1968 Lotus Elan S4: Reader Resto

By: Scott Murray with Matt King, Photography by: Matt King/Scott Murray

Lotus Elan Lotus Elan Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan Lotus Elan Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan Lotus Elan Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan as purchased Dec 2007 Lotus Elan as purchased Dec 2007 Lotus Elan as purchased Dec 2007
Frame repair progress Frame repair progress Frame repair progress
Window frame Window frame Window frame
Little Elan's hot four-pot Little Elan's hot four-pot Little Elan's hot four-pot
New fans New fans New fans
New carbs New carbs New carbs
Re-moulding the door skins, firmly held in place with tape Re-moulding the door skins, firmly held in place with tape Re-moulding the door skins, firmly held in place with tape
Work in progress Work in progress Work in progress
The boot before work began The boot before work began The boot before work began
The boot, finished The boot, finished The boot, finished
Work in progress Work in progress Work in progress
Completed suspension. New coils, shocks and wheel hubs Completed suspension. New coils, shocks and wheel hubs Completed suspension. New coils, shocks and wheel hubs
Interior Interior Interior

Lotus nut Matt King has been at it again. This time the Elan S4 gets a dose of his handiwork...

1968 Lotus Elan S4: Reader Resto
Matt King's Lotus Elan


1968 Lotus Elan resto

When you have a passion for things automotive but limited resources and space, something inevitably has to give. I let my first classic Lotus, an S2 Europa, go in order to chase another car that had always excited me, the Ford Sierra Cosworth. So after a seven-year fling with her and fond memories of classic Lotus motoring, I let slip the Sierra to welcome another classic Lotus to the garage, this 1968 Elan S4.

Purchased in December 2007 from the UK while working at SAAB in Sweden, I bought the Elan and had it sent directly to Melbourne. There it sat idle for another year in storage while I finished my contract in Sweden and was diverted with work for a while in NSW before I finally made it home and could take stock of what needed to be done to the Lotus.

On initial inspection the Elan was cosmetically good and drove quite well, but there were a number of jobs, some small and some not so easy, required not only get the car roadworthy, but up to a standard that I wanted. A thorough strip down quickly followed. The chassis and running gear was stripped for replacement or refurbishment and the brakes were sent to BGT in Dandenong for a rebuild. Sandblasting the wishbones revealed surface rust had taken its toll, so replacements were sought. One rear upright casting was cracked so a good replacement was supplied by Lotus Marques in Melbourne, as were wheel bearings, bushes, steering rack pinion gear and a CV driveshaft upgrade. 

Paul Matty Sports Cars in the UK supplied new brake hoses, steering universal joint and other small chassis related items. The steering rack and column were stripped and rebuilt using a new pinion gear and a good second-hand rack, and new bellows and seals were tracked down to finish the job. Whilst I was at it, I also had the column re-bushed. The brake and clutch master cylinders were replaced as well as a couple of brake lines. All suspension components, including the newly replaced items, were sandblasted and painted or plated. It soon became clear that there was more to this resto than first met the eye. With the chassis coming along well, I turned my attention to the interior. While in good condition, many items were loose or ill-fitting, so I stripped the lot to fix it properly. Once the carpets were removed my heart sank as I realised the steel lattice frame bonded into the fibreglass body was rotten and splitting the fibreglass along the inside of the sills. My research suggested this is a common problem with Elans, meaning there was nothing for it but to fix them properly.

After a solid 40 hours of stripping old steel and fibreglass, fabricating new lattice frames and reglassing the lot, the sills are like new. New seatbelt brackets were fabricated and new inertia reel belts were installed. Some wiring was tidied up and all the carpets and trims reinstalled. Classic and Sports Auto Interiors recovered the beautifully simple, original Colin Chapman-autographed steering wheel in leather.

The doors were always going to be an issue. A common problem with S3/4 Elans is a poor door fit, resulting from a twist in the factory moulds that was discovered just prior to production, leaving no time for replacements to be made. Deciding on some door surgery for the left-hand side door (which was the worst) opened a tricky can of worms. The door shell was cut and a section removed, allowing the door skin to be pulled into the correct position. The shell was then re-glassed and refinished, providing a much better fit with the body side. New hinge pins were installed and the window frames were attached after the mounting holes had been slotted to allow the bolts to fit correctly – another problem caused by the twist in the door shell.

In the boot, some carpet stripping revealed untidy wiring for the electric aerial that was hanging unsupported in the body side. I tidied the wiring and mounted the aerial correctly with a mounting bracket at the bottom taking the weight off the body side. The boot floor was cracked, thanks to grounding the exhaust, so the floor was repaired and new exhaust mounts fabricated. The wheel spinners were looking pretty beaten up after years of removal with a hammer so they were stripped and re-chromed which finishes the car nicely.

Under the bonnet, the carburettors were rebuilt, a new air cleaner was fitted, and twin thermo fans were installed to cope with Aussie summers. I did a general tidy up of various loose ends, including a service and a clean of the paint where needed. I sent the cams off to Clive Cams to see what timing I had and running clearance I required as I had been told the engine was "sprint spec". To my surprise they were much hotter, more in the range of L1/L2 cam timing. I think these long-duration cams are not really suited to the road, so when I pull the engine down for a refresh, I intend to use something more like a "sprint cam"  which should see a good increase in mid-range torque. An engine makeover is on the cards in future but that’s not an immediate priority. I’m leaning towards a bore and stroke to 1700cc, sprint type cams, some mild porting and large bore extractors and exhaust.

Roadworthy certificate and registration followed in October 2010 and since then, the car has been a plum to drive, especially in my local area; hilly, winding roads on the outskirts of Melbourne. Both of my classic Lotuses have – once I’d fettled them – been utterly reliable and zippy, great-handling little goers. We’ve taken it away for a few weekends, done club runs and even the occasional drive to work. In summer though, the Elan is definitely the nicer ride out to the Yarra Valley. Now it’s back in solid shape, it’s easy to see why the Elan was so well regarded in its day. This one could be a real keeper.


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