Miata Motivation – 1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE – $18,500

by | Feb 2023 | Craigslist ClassiFINDS, Sports Car Saturday

(To stop the slideshow and expand the pictures, click on the current photograph below)

March 4, 2023, Update – We confirmed the listing for this “Classifind” expired, so with no replacement found, we’re assuming this ride is “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.

Take a good hard look at the pictures of this car. Remind you of any modern sports car of a similar size?  Produced from 1962 through 1975 in four distinct series, the Lotus Elan is a handling benchmark for automotive engineers.  The most notable example is the original NA Mazda Miata launched in 1990.  Not only did Mazda engineers benchmark the Elan for the Miata’s handling, but stylists also gave their new Japanese sports car a similar grill opening and proportion.

Unlike the incredibly reliable Miata, the original Lotus Elan suffered from shoddy build quality, making an already limited production car even rarer today.  This gold 1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE, last listed in February 2023 on Craigslist in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a project car needing body and interior restoration.  The “SE” rear quarter panel badges confirm this Elan is a slightly more powerful and luxurious “Special Equipment” variant.  The seller reports their Elan features a restored engine, transmission, and brakes and now needs a cosmetic restoration.

Last offered for $18,500, Classic.com, the analytics and search engine for the collector car market, confirms the ask is well below the one-year rolling average of this guide’s summary for first-generation Lotus Elans of all body styles produced between 1962 and 1975.  By clicking on the green dots in the graph below, you can navigate to each comparable car sold as a way to help you evaluate the price of the S4 SE featured here:

As a second data point, the  Collector Car Market Review Online Tool reveals the seller’s ask falls below this guide’s #4 “Fair” (Daily Driver) estimate of $21,000.

A handling benchmark to this day and this day and Mazda’s styling inspiration for the original Miata, Colin Chapin introduced the stylish and capable Elan in 1963, and from there, it became an instant hit, especially once actress Diana Rigg started driving one as Mrs. Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers. The  Elan is the first Lotus road car designed with a mild steel backbone chassis and a non-structural fiberglass body. At only 1,500 pounds, the Elan symbolized Colin Chapman’s design philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness.” Compared to other entry-level British sports cars of the period, the Elan was technologically advanced with a double overhead cam 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine,  four-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and four-wheel independent suspension. Unfortunately, shoddy build quality and non-existent rustproofing of the backbone frame make these cars scarce sites today. The easiest way to confirm the example presented here is an S4 is the chrome fixed frames for the side windows. Other more subtle changes included Federally mandated safety items such as flush dashboard rocker switches, side marker lights, dual circuit brake systems, seat headrests, and emission controls. Other convenience items added included a new tail lamp cluster with backup lights shared with the Jaguar E-Type and two-speed windshield wipers with an electric washer, and, most importantly, conversion of the Lucas electrical system to a more conventional hostile ground layout.

The Men & Motors YouTube Channel features this video of Richard Hammond looking back on the mystique of the original Lotus Elan:

With the mechanical bits of this 1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE for sale fully sorted, the next caretaker could work hard for the balance of the winter to get their purchase ready in time for late spring. However, we wonder whether carefully removing the black bumper paint will reveal well-preserved chrome bumpers.

Here’s the seller’s description:

“1970 Lotus Elan with a restored engine, transmission, and brakes. Spyder frame and suspension. Needs body and interior restoration. Has new but uninstalled wood dash.”

Restore or daily: What would you do with this 1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE for sale? Please comment below and let us know!


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