Retro Fred 710000
In 1971, there were a number of unsold S4 Elans parked up in the new car hangars and runway car park at Hethel. Graham Arnold, the Sales Director at that time has written of Lotus Group Accountant Fred Bushell coming up with the plan to refresh these cars and turn them into the Sprint, by a wave of the retro fit magic wand. Arnold states that Bushell became known as ‘Retrofred’ by Colin Chapman as he was always retro fitting parts to cars or updating them to the later model. On the other hand, Tony Rudd, Group Engineering Director, has a different take. In his interesting autobiography ‘It Was Fun’, he wrote: “We worked out a scheme to combine converting engines with reworking the stock of unsaleable cars (the prime cause of which was body and paint defects). I suggested we give the Plus 2 a silver roof – to identify the increased performance – since most of its body problems were on the roof, and I proposed we paint the belly of the Elan white, as this was the area of most of their paint and bodywork defects. By this means we could rework the unsaleable cars, freshen them up and fit them with more powerful engines, which would make them attractive enough to start selling them again.” And “I nearly lost my newly-awarded medal when I referred to the rework area as the mushroom factory.” Later he recalls that early 1971 period “… we were soon selling more than 70 cars a week (35 new Big Valves, 25 reworks and the rest Europas) instead of 35 at the depth of the 1970 crisis.”
We know Lotus had done something similar before, as Richard Parramint has written "I remember the winter of either 69 or 70 we were asked to work in the hanger to the left of the factory. Our job was to bring in +2 Federal cars that had stood on the test track unsold and convert them from left-hand to right-hand drive kit cars. Some of the cars had sat out there for six months, so you can imagine the state some of them were in."
So what do we now know about refreshed Elans? We have previously written about the S4/Sprint. 79 S4 Elans were converted to Sprint specification; they all retained their original Unit numbers. However, many more cars were reworked and then given a new Unit number. These cars are identifiable by their 710000 VINs, missing both the month and batch digits. Unfortunately many of the Elans are in the batch of records that were destroyed during the flood in the old fire station hut at Hethel in the late 1970s.
The earlier original Unit number is often revealed during restoration, when the crayon marks usually found on the transmission tunnel reveal a different number to the known VIN Unit number. The E type SE Domestic FHC Elan covers a range of 22 Unit numbers, 5 of which are currently confirmed. There is a range of 25 Unit numbers for the popular G type SE Domestic DHC, 12 of which are confirmed. Only 2 RoW cars, both F type Export FHC seem to have had the Retro Fred treatment. The J type SE Federal FHC Elan has a 16 car Unit number range, 8 confirmed. The more popular K type SE Federal DHC Elan covers 26 Unit numbers with 11 confirmed. A total of 309 Elan and Plus 2 cars are believed to have been refreshed during 1971.