Lotus Elan and the adverts


This is a new series that will examine car sales material and potential promotional photography used by Colin Chapman. Chapman commissioned sales literature from the Mk.VI onwards. In the 1950’s and 60’s off-set printing became reasonably affordable and almost immediately we see Chapman respond along with his marketing colleagues.

The A&R has a good cross section of these brochures in various forms adopted from the earliest to the present.

This article in fact is hybred.It combines an examination of a specific car brochure for the Elan Sprint with an aircraft connection but takes a look at the aircraft that Chapman had access to at Group Lotus as there is a correlation between the two .We will develop this.

  • Subscribers might like also to see complementary pieces relating to the Elan:-
  • Sun Star 1/18th scale model review of 1966 Elan S3
  • Carnaby Street Boutique culture and the Lotus Elan
  • The Avengers
  • Colin Chapman and Aviation
  • Colin Chapman and Microlights



Beechcraft Model 35 Debonair and Bonanza a Beechcraft is seen in the background of the main Lotus advertisement.

During the Second World War Beechcraft imitated a study of the anticipated postwar aircraft market. This would allow them to plan new products. Beechcraft  deducted that a large potential market might exist for a four passenger plane if he price could be fixed between $6-7000.The specification or category they developed was for:-

  • A utility aircraft
  • 4 person carrying capacity
  • Space for additional instruments
  • Night flying equipment
  • Space for extra fuel
  • Passenger baggage storage
  • An engine of 150 hp was considered the lowest power output needed
  • A”V” tail reduced weight and cost
  • Retractable landing gear

These two aircraft were part of a range designed by Ralph Harman after the Second World War. It’s reputed that each major part was designed, built and thoroughly tested. This procedure resulting in redesign where needed. It’s thought the first example was flown in 1945.

They evolved into a relatively fast low wing monoplane. They were very popular as private aircraft and enjoyed a long production life. By the end of 1967 more than 8700 had been sold. In 1968 the retail price was $37,500.

Doblin remarks:

“The Bonanza is a handsome sassy, clean purposeful airplane …………Beechcraft’s fine reputation for building top performance, thoroughly reliable aircraft”

Analysis of Sales Brochure for: Lotus Elan Sprint [see actual brochure image above]

1. Visual imagery, content and message / marketing of the brochure

This is two sided colour brochure [slightly smaller than A4.]The front page with title “Pace Setter” might be considered the front [see details below]. The reverse contains the main image of the yellow and white Elan Sprint with gold trim which is posed on an airfield with a Beechcraft behind.

The visual allusion, connection and identification with this particular aircraft has been outlined above; not least the performance, reliability, quality and established reputation.

In addition the more generalized association with airplanes are:-

  • Speed, maneuverability exhilaration and freedom
  • Convenience, directness and ability to cross borders
  • The privacy and business application “money is time”
  • The pleasure opportunity to indulge and enjoy experiences highlighted
  • Carrying capacity for various purposes
  • The strong connectivity associated with voyage, liberty, exploration and escape
  • The inference of ownership and financial status this implies

Of course these features/functions are integrated and entwined with that of the pilot and the ability to fly. To be a pilot implies:-

  • Skill ,bravery and established measured competency
  • Physical and mental alertness /fitness/ stamina etc.
  • Status of the occupation and responsibility it carries
  • An understanding of the theory and technology of flight
  • The ability to navigate and understand metrological terms etc.
  • The very term pilot conveys high status and association with seniority , conduct ,likens or near equivalent to captain and an individual in control
  • The great possibility that the pilot is also the owner of the plane.

These qualities combined are then deliberately identified with the car and its driver. The creative leap of identification is that the car possesses the qualities of the plane and the driver of the pilot. It’s seeking to make connections and to allow the owner to make projections.

There is possibly also the attempt to introduce one to another and an inference that a pilot will feel completely at home with the Elan. [These are not exaggerations because the Elan was exceptional -see related analysis]

This aspect was also aspirational as we have noted with the implication that an Elan owner might become a pilot /plane owner in the near future. The suggestion of course one provides an introduction even momentum into the other.

It’s rather interesting that the front sheet presents a contrasting perspective.

This side of this brochure comprises a collage of photographs arranged in a square:-

  • Elan  fording a stream
  • Two children sitting in car
  • Detail of steering wheel and dash
  • Detail indicating quality comfort of seats
  • Young woman [ Mary Quant fashion] sitting in driving seat
  • Twin cam engine red cam covers prominent
  • Boot space

Along with the tag line that reads:-

The Pace Setter

“The exhilarating Elan Sprint .alive , taut, tense , quick as cat [ ask a bird] .Not for the ham fisted  or lead –footed; very definitely for the driver  who knows precisely  how to handle the most exhilarating  sports car in the world, output 126 bhp no les.”In summary, it’s an excellent little sports car- Julian Mounter, The Times”. Much can be said about the legendary Lotus Elan a test drive does in much better. Ask your dealer –or contact us for full details and information”

Lotus and Firestone –The Legend Makers

These combined images may be considered in variance with the flying connotations presented. However the very modernity of the Elan is breaking moulds not just in technical/ motoring terms it’s appealing and reaching new cultural norms that emerged in society during the 1960’s.It’s important here to explore our series on the design decades and related themes of the Swinging Sixties. The Lotus marketing people possibly were very aware of their potential younger generation audience and their rejection of many previous norms.

2.         Examine briefly the social/historical context where appropriate.

See Lotus Design Decade and peers available. Subscribers might like to refer to our introductory article which breaks down the brochure categories and where it’s possible to see the other aviation related sales material. The A&R has contended that Chapman and Lotus in part defined the 1960’s .this was a very significant achievement possibly previously underestimated. Their marketing material is therefore more adventurous and attuned than might be first thought.an appreciation and evaluation is only possible when viewed against a cultural understanding of the era.

3          Examine the model in context [note technical. Information invariably contained within brochure itself]

The Elan  was an extraordinary car. For many it was one of the defining cars of the decade. Its design, specification and performance are material to its marketing and evident commercial success. Rather than repeat this information here subscribers are directed to our scale model review where the aesthetics and design package of the Elan are considered in detail

The advertising /marketing of products can occasionally suffer from hybroil.Lotus were not immune from this. For this reason the editors suggest direct comparison with the road test conducted by “Autocar” and “Motor” etc. The editors question why the marketing people had to invent any aura when objective evidence was available.

The “Autocar” report no 1988 of 21.8.1964 commented:-

“without a doubt , the Elan is a sports car –thoroughbred because it owes its characteristics  almost entirely to Lotus racing experience, In its construction, suspension , lightness and appearance it is very modern…….a car built from scratch by people who know what keen drivers want”

In their verdict they awarded the Elan 5 star and concluded:-

“anyone  to whom the Elan  is likely to appeal should try to arrange a trial run because this is very much a driver’s car .The advantage of being lighter than competitors models should be experienced as well as read about”

The model they tested cost £1387.

In their test published 1965 “Motor” contrasted the Elan [£1,436] with the Austin Healey 3000 [£1,166] Daimler SP250 [£1,356] and the Triumph TR4. [£958]

They further added:-

“Just occasionally one comes across the car which is the ultimate in its chosen field; the lean, in performance and drivability , is way ahead of all the opposition in its class –the field of the true, practical “Fun car”………..perhaps the trim could be more beautiful , and the rubber coupled drive shafts cause some longitudinal surging unless the car is driven very smoothly, but there is little else on which to fault a car superbly designed for its job………….the performance is little short of phenomenal , not only through the gears and for tractability in the high gears , but for its complete lack of temperament.

The Sprint c 1966 was retailing for approximately £1686 and was available in component form. It’s believed taking information from “The Lotus Book” that an estimated figure between 900-1353 Sprints were built.

Does this brochure succeed?

The editors suggest yes with slight reservations.

The information sheet is simple yet direct with strong contrast. It manages to marry the product with the potential customer. It uses in part aviation but also importantly the family and women as a uniting bridge and trigger of connectivity. Many potential customers will aspire to both. Many of the younger customers would probably be unable to achieve them immediately but they were on the way and possessed the ambition to do so.The advertisement tells them that potentially they can own the car and advance towards the plane and that ownership of the car will assist career and income development. It offers a trajectory and the assurance of a symbiotic relationship.

The editors wonder if the two images presented might seem contradictory and set up conflicting messages. This might have been intentional projecting extremely positive and progressive relationships in the sense that the Elan was perceived as such a versatile car .It was capable of coexisting and performing diverse roles equally well not least for the safe transport of the family. Furthermore the imagery possibly addressed a new courageous trendy mould braking audience more able and willing to break out from traditional and historical stereotypes. In its own way it was feminist. The imagery of the plane and reference to pilot could equally appeal to women.

The Elan was a good design well executed for the desired audience and well-presented and marketed. It also appeared themed with other backgrounds [see initial introductory article]

The editors appreciate this is not an exact science and welcome comments from our subscribers.

Scale Model Review

Subscribers may be interested in seeing our scale model review of the 1966 Elan S3

Group Lotus Aircraft

Both Rudd and Haskell informs us that at various times the following planes were at Colin Chapman’s disposal. This tells us a lot about Chapman and deserves greater study. The planes may have earned their keep across several functions and provided sympathetic backdrops for promotional photography:-

  • Miles Messenger
  • Piper Comanche
  • Cessna Chancellor [ Registered G-Prix {JPS livery}]
  • Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter

The editors believe it significant that Chapman was very well acquainted with these aircraft and that a combination of his pilot skill and aviation technology [practical and theoretical] feed into his road/racing car designs. For this reason we believe it’s important to examine their specification. We have already noted the adoption of aircraft in Lotus marketing material. Aircraft were to figure significantly in presentation and be part of the jet age modernity that Chapman wished to communicate.

Miles Messenger [note specification taken from the net]

Specification (Messenger 2A)
General characteristics
• Crew: one, pilot
• Capacity: three passengers
• Length: 24 ft 0 in (7.32 m)
• Wingspan: 36 ft 2 in (11.03 m)
• Height: 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)
• Wing area: 191 ft² (17.75 m²)
• Empty weight: 1,450 lb (659 kg)
• Max. takeoff weight: 2,400 lb (1,091 kg)
• Powerplant: 1 × Blackburn Cirrus Major 3 4-cylinder air-cooled inline engine, 155 hp (116 kW)
• Maximum speed: 135 mph (219 km/h)
• Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,878 m)
• Rate of climb: 950 ft/min (290 m/min)

Piper Commanche

Specifications (PA-39)
Data from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft (Part Work 1982-1985), 1985, Orbis Publishing, Page 2735
General characteristics
• Capacity: four/six seat
• Length: 25 ft 2 in (7.67 m)
• Wingspan: 36 ft 9½ in (11.21 m)
• Height: 8 ft 3 in (2.51 m)
• Wing area: 178 ft2 (16.54 m2)
• Empty weight: 2270 lb (1030 kg)
• Gross weight: 3725 lb (1690 kg)
• Powerplant: 2 × Avco Lycoming IO-320-B1A flat-four piston engine with counter-rotating propellers, 160 hp (119 kW) each each
• Maximum speed: 205 mph (330 km/h)
• Range: 1200 miles (1931 km)
• Service ceiling: 20,000 ft (6095 m)

The Piper Navajo

The Navajo are a family of cabin class twin engine aircraft.They are manufactured by Piper Aircraft. They are intended for the general aviation market. Some of the models in the range use Lycoming 310 hp engines.
The Navajo has been a commercial success in the fields of small scale cargo, feeder airlines and corporate transport.
They offered 6-8 seat capacity suitable for corporate and commuter use .Their construction termed low wing monoplane.

They were constructed between 1967 and 1984. Some sources suggest that nearly 4,000 have been built.

Note that a Navajo appears in a publicity photograph with an Elan Sprint in Semister’s book on the Lotus Esprit.

General characteristics
• Crew: one or two
• Capacity: five to seven passengers
• Length: 32 ft 7½ in (9.94 m)
• Wingspan: 40 ft 8 in (12.40 m)
• Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m)
• Wing area: 229 sq. ft (21.3 m²)
• Empty weight: 3,930 lb (1,782 kg)
• Max. takeoff weight: 6,500 lb (2,948 kg)
• Powerplant: 2 × Lycoming TIO-540-A air-cooled six-cylinder horizontally opposed piston engine, 310 hp (231 kW) each
• Propellers: Two or three blade, metal, fully feathering, Hartzell propeller
• Never exceed speed: 236 knots[33] (438 km/h (272 mph))
• Maximum speed: 227 knots (420 km/h (260 mph)) at 15,000 ft (4,600 m)
• Cruise speed: 207 knots (383 km/h (238 mph)) econ cruise at 20,000 ft (6,100 m)
• Stall speed: 63.5 knots (118 km/h (73 mph)) flaps down
• Range: 1,011 nmi (1,875 km (1,165 mi))
• Service ceiling: 26,300 ft (8,015 m)
• Rate of climb: 1,445 ft/min (7.3 m/s)

Cessna Chancellor

Specifications (414A Chancellor)
Data from Orbis[8]
General characteristics
• Crew: one or two
• Capacity: up to 8 passengers
• Length: 36 ft 4.5 in (11.087 m)
• Wingspan: 44 ft 1.5 in (13.449 m)
• Height: 11 ft 5.5 in (3.493 m)
• Wing area: 225.80 sq ft (20.978 m2)
• Empty weight: 4,365 lb (1,980 kg)
• Gross weight: 6,750 lb (3,062 kg)
• Powerplant: 2 × Continental TSIO-520-NB flat-six turbocharged piston, 310 hp (230 kW) each
• Maximum speed: 270 mph; 435 km/h (235 kn)
• Range: 1,528 mi (1,328 nmi; 2,459 km)
• Service ceiling: 30,800 ft (9,388 m)

Bell Jet Ranger
Specifications (206B-L4)

Jet Ranger

Bell 206B Jet Ranger taking off from Vancouver Harbour HeliJet pad.
Data from Bell 206B-L4 specifications
General characteristics
• Crew: one pilot
• Capacity: four passengers
• Length: 39 ft 8 in (12.11 m)
• Rotor diameter: 33 ft 4 in (10.16 m)
• Height: 9 ft 4 in (2.83 m)
• Disc area: 872 ft² (81.1 m²)
• Empty weight: 2,331 lb (1,057 kg)
• Max. takeoff weight: 3,200 lb (1,451 kg)
• Powerplant: 1 × Allison 250-C20B turboshaft, 420 shp; derated to 317 shp due to drivetrain limitations (310 kW)
• Never exceed speed: 130 knots (241 km/h, 150 mph)
• Maximum speed: 120 knots (222 km/h, 138 mph)
• Range: 374 nmi (430 mi, 693 km)
• Service ceiling: 13,500 ft (4,115 m)
• Rate of climb: 1,350 ft/min (6.9 m/s)
• Disc loading: 4 lb/ft² (177 N/m²)
• Power/mass: 0.26 hp/lb (427.48784 W/kg)

The Proposed CCM&EC

The proposed museum believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In particular it’s proposed to retail sales brochures and memorabilia derived from them including posters, cards, calendars, postcards. The proposed museum has the potential to hold originals in archive, buy, sell and exchange brochures and undertake exhibitions that explore marketing of Chapman derived products.

The design of brochures also has a strong educational content and this will be exploited with direct and indirect learning opportunities and competitions.

The proposed CCM&EC business plan allows for a considerable interpretation of aviation / aerodynamic technology with demonstrations and commercial income from activities related to flying along with links to be clubs and flying schools etc. which are intended to extend and complement the learning experiences available. In addition we propose outreach and overlaps with aviation museums. In addition it’s intended to hold working demonstrations and display pieces to complement school and college curricular etc.

The proposed museum is subtitled the “Exploratory -Laboratory” and our visitors and students will be encouraged to conduct experiments. In particular basic flight simulators will enable students to measure and experience theoretical principles in practice.


There are parallels between motoring and aviation. These go beyond engineering .Not least perception and association that influence marketing and owner identification.

Much of the Chapman genius was to recognize parallel technologies and extrapolate between to the two. Only second was his determination to use specialists to extract the best possible design and performance.

In the editors estimation very strong bonds are forged between Chapman and aviation. This we have seen extends between the adoptions of technology through to marketing with a very deliberate correlation. Of course many motoring manufacturers attempted to make the same connectivity with aviation but few perhaps had the likes of Chapman so heavily steeped , submerged and permeated in aeronautical concepts and who’s products owed so much to their principles.

The editors feel it’s probable that the exact extend of Chapman’s impact on popular culture has been vastly underestimated. His achievements in this arena are possibly far greater than credited. Those who bought Lotus cars were style leaders. Where they went others followed .Chapman and his marketing team were possibly more attuned to the era than has been credited. Through their sales brochures and related materials they were not only selling products but impacting on the era, accepted taste and expectation. They were also embracing a changing society along with feminism.

As we have noted sales brochures are a function of communication and marketing. As long  as products and services are manufactured to some extend there remains a requirement to bring these to a targeted audience.

The design and presentation of sales materials is a dynamic subject .It requires understanding of psychology, the brand, the product, the customer and the prevailing culture. To some extent it also requires an appreciation of rivals. Brochures and other sales materials generate income but also have a cost. When commissioned these need to be balanced and the selection of consultants and the ability to grasp subtle sometimes sublime messages is an art.

Much of Chapman’s design mantra is technological but his racing programme would have been more difficult without selling road cars .Consultancy and a creative sales strategy through brochures played an important role .Therefore this exercise is particularly relevant and has educational overlaps for the creative industries and marketing students. Between the manufacturer, marketing professionals and customer are dynamic cultural interfaces.


The Lotus Collectables Book.W.Taylor.Coterie.2000.

ISBN: 1902351010

The Lotus Book.Taylor.Coterie


ISBN: 1857781473

Vintage Ad Gallery

Colin Chapman’s: Lotus Engineering. Haskell Osprey.1993.

ISBN: 1855323761

Tony Rudd –It Was Fun. Tony Rudd [see A&R book review]

One hundred Great Product Designs.Doblin.Van Nostrand Reinhold.1970.

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.js