For Lotus, 1962 was arguably the most important year in the company's history. In a short space of time, they launched the revolutionary 25 Grand Prix, the first true monocoque, and the revolutionary 26 or 'Elan', an equally revolutionary road car. If the 25 won the British company its first Formula One championships, the Elan confirmed the small firm's seriousness as a sports car manufacturer. Lotus founder Colin Chapman could be forgiven for not building a competition version of the Elan. However, this did not stop his customers from taking their production cars to the track.
Although the production car had fabulous handling and low weight, it had to be prepared for the track. Private teams such as Walker Racing and Chequered Flag took up the challenge and made various modifications to the steering and braking. Chapman followed the private efforts with great interest and even allowed his factory drivers to participate. The 1963 and 1964 seasons were very successful, and the cars were driven by the likes of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Sir John Whitmore. As a businessman, Chapman quickly realised that there was a market for a factory-built racing version of the Lotus Elan.
Chapman retained all the modifications made by his customers. In addition, the suspension was extensively modified with larger anti-roll bars and adjustable racing booms. The fibreglass body wheel arches were widened to make room for larger wheels and tyres. The Lotus four-cylinder DOHC engine was offered with a Cosworth or BRM tuning package. Interestingly, customers later discovered that the engine worked best with a Cosworth block and a BRM cylinder head. Dubbed the "Elan 26R", the competition car was offered with a Roadster body, roll bar and separate hardtop. Although no two cars were identical, most 26Rs were fitted with streamlined headlights and four-spoke wheels.
The Elan 26R was fully homologated during the 1964 season. The race car weighed about 600 kg and its 1558 cc engine could produce between 160 and 175 hp depending on the settings. Its closest rival was the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ, which was very light if a little heavier and also had a powerful 1.6 litre engine. Like David and Goliath, the racing Elan was also capable of matching cars with much larger displacement. While the Ferraris, Aston Martins and Jaguars outpaced the Elan in a straight line, the little Lotus was a match for it in the corners. The Elan was particularly effective on twisty or fast tracks like Goodwood.
Lotus never entered the 26R Elan under its own banner. Instead, it supported private teams, notably that of Ian Walker, who had been instrumental in developing the cars in the first place. Walker took his golden Elans all over the UK but also to the rest of Europe. Along with several other teams, the Elans have done nothing but dominate their class. The most successful 26R driver was future Lotus F1 driver John Miles. In 1966 he won the Autosport championship with
15 race victories in a Willment-prepared car. One of his most memorable victories came at Brands Hatch, against a V8-powered Sunbeam Tiger. As his bonnet came off, he was forced to make a pit stop. Once removed, he reeled in the entire field and passed the Sunbeam on the final lap.
With many cars sold to customers as kits, it is difficult to give an exact figure for the number of Elan 26Rs produced. Most brand experts agree on a figure of 97 cars. Today, the 26R is still very popular with historic racers who sparkle at the wheel of the Elan. Many standard production Elans have since been converted to 26R specification.
Our "26R20" car is not only one of the few original 26Rs from the period, it's also one of the 3 cars converted by Shapecraft in 1964.
The Shapecraft conversion involved the use of an aluminum "Fastback" hardtop riveted and bonded to the Elan's body. The conversion was ordered and sold by Surbiton Motors Limited, a Lotus dealer and Jack Brabham's agent. The owner, Barry Wood, was a private driver who raced the Elan in competition.
SURBITON Motors was a small operation, with just three employees: Barry WOOD the driver-manager, a salesman, and Mr Chris BURTON as mechanic. In 1963, Barry WOOD bought an Elan S1 from Lotus. He prepared this car by modifying its front end and adding a profiled fixed roof of his own design, which he had made at SHAPECRAFT, a companý based in TOLWORTH, SURREY, specializing in aluminum work for the aerospace industry. These modifications were carried out by hand, directly on the car, making it the prototype of the future car. WOOD persuaded SHAPECRAFT to make a mold for future production. By 1963, Surbiton Motors had entered the car in several races. Barry finally decided to market only the fixed-roof concept. He exhibited the car on stand 33, at the Racing Car Show organized by the British Racing & Sports Car Club at the West Hall Olympiad in London from January 22nd to February 1st 1964. It was at the Racing Car Show that Lotus Components Ltd exhibited, on stand 19, the Racing version of the Elan under the name 26R.
Barry WOOD immediately ordered a 26R at the show, and persuaded his friend Les ARNOLD to do the same. ARNOLD receives the 26R4 on April 14, 1964. The 26R20 is delivered to WOOD on June 2, 1964. Both cars will be identically modified by SHAPECRAFT, with the profiled aluminum roof, rear ventilation and side windowś, but they will keep the original front nose. A third car, the 26R7, will be made for Dick CROSSFIELD, without the side windowś.
These three cars were the only ones produced by SHAPECRAFT for Surbiton Motors.
The 26R20 was in the hands of Barry Wood for the 1964 season. At the end of that season, the car was sold to Steve Thompson, "opposite Lock Club", who would continue to enter the fast Shapecraft in British races. Throughout its life, the 26R20 will always be kept racing, to enjoy a new, busy career in historic racing. From 1981 to 2011, the 26R20 is owned by Tony Thompson, the great Lotus Elan guru and driver. Our Lotus will continue its sporting destiny, under the care and expertise of Tony Thompson Racing.
In 2011, it changes hands and becomes the property of several French collectors, before joining the stable of Georges Verquin, amateur driver and regular participant in Peter Auto races. Once again, George successfully entered his rare shapecraft in numerous races in Europe: Spa, Porto, Le Mans Classic... At this time, it was the talented Philip Harper who took a closer look at the 26R20's racy mechanics. In 2021, through Historic Car, the car joined an important collection of Lotus cars from Northern Europe. Today, the car is offered with numerous parts, its HTP valid until 1931 and complete documentation going back a long way in the car's history. The car is deliver with a lovely spare parts package.
Ready to race, it has recently benefited from a thorough overhaul (New paint / new gearbox, new brakes...).
Barry WOOD - Surbiton Motor Ltd - June 2, 1964
Steve THOMPSON - Opposite Lock Club
raced by V. SCHUMANN & Robin D'ARLINGTON
H.J. CRATES & Chris STONE
Tony THOMPSON - Tony Thompson Racing
Benoit COUTURIER - Blue Square