Honda S800 vs Lotus Elan

There are not any two extra completely different automakers than Honda and Lotus. One makes thousands and thousands of wise vehicles beloved across the globe, and the opposite makes just a few light-weight sports activities vehicles. Based in 1948, Lotus constructed its 100,000th automotive solely 4 years in the past. Honda sells greater than 100,000 vehicles each month in america, offered about 4.1-million vehicles around the globe, plus 17-or-so million bikes and greater than six million different issues like garden mowers, hedge trimmers and outboard engines. However each Lotus and Honda had been based by mad genius engineers, whose private flaws are nearly as well-known as their good creations.

However that’s proper now. Within the Sixties, each had been within the enterprise of creating light-weight roadsters.

The Honda S800 (and its predecessors the S500 and S600) and the Lotus Elan weren’t direct rivals. Honda aimed on the low-end of the sports activities automotive market, populated by the Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Midget siblings and the Triumph Spitfire. Lotus was extra formidable, placing the Elan up towards severe gamers. And when it comes to tempo, the Elan nipped on the heels of Porsches and Jaguar E-Sorts.

That doesn’t imply some similarities had been obvious. In Street & Monitor’s 1965 street check of the S600, our ancestors wrote, “[t]he steering and dealing with of the Honda are wonderful by any requirements and, frankly, are extra paying homage to the rather more costly Lotus Elan than the vehicles in its personal worth class.” In outright efficiency, Honda’s roadster was no match for the Elan nevertheless it was an overachiever. And it occurs that the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville Tennessee has primo examples of every. Because of that establishment’s gracious indulgence, we took each out on the nation roads south of the town.

1968 Honda S800

Twist the ignition key to the left of the steering column, a high-pitched starter whirs up, and the engine instantly settles into a comparatively excessive idle.

That the S800 sounds similar to a bike isn’t any coincidence. Honda, in fact, began as a bike producer, and when it started making vehicles within the early Sixties, it was bike folks doing the engineering. All of Honda’s S-series vehicles used a high-revving four-cylinder engine with overhead cams, twin twin-choke Keihin carburetors, and high-tech for the day, a roller-bearing crankshaft. Each the S500 and S600 used chain-drive rear ends, although that was deserted for a dwell axle on the later S800. The 800cc 4 on this automotive makes 70 horsepower at 8000 rpm, with redline indicated at 8500.

What’s astonishing is how Honda the S800 feels. Regardless that the S-series was one of many first Honda manufacturing vehicles (the opposite was the T360, a pickup with a 360cc model of this engine, mounted below the motive force’s seat), the reference to later Honda vehicles is obvious. You sit unnervingly near the door, but the ergonomics are wonderful. Pedals and steering wheel are straight forward, and there is not any intrusion from the wheel wells. Honda’s miraculous packaging was a factor from day one.

Then, the gearbox. Thoughts-blowing. Completely quick throws, a fragile little gear lever, and a tremendous metallic really feel with each gear engagement. Plus, it is absolutely synchronized and much simpler to make use of than different transmissions of the period. Nonetheless, the engine is the present’s star. There’s stunning mid-range torque given its measurement and high-revving nature, although you continue to must rev the residing hell out of it. At first, I resolved to not push the engine too laborious…then I encountered a hill. To maintain up with fashionable visitors, all 8500 rpm should be utilized. It is wonderful and hilarious in equal measure. Its buzzsaw noise may be very paying homage to all of Honda’s Nineties high-revving fours, too, solely there is not any VTEC bark as a result of, in fact, Honda hadn’t invented that but. That mentioned, the engine is happiest between 5000 and 8000 rpm. That’s good as a result of it’s turning 5000 revs or extra at freeway speeds in fourth.

Journey and dealing with are additionally nice. I did not notice the S800 had a stable rear axle till we stopped to take images, and I poked round beneath. Steering is fingertip gentle, weighting up properly after a bit little bit of on-center deadness. The one factor that felt of their period in a foul manner had been the brakes—entrance discs, rear drums—which require a powerful kick to function. As soon as the proper stress is utilized, they work effectively sufficient, if not inspiring confidence.

It wasn’t till the Seventies that Japanese vehicles challenged the American and European institution. Driving this Honda now makes apparent that they need to’ve been taken extra critically. It nearly appears foolish to check the S800 to Sprites and the like. It was, and is, the higher automotive.

Whereas the S800 doesn’t drive like a more recent Honda, and even an S2000, the corporate’s DNA is obvious in abundance. Honda is an engineering firm in the beginning, and the S800 is an engineer’s automotive.

1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE Coupe

So, there is a small drawback right here. This Elan is not a roadster. Lotus supplied a “fixed-head” model of the Elan beginning within the mid Sixties, and mechanically, it is equivalent to the roadster. Since a lot of the Elan’s power comes from its modern metal spine chassis and never the skinny, fiberglass physique, the coupe drive nearly identically to the roadster. This being a late coupe with the “Particular Tools” bundle – electrical home windows and a leather-based coated wheel amongst just a few different issues – it is as luxurious because the Elan ever obtained.

It isn’t a luxurious automotive. The walnut sprint will not idiot anybody—that is as pure a sports activities automotive as you may ever discover. The spine chassis weighs simply 75 kilos, and proof of Colin Chapman’s legendary obsession with weight-saving is discovered all through. The hood has no hinges, for instance. Simply pop the latch and take the entire thing off.

Whereas the Honda should have stunned Sixties drivers with its engineering sophistication, the Elan certainly blew minds with its velocity. The 1.6-liter twin-cam 4 supposedly makes round 110 horsepower, although this automotive has a set of Weber carbs rather than the usual Strombergs, so I would not be stunned if it was hotter. Our January, 1969 street check of a U.S.-spec Elan S4 SE Coupe stories a weight of simply 1630 kilos. Within the fingers of a very good driver on a twisty street, this Elan would stroll an NA Miata. It feels as fast, if not faster than a 911 of the interval, and it might even sustain with an E-Kind in the best circumstance.

Because of its unique building, the Elan weighs lower than the steel-bodied Honda, which is available in, based on Automotive journal, at just below 1700 kilos. The Elan’s vastly superior power-to-weight ratio signifies that it is an altogether extra severe proposition. The Honda is a cute little sports activities automotive. The Lotus is a road-racing hero.

The ergonomics are barely wacky. A cutout within the door card leaves extra room for the motive force’s proper arm than there’s within the Honda, however the pedals are effectively offset and so tiny, it’s greatest to drive barefoot. This won’t sound like an enormous deal, however my measurement nines needed to come off to drive comfortably and exactly. As soon as settled in, although, it’s a deal with, and obvious why the Elan has been a experience and dealing with benchmark. The double wishbone entrance and “Chapman Strut” rear–primarily a McPherson strut in the back of the automotive—is about good. Like so many nice English vehicles, the Elan will get into a stupendous circulate with the street floor beneath. There’s tons of suspension journey, but the automotive by no means feels floaty or unsettled. Steering is a revelation too, each communicative and with reassuring really feel.

When discussing the Elan, most will give attention to the excellent chassis, the engine additionally deserves some love. The unique Ford-Lotus was derived from the Blue Oval’s venerable overhead valve Kent four-cylinder, with Lotus-designed twin-cam heads and different tweaks made by Lotus. It is an brisk engine, making a sound straight off of a historic racing grid. Just like the Honda, the Elan’s four-speed gearbox has ultra-short exact throws, although this specific automotive had considerably weaker synchromesh, so persistence and delicacy was required.

The Comparability

As a driving expertise, the Lotus is in the end in a distinct league than the Honda. That’s hardly stunning given it is lighter, extra highly effective, and has a extra subtle suspension. But, each vehicles symbolize the most effective engineering of their day, with completely different takes on the sports-car system. In a really perfect world, be the Lane and get each. The Lotus is extra usable, given it simply retains up with fashionable visitors, although the general refinement and (presumed) reliability of the Honda has a powerful enchantment too. (Elans are notoriously finicky beasts.)

What’s fascinating is the place these vehicles sit inside their firm’s histories. For Lotus, the Elan was a highwater mark, arguably Chapman’s greatest street automotive, and one the corporate by no means matched till the Elise arrived in 1996. For Honda, the S-Collection previewed what was to come back. The engineering drive that created this outstanding four-cylinder then went on to create the CVCC Civic, Accord, CRX, NSX and all these Kind-Rs. It has led the world throughout the next a long time.

Each are a lesson within the virtues of much less is extra. In sharp distinction to at this time’s sports activities vehicles which, aside from the Mazda MX-5 Miata, really feel leaden by comparability. They’re vehicles Street & Monitor was created to have fun—machines that use intelligent engineering to offer an exhilarating drive.

track club
A car-lover’s neighborhood for final entry & unequalled experiences.JOIN NOW

Leave a Comment