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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
7995 55995 GBP
  • Lotus Elan+2S130/4, 1971. L.H.D. Superbly restored example having had a nut & bolt restoration from the chassis upwards.

    £24,995 £24,995

    Lotus Elan+2S130/4, 1971. L.H.D. Superbly restored example having had a nut & bolt restoration from the chassis upwards. Built at the factory in mid-1971 and registered in Germany in October 1972. The Lotus eventually ended up in Sweden where the restoration took place. The interior has been beautifully trimmed in soft black leather. New dashboard. Superb burr walnut dashboard and original steering wheel and ancillaries. Twin servo braking system. Stunning paintwork which was finished a few years ago and beautiful chrome-work. Masses of paperwork regarding the restoration including invoices for the engine rebuild using new +.020” pistons etc. The car looks as good underneath as it does everywhere around the car. Unmarked Lotus alloy wheels and new spinners with new tyres fitted. A great car to drive and is ready for the road with a new MOT certificate. Road tax fee exempt. Fully serviced.

    • Year: 1971
    For sale
    £24,995 £24,995
    UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190 View contact number
  • Lotus Elan M100

    £8,495 £8,495

    The M100's 1.6-litre Isuzu engine was developed with help from Lotus. The peppy four-cylinder here is one of just 180 naturally aspirated examples, making the non-turbocharged Elan a particularly rare purchase today. The engine's 130hp is sent to the front wheels via a precise five-speed gearbox.

    • Year: 1991
    • Mileage: 68917 mi
    For sale
    £8,495 £8,495
  • Lotus Elan+2S, 1970. Stunning example in Lagoon Blue metallic with original black interior and walnut dashboard.

    £24,995 £24,995

    Lotus Elan+2S, 1970. Stunning example in Lagoon Blue metallic with original black interior and walnut dashboard. Very original example fitted with Lotus alloys. Superb chassis and engine making this an excellent package in terms of a well-sorted Elan+2. Rebuilt engine with Sprint cams with photographic documentation of rebuild. Unleaded head conversion. Electronic ignition. New front suspension fitted by Sherwood Restoration in 2016 and overhauled brakes. New Rotoflex couplings X 4 in 2014. Re-chromed bumpers. Speedo showing 56k miles which is backed up by many old MOT certificates showing the slow progression of the mileage. Road tax fee exempt. A stunning example in all departments. Fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Year: 1970
    For sale
    £24,995 £24,995
  • Lotus Elan+2 1969. Last owner 26 years. Stunning example in pristine Calypso Red with excellent interior trim condition.

    £23,995 £23,995

    Lotus Elan+2 1969. Last owner 26 years. Stunning example in pristine Calypso Red with excellent interior trim condition. Lotus galvanised chassis with a photographic record of the restoration. Just two owners since 1984. Massive history file going back over 30 years with old invoices and old MOT certificates. Paul Matty Sports Cars have been looking after the car for over 20 years and over that period various upgrades have been done. Lovely dashboard with period PYE radio. Engine, gearbox and differential have been rebuilt over the years and the car performs very well indeed. Has the upgraded aluminium radiator and uprated cooling fan fitted. Lovely chrome-work and a beautifully shiny paint finish which is most eye-catching indeed. A lovely cabin with correct instrumentation and switchgear. A very desirable early Elan+2. Fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Year: 1969
    For sale
    £23,995 £23,995
  • Lotus Elan+2S130/4, 1973. Brilliant in Lotus Yellow which is it’s original colour when it left the factory.

    £28,995 £28,995

    Lotus Elan+2S130/4, 1973. Brilliant in Lotus Yellow (LO7) which is it’s original colour when it left the factory. Fully restored 1,200 miles ago and in fantastic condition throughout with bills totalling £15,000 for the restoration work. Rebuilt engine. Beautiful paintwork which is matched by the quality and condition of the interior with a lovely burr walnut dashboard and correct instruments. The interior trim is worthy of note as it is in such great condition, which matches up with the indicated mileage of 60,300. The chassis has been replaced and solid drive shaft conversion fitted, overhauled brake callipers, new brake discs, adjustable shock absorbers. Aluminium fuel tank. Refurbished original Lotus alloy wheels fitted with original specification Dunlop SP Sports tyres as would have been fitted when the car was new. Stainless steel exhaust system. All chrome work in beautiful condition with two new bumpers, door handles, boot-lid hinges etc. New front and rear light clusters. New top-tint windscreen. A stunning vehicle in every respect. Fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Year: 1973
    • Mileage: 1200 mi
    For sale
    £28,995 £28,995
  • Lotus Elan Sprint DHC, 1973. Stunning in Red/White Gold-Leaf Team Lotus colours.

    £55,995 £55,995

    Lotus Elan Sprint DHC, 1973. Stunning in Red/White Gold-Leaf Team Lotus colours. Impeccably repainted a number of years ago. Lotus galvanised chassis and rebuilt engine which performs exceptional well. This is one I have personally driven over the last 3 years and it has been an exceptional experience. It ticks all of the boxes in terms of originality, looks, handling, braking and engine performance. It feels just right! This is the 20th from last Sprint ever produced. Massive history file with old MOT certificates going back to 1977 and a copy of the first registration document in 1973. Certificate of Provenance from Lotus Cars archive department and supporting letter to confirm the authenticity of if this very fine example. Has to be one of the best Sprints in existence in terms of all round appeal and quality with that extra ingredient that is difficult to describe. It has to be seen and driven to be fully appreciated. Original dashboard and instruments. Original leather-bound Colin Chapman signature steering wheel. The engine had a complete rebuild which is detailed in the history file and the Weber carbs fully overhauled. A stunning example which is very hard to find in this c

    • Year: 1973
    For sale
    £55,995 £55,995
  • Lotus Elan SE Turbo (M100), 1991. Stunning example with just 53k miles with full service history from new.

    £7,995 £7,995

    Lotus Elan SE Turbo (M100), 1991. Stunning example with just 53k miles with full service history from new. Superb Steel Blue metallic which is a rare and desirable colour. A new hood was fitted last year. Thick history file with old MOT certificates going back over the years to prove the slow progression of the mileage. Lots of service invoices from the likes of the London Lotus Centre and latterly by Lotus specialist Lakeside Engineering who replaced the cam belt just over 1,000 miles ago. This actual Elan was featured in October 1999 Classic & Sports Car magazine in a five page colour article up against the Mazda MX-5. This is a superior example in splendid cosmetic and mechanical condition and is an absolute joy to drive. Fully MOT’d and serviced.

    • Year: 1991
    • Mileage: 1000 mi
    For sale
    £7,995 £7,995
  • Lotus Elan S2, 1964. Very early example with the round rear lamps as fitted to the S1 Elans.

    £39,995 £39,995

    Lotus Elan S2, 1964. Very early example with the round rear lamps as fitted to the S1 Elans. 56,000 recorded miles which can be traced back in the history file and only 7,000 miles were travelled from 1970-1995. A really lovely example in stunning Lotus Yellow with a very elegant hard-top in silver. One of the prettiest Elan hard-tops we have seen with the rear quarter-lights. The whole car oozes charm and is a real joy to drive with pin-sharp steering and handling. Very lively engine which was rebuilt (cylinder-head by QED) and good brakes to match. Replacement Lotus chassis in red-oxide paint and then overpainted in black for extra protection. All running gear in excellent condition and tidy and original engine bay with the classic larger S1/S2 radiator. Heritage Certificate and letter for the Lotus archives to confirm the authenticity of this fine example. A superbly detailed history file which is fascinating to read through. Comes with a full MOT and service.

    • Year: 1964
    • Mileage: 56000 mi
    For sale
    £39,995 £39,995
  • 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
    £17,995 £17,995
  • 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
    £45,500 £45,500