elan Cortina SH 010

Graham Arnold, a former Lotus sales director, once said that Lotus spent the same time designing the Elan and putting it into production as Ford did on the Mk1 Cortina’s bumpers alone. No surprise then that Lotus wasted little time converting the new Cortina from a compact saloon into something special. Chapman code-named the Lotus Cortina project ‘Type 28′.

Cortinas destined to become Lotus variants were partially assembled at the Ford plant in Dagenham before being sent to the Lotus factory in Cheshunt, where they were finished off on the second floor directly above the Elan.

Elan Cortina SH 009

Changes made to the Type 74 Cortina 2-door saloon were substantial.

The car received the Lotus-modified version of Ford’s 116E 1,498cc Kent engine, which was stretched to 1,557cc and equipped with a twin-cam cylinder head, twin side-draught Weber carburettors and a free-flowing exhaust system. Furthermore, a Lotus Elan close-ratio gearbox was installed, the suspension was upgraded – significantly at the rear – better brakes were added, and a lightweight aluminium bonnet, boot lid and doors fitted, as were front corner bumpers in place of a complete unit. Bar some cars that Ford raced, all Lotus Cortinas were painted white, with green stripes.

Elan Cortina SH 020

Inside the car, the performance intent was reflected in different seats, a wood-rimmed sports steering wheel and a new gauge cluster.

Elan Cortina SH 025

The 105hp that the Mk1 Lotus Cortina produced may not seem like much today, but that horsepower figure coupled with a sub-900kg weight in race trim saw the car take numerous trophies and championships across the UK, USA, Africa and Europe before the Mk2 Lotus Cortina appeared in 1966.

Elan Cortina SH 018

The Lotus Elan 

First released in 1962, the Elan was the first of many Lotus designs to use a steel backbone and fibreglass body construction, achieving a scant 688kg kerb weight.

Elan Cortina SH 005
Elan Cortina SH 019

The Elan is regarded as one of the most successful sports cars of all time and was the first Lotus to have four-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and independent suspension all around. Many of its components were borrowed from the Ford parts bin, of which Chapman had access to.

Elan Cortina SH 008

If the Mk1 Cortina is small by contemporary standards the Elan is tiny. It is so small, in fact, that its 155/80R13 tyres mounted on 13×4.5-inch wheels look big.

The Elan Sprint pictured here was effectively the runout model. It took the Series 4 Elan and further modified it, culminating in 126hp from the Lotus twin-cam engine and a 0-60mph time of under 7 seconds.

Elan Cortina SH 022

Chapman always intended for the Elan to exist solely as a road car, but all the characteristics that made it a great road car meant it had all the makings of great race car, too. An estimated 97 Elans were homologated as the 26R variant. Further upgrades were made, resulting in a car that weighed around 600kg and produced up to 175hp, which saw it competitive against cars one class up.

Modern safety regulations, fleet emissions, and an increasing demand for crossovers and SUVs are all factors that weigh on Lotus today, and this has resulted in some compromises being made in its current product lineup. Despite all this, Lotus still retains its strong brand identity. Even though the current Lotus Emira weighs in at 1,440kg (light compared to its competition), the DNA can still be traced back to cars like the Elan and Lotus Cortina.

While we must accept that time has moved on, and it is unlikely we will ever see cars this light again, it just means we have to appreciate them on the rare occasion they appear on a Sunday morning.

If the keys for both cars were on the table, which one would you be taking for a drive?

Chaydon Ford
Instagram: chaycore



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Had the chance to


Had the chance to own a Lotus Elan Sprint. It's a delightful car to drive fast, the chassis is extremely precise and sharp, it communicates every body movement, every change. This is a car that will remain in my top 3.
On a racetrack, it was like a revelation. I don't understand why it wasn't winning that much back in the days, because with today's technology, it's a giant beater !

Linda-ann mulvihill

I used to work at Lotus cars in the 70s and used to drive a Europa


Amazing - any photos? It's a car I'd love to have a drive of. I've always favoured lighter, lower powered cars (hence having owned a bunch of AE86s).


I am not sure how much your AE86 weighs. I favor light cars too. Back in the early 2000 I bought a second hand Peugeot 206 GTi while working in the middle east and that car weighed 1050 kg. With 2 lt, 137 bhp, 141 lb ft of torque combined with short gearing it was quick, torquey.


My last AE86 was 861kg, around 185hp. The next one will be a little bit heavier, but still well under 1000kg I hope. I've driven a few 206 GTI's and enjoyed htem, they handled well!


Of course my 206 GTi was bone stock. Even the current 270 hp 308Gti only weighs 1205 kg which is way lighter than its competitor.


Nice writeup and photos of two interesting cars.
I notice the 4-door hardtop Lincoln Continental in the 2nd photo background. Its front bumper alone probably weighs more than both Lotuses (Loti?) combined. :)


That would have been a great segway - didnt think of that. A quick check shows the Lincoln weighing 2600kg!


“The Elan is regarded as one of the most successful sports cars of all time”

How do you define that success? I’ve never heard anyone say that about an Elan. The recipe is brilliant, agreed. I would place a 911 and a Miata in that category, but not an Elan.

Both have stood the test of time, became a commercial success and brought racing to the masses in their respective price points. They have huge aftermarket support that will allow them to survive for decades to come. That’s success in my eyes.


Lotus engines might be weak, but their performance envelopes aren't.

For the average Driveratus Commutus, lightweight cars aren't all that appealing. They ride rough and skid in the rain.

I’d never compare my RS211 to a Zonda or a 250GTO, but there aren’t many cars that have put a bigger smile on my face.

My bud Willio caused an international incident during his anniversary in Mexico, due to his first gen Elise with "UK plates" (novelty item). I guess he hit cornering speeds on a highway onramp that were considered unreasonable by the "federales". Willio's wife contends that this was merely a bribe shakedown. Moral of the story is take off your "car show plates" before testing the Federale's blade.

*Lights candle at the daïs shrine to Colin Chapman*


Is Willio the big spoon or the little spoon when you guys have sleepovers with Rupert?


are u twitch kiddies still nuthugging willio? youtube permabanned his channel for his moronic driving style. guys pushing 60 yet driving like a clueless kid


What was Willio's page name? I'd love to look at this. Sounds hilarious. Tools attract tools. Who knew!


Man I love the Lotus Cortina. The company's formula for it is inspiring me to apply the same concept to my own Proton sedan some day (because Lotus was owned by Proton once, so there's a bit of DNA crossover there. LOL!).


This is peak Lotus during their heyday
This was the golden era of cars

Henry Henricker

The real reason cars like this don't get made anymore is because of people like Frank and Paul Walker. Both Frank himself and Paul Walker's estate (not PW himself but his family) have sued manufacturers when they drive cars without proper equipment being fitted as a biproduct of their lack of intelligence.

Years ago Frank spun a Lotus on Angeles Crest Highway after which he blamed Hoosier for the spin and sued them. According to Frank he won and Hoosier settled. Frank can be seen in the comment section on this forum bad mouthing the company. Shortly after his crash Porsche AG appointed Hoosier as the main supplier of tires to the cup series. So ask yourself -- if hoosiers are so bad per Frank's reviews why would a major mfg contract them to supply tires for people who actually do 180-200mph in competition?

Sounds like people like Frank are lying.

Paul Walker's estate sued Porsche for the CGT when in reality the car PW was in had tires that were 8 years old. Any grandmother who prides herself on maintaining her things knows you don't drive with tires that old.

It seems cars like this are not being made as a result of lawyers suing manufacturers due to their clients inability to control vehicles as opposed to some esoteric "things are never going to be like this again" notion that we like to hold onto. If you want to point the finger of why we can't have nice things -- start with the rich guys who crash them and can't handle taking any responsibility for their own actions.

It's laughable. This is why I love race cars as opposed to road cars. You don't have to deal with men who have ovaries throwing tantrums at the world.



You guys are nerds and virgins who couldn’t turn a lap or a wrench to save your life. This site is legitimately for imbeciles. Very casual “fans” with no experience.


It's like a sport for me A-dot. I enjoy it.


Bro you drive a fugging proton and I’m a paid coach who works with ex formula 1 designers who are some of the most influential and famous people to ever design race cars. We’re not the same. Shut da fuq up please lmao. Jesus Christ.


He sure whines a lot about the people here, yet he still wants to stay and piss on everyone. This isn't even "trolling", he's just starved of attention.


"It's tiring being right all the time"

Good for you. Want a cookie? Or a pat on your back?


Let me ask again - why are you doing this?
I get it, trolling is (sometimes) art but can you put all this time and energy somewhere else, like doing something you actually like and are supposedly good at?


...and yet here you are, bickering about anything unrelated to REAL racing and REAL speed.
If most you do is complaining, what makes you keep coming back here?