An appealing concept that doesn't quite work in reality

What is it?

It’s the Elfin MS8 Clubman. Elfin itself has quite a history: founded as a race-car company in Adelaide in 1957, it won 29 championships, including five Australian sports car titles, four Australian Tourist Trophies and three Formula Ford titles, before moving into road cars too, producing a few Lotus/Caterham Seven-alikes.

The car you see here is its latest Sevenesque car – though it gets the full Jessica Rabbit treatment: ludicrously large wheels, voluptuous interior padding and, mysteriously, a properly raked windscreen with thick A-pillars, despite the fact that there’s no roof to attach to it.

Under the bonnet, the caricaturing continues; instead of a relatively powerful small engine, the MS8 has a very powerful large one: a 5.7-litre small block Chevrolet LS1 unit putting out 329bhp at 5600rpm and 343lb ft at 4000rpm.

What’s it like?

Oh, you had to ask, didn’t you? It is, and I quote from one of Autocar’s contributors who has been testing for several decades here, ‘one of the worst sports cars I’ve ever driven.’

But see it statically, and it ain’t bad. Fit and finish is good. Body panel fit is by no means a true arbiter of quality, but panel gaps are reassuringly consistent. Sling open the bonnet and general construction seems sound too. And the interior’s quite well put together. The driving position’s a bit ropey – the seats are small, you sit too high, the steering wheel needs more adjustment, but it’s pleasing to look at and well finished.

No problem when you twist the key, either: the LS1 motor rumbles into a suitably burbly idle, the clutch is heavy and the throttle pedal long but these are the best-weighted of all the driving controls. The gearlever doesn’t slot easily into gear, the brakes take the strength of Hercules to operate (though it makes heel and toeing a bit easier), but it’s the steering that’s the major problem.

For why? Because while the Elfin’s key rivals (Caterham, Ariel, Lotus 2-Eleven) are relatively light and ride on 195-section tyres, the Elfin weighs 900kg, most of which is over the front wheels, themselves bound by 235mm wide rubber. So you need a good three-turns lock-to-lock to prevent the steering being too heavy to move at low speeds.

But then there’s the lock itself, too: the wheels are 18-inch diameter, the body’s wide because of the motor, so the turning circle is useless. If the Elfin had the turning circle of a Lotus 2-Eleven or a Caterham, it’d take about four or more turns to turn from lock-stop to lock-stop. All of which means, in short, the steering’s hopeless. Maybe the idea’s to steer on the throttle everywhere and use the wheel only in a strictly advisory capacity.

Should I buy one?

At the wrong side of £40,000, it’s hard to make much of a case for the Elfin MS8, no matter how well finished it is. So how about the Streamliner, which looks less caricatured and might suit the car’s odd nature better? It has a hood and, if it had a neat power steering system and improved steering lock, could be relatively tempting, in a latter-day TVR kinda way. There’s definitely some appeal to the Elfin concept, but it doesn’t quite come together as a product.

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aceman 28 December 2008

Re: Elfin MS8 Clubman

Looks cool not sure if that windscreen is too safe..