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The five speed gearbox made its press debut in Autocar of 5 October 1972. The British weekly carried the first test of a Plus 2S130/5. “The new box has been made available as a £120 option on the Plus 2S 130; when supplies are sufficient the option will be extended to the Elan Sprint.”

The test car was one of the first three fitted with the box. Therefore Lotus must have made the car by mid September at the latest, to allow for the road test. The gearbox must have had to be made up in August/September. The decision to make a 5 speed box must therefore have been made some two to three months before, May or June 1972. Bean Industries of Tipton, a British Leyland firm, manufactured and assemled the 5 speed gearbox for Lotus.

Lotus press news issued 17 October 1972 at the Motor Show announced “The Elan Sprint/5 is the latest version of one of the world’s most popular and out and out sports cars. Now in its tenth year of production the vehicle appears for the first time with a five speed optional gearbox.”

The Earls Court Motor Show catalogue quotes a price of £2466.56 for the Sprint/5, against £2345.73 for the normal box, a £120.83 cost option. The official Lotus price list, effective 1 October 1972, lists the option of the 5 speed box, but only for the +2S130 and the Europa. I have to assume therefore that the decision to cease the manufacture of Sprints must have been taken in late September or early October, after the Motor Show details had gone to press. Actual Sprint production (as opposed to supply) ceased at the factory in March 1973. Certainly Sprint sales were poor by this time and the factory carried large stock of unsold Sprints.

The exact number of Sprint/5s that left Lotus' Hethel base is a poser as there are apparently no records regarding the number made. These were only cursorily kept and in the late 70’s destroyed during a flood at the factory. In his book, John Bolster says Lotus fitted 5 speed boxes to the "last five or six Elans". In fact, Lotus took completed 4 speed cars from the end of the production line and wheeled them around to the factory service garage, where they would be fitted with the 5 speed gearbox under the supervision of the late Roy Badcock, the Service Manager. This would account for the lack of any production records and was probably done to avoid Type Approval.

Mick Miller, a renowned Elan restorer, always claimed that only three were ever made in this way by Lotus and that his was the first produced by the factory. It is also known that several Sprints had the five speed gearbox fitted after delivery, either by the factory or by a dealer, over several years after production ceased. A technical service bulletin, issued in May 1974, details the procedure for replacing the Sprint gearbox with a five speed unit.

It could be that two cars now in Sweden and one now in Germany were the only Sprint/5’s delivered new by the factory and were made to order for Lars Wendl, the Swedish Lotus agent at that time (he is still in business). A Danish owner bought a used Sprint in 1973; however, as it was being prepared for delivery at the dealer, the garage burned down and the car was written off. In August 1973 the Danish importer visited the factory and called the owner to tell him that Lotus had a brand new Sprint, if he wanted it, which he did. He didn’t order a Sprint/5, but that was what was delivered in September 1973.

Claimed original Sprint/5s: 

 

Location

Unit Number

Note

UK

0871 G

Mick Miller’s car (now sold). Apparently Mick had the first Sprint/5 produced by the factory. This car was first registered in Jan 73 to Moonraker Marine, Chapman's boat-building business, and used by "a very close confidant" of his.

UK

Not known

Located in England and privately owned from new by the same person, apparently

Sweden

0085 H

Delivered to Kronegårds Motor, Stockholm. Registered Apr 73

Germany

0086 H

Delivered to dealer Hartmut Hocker. Registered Feb 73

Sweden

0092 H

Lars Wendl order. Built Feb 73

Spain

0093 H

Built Feb 73

Sweden

0097 H

Lars Wendl order. Built Mar 73

Germany

0098 H

Built Mar 73

Sweden

0099 H

Lars Wendl order. Built Mar 73

Portugal

0100 H

Built Mar 73

Portugal

0101 H

Built Mar 73. Very last Sprint actually built

Portugal

0102 H

Built Mar 73

Denmark

0103 H

Built Feb 73