There were few cars more iconic to the television watching 1960s British public than the Lotus Elan, thanks largely to its use by Emma Peel in The Avengers – a spy thriller series that would become an intergenerational cult classic.
The car you see here is the one used by Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) in 19 episodes of the series, it was then gifted to her after filming wrapped by the production company. More recently it was on display in a museum and it’s now been restored back to original specification.
Fast Facts – The Emma Peel Lotus Elan
- The Lotus Elan was unveiled in 1962 and sold until 1975. It’s a small, lightweight sports car with a steel backbone chassis, a fiberglass body, independent front and rear suspension, and a punchy four-cylinder engine.
- In many respects it was one of the most important road-going cars in Lotus’ history and it continues to influence the motoring world today – the Mazda MX-5 was developed as an homage to it, and supercar designer Gordon Murray expressed disappointment that his then-new supercar the McLaren F1 didn’t quite have the perfect steering of a Elan.
- The Elan was developed as the successor to the Lotus Elite, the Elite had a monocoque fiberglass body that was advanced but somewhat troubled, so the steel backbone chassis and fiberglass body of the Elan was developed to resolve issues with cracking. The architecture of the Elan would be used on a slew of Lotus cars that succeeded it, including icons like the Lotus Europa and Lotus Esprit.
- Various Lotus Elans were used in The Avengers TV series between 1961 and 1969, typically driven by the female co-lead starring alongside John Steed (Patrick Macnee). The car you see here was driven by Diana Rigg (playing Emma Peel) in 19 episodes of the series.
The Lotus Elan
With a curb weight of just 1,500 lbs (680 kgs) and its exceptional handling, the Lotus Elan was one of the best examples of Colin Chapman’s famous manta of “simplify, then add lightness.” The Elan was developed to correct the issues that had existed on the earlier Lotus Elite and its core design would be used on many Lotuses that would follow.
Above Video: This clip from The Avengers shows Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) driving the car shown in this article, with John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee) in the passenger seat.
Whereas the Lotus Elite used a full fiberglass body that was of a load bearing, monocoque design the Elan used a steel backbone chassis with the fiberglass body fitted to it. This removed most of the stress from the fiberglass and resulted in a simple, rigid structure with independent front and rear suspension, a front mounted engine, and rear wheel drive.
Lotus was already a famous racing car manufacturer when the Elan was developed, and this experience shone through in the design. The car was lightweight, with scalpel-sharp handling, and among the best steering feel in history – so much so that Formula 1 and supercar designer Gordon Murray would later express disappointment that his then-new supercar the McLaren F1 didn’t quite have the perfect steering of an Elan.
Today the Lotus Elan remains among the most desirable of the early Lotus’ cars and they’re prized by collectors in the UK, across Europe, in the USA, and further afield.
The Avengers + Emma Peel
The Avengers was a spy thriller TV series that debuted on British television in 1961. It would remain a highly rated show until it left the air in 1969, and it would be one of the first British shows picked up and shown in the USA by American networks.
The show largely centered around the two lead characters, John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee) and his highly capable assistant – this role would change over the course of the series starting with Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg), and Tara King (played by Linda Thorson).
The name “Emma Peel” was chosen as a key criteria for the role was a woman with what the producers called “Man Appeal” – this was shortened to M. Appeal, which then became Emma Peel.
Of all the assistants it was arguably Diana Rigg playing Emma Peel who became the most famous, she became as fashion icon at the same time due to her avant-garde wardrobe. Rigg memorably drove a Lotus Elan in the series, helping the car achieve significant fame on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Lotus Elan Shown Here
The car you see here is best known by its original license plate number of “SJH 499D” – it appeared in 19 episodes of the show and at the end of Series 6 the car was given to Diana Rigg by the TV production company, ABC Television.
Rigg had learned to drive specifically for the show, and wasn’t a keen driver at the time so after keeping the car for a little while she gave it to a friend.
It remained in private hands for a while before being bought by Peter Nelson’s “Cars of the Stars Museum” in Keswick, England. It would then later be bought by the Dezer Collection at the Miami Auto Museum.
More recently the car was given a full body-off restoration by Ken and Neil Myers and it’s now being offered for sale by Silverstone Auctions. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Silverstone Auctions
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