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  Lotus Elan 26R
 

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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced from:1964 - 1966
Numbers built:97
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:January 05, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionFor Lotus the year 1962 was arguably the most important in the company's history. In short succession they launched the revolutionary monocoque 25 Grand Prix car and the equally ground-breaking 26 'Elan' road car. The former helped the British company to win its first Formula 1 championships while the Elan firmly established Lotus as a serious manufacturer of road cars. Additionally the specialist company introduced the 23 sports racer and a number of single seater machines. So company founder Colin Chapman could be excused for not building a competition version of the Elan. This however did not stop his customers from taking their road going Elans to the track.

While the featherlight Elan road car received universal praise for its handling, it did require some work to prepare it for the track. Privateer teams like Walker Racing and Chequered Flag took up the gauntlet and carried through various modifications to the steering and braking. Chapman followed the private efforts with great interest and even allowed his works drivers to race the competition Elans. Considerable success was had in the 1963 and 1964 seasons and the machines were piloted by the likes of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Sir John Whitmore. Ever the businessman, Chapman recognized that there would be a market for a works built Lotus Elan racing car.

Chapman gratefully incorporated the modifications made by his customers. Additionally the suspension was extensively modified with thicker anti-roll bars and adjustable competition wishbones. The wheel arches of the fiberglass body were widened to make room for bigger wheels and tires. The Lotus twin-cam four cylinder engine was offered with a Cosworth or BRM tuning package. Interestingly customers later figured out that the engine work best with a Cosworth block and a BRM head. Dubbed the 'Elan 26R' the competition car was offered with a roadster body, a roll-over bar and a separate hard top. Although no two cars were alike most 26Rs featured cowled headlights and knock-off wheels.

During the 1964 season the Elan 26R was fully homologated. The completed racing car weighed in at around 600 kg while the 1558 cc could produce anywhere between 160 and 175 bhp depending on the state of tune. Its closest rival was the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ that also sported a potent 1.6 litre engine in a lightweight but slightly heavier package. In true David and Goliath fashion the racing Elan was also more than capable of taking much larger engined machines. This resulted in fascinating battles, which saw the Ferraris, Jaguars and Aston Martins rush away on the straights with the Elan hunting them down again on braking and through the corners.

Lotus never raced the Elan 26Rs themselves but instead heavily supported Ian Walker's team, which had greatly contributed to the development of the cars in the first place. Walker fielded his golden Elans all over the UK and also in the rest of Europe. Together with several other teams, they dominated their class. The most successful 26R driver was future Lotus F1 driver John Miles. In 1966 he used a Willment prepared example to win the Autosport Championship with 15 race wins. He finest drive came at Brands Hatch when he fought with a V8 engined Sunbeam Tiger for victory. His bonnet started flapping and he had to visit the pits to have it removed. Bonnetless he clawed back up the field and finally passed the Sunbeam on the last lap.

With many of the cars sold to customers in kit form, it is hard to say how many Elan 26Rs exactly were produced. Most estimates state 97 as the most accurate number. In 1966 it was replaced by the mid-engined Lotus 47 that was based on the Europa road car. Today the 26R is still very popular with historic racers who still regularly display the Elan's giant-killing skills. Many of the standard Elan road cars have since been converted to competition spec so at times it is difficult to distinguish the real deal from the pretenders. The most obvious tell-tales are the open headlights and the knock-off wheels. Although to complicate things not all of the 'originals' were equipped with these.

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  Article Image gallery (36) Specifications