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Lotus Elan M100: Buying guide and review (1989-1996)

Lotus Elan M100: Buying guide and review (1989-1996) Classic and Performance Car
Lotus Elan M100 Lotus Elan M100
A front-wheel drive Lotus? Sacrilege! Whatever next; a diesel engine? That was the verdict of many Lotus traditionalists when the covers were pulled off an all-new Elan in 1989 – one propelled by a Japanese engine that fed power to the wrong set of tyres. 
 
While the new front-wheel drive Elan didn't win everyone over, most critics changed their tune quickly after the first test drives thanks to a one of the finest front-driving chassis ever developed. Could we expect any less from Lotus? Codenamed M100, the new Elan went about things very differently from Lotuses of old, but despite such a critically-acclaimed driving experience it wasn't a commercial success for the company. 
 
Thanks to its rave reviews, the M100 Elan initially sold in reasonably big numbers in the UK and Europe. This was never going to be enough for the Lotus and parent company General Motors however, and the big market to crack was the USA. Sadly, due to the relatively low volumes and high production costs, the little Elan ended up costing around the same as a full-fat Corvette in the States, which pretty much killed it stone dead. 
 
Soon after Isuzu decided to stop production of the 1.6-litre twin cam engine that was used in the Elan, GM decided to kill the two-seater roaster due to the uneconomical cost of engineering a new power plant into the car towards the end of 1992. Things were to change however with the purchase of Lotus by Bugatti, who decided to once again start up production. After a limited run of cars, the tooling and licence to build the Elan was sold to Kia, who also built a version for local markets.

Which one to buy?
 
A total of 3855 Series 1 Elans were built before General Motors finally pulled the plug in 1992. Although these were reasonable sales figures as far as Lotus was concerned, GM was not happy and stopped all development of potential future models, stopping all production of the car at the same time. Of these series 1 cars, you have a choice between the 130bhp naturally aspirated Elan, or the more lively 162bhp Turbo SE model – capable of a sub-7.0second 0-62mph time. 
 
It’s the series 1 cars that are the cheapest and easiest to find, and the later Bugatti-built S2 models (1994 onwards) carry a premium due to the much lower numbers produced. A total of just 800 were produced, and although the Turbo’s max power was slightly down at 155bhp, the car was mildly updated with nicer wheels and a few minor styling tweaks making it a desirable option. 
 
A slightly more exotic choice, and something that very rarely turns up in the UK, is the Kia Elan. When Lotus stopped building the Elan in 1996, the tooling for the car was sold to Korean the manufacturer, which started building the Elan for local markets. Different rear lights, and Kia’s own 1.8-litre engine differentiate the model from the Lotus models.
 
Performance and specs
 
Engine 1588cc, turbocharged in-line four
Power 165bhp @ 6600rpm
Torque 148lb ft @ 4200rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
0-60mph 6.7sec
Top speed 137mph 
Insurance group 16
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2250mm
Length 3802mm
Width 1735mm
Height 1229mm
Weight 997kg
 
Common problems 
 
• The 1.6-litre engine will just keep going as long as it’s properly serviced. One owner has even covered around a quarter of a million miles without the motor needing a rebuild. As with any engine – and especially a turbocharged one – the secret is regular oil changes. A refresh every 5000 miles is ideal, and even better if a fully synthetic lubricant is used. 
 
• Many owners have chosen to upgrade their engine by having the ECU remapped, to take power up to anywhere between 175bhp and 210bhp or so, with no ill-effects. You should watch out for badly installed manual boost controllers and dump valves though, as they can cause running problems and the potential for dangerous boost spikes if not carried out professionally. 
 
• There’s just one weak spot with the Isuzu unit, the Cam Angle Sensor, which fails and causes the fuel-injection system to malfunction. Sometimes the engine warning light illuminates when this happens, but not always. 
 
• Because it’s so strong, there’s little chance of the five-speed manual transmission causing problems, even if the engine has been chipped to give more power. Although the box itself is tough, the gear linkage is not, with failures all too common. The ball link on the end of the cable will break away, leading to difficulty in getting some of the gears. 
 
• Hard-driven cars may be suffering from a clutch that’s past its best, but you simply need to feel for slipping as you accelerate hard through the gears. A biting point near the top of the pedal also gives an indication of a worn clutch. 
 
• The Elan’s suspension is as tough as the rest of the car, with springs and dampers generally not causing any problems. However, the latter can leak, but a swift visual check will soon establish whether replacements are due or not. 
 
• Some cars will show signs of corrosion on the rear suspension wishbones, and because this tends to occur on the top face, it’s difficult to spot as the vehicle sits so low. If the previous owner has fitted uprated-galvanised wishbones, this is good news as they will most likely last the life of the Elan. 
 
• There’s a multitude of suspension bushes that can perish, but unless the car has been driven really hard, it’s unlikely. If any new bits are needed they’re available off the shelf. Of more concern potentially is suspension that’s out of alignment; this is guaranteed to lead to wayward handling and uneven tyre wear. 
 
• The chassis was galvanised when new, and which so far has shown no inclination to corrode. 
 
• It’s a similar story for the glassfibre body pannels and shell, which has so far proved itself to be remarkably durable, meaning full restoration is almost unheard of. Check the underside of the front bumper, as there is a low-hanging rubber strip that is prone to damage. Although replacement is relatively straight forward, a larger impact might have caused damage to the bumper, which is much more serious to fix.
 
• Unfortunately, the electrics are more likely to cause problems; things aren’t helped by that plastic bodyshell causing poor earths though. 
 
• Motors for the windows and headlamps can also play up. Most replacement spares and parts aren’t especially expensive, but even seemingly small issues can take a long time to fix. The window regulators are a simple DIY job, if you have plenty of time and a modicum of mechanical skill. All of the parts needed are still available to buy new fro Lotus too.
 
• The interior can also give problems, while it also doesn’t take much to start looking tatty. The Vauxhall switchgear seems cheap and the materials used throughout the construction of the dashboard and seats weren’t really in keeping with the car’s price. Cheap 
 
• Look out for a damaged roof. They’re strong, so should only need replacing if vandals have struck. However, the folding roofs never effectively sealed the cabin from the elements so don’t expect any roof to be totally watertight. 
 
Model History 
 
1989: The front-wheel-drive Elan is unveiled in two forms; standard or turbocharged S/E. The former has matt black wing mirrors; the latter carries an SE badge on the bootlid. 
1992: The perspex number plate cover is removed for the last cars, with Elan production ceasing soon after. 
1993: Bugatti buys Lotus. 
1994: The Elan is put back into production, to use up remaining stocks of engines and gearboxes. The power-steering is recalibrated, there’s a new dash and the suspension is stiffened up. There’s also a price hike to £24,500 – which would then increase to beyond £26,000. 
1996: The final Elan is built, after 800 Series 2 editions are made. 
1997: Kia puts the Elan back into production, with a 150bhp 1.8-litre engine. This car is never sold in Europe. 
1999: The final front-wheel-drive Elan is built. 
 
Owners clubs, forums and websites 
 
• www.clublotus.co.uk
• www.lotusdriversclub.org
• www.seloc.org
• www.lotus-on-track.com
 
Summary and prices
 
The front-wheel-drive Elan was so over-engineered that Lotus never really stood a chance of making any money on it. Indeed, just to break even the firm would have needed to sell twice as many cars each year as it actually did. The whole episode was partly responsible for General Motors getting rid of Lotus in 1993 and the restart of production under Bugatti. Such over-engineering is great news if you fancy dipping your toe in the Lotus waters, but don’t want something older and potentially more fragile. 
 
You can now pick up a high-mileage Elan (with around 100,000 miles on the clock) for £5000-6000. It’s surprising how many of these cars are around; the front-wheel-drive model is so usable that many owners rack up high annual distances. There aren’t many normally-aspirated examples about, but if you do find one you can expect to pay a little less than for an equivalent turbocharged (SE) edition. Most cars for sale will be priced at £8000-£11,000; the latter figure will net a 50,000-mile example from a specialist. Really exceptional Elans can fetch more though.
Lotus Elan M100 Lotus Elan M100
Last updated: 10th Apr 2016
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Lotus Elan cars for sale

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Lotus Elan
7995 53950 GBP
  • LOTUS ELAN Elan S4 FHC

    £45,500 £45,500

    Type: Used Year: 1971 Make: LOTUS Model: ELAN Trim: Elan S4 FHC Body: Coupe Trans: Manual Mileage: 58840 Engine Size: 1558 Ext Color: WHITE

    • Mileage: 58840 mi
    • Engine size: 1558
    For sale
    Westover Sports Cars Poole
    01204828300 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • 1967 Lotus Elan +2

    £17,995 £17,995

    This excellent driving Lotus Elan Plus Two has been with a classic car enthusiast who lives in our local village (West Knapton) for the past six years. We’ve seen the car being driven out over summer months and it’s always proven totally reliable. Over the six years it has been serviced by a local Jaguar specialist and has cost very little maintain. The Elan has just covered a few hundred miles per year during recent ownership and has done around 7000 miles since complete rebuild between 2003-2008. The car was subject of a five year rebuild having spent eighteen years off the road. The car was rebuilt on a brand new Spyder chassis and still retains its original engine and gearbox which have both been rebuilt. For reliability, a Burton Cartridge water pump was fitted along with QED pistons, electronic ignition, high torque starter and in improved radiator with electric fan. The Lotus was fully re-wired with two new looms to accept modern fuses and relays, a new alternator fitted and a very expensive stainless steel manifold was handmade and fitted. The Lotus was also treated to new galvanised inner sills, Sue Miller solid drive shafts and Tony Thompson Racing adjustable front suspen

    • Year: 1967
    • Mileage: 7000 mi
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan

    £45,500 £45,500

    Variant name:1600 ,Derivative:S4 ,Variant: Elan S4 FHC Completely restored with accompanying Lotus Certification, restoration file and photographic record - Elan S4 FHC. Originally built in February 1969 and supplied by the LOTUS factory in March 1971. One of the very last standard S4 supplied by Lotus. Nut and bolt restoration with documented engine and running gear overhaul. Original chassis. Re-painted bodywork in the original factory finish Cirrus White, reupholstered seats and trims and a new full carpet set. Glass and bright-work as new. Some sensitive enhancements to the mechanical specification make this a delightful example to both own, appreciate and use.

    • Year: 1971
    • Mileage: 58840 mi
    • Engine size: 1.6
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan S4 Sprint DHC

    POA POA

    Mayfair 020 7125 1400 | Maldon 01621 879579 The Lotus Elan was Britain’s preeminent 1960’s sports car. The genius that was Colin Chapman, aided by a talented small team of designers, notably Ron Hickman, had conceived the Elan in 1962 as a replacement for the Elite. Produced from 1971 to 1973, the Elan Sprint was introduced to boost flagging sales. The new Sprint justified its name thanks to a substantial boost in engine power. A big-valve head with high-lift cams and increased compression ratio lifted output to 126bhp. The imaginatively designed backbone chassis, brilliant suspension and sparkling twin cam engine, allied to a pretty body, combined to make a winning car, successful not only amongst the discerning motoring public, but also on the track. This 1971 Elan Sprint was ordered new by Mr John Sargent, a farmer from Farnham in Surrey. Mr Sargent attended the launch of the Sprint at the 1970 Earls Court Motor Show and ordered the Elan off the Lotus stand with the following specification. Special order monotone "Bahama Yellow" L10, silver wheels and chrome wheel trims, silver bumpers, electric windows, optional air horns & tonneau cover and no radio. Chassis 0283G was thus one

    • Year: 1971
    For sale
  • 1963 Lotus Elan Series 1

    £53,950 £53,950

    Chassis Number 26-0149 First sold in September 1963 this superb super rare early car has been restored by marque specialist to better than new condition retaining original rubber mats One family owned until 1995 Comprehensive restoration file and supporting invoices Owners handbook

    • Year: 1963
    For sale
  • 1991 Lotus Elan SE Turbo

    £8,950 £8,950

    1991 Lotus Elan SE Turbo Convertible 68000 miles with full supporting history 85% main agent Service history Finished in Lotus Mustard Yellow Excellent body work with no gel cracks . A really well kept little SE Comes with V5C ,HPi certificate (clear) Extensive history (Invoice for cam belts etc ) Complete MOT History , Service booklet ,Handbooks and two sets of keys

    • Year: 1991
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan

    £36,995 £36,995

    ***UPDATE 03/08/2017*** Upon consideration, for a quicker sale we have reduced the price. Unfortunately we need the space and our investment back. Sensible offers will be considered. ***LISTING*** 1970 Lotus Elan S4 Special Equipment Black Badge Colin Chapman signature edition in Sprint colours. £20,000+ nut & bolt restoration to concurs standard! The project took the best part of 2 years to complete. Started in September 2014 the project was finished in September 2016. Painted in the classic Lotus sprint colours with sprint decals. 31340 miles on the clock (full engine rebuild). However that might as well say 30 miles on the clock as the engine along with the rest of the car has had a full nut & bolt restoration costing in excess of £20,000. It has just had 3 owners in the 47 years since its creation. 34 of those years it sat unused in my Dad's garage. The 3rd owner my Mum has never driven the car. We have kept everything as original as possible in order to restore this seminal British sports vehicle to it's former glory. It was rated 6th out of 10 in the 1971 best sports cars that year and competition was fierce. The steering wheel features Colin Chapman’s signature & the Lotus has been certified by Club Lotus UK. www.clublotus.co.uk. As the car is a certified classic it is exempt from tax in the UK. The doors sit better than the originals did from manufacture, in fact in every way the car has been restored and now exceeds its original construction. The car has an electric ignition & extra security features. The only items missing from factory are the extra badges (the originals will be included) but have not been added to the body as they don’t look in great shape). Replacement badges can be found online but I have chosen to not pursue these. The car is an incredibly rare example of a Lotus Elan S4 in sprint colours. For a 46 year old car it is almost brand new, you will not find another in this condition and its restoration has been a labour of love. It is great fun to drive, you FEEL like you are driving. It is very responsive, well balanced & it just wants to fly! The restoration has been complete to an exceptional concurs standard, simply put the rebuild has put it in better shape than now that when it was originally sold as back in 1970. It passed its first MOT after restoration with a clean bill of health. The car has only been driven home since that day (30 miles) and it has sat under a thick dust sheet securely locked away. The mechanic who completed the restoration has suggested that 400/500 miles should be put on the clock in-order to ‘bed it in’ – he has said he will then re-tune the car if it needs it. We have chosen not to drive the car but to leave this to the new owner. http://www.eleven-engineering.co.uk/ As part of the sale, the mechanic has agreed to tune it up once the 400/500 miles have been put on the clock.

    • Year: 1970
    • Mileage: 31340 mi
    • Engine size: 1.6
    For sale
    C. Blakeborough

    07954801524 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • LOTUS ELAN SERIES 1 1600cc 1963.

    £49,995 £49,995

    Sunburst Yellow with black interior and soft-top. Chassis No.113, one of the oldest surviving examples. Current owner for 35 years. The subject of a meticulous restoration 15 years ago with a new steel chassis, original cylinder head rebuilt with big valves and other recommended engine modifications. Superb throughout. £49,995

    • Year: 1963
    For sale
  • LOTUS ELAN SE 1990

    £10,950 £10,950

    The Lotus M100 Elan, launched in August 1989, was a convertible sports car designed by Lotus, with a reliable Japanese engine and manual transmission supplied by Isuzu, and built with the development and testing resources of General Motors. ;The M100 Elan's cornering performance was undeniable (on release the Elan was described by Autocar magazine as "the quickest point to point car available").;This Lotus has undergone a full body and interior restoration (with photographic record). The car benefits from extensive history with 4 former keepers. Murrays of Edinburgh looked after this car in its formative years with services being carried out on schedule up to 75000 miles. Its first service was carried out after 6 months at 1954 miles. Thereafter, Fairfield garage @ 86261 and PJS Lotus at 99700. The car has every MOT carried out since 95 other. Another outstanding example of a modern classic, which we expect to increase in value over the coming years. This car has been inspected mechanically at Bluebird and more recently at PJS Lotus where it has been given a clean bill of health. The interior has brand new leather seats. ;The roof has a brand new cover and rubber trim with refurbished mechanical working components. The cars is finished in Calypso red with the original OZ alloys and new Michelin tyres. Bluebird will be offering 6 months cover through Warranty Wise, finance options and part exchange facility. This car has been meticulously prepared for sale. ;

    • Engine size: 1.588
    For sale
  • LOTUS ELAN S4

    POA POA

    Description Yellow with black interior. This Lotus Elan S4 FHC was first registered in June of 1968 and has had only four owners since. Having undergone a total bare body restoration at a cost of over £16,000 this Elan drives superbly and is ready to be enjoyed and cherished.

    For sale
  • 1966 LOTUS ELAN SE ROADSTER

    $39,500(£29,249.75) $39,500(£29,249.75)

    --Cirrus White and Black Interior, Black carpeting and Black convertible top, 40,554 original miles, 4-Speed manual transmission, Collector owned. The “Special equipment” Elan featured a 115 bhp high lift cam version 1,558 twin overhead camshaft unit, modified carburetors, new chokes and jets and four branch exhaust. The Lotus-Ford semi close ratio gearbox gave recommended change up speeds of 1st 43mph, 2nd 60mph and 3rd 85mph with acceleration 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds and a maximum speed of 120mph with a suggested touring consumption of 26mpg! During the 1965/1966 model years the standard chassis fitments included servo assisted brakes, Lotus knock-on wheels, revised shock absorbers for improved high speed handling and radial high speed tires. This particular 1966 Lotus Elan S3 “Special Equipment” was purchased from its first owner in 1969 with 2,000 miles on the odometer at the time. The Elan S3 was then carefully maintained and used seasonally as the owner’s prized possession for 45 years until he decided to sell in 2014 to another Lotus collector and enthusiast. This Elan is highly original and can only be described as a survivor with undoubtedly one of the more special examples

    • Year: 1966
    • Mileage: 40554 mi
    For sale
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