Lotus's diminutive two-seat Elan changed the automotive landscape when it arrived in the early sixties. Its lightweight construction bestowed it with greater acceleration than more powerful rivals, while its agile handling made it a joy to drive. Car and Driver went so far as to describe it as coming, "closer than anything else on the market to providing a Formula car for ordinary street use." Crikey.
When production ended in 1973, then, it left a hole in the hearts of enthusiasts, and in the market. Alternatives like the TVR Vixen and Marcos GT also went off sale around the same time, the Triumph TR7 and TVR M Series didn't directly fill the void and the Mazda MX-5 was still over 15 years away. So, when it became apparent that no suitable replacement was forthcoming, one man decided to go it alone. The Evante was born.
Despite its legendary reputation, by the end of its life the Elan was beginning to show one or two signs of age. To that end its spiritual successor was intended to retain all that was good about the original car, while modernising the formula just enough to recoup its relevance. The outcome, depending on who you ask, was either a resounding success or, as one PHer puts it, "a complete pile of sh*te."
Designed and created by George Walter Robinson - who ambitiously declared his aim at the time was "to be another Aston Martin" - the Evante's styling was, obviously, heavily inspired by the Elan. More so from some angles than others, it's fair to say, and viewed from the rear the car's aesthetics are particularly divisive. Mechanically the Evante also borrowed heavily from Ford - the five-speed gearbox and differential, for example, were taken from a Sierra, while switchgear came from an Escort.
It did feature a custom-built space frame chassis, though, one clad in composite body panels to ensure that Colin Chapman's lightweight ethos endured. There were 10-inch disc brakes and independent suspension all round, too, and the whole thing was powered by a Ford Kent-based 1.7-litre motor featuring noted race-engine tuner Vegantune's own dual-overhead cam head to improve performance.
So specced, the Evante produced 142hp and 129lb ft of torque for a power-to-weight ratio between that of a Porsche 944 Turbo and a Ferrari Testarossa; 0-60mph was achieved in 6.4 seconds and top speed was a heady 132mph. Outright performance wasn't even its forte, though, rather its blend of Lotus-style pace and agility with contemporary comfort and convenience - leading Motorsport magazine to call it "the genuine, pedigree son of Elan."
Unfortunately, not enough buyers agreed, and Evante production lasted just four short years. Cypriot businessman Andreas Liveras would later buy the rights to continue manufacturing the cars in the late 90s, adding Ford Zetec engines and ungainly rear lights from a Mk2 Golf, and it is from this final batch that today's Spotted comes. Which could either make it less special, or more useable, depending on your point of view.
As recently as 2007, though, it seems that some enthusiasts were still yearning for a modern-day Elan, with PHer tomuch supposedly having acquired the rights to produce the car once more, leading to a rather tepid testing of the water on this very site. His continuation cars were to begin at a seemingly optimistic £15,000, though, roughly the cost of a decent Elan at the time. Today's Spotted is listed at £12,995, but with Elan prices having risen significantly since, could the Evante finally represent the modern alternative it was intended to be?
SPECIFICATION - VEGANTUNE AVANTE
Engine: 1,699cc, four cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 142@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 129@5,250rpm
First registered: 1999
Recorded mileage: 12,000
Price new: £14,888
Yours for: £12,995