What's In A Elan Racecar?

By Charles Beyor
Chapman Report - September 1989

My partners Ed Loveday, Bob MacGibbon, Roy Hallet and I were racing an Elan S2 in 1967. We had a good time, broke all the usual things (doughnuts, connecting rods, hub carrier bearings, cam drives) and, save that small annoyance were typically as fast as any 911S race car of those days.

Our car (actually my street car at first) was more or less stock Elan with Koni's and Bluestreaks (Old Goodyear racing tires... Ed).

In the Spring of '68 a real Lotus Components race car flipped end for end 3 times up in Canada (St. Jovite, I think) and we bought the wreck to salvage whatever hardware we could and incorporate in into our car.

Of course, you know about the wobbly-web wheels, the alloy A-frames and the tunnelled headlights. But, those things were not the whole story.

On disassembly (the car had actually survived remarkably well, on entire side came off from the headlight to tail light, but the driver's seat stayed fastened to the floor, and the roll bar held. In general the chassis and suspension were complete and intact.) we first got a good look at the frame reinforcements. They were as follows:

  1. Left front upright completely double plated with 1/8" steel.
  2. Right front upright only partially double plated.
  3. Motor mounts double plated.
  4. Angle welded into chassis from the underside at the firewall (you know, they all crack).
  5. Large chassis holes covered with 1/4" plate as scattershield.
  6. Reinforcing washers welded at chassis end of differential pushrods.
  7. Rear uprights tied together with a flat plate.

It may sound curious that only the left upright was double plated, but in those days sporty cars went mostly clockwise.

The suspension, of course, appeared to be made of many things which were not standard. Of the entire lot the single most important one seemed to be the substitution of GT-6 front axles for the usual Spitfire ones. The rest were expensive and light, but didn't seem material to us to getting the car around quickly. To the best of my memory they were as follows:

  1. Front Shocks Armstrong adjustable
  2. Rear Shocks Modified
  3. Front Springs Slightly shorter, stiffer
  4. Rear Springs Smaller diameter fit more tire
  5. Front Spring Perch Adjustable
  6. Front A-Arms Aluminum
  7. Rear A-Arms Spherical Ends Inboard
  8. Sway Bars Larger Front, small rear
  9. Hubs Bronze pin drive
  10. Brakes Alloy racing calipers

We guessed that the bronze hubs were supposed to carry the heat to the wobbly web wheels and they, in turn, to offer a radiator surface to dissipate the heat to the air.

The bodywork was reasonably stock save that the parking lights had been cut open as brake ducts as the front, and a pair of large holes cut into the trunk wall behind the differential to let air out and cool the gears.

We didn't get it officially from Lotus, but we always let the hood float and inch or so up in the opening to vent engine air. This trick reduced water temperature measurably and also seemed to help the oil pressure.

Now and then the hood would flex and pop out of the hole and sail up in the air to land behind the car. There was one very irritated 911 driver who always seemed to be behind who told Roy Hallet, who was driving the car, that "If you throw that hood at me one more time I'm going to break it over your head!"

There were a good many light weight parts throughout the car. The ones I remember are radiator, bellhousing, transmission tailshaft and differential.

The car still had rubber doughnuts, rather than the then famed "racing" halfshafts. we inquired about it and learned that there were differenced of opinion about driveshafts and unsprung weight so that driveshafts choice was owner's option.

For example Peter Pulver of Lotus East ran his Elan in over 95 races with rubber doughnuts. He liked them. (He won quite regularly as I remember.) By the way, not to do with this 26R, but Peter Pulver got tire clearance on his car by re-molding the stock fender shape out of a thin laminate of Delrin fabric which he lubricated with silicone so that it would flex and stretch under bounce.

The much famed "BRM Stage 3" engine was a 2 valve twin cam with connecting rods which would do justice to a fuel funny car and exquisite forged pistons to match using one inch wrist pins to avoid flexing. The cams though weren't too weird, being L-1s and the head was no more cleaned up than you would do to gasket match a new header.

It did have a really neat header made of thinwall tube which all went down aft of the motor mount.

The clutch was quite usual, the gearbox, of course, was Lotus close ratio (was there ever any better?), the driveshaft stock, the differential fitted with a limited slip and I do not remember that there were "uprated" halfshafts then (though there might have been).

Wheels, of course, 6x13 magnesium racing wheels.

Our roll bar was a simple driver's side hairpin, I think that the Lotus Components car had the same kind.

So what have I left out? Hmmmm - wet sump, removable chassis bar under the oil pan, oil cooler... didn't even have a capacitive discharge ignition.

Oh yeah, fuel cell mounted between the rear uprights, with electric pump.

The 26R had been a B-Production car, and as such was blowing the doors off the "big" cars. This was possible under the "approved option" rule which the SCCA then used.

In '66 and '67 the GCR changed from "approved options" to "Allowable modifications" largely due to the efforts of purpose built racing cars shaped like TR3s and TR4s by one Mr. Tullius. Under the allowable mods system the Elans were reclassified into C-Production.

As a C-Production car we couldn't use all that alloy stuff, so we borrowed the reinforcing technology and the dinky springs and ended up runngin 8.50 Bluestreaks inside of very stock fenders.

This is an interesting exercise because except for the alloy parts the 26R was thoughtfully made from a nearly standard Elan.

Reinforce the chassis and the suspension pickups, box the A-frames and add GT-6 spindles and you're halfway there. Fit some good racing wheels and your street car's iron calipers and stock hubs probably don't compare too badly with bronze hubs and AR's (especially with the weights of good tires these days using Kevlar fabrics). Coo the diff, vent the engine bay, feed some air to the brakes and you're ready to add horsepower!

Ergo! Make you own 26R.

What's it like? Back then one sunny spring day our Elan was sitting on the front row of the grid on the old race course at Thompson, Connecticut. There was an L-88 Corvette on one side, and a 289 Cobra on the other. A spectator urgently asked Ken Duclos, one of the great Corvette racers of the 60's and a steward of the meet that day, "Hey! What's that little car doing in the front row between all those big cars?" Kenny turned derisively and looked at him and said, "Since when are those things little cars?"