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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
4995 53950 GBP
  • 1970 Lotus Elan S4 SE DHC

    £15,000 - £18,000 est. £15,000 - £18,000 est.
    Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0DE
    Auction Date: 05 Apr 2017
    RESERVE PRICE
    • Engine size: 1.6
    Auction Date: 05 Apr 2017
    Brightwells
    01568 611122 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • 1968 Lotus Elan S4 Drophead

    $36,500(£29,287.60) $36,500(£29,287.60)

    Simplify, Add Lightness: This is the fundamental principal that Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman set for all of his racing and road machines. Like many other legendary racing constructors, Lotus started in a shed, where an Austin 7 was deconstructed, modified and rebuilt into a racing special. The seed was sown and soon Chapman was building competition cars as well as customer road cars to fund his racing efforts. Lotus grew into one of the most successful teams in Grand Prix racing thanks to Chapman’s creativity and relentless pursuit of his design edicts. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, road cars had become an increasingly important component to Lotus’ bottom line. The innovative Elite was one of the first Lotus models to feature the revolutionary backbone chassis, paired with a stressed glassfiber monocoque body. With power from the delectable Coventry Climax engine, the pretty Elite was quick and agile but it was also delicate and the body was prone to stress fractures and twisting. For 1962, the Elite’s replacement, the Elan was a much more sensible design that fully utilized the backbone chassis concept as the main structure. The strong and light steel chassis was again mated to a fiberglass body, but this time, the body was unstressed and therefore not subject to the same sorts of problems faced by the Elite. Suspension on the Elan was independent all around and power came via a Ford “Kent” four-cylinder of 1500cc (for only the first 22 cars before the 1600 replaced it) topped by an advanced twin-cam, 8-valve cylinder head designed by Harry Mundy. Ford were so impressed by the performance gains of the twin-cam head, they purchased the rights to the design and renamed it “Lotus-Ford Twin Cam”. The Elan was the mainstay of Lotus production through the 1960s. With seven different variants over 13 years or production, (including the four-seat Elan +2) it was the biggest success the company had seen and proved a winner in racing form as well. Since its inception, the Elan has been a perennial cult classic and an icon among British sports cars. The Elan served as the direct inspiration for the Mazda MX5 Miata and has often been imitated but never duplicated. There are few cars that combine the Elan’s delicate feel, virtually perfect steering and gutsy, eager twin-cam engine. As a result, they remain highly collectible and well sorted examples are always in demand by enthusiasts. This lovely 1968 Elan is an S4 Drophead that has been fastidiously maintained by its enthusiastic previous owner. It has been treated to a quality restoration where it was refinished in attractive and period correct Bahama yellow over a black interior. The restoration quality is very good, and appropriate for a car that is at its best out on the road. While precise panel alignment was never Colin Chapman’s first concern, the body on this example does fit well and is consistent with factory standards. The signature knock-off wheels are finished in silver as they should be and the car sits on proper radial tires. There’s no real chrome or brightwork to speak of on an Elan, but what little there is on door handles and window trims is in good order and well presented. The black interior is trimmed in original spec vinyl upholstery which is both good looking and hard wearing. Another signature of the Elan is the simple, flat wood dash panel, which is in excellent condition. All switches, instruments and electrics work as they should, a sign that this car has been carefully and properly maintained. That careful, specialized maintenance is evident under the small fiberglass bonnet. The Lotus Twin Cam looks great with no leaks or drips to speak of and clean, tidy presentation all around. These are robust little engines, but they do require knowledgeable service and thankfully this car has been treated exceptionally well. Few automobiles capture the essence of the sports car as well as the Lotus Elan. It is a car that is quite literally the benchmark on which other sports cars are measured. Even Gordon Murray lamented that his only disappointment in his masterpiece McLaren F1 was that he couldn’t have the steering from a Lotus Elan. That speaks volumes for what an important and desirable car this is. With this fine, high quality example, you can experience that sensation first hand.

    For sale
  • Lotus Elan SE Convertible

    POA POA

    Lotus Elan SE Convertible 1.6 Turbo 165 bhp 5 Speed Manual Registered March 1992 Finished in Metallic Pacific Blue with Black Roof, 15" OZ Alloys, Kumho Tyres, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, Sony Stereo, CD Player, AUX Input. Large file including lots of history and invoices from Lotus Specialists. Extensive Service carried out 11/06/12 at 13,765 miles including Timing Belt, spark plugs, P.A.S Fluid, Gearbox Oil, Alternator Belt, Gearbox Oil and more. Gearshift cable replaced in 2007. Vehicle was stored and maintained by TigaStor from September 1992 until October 2006. Three owners from new, first owner kept from 1992 until 2007 and the second from 2007 until 2013. Finance Available on Request – subject to status and terms. Ask about our Company Directors Packages. Fully Valeted; UK Wide Delivery Available; Part Exchange Welcome. Follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

    • Year: 1992
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan Sprint DHC 1971

    £44,950 £44,950

    We are delighted to offer for sale this beautiful Elan Sprint finished in Lotus yellow over white. She has a new Spider chassis and has had thousands of pounds spent. She has recently been re commissioned and serviced in our Maldon workshop, is in immaculate condition and ready to be driven away for the Spring sunshine.

    For sale
  • Lotus Elan SE 1991

    POA POA

    Finished in Pacific blue with grey/red leather upholstery. Only 59,000 miles from new with full Lotus history. Just serviced with new MOT, this Elan is in lovely condition. The hood and seals are very good too.

    For sale
  • Lotus Elan Italian Design Concept Car '86

    €6,500(£5,504.85) €6,500(£5,504.85)

    Prototype Italdesign produced One in the world http://www.autoblog.nl/nieuws/dit-lotus-studiemodel-kost-maar-6500-euro-91419 >>>>> Oldtimerfarm specializes in consignment sales of vintage and collection cars and we are proud to present you this car. Oldtimerfarm is located in Belgium, 9880 Aalter, Steenweg op Deinze 51C, where this car is in our showroom. We are open from Tuesday to Saturday 10-17h (also without appointment). We are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Mondays on appointment only. Make sure you scroll down to look at the extensive photo report (100 pictures). Of course, a more detailed description can be obtained by telephone. Contact us: Xavier: 0032 472 40 1338 (NL, FR, DE, EN, IT) info@oldtimerfarm.be Olivier: 0032 473 11 7300 (NL, FR, DE, EN) olivier@oldtimerfarm.be Oldtimerfarm from Aalter would also like to sell your classic car or car collection. For more information, please contact Xavier. Exhibitions where you can find us: 11-12/02/2017 Flanders Collection Car Gent- Belgium 02-05/03/2017 Retro Classics Stuttgart - Germany 03-05/03/2017 Antwerp Classic Salon - Belgium 05-09/04/2017 Techno Classica Essen - Germany 28/04-01/05/2017 Open doors Oldtimerfarm 01-03/09/

    • Year: 1986
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan S3

    £24,995 £24,995

    For sale is this fully restored Elan S3. The S3 is said by many to be the best looking of the Elans! It’s fitted with a syder chassis with twin wishbone rear suspension and CV joint driveshaft’s. A fully reconditioned big valve twin cam engine running on brand new Weber carbs and electronic ignition. Side impact bar kit with inertia seatbelts have been fitted for extra safety, along with full retrim, wiring loom, electric motor headlamp conversion. This is a beautiful looking little car for anybody looking for a Lotus Elan. Viewing is highly recommended, for anymore information please call 07754553414 Emails may take longer to respond too.

    • Year: 1969
    • Engine size: 1.6
    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
  • LOTUS ELAN SE Turbo 1990

    £6,995 £6,995

    1990 Lotus Elan SE Turbo. Calypso Red with Black and Red leather upholstery. Huge history file with a stamped up service book and lots of bills, invoices and old MoT's back to the first in 1993. The cam belt was replaced 7,000 miles ago along with a new water pump. Having been with its last owner for 5 years it has been used sparingly covering very few miles during his ownership. Totally unmolested and original. The oil pressure is very good and the car drives without fault. Everything works as it should with the central locking and electric windows still operating correctly. The original OZ alloy wheels and tyres are in good order. The hood is free from damage with no leaks and a clear rear screen. The Elan is fitted with an alarm and immobiliser. Viewing is highly recommended. Absolutely any inspection is welcome. All major debit and credit cards accepted. Please contact us for any further information. Delivery can be arranged.

    • Mileage: 119000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.6
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan

    £4,995 £4,995

    Lotus Elan 1.6 SE TURBO! Drives well, nice condition throughout, lots of history, Cat D 15 years ago, priced to sell!! Cheapest on the net

    • Mileage: 94000 mi
    • Engine size: 1588
    For sale
  • LOTUS ELAN +2 1967

    £27,995 £27,995

    Lotus Elan + 2 1967 Metalic Blue with black trim. This incredible example has only had 2 Owners from new. The second fastidious owner has cherished this car for the last 30 years and now it is virtually better than when it left the factory. Although only having covered 42,000 miles from new, this car has been totally rebuilt to the highest standard having had a new galvanised chassis, new body, new wiring loom, rebuilt gearbox, rebuilt axle, new adjustable shock absorbers, new fuel tank and complete new interior including wood veneer dash. The Twin Cam engine was completely rebuilt with new head and upgraded to Lotus Ford Twin Cam Sprint Special Plus spec producing 137 BHP by Pat Thomas of Kelvedon Lotus in 2009. The cost of this alone was GBP 4800. Also fitted with a special manifold and stainless steel exhaust. The list just goes on. Still fitted with the original steering wheel engraved with Colin Chapman's signature and original Pye radio. The huge history file contains all the invoices for well in excess of GBP 20,000 for the work listed, plus much more, and a work shop manual. As one would expect this 2 Owner 42,000 miles Lotus is in exceptional condition in every area and is a dream to drive.

    • Mileage: 42000 mi
    For sale
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