Originally envisaged as a practical 2+2 sports coupe, the Lotus Eclat was designed to complement the Elite that was launched a year earlier. While the Elite had a shooting brake design that had divided opinion, the Eclat featured a sportier fastback body style that was supposed to appeal to a larger audience. With more luggage space, at the expense of some rear headroom, it was still a practical sports car. At its launch in 1975, road testers of the time praised it for its great handling and wedge shaped styling.
It carried over most of the Elite’s running gear, using a 160bhp 2.0-litre inline-four and independent suspension all-round. It also weighed 45kg less than the Elite, which must have appealed to Colin Chapman’s design philosophy no end. After an eight-year production run the Lotus Excel succeeded the Eclat in 1982.
The Eclat remains a fantastic and reasonably affordable alternative to the more obvious ‘70s sports cars to this day; its unique styling and great driving characteristics continue to appeal to motoring enthusiasts.
Which one to buy?
Early Series 1 models were fitted with either four- or five-speed Lotus gearboxes, moving to a five-speed Getrag unit during the first face lift. This later ‘box is much more refined and reliable, so a number of older have had it installed. Unless you’re a stickler for originality, then this is worth seeking out. The Eclat saw a number of developmental changes throughout its production life, designed to improve both reliability and performance.
The early cars suffered from a chassis rot and a number of other problems that were mostly remedied later in production. Uprated engines, gearboxes and galvanised chassis all make the Series 2 the desirable Eclat to go for. The interchangeability of components means that a lot of the earlier cars will have had some of these updated components installed at some point in their lives, and there are still some very well maintained Series 1s out there. As long as you make sure that the service histories are solid, and that the essential modifications have been carried out, then these cars can usually be found for less than their Series 2 counterparts.
The generally low values of the Eclat can be a double edged sword, as it is likely that many owners may have taken shortcuts during a restoration or maintainence. It’s therefore rather important to get the car you want checked over thoroughly, and ensure there is evidence of regular servicing.
Performance and specs
Lotus Eclat Series 2
Engine 2174cc, 16 valve DOHC in-line four-cylinder
Power 160bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque 160lb ft @ 5000rpm
0-60mph 7.8 seconds
Fuel consumption 23mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• The Lotus clubs and specialists are a very good source of information, spares and parts, and there are a whole host of upgrades and modifications that can be carried out to your Eclat to improve its reliability and performance. Join the community, and there are a lot of enthusiastic owners who can assist you.
• The biggest issues is the backbone chassis rusting. The chassis on Series 1 cars had foam coverings, improving refinement massively, but unfortunately trapping moisture and leading to extensive corrosion. Front turrets and rear cross members are usually the worst affected. If affected, the solution is not cheap and will most likely require a replacement galvanised chassis. Today, a non-absorbent foam can be used.
• Headlamps can pop up after the ignition is switched off. This is usually due to a leak in the vacuum system that’s shared with the heater.
• Original five-speed gearboxes can be upgraded to the later Getrag systems and provide a longer service life.
• Bodies are of built from rust-resistant fibreglass. Repairs can be difficult though, so check the body panels for any signs of shoddy workmanship.
• Check the interior for any signs of damp, as water leaks into the cabin are not uncommon. Seats often look worn and are expensive to repair, while the multitude of switches and electrical guages on the dashboard should be tested as they often fail.
• Cooling issues can be alleviated on the earlier cars by fitting the Series 2 front spoilers, and by using high-quality antifreeze to avoid corrosion. Cars fitted with air conditioning can also block up their condensers, causing radiator issues.
• Universal joints wear out and can cause excessive rear wheel movement as well as erratic tyre wear.
• Engines are robust and were used in numerous Lotus cars over the years. A development of the unit used in the Jensen Healey, continuous development over the years means that they are not particularly troublesome. The bottom end was redesigned for the larger 2.2-litre units, so if you are preparing any modifications to a 2.0-litre unit bear this in mind, as bearings on the early engines can fail.
• A number of upgrades can be carried out on these cars such as better disk brakes, stronger engine mounts and variable ratio power steering. A wealth of information is available from clubs and specialists.
1975: Series 1 Lotus Eclat goes on sale with 160bhp 2.0-litre inline four
1978: Best year of sales, with 258 Series 1s sold
1980: Series 2 Eclat released with enlarged 2.2-litre engine, providing the same power due to restrictive emissions laws. Torque is increased however, and automatic gearbox option introduced.
1981: Riviera edition launched featuring lift out roof section
1982: Final Series 2 Eclat rolls off the production line, with a total of 1114 units of all models sold
Clubs and websites
• www.clublotus.co.uk - Large UK-based Lotus owners club
• www.thelotusforums.com - Huge online Lotus forum community
• www.historiclotusregister.co.uk - Historic Lotus register
• www.lotusbits.com - Useful website for sourcing Lotus parts and spares
Summary and prices
The best examples will set you back around £25,000, although these are admittedly rare and will be concourse-class garage queens with interesting histories. Decent condition Eclats however still go for between £3500-£10,000, making this little wedge a great way to get involved in the classic car scene. There are a fair amount of rusty and well worn examples out there too,m so don’t let the low asking price tempt you in to a purchase that may come back to bite you.
In true Lotus tradition, the Eclat is a great drive and the engines suit the cars well. You will definitely turn heads with the striking wedge styling, and the well sorted chassis makes for a great car to blast down the country lanes. Prices are low but don’t be tempted for the cheapest one you can find, as a badly maintained Eclat can be a costly proposition to put right.
Words: John Tallodi