For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here
I hadn’t set out to restore a car – I just wanted something to tinker with in the spare time I was about to have.
This all started when I was in my early 20s: I had an Elan S4 fixed-head coupé that my wife-to-be and I used a lot, including a three-week European tour with the car stuffed with camping gear, but it was sold when we bought a house.
Some 40-odd years later, about to retire, I thought about finding another Elan.
After months of changing my mind weekly about whether to buy one or not, I saw an ideal car advertised: an S4 coupé, one owner since the car was 18 months old, rough in appearance but always kept running and mechanically sound. I rang about the car the day the advert appeared, but it had already gone.
I was disappointed, but it made me realise that if I didn’t get another Elan soon, then in a few years’ time I would wish I had.
So I carried on looking. I then made the classic mistake of buying the first car I looked at, an S4 SE fhc that hadn’t run since 1992, and generally looked a bit rundown.
Good sense should have told me to walk away, but it was just what I was after – something neglected that I could fix up as I went along.
The engine was started, the brakes were made safe and the car was MoT’d at my stepson’s garage near Dorking before driving home to Yorkshire.
This was optimistic: after 25 miles it lost power ,just managing to coast into Clackett Lane services on the M25.
The battery was flat, but fortunately I had joined the AA. After the mechanic diagnosed a non-working dynamo, I decided to get the car home on the back of a truck.
It was made to work again and I ran it like that for a year, but the engine, gearbox and diff all leaked, and so much else needed putting right that I thought a complete rebuild would be best.
I wasn’t too concerned about keeping the Lotus to factory specification – there are enough Elans around for it not to be rare, and some detail changes would make the car my own.
I only wanted to do this once, so anything that was likely to be needed in the coming few years was restored or replaced.
A list would fill two pages, but it included a 26R chassis, adjustable suspension, a slightly tuned and balanced engine and a five-speed gearbox.
The bodywork took the real time. Stripping back to gelcoat revealed the true state of the body (not good), but years of experience with composites meant the poorly repaired previous damage didn’t worry me.
A complete new front end was fitted, other gelcoat cracks were properly repaired, gaps and alignment were time-consumingly corrected and detail modifications were made including a recessed aluminium fuel filler, a smooth underbonnet finish, and the wheelarches unobtrusively flared to clear 5½x13 Minilites.
I left the painting to a good professional; it’s not a Lotus colour but a pale grey-blue that I think suits the car, looks ‘period’ and is easy to match.
Inside, the seats and centre console were retrimmed, my neighbour made a new headlining from black perforated vinyl, the dashboard was re-veneered in light teak with a matt finish, and a Momo steering wheel was fitted with acentre boss 3D-printed to mimic the original horn push.
A new wiring harness moved the fusebox to behind a panel in the passenger footwell, together with the screenwash bottle, tidying things up under the bonnet – again not ‘factory’, but I like the neat look.
I’m sure many people will think it’s over-restored and spoiled by the deviations from standard, and no doubt I’d have been financially better off making a Sprint clone, but where’s the fun in that?
I’ve ended up with a unique car I love, and hope to use it to visit friends in France and Spain, as well as here.
Want to star in our ‘Your classic’ section of the magazine and online? Get in touch
- Owned by Michael Holmes
- First classic 1950 Ford Prefect
- Dream classic Ferrari 308GT4 (I could get the dog in the back!)