Model history: Launched in 1962, the Lotus Elan was a formidable road car, so it was not surprising that teams were eager to race them. This did require some work and with Lotus themselves occupied with single seater racing, it was down to the teams themselves to turn the Elan into a racer. Among them was Ian Walker Racing (IWR), who during the 1963 season developed and successfully raced what would basically become the Elan 26R offered by the factory the following year. In return, Walker did receive help in the form of Lotus drivers like Mike Spence and Jim Clark to pilot his gold-painted Elans.
Encouraged by the great results of his 'Gold Bugs', Walker devised an even more ambitious plan for the 1964 season; winning the coveted Index of Thermal Efficiency in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In order to get the best result, he decided to design an all-new slippery body himself that would allow his Elan to reach very high speeds down the long straights of the La Sarthe circuit. Considering that Walker had never penned a car before of that matter had even been to Le Mans, this was a rather bold undertaking. Taking nine months to complete, the result was nevertheless very impressive.
Expert coach-builders Williams & Pritchard were called in to create the body following Walker's design. Unlike the glass-fibre reinforced plastic panels found on the standard Elan, the new 'Fastback' was crafted entirely out of aluminium. This formed a major contribution to the 80 kg weight loss compared to the 'standard' 26R. While the original shape of the doors and the windshield was retained, Walker's design was slightly lower and longer. The nose was sharper and the finned tail was cut off following the principles of aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm. Cleverly placed ducts provided cooling for all vital components as well as the driver.
The low-drag Elan was built on a standard backbone chassis but using the lessons learned during the previous season, Walker did make some detail changes. The first problem he tackled was the sharp angle of the driveshafts, which was the result of the lowered ride height and caused the doughnuts to regularly fail. He adopted sliding splines and also raised the differential. The chassis itself was also strengthened. To ensure the new Elan Fastback would last the distance, it was fitted with a relatively mildly tuned version of the Lotus twin-cam, 1600 cc engine. It nevertheless produced around 150 bhp.
Liveried in IWR's familiar gold with a green stripe, the light and slippery machine debuted at Montlhéry in the hands of a young and upcoming Jackie Stewart. It was pitched against much larger engined GTs and pure sports prototypes but Stewart nevertheless managed to place it third on the grid. He would go on to finish fourth and first in class. The final step in the preparation for Le Mans was the Nürburgring 1000 km. Unfortunately, Mike Spence had an off in practice and rolled the unique machine. Spence walked away unharmed but the car could not be repaired in time for Le Mans.
With his team preoccupied with running his other Elans and a Lotus 30 sports prototype, Walker decided to put the car away until the winter when it was fully rebuilt. The unique Elan's two appearances had not gone unnoticed as Walker received an order from Switzerland for a second car, intended for the road. This machine was equally unique and featured twin-headlights very similar to those fitted on the Gordon Keeble GT. The repaired racing car was sold by Walker early in 1965 to a hill climb racer who briefly campaigned it. The following owner campaigned it for a few more years in national events, with considerable success.
Built regardless of cost, the IWR Fastback remains as one of the most exceptional Elans ever constructed. It is a shame that it was only able to really show its capabilities in one outing. Whether it would have lived up to its expectations at Le Mans, we will never know but recent outings in historic events have shown the car to be true winner.
This is the first of the two Ian Walker Racing Fastback Elans built and the car intended for Le Mans. Following its contemporary racing career, it disappeared off the radar until it was acquired in 1977 by Lotus enthusiast Pail Matty. At the time the unique machine was in pretty tired condition but it was eventually restored to its former glory. In more recent years, the current owner had it restored once more, this time with the help of the late-Ian Walker and his former chief engineer John Pledger. It has since been raced at historic events, highlighted by a victory in the Fordwater Trophy during the 2012 Goodwood Revival.