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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
5995 95000 GBP
  • Lot 275

    Lotus Elan

    £6,000 - £8,000 est. £6,000 - £8,000 est.
    Auction Date: 10 Jun 2017
    • Mileage: 75000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.6
    Auction Date: 10 Jun 2017
    Classic Car Auctions
    +44 (0) 1926 640 888 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER


    Description Yellow with black interior. Currently undergoing restoration by ourselves, 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 for this years anniversary of 50 years of the Elan.

    For sale
  • Lotus Elan Sprint

    £32,450 £32,450

    This car is in the rare colour of Tawny / White one of only 25 Sprints made by the factory in this colour between September – December 1972. It had like most cars a Lotus factory replacement chassis some 8-10 years ago, it has a very original interior and a correct Big Valve engine fitted with Dellorto carburetors as standard. Four new tires are fitted and the wheels are in good condition. In the history file is a Certificate of vehicle Provenance supplied by the Lotus factory confirming the cars original colour and details. It also comes with a letter by Andy Graham giving the cars history from new via the Lotus archives at Group Lotus PLC in 2014. This rare colour today is now very popular and hard to find a fixed head as many have been turned in to drop heads MOT’d until May 2016. *Viewing By Appointment Only*

    • Year: 1972
    • Mileage: 72000 mi
    For sale


    Description This car is in the rare colour of Tawny / White one of only 25 Sprints made by the factory in this colour between September – December 1972. It had like most cars a Lotus factory replacement chassis some 8-10 years ago, it has a very original interior and a correct Big Valve engine fitted with Dellorto carburetors as standard. Four new tires are fitted and the wheels are in good condition. In the history file is a Certificate of vehicle Provenance supplied by the Lotus factory confirming the cars original colour and details. It also comes with a letter by Andy Graham giving the cars history from new via the Lotus archives at Group Lotus PLC in 2014. This rare colour today is now very popular and hard to find a fixed head as many have been turned in to drop head.

    For sale
  • Lotus Elan S4 FHC

    £34,950 £34,950

    Yellow with black interior. Restored by ourselves, 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. *Viewing by appointment only*

    • Year: 1968
    • Mileage: 88000 mi
    For sale

    $54,500(£42,019.50) $54,500(£42,019.50)

    --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

    £42,995 £42,995

    1969 LOTUS ELAN SE DHC - DAYTUNE RESTORED Lotus Yellow with Black Trim, Hood and Tonneau, This stunning S4 DHC was restored by the 'legendary' Peter Day of Daytune some years ago to an exacting standard. Utilising a new Lotus Chassis, rebuilt to original factory specification using original materials. Only 7,700 Considerate Miles Since. The condition today is exemplary and ready for the concours circuit if required. SE Spec. includes; Rack and Pinion Steering Close Ratio Gearbox 3.5 ; 1 Rear Axle Ratio Servo Assisted Brakes S/E Engine developing 115 BHP Safety Belts Leather Covered Steering Wheel, Knock On Wheels with Chrome Embellishers Plus ; Michelin XVS tyres Original tool kit and jack, Twin Air Horns Etc. Accompanied by interesting history file with photo record of build and The Original Daytune Build Certificate. Original Sales Brochures Would be impossible to replicate to this standard for anywhere near our asking price This is as good as they come !

    • Year: 1969
    • Mileage: 7700 mi
    For sale
  • Lotus Elan S4 Sprint DHC


    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
  • 1971 Lotus Elan S4 Drophead

    $36,500(£28,141.50) $36,500(£28,141.50)

    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 1971 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

    £79,995 £79,995

    This lovely Lotus Elan S2 was fully rebuilt by specialists to 26R specification in 2012, using a correct 26R chassis and lightweight body, all steel engine, Quaife gearbox and diff. Initially successful in tour and historic events the car was subsequently exported to South Africa, where it raced with some success. Earlier this year the car had a full engine rebuild and has only competed in two short races since. Recent expenditure also includes a gearbox rebuild in 2015 and a new limited slip differential in 2014. It was granted SA HTP papers in 2016 having previously had an MSA HTP Fitted with a large tank and diff cooler the car is set up for endurance racing, but is equally at home in shorter events. It is also UK road registered, with the highly appropriate registration number ELA 100C. Please contact us for a full specification

    • Year: 1965
    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
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