Written off in a spectacular high-speed smash when new, this often-rebuilt Lotus has had more lives than an accident-prone cat
1970 Chris Spreckley buys – and crashes – the Elan
On January 13 Chris Spreckley entered the Knutsford dealership of his friend John Mangoletsi and paid £2200 for chassis number 50/2325: a 1969 Lotus Elan Plus 2S. He was allowed £945 part exchange on his 1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 coupé, which had a habit of breaking loose on corners. ‘The only problem I had with the Elan was that the metalastic doughnut couplings in the rear suspension kept breaking, immobilising the car. It went to Mangoletsi’s every couple of months for replacements. Otherwise it was a good car with excellent handing.’
However, his ownership was short-lived. ‘In mid-May I was coming home in the Elan with my friend George Leigh in his Escort BDA Twin Cam. I’d just inched past him travelling at about 90mph when I ran over a brick that dented the offside rear wheel, deflating the tyre and causing a gentle accident with a telegraph pole that collected the steering, scuttle, bonnet and front wheel assembly. The car then span, careering backward 100 yards into an oak tree that demolished the rear end, leaving just the cockpit.’ Leigh’s Escort, meanwhile, had hit the Elan’s sheared-off front at about 80mph.
Spreckley freed himself from his seatbelt and stepped out on to the forest floor, which was now level with the floorpan. ‘When I reported the accident to the police they said they’d spent half an hour looking for a body because they felt no one could have survived the crash. The only injury I got was cutting my ankle on the front chassis rail when I examined the damage.’
The Lotus was deemed a write-off. Spreckley’s insurance broker sold the engine and gearbox for £1750, then paid out the total for the car. ‘I bought an E-type 4.2-litre roadster for £2300 and had change of £150. I was a happy chap and thankful for the way the Lotus saved my life.
‘However, it was a stupid decision by Colin Chapman to have a car with tubeless tyres on pressed steel wheels. I’m amazed to learn someone managed to get it back on the road with the original body.’
1971 The Thompsons buy the wreck for £250
The wrecked Elan was acquired by Jim McIntyre, producer of Spartan kit cars. Addie and Roger Thompson, who had just sold their Lotus 7, visited his premises to view a damaged Lotus Europa that turned out to be poorly repaired. ‘Next to the Europa were the remains of an Elan Plus 2 with a perfect interior,’ remembers Roger. ‘Being in the motor trade I had lots of contacts, so I knew I could rebuild it. It was dirt-cheap – I think we paid £250 including delivery. We lifted it by the front chassis and rolled it off the trailer like a wheelbarrow.’
The Elan needed a new chassis and extensive bodywork repairs. ‘We drove to the Lotus factory, bought a workshop manual and brought back a new chassis on the roof rack of our Triumph Herald. I took the body to a chap called Mick Frensham who had worked for Lotus and had body moulds. He put the damaged bodyshell into the mould and fabricated the missing panels. I bought the suspension and glass from Roger Bennington of the Stratton Motor Company in Norfolk.’
The couple sourced a Ford 2000E gearbox through Roger’s uncle, and Addie assisted Roger throughout the rebuild.
‘I helped smooth the bodywork before we painted the Elan ourselves in our large shed in the garden.’
1973 Back on the road
After the then customary police check the Lotus was classed as a new car – JEG 875L. Remember that Triumph Herald with the roof rack? It was rusting away on Roger’s uncle’s farm and a local was pestering him to sell. ‘My uncle made up a story that I was keeping the Triumph to transfer 925 ELL to my Lotus. Next week the chap called our bluff and turned up with all the paperwork to allow the transfer – so we had to go through with it. He re-registered the Herald as UFO 999, which I think is a better number.’
1974 Daily driver duties
As part of the rebuild Roger had sourced an engine from Grantham-based rally driver Alan Scoble. ‘A gudgeon pin had come loose and scored a cylinder in one of his engines. It still ran fine, so I put it in the Lotus, but after 1000 miles the cylinder head gasket blew. During the stripdown I noticed the score damage was quite deep, so I rebored the engine.’
The Elan became the Thompsons’ daily hack, and Addie recalls, ‘It caused a lot of interest among the men where I worked at British Road Services. They made comments about a woman owning a flash car – but they still queued up for a ride in it.’
1992 Addie is run off the road into a GPO box
The incident happened in Peterborough when ‘a mad Irishman’ forced Addie on to the kerb and into a green GPO box. ‘The damage wasn’t severe – just a bent wheel and suspension, but I made sure I claimed on the other driver’s insurance.’
This meant Roger wasn’t allowed to repair the car himself and it went instead to Kelvedon Motors in Spalding. ‘The insurer said it needed a new chassis in spite of the fact that I drove the Lotus over to the inspection myself with no problems.’ However, after being repaired the Elan was often left in the back of the Thompsons’ garage as life got in the way.
1997 The chassis gets well Hammerited
Roger decided to get a man round to blast the garage brickwork clean. ‘I also stripped the Lotus body off the chassis – the paint was flaking off it in big chunks by then – and got him to blast it back to bare metal. Then we painted it with three coats of Hammerite black and put it back on the road.’ Unfortunately, Addie was suffering from a bad back and the Lotus was getting increasingly uncomfortable for her to drive every day.
1999 The end of an era
The decision to sell came when Roger drove a colleague to collect a new Porsche Boxster.
‘When we arrived he handed me the keys to his old Porsche 944, telling me to give it to Addie and see if it was better than the Lotus for her back pains.’ It was. So with garage space at a premium and a house move imminent, the Thompsons reluctantly advertised their Elan for sale.
2000 Patrick Edward Johnson buys it for £4.8k
On June 5 Roger and Addie sold their Elan to Johnson. ‘It was a 40th birthday present to myself. I’d been looking for a sports car and fancied a Triumph TR6 when my brother-in-law spotted the Elan advertised. It looked a bit scruffy sitting outside in the street. Roger had advertised it for £8000, but then I saw he’d dropped the price to £6500. I drove the car away for £4800 because I promised to look after it and do further work on it. It came with quite a few spares.’
South Rose Motor Services repainted the Lotus and Johnson undertook various jobs on the engine. ‘It smoked a lot on start-up, especially if it had been sitting for a week.
I had the valve guides redone and then done again because I still wasn’t happy. The engine was rebored, and I had the bottom end and cylinder head rebuilt.
‘I also rebuilt the gearbox and fitted Spyder Engineering Minilite wheels. I made it into a nice, solid car.’
2010 AH Classics buys and resells the Elan
Johnson used the Elan ‘on sunny days and weekends’ over ten years. ‘I wasn’t driving it enough and I could either sell it or spend more money getting things rechromed and maybe another repaint, value I would never get back. It was a nice-looking car, but I’d done my time with classics – I only did about 3000 miles in it but it went through two sets of rear rubber doughnut couplings.’
On June 10 he sold the car to Andrew Henson of Rochdale-based AH Classics for £6100. Henson immediately advertised it online. ‘I didn’t do anything major to it. It sold quite quickly.’
2010 Mike Duff pays £8000 for the Elan
Henson’s buyer was Mike Duff of Warrington, who acquired the Elan on August 4. ‘I bought it to undertake a rolling restoration and drive it to the 2012 Le Mans Classic. It was running roughly, so I bought a new distributor that cured that.
‘With help from Alan Morgan at Club Lotus it was identified as a 1969 build. I went through the Elan from front to back. It had an aftermarket airbox, but after speaking to Patrick I got in touch with Andrew and managed to buy the original box and steering wheel for £110. You can still see where the wheel was straightened after Chris Spreckley’s crash.’
2011 The Elan is reunited with its original identity
On August 29 Duff spotted an advert on eBay for Lotus Elan Plus 2 S documents.
‘I emailed and Chris Spreckley replied, “You now own what was my car”. Apparently he’d found all the original paperwork in a drawer. This helped me to retrieve the original OMA 205H registration number. I got £600 for the previous number, which I used for the restoration of my other Elan.’
2011 The Lotus gets back onto the road
After 13 months of evening and weekend work the Elan went back on the road. Among many other tasks, Duff rebuilt the suspension and gearbox and carried out a partial rewire.
A swap to solid sliding-spline universal joint-type drive shafts means worn rubber doughnuts are no longer an issue. ‘It passed its MoT on September 2. Since then I’ve been driving it whenever possible. I did 1400 miles to and from the Le Mans Classic.
‘I don’t see myself ever selling my Plus 2 – it’s too much fun.’