The Black and Decker Work Mate is a design classic. Light-weight, portable and versatile with fantastic functionality designed by a South African chap called Ron Hickman. You see Ron buggered up a chair he was cutting a piece of wood on, no doubt earning him an earful from his missus and decided he needed something more suitable for the task.
Ron was pleased with his new design and decided to sell it to the public. However great innovators do not necessarily make great marketeers and Ron had little success selling his design gem at trade shows and it was rejected by several of the major tool companies.
Finally Black and Decker saw the light and took the Work Mate into full production in 1973 – by 1981 it had sold over 10 million benches, over 70 million world wide to date making good old Ron a very rich man indeed.
The best thing about the workmate is that it could be easily stowed in the boot of a car which was just as well as Ron was an avid fan of all things automotive which, dear reader, finally brings us around to the point of the story. Like the multi talented designer of the Volvo P1800, Pelle Petterson, Ron also designed an iconic sixties car (or two), the legendary Lotus Elan and Elan + 2!
Ron came to England in 1954 at the age of 22 and landed a job with Ford in their styling department working as a clay modeler. In 1956 he met a talented young motor racing engineer making a name for himself utilizing advanced engineering techniques never seen before. Colin Chapman was working on a new ultra light-weight road car called the Elite: An amazing car, beautiful to look at and a dream to drive enthusiastically but ultimately not far enough removed from its race car brethren being too complicated and fragile to be used daily.
Colin Chapman was impressed with Ron’s attitude and knowledge and took him on as his production manager and ultimately general manager and director.
Hickman approached the challenge of designing a new road going sportscar by combining cutting edge racing design; uni-mould glass fibre body, strong steel backbone chassis, independent suspension, disc brakes all round with a beautiful free reving twin cam 1,600cc engine, but raiding the parts bins of major manufacturers to keep costs down and improve reliability.
The engine may have been small but as the car was so light (720kg) it could accelerate as quickly as an E-Type Jag with over twice the capacity. Launched in 1962 the Elan was a tremendous hit and was cemented as an icon of the Swinging Sixties when it was chosen for Emma Peel in The Avengers.
Respect for the amazing handling attributes of the car stretched way beyond the decade of peace and love. Gordon Murray apparently bemoaned the fact that his fabulous McLaren F1 didn’t have perfect steering like the Elan. And if imitation is the highest form of flattery, Mazda doffed a very large hat indeed when it designed the MX5 over two decades later.
In 1967 the Elan Plus Two was introduced. With a longer and wider body the Plus Two was a new level of sophistication, moving further away from the racetrack. It still employed the use of a backbone chassis and racing technology but in a more user-friendly fixed head coupe package and was the first Lotus road car not to be offered as a kit, positioning Lotus as a serious maker of road cars.
Still adhering strongly to the Lotus ethos the new coupe weighed in at a mere 850kgs, still extremely light when compared to other cars; the series 2 E-type fhc came in at a comparatively portly 1,369kgs so it lost little of the superb feedback and response of the open top.
As the name suggests the Plus Two has a couple of seats in the rear. In reality they are only really suitable for small children and contortionists (masochistic contortionists) but they do make the car more spacious.
Peterborough based Spydercars have specialised in providing upgrades and replacement parts for Elans for over thirty years. They have seriously breathed on the club’s 1968 Silver Plus Two adding a new lightened space frame, a powerful modern 2.0 litre Ford Ztec engine and upgraded suspension and brakes. It drives just like an original but with even more va va voom.