MX5 , Lotus Elan connection

This American vid might be of interest to MX5 owners , it explains why the MK1 looks so much like the " Lotus Elaaan ".
Like it or not ,its interesting, and watching these vids is better than painting the skirting.



Did they get a designer in from Sunseeker for the NC? :wink:

Only kidding, I have an NC (25AE).

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Just underlines again how despite later models being far superior in their various guises and in a number of levels not to ignore plainly safer, the Roadster Mk1s will always pull at the heart strings that much more…less being more often enough.
I say that as an unbiased owner of a well fettled 2002 Sport and a Mk!.
The Sport of course will take my Mk1 to the cleaners X country at full chat, but it’s comparing apples & oranges. Only the Mk1 gives me real joy hammering it between the two, especially as it’s limits are far more easy to approach (safely) on my local empty glen forays.
I have to work the Mk1 much more than the Mk2.5 to get close to an imaginary time elapse over say the brillant Duke’s Pass, but for me…that makes the burger van coffee at the end of 14 miles & 90 bends better earned.
Or at least, I was able to until recently.


The Mk1 is of course where it started and there are clear similarities with the original Elan. FWIW, I like all MX-5 versions and especially like the one I have (of course). They each have their own vibe. But the thing I like most about the MX-5 is that having one is the entry fee to a great community. Sure some owners don’t get that, but a lot do and in today’s internally focused ‘me first’ society… that counts. It really does. These are very special little cars.


I noticed he dropped ‘Jaaagwaarrr’ in there. And managed to drive the wrong way in the pitlane.

Interesting video though.

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The Elan was one of a number of cars that Mazda brought in to benchmark the MX5 against.

IAD, who did the initial technology demonstrator, and, later on, assembled the first complete cars, usd a Triumph Spitfire, Fiat X19 (popups), Mk1 Toyota MR2 (popups) and Reliant SS1 (popups, remember those).

In the US, Mazda also roped in the Mk1 RX7 (popups) and found a US-spec Triumph Spider as well as a US spec MGB. They had a bit of budget left over for benchmark cars, and Bob Hall used it to get a Lotus Elan, thinking when the assessment was over, he’d have a chance to buy it back. But alas not, that car, and the others, were containered up, and sent to Japan, never to be seen again.

The Lotus Elan was one element in the character of the original MX5. I suppose people see what they want to see in it. Its easy to forget that in the 1980s, popup lamps were derigour for any new sports car. Mazda wanted a low nose, and the light units available at the time weren’t good enough, so popups it was.

In its day, the Elan was very expensive; at launch, £1,500 in 1962 (£32,000 today), the E-Type was £2200 (so about 50% more, £47,000 today). A Triumph Spitfire in 1962, cost £641 (£14000 in 2019). The Elan was also quite sophisitcated mechanically, compared to its peers (bordering on exotic).

Pricewise, the MX5 fits somewhere between the Elan and Spitfire. The Elan had the fairly trick Ford twincam, the Spitfire a humdrum Standard engine. The MX5 used the B6, which was a fairly run of the mill 1980s engine (not particularly powerful by the standards of the day), and a gearbox from a pickup. The diff came from a RX7, and Mazda used a slightly exotic viscous LSD. Double wishbone suspension was a novelty.

I believe much of the engineering for the original car was done by IAD engineers in Worthing, or IAD engineers embedded in Japan. IAD was chosen because it was run by John Shute, who also was one of the largest MG collectors in Europe, so he had a very good idea what the character if the “British sportscar” was. Plus he and Tom Matano knew each from working for Holden.

That V705 prototype set the criteria for the MX5. I don’t think the Elan was used as a handling benchmark; IAD did a lot of track work at MIRA using the MR2, X19 and SS1. The MX5 benefited from modern suspension design, rather than being tuned to ape the Elan


Interesting stuff, its good to know some of the history behind some of the cars we love. My cousin had a blue hard top Elan in the late 70s, a classic sports car, and great fun when it was working but a bit of a money pit, but neither of us new much about engines etc,so he sold it to a collector/enthusiast.
I had a Spitfire 1500 at the time and fortunately had few problems with it, I now own a 2006 ,MK3 myself, its hardly concours but I love it, but to be honest, I think the MK1s with a tan leather interior look the dogs.
I can see the resemblance between the Lotus and MK1, which led to the family of cars we all love and enjoy now…well when this frightening situation is eventually over anyway.

"… bit of a money pit… ".

That’s the definiition of just about any Lotus, 7 aside.

In the late '70’s I worked for a large computer manufacturer. My work entailed quite a bit of driving from the ‘M4 Corridor’ up to West Midlands engineering co. customers. I ran a 10 year old XJ6 4.2. I shared an office with one of the computer salesmen. He was quite new, and hadn’t yet earned any big salesmen’s bonuses. He did though buy a Jensen Healey. When Jensen had decided to go a bit more mass market than their big Interceptor Chrysler Typhoon engined cars, they were a bit stuck for a suitable engine to put in the new car. However, Colin Chapman at Lotus had a new engine. He sold Jensen on it. So what happened was that Jensen, and their customers, basically did the development for Lotus.

The salesman would regularly be a no show at work. He’d eventually appear hours later, at various times of the day. Car broken down again. Missed appointments. On one occasion, he arrived mid afternoon, summer day, hot , sweating, sat down at his desk, head in hands. He was just about in tears with the ******g car.

Elan’s wereen’t greatly reliable either, as I recall. Yet, oddly, I think that elderly Elans, the original one, never ever got really cheap.

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After my cousin sold the Elan , he bought a 3.0 ford Capri, which wasn’t that bad, and after that, a Mini Traveller , talk about from one extreme to another, but that thing was a load of trouble ,after many ruined nights out we all hated it with a passion.
Although I like the look of the modern Lotus Elise, even the older S1 costs a packet, with reliability issues so I’m told, plus I would struggle to get my old 62 year old bod into one! so for me its an MX5 all the way :grin:

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Perhaps we need to look at this differently ? The essentials of the Elan are replicated in each iteration of MX5 , if in slightly different ways . We all know the recipe - two seats, lightweight , fizzy twin cam , rear while drive and with handling that justifies the sports car title,. We can bicker about some MX 5s being a tad porky and others being a bit lacking in the trouser department .

But to claim it is a modern iteration of an Elan is mistaken . In truth , if the MX5 has any relationship with the Elan, it is that of inspired resto mod of the original, rather than its equivalent. But , unlike the products of Alfaholics or Singer , which are new wine in an old bottle, the MX5 is new wine in a vaguely familiar bottle.

Why ? Because the Elan occupied an entirely different place in the market, , it was hugely innovative , relatively rare and had a very different status . The Elan was expensive , exclusive and featured stuff like a twin cam engine , electric windows and all round discs which no trad small British sports car could boast . The Elan’s design meant it was much quicker than most cars in a straight line and could out corner nearly everything . On the track , the 26 R was a giant killer .

The MX5 is cheap, and far slower in both straight lines and corners than many rocket hatches and would not see which way a modern Porsche , Aston - or Lotus ! - went . And the only races it wins are usually those which only MX5s can enter , This doesn’t make it a bad car - and there are lots of reasons why, in 2020 , a not very fast, not very grippy droptop is much more fun than many ludicrously overpowered sports cars.

So what does an MX5 most resemble in the Elan’s mid sixties world ? Its size , modest performance, generic engine , price , ubiquity and fun factor make it far , far more of an equivalent to the MG Midget or Triumph Spitfire than anything else I can nominate

And an Elan’s true equivalent in 2020 ? Tough call , as nothing ticks every box. But an Alpine Renault A110 , Cayman or Elise Cup maybe come close - but no cigar !

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From IAD in Worthing, mid-80s

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Santa Barbara testing
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First car off the production line, a few differences

1988 Pre-production, a few differences

Where there was electric window switches, on the early early cars, there was a coin holder; for 1 quarter and one nickel

Or its just a MX5. Not going any further down this rabbit hole.

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Tech / performance specs aside, looking at the Elan, I can see where Mazda got the general idea of the MK1 from,and I’m glad they did , but that’s just my opinion, and I’m no expert, but the Japs are good at this, in the past they looked at the world beating British bikes and come up with their own, and we all know how that ended, until more recent years anyway thanks to Triumph.

A small point…

The headlights of the time might not have been good enough but the Construction and Use Regulations in force at that time required the centre of the headlight to be 2 feet above ground level; which is why sports cars required pop-up lights.

I can’t find what the current regulations are, they might be the same.


I heard that the original Mk1 was developed with a Jag 3Ltr engine. Is this true? I know a company makes a conversion kit for athe Jag engine, Rocketeer I think.

No not true. In 1989, the Jaguar V6 didn’t exist, I think

Around 1994, Mazda developed a prototype using a Mazda 3.0 V6. Project was canned

Around 2004, Ford in Detroit, had an apprentice’s project running around, using a NB-FL, that had a Lincoln LS bottom end, Jaguar heads, and bits out of the Ford parts bin for an intake, and a custom bonnet.

Rocketeer made a kit, but no more I believe.


That looks amazing. Love the bonnet. Five stud wheels so obviously plenty of other changes under the skin. Sometimes I think it would be good if they just let the apprentices loose in the design department and let them do their own thing.

Really interesting discussion as I was a dedicated Lotus fan since the age of twelve. First Elan, 1972 was a disaster: rotten chassis. When I removed the body the front uprights just fell off !!! The next one, like your cousin Bosley, was a beautiful French blue fixed head CXC 3G. Always a pain to start. Sold it to best man to get married and best man rolled it !!! Drove it home from Devon to Walthamstow with top removed and now being restored by a true friend!! Anyway my first brand new Lotus a 1998 Lotus Elise S1 was absolutely superb and entirely reliable. Saw it on the production line at Lotus. Very happy with my Fiat 124 Spider tho’.

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Always good to hear that a classic car is being restored, particularly one you have owned .
My cousins Elan was great fun when it was running on form, but as an apprentice Heating engineer ,he couldn’t keep on top of it, so he sold it .
Its funny you should mention the Lotus and Fiat Spider, I have always liked the Lotus Elise, but know I might well struggle to get in and out, even my MK3 needs a certain technique :grimacing: ,and I was watching a youtube video on the Fiat Spider 124 only the other day, and although the available engine and gearbox range was limited and the inside is very much based on the Mazda, It was a lovely looking car all the same, I was well impresed.


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