Two rear seats but just as many thrills – and for half the price of a standard Lotus Elan
It’s the way of the world. Add two occasional seats, and a car that cost more when new will be worth less in its classic afterlife. Take the Jaguar E-type 2+2, Ferrari 250GTE or Lamborghini 400GT 2+2; better yet, for genuine race-bred sports car dynamics in a pert, penny-pinching package, take the Lotus Elan +2.
Those two extra seats, suitable only for munchkins, add up to a big minus in the market, but if you can live with the stigma – and face up to the fact that your bachelor days are over – the +2 does most of what the original two-seat Elan does for not much more than half the money. It’s a lot more than half the car; you could even argue that it’s better.
The Lotus Elan +2 marked Colin Chapman’s aspirations to expand the road-car business beyond the pocket rockets and home-completed sportsters for garden-shed tinkerers into a more sophisticated marketplace. As Denis Jenkinson put it in Motor Sport: ‘[The +2] is a much more civilised car [than the Elan] and has put Lotus into the manufacturer category and got them away from the kit car image.’ Though initially still available for home completion in 1967, 14 months later the +2 became the first Lotus to be assembled solely by the factory. Lotus was pitching the +2 at the sports car-loving executive with a young family.
Chapman achieved this by lengthening the backbone chassis, widening the track, clothing it in a svelte new GRP body, upgrading trim levels and adding refinements such as electric windows. To do so he raided all manner of fixtures and fittings from British motor industry parts bins. Spotters – and detractors – will bore you with an inventory that includes the windscreen from the Ford Consul Capri and Jaguar E-type rear lights.
Yet the result is harmonious and fully formed. Well, mostly. And at its heart the +2 has everything that made the Elan so accomplished: trademark Chapman suspension and handling, and of course the Ford-Lotus 1558cc twin-cam, surely one of the greatest four-cylinder engines of all time. Add a drag co-efficient of 0.30, precise, quick steering, and a supple ride that cushions potholes like a Jaguar saloon, and you’ve got one tasty bit of kit. Passengers will appreciate it too because, with a wider cabin than the baby Elan’s, you can even change gears in a +2 without elbowing your companion in the ribs.
In initial 118bhp form the +2 could sprint to 60mph in 6.8 seconds and hit 120mph. The +2S of 1969 offered improvements in trim but, more meaningfully, the +2S 130 of 1971, with silver metalflake roof, was effectively a long-chassis Elan Sprint, with 126bhp. Finally, the +2S 130/5 added a five-speed gearbox, which in theory makes it the best of all, though the delicate ’box is not.
By the end of production around 5200 Elan +2s had been built and bought by owners who appreciated its virtues enough to overcome very considerable price resistance. At launch it was, after all, only slightly cheaper than an E-type Jag. These days price resistance is no barrier as +2 prejudice makes them an absolute bargain compared with the Elan and any number of contenders that, in pure driving terms, do so much less for so much more.
Take a look at Lotus Elans for sale in the classifieds
End of the line: As production wound down in 1974 the Elan +2S 130/5 cost £3422, almost double the price of an MGB GT and only £300 shy of a V12 E-type. The +2 was also substantially more than an Alfa 2000GTV (£2945) and BMW 2002Tii (£3141), both of which offered proper four-seat accommodation.
The 1990s: The +2 failed to gain critical mass in the 1980s boom, and through the 1990s and into the 2000s a budget of £4000 to £9000 bought you into the main spread of the auction market. In 1990 Colin Chapman’s own 1972 +2 130/5, with fewer than 7000 miles, made £16,695 at auction. Nothing else attained £10,000 at auction.
Today: The +2 has gained ground over the last five years. In 2011 a 1973 +2S 130 that had covered 8000 miles since restoration made an exceptional £18,700 at auction. In 2013 a +2S 130/5, restored at a cost of £25,000 in 2012, sold at auction for £13,200. However, roadable driver-improvers are still available at auction for £10,000 or less. Better cars with dealers are commanding £15,000-plus, with a premium on the +2 130 models. Broadly though, a +2 is barely two-thirds the price of a comparable Elan coupé. Still a bargain.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine