By on February 14, 2019

The Rare Rides series has featured a couple Lotus-related items before. The first was this Isuzu I-Mark RS, which was an Isuzu with some Lotus badges on it. Then came the Elite, which was a real Lotus. Today we take a look at the Elan, which mixes it up with Lotus badges and an Isuzu engine.

Lotus first used the Elan name in 1962, applying it to a tiny roadster that delighted driving enthusiasts. It was fun, lightweight, simple, and could be modified and raced. 1967 saw the introduction of a new Elan, the so-called Elan +2. The number at the end signifies the addition of two additional seats that probably shouldn’t have been included.

This +2 Elan, like the Elite linked above, was part of a push upmarket for the Lotus brand. Less focus on lightness, more focus on luxury and bringing passengers along for the ride. The +2 existed concurrently (only as a coupe) until the demise of the original Elan, persisting through 1975.

After an ownership change, Lotus decided to dust off the Elan name one more time for a new roadster. It was the turn of the Nineties, and the two-seat roadster was experiencing a rebirth via the brand new Mazda Miata. Lotus’ parent, General Motors, wanted a piece of the action, and the General spent around $55 million on the project. It was an amount slightly more than the budget for most prior Lotus vehicles.

Known as the M100, the new Elan stemmed from the M90, a fiberglass development prototype dating back to the Eighties. At the time, Lotus was not under the influence of GM and intended to sell the car via Toyota dealerships. But the idea was not to be. Development on the M100 began in 1986, and the new car was production-ready in 1989. General Motors mandated the new car be desirable to U.S. consumers, and asked Lotus to conduct extensive testing. Upon production, Lotus drove each new Elan 30 miles around its factory track to ensure no issues prior to shipment.

Unlike the Miata, Lotus opted for front-wheel drive, claiming it was always faster in a small, lightweight roadster. This Elan would be the only front-drive vehicle ever produced by the brand. Power came via a 1.5-liter inline-four engine sourced from the Isuzu Gemini, and modified by Lotus. Naturally aspirated and turbo versions were available, providing 132 and 164 horsepower, respectively. All came equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.

The Elan was expensive to build, and a high asking price combined with front-wheel drive and a small dealership network hurt the roadster’s chances — especially in North America. Between 1989 and 1992, 3,855 Elans were made, with just 559 sent to the United States. The Elan would not see a replacement from Lotus until 1996, with the debut of the new Elise. But other parties took an interest in the last Elan.

After British production ended, Lotus sold its rights to one of the interested parties — Kia. The Korean manufacturer tweaked the interior and rear lights slightly, replaced the engine with its own 1.8-liter turbocharged four, and put the car into production in South Korea. It was made between 1996 and 1999, sold as the Kia Elan. 1,056 Kia Elans were produced.

Today’s Rare Ride comes to us from Atlanta. In excellent condition, it asks $16,800.

[Images: seller]

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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1991 Lotus Elan, With Power by Isuzu...”

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Wheeler Dealers did one of these recently. I’ve heard these handled very sublimely for being FWD.

    Meanwhile, I think the NA Miata *was* what killed the Elan M100 (and some other stuff, like Ford’s homegrown Ford/Mercury Capri). The Miata was RWD, had classic British roadster proportions, and cost much, much less. In modern parlance, the NA was the killer app of the segment.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I saw that episode as well as the others. They implied that it was the best handling FWD car they have driven. This must be pre airbag.
      I see the steering wheel is not the standard GM airbag one that was used in many cars including Opel and Saab.

      I always wondered how the Elan compared to the FWD Alfa Romeo spyder 2.0 twin spark of that early mid 90’s era. You’ll see a few for sale here in the states. I would think they came over around the time Alfa left here in 95 or they are Canadian models.

      • 0 avatar
        Add Lightness

        Like all older Lotuses, the M100 was a parts-bin car with lots of Opel/Vauxhall bits. If you look up into the rear axle area, you can see why many expected the AWD from the engine donor RS was planned for but never materialized.
        The biggest negative of the car was that it was 300# too heavy due to it’s GM roots.

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of horror in the Isuzu community on what Wheelers Dealers did that car.

    • 0 avatar

      I have much lust for Miatas of every generation as a fun weekend car.

      The only time I think about Lotus is when I see something like this post.

    • 0 avatar

      A friend of mine had one for a while. He said it was pretty quick for the power it had and at driving it at 90% the best handling car he ever had, and he has had quite a few sports cars.

  • avatar

    Good Lord, those panel gaps…

    • 0 avatar

      Almost looks like the right front took a hit once upon a time and the repair was less than perfect.

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty sure that’s how this baby came from the factory. Lotuses have never been known for their build quality.

        • 0 avatar

          In the finest British “shed built” tradition… lol

        • 0 avatar

          @ FreeMike & PrincipalDan – In 2002 or so, I attended a work event in the UK. Drizzly weekend at a manor house that had been converted to a small resort/conference center. I noticed that a client had parked his Elise with a plastic tarp over the greenhouse. “Does the top leak?” I asked politely but rhetorically. “No,” he replied with complete seriousness, “but water drips through after the top becomes saturated.” I wanted to say, “I’m not bleeding. I just have blood dripping through my skin.” Bear in mind that all Elises were new or new-ish in 2002.

          Now that I think about it, maybe he meant that the seals between the fabric Targa top and the body were OK but that the fabric itself wasn’t truly water proof.

          • 0 avatar

            Waterproof fabric on a convertible top? Electrical systems that conduct electricity? Mere trifles, sir. Sports car ownership should be a test of character!

            In fairness, apparently Lotus has gotten quite a bit better.

          • 0 avatar

            “Waterproof fabric on a convertible top? Electrical systems that conduct electricity? Mere trifles, sir. Sports car ownership should be a test of character!”


            It also was around this time that one of my non-British colleagues and I began poking fun at the phrase “It gets the job done,” which seemed to be a euphemism for “This is either broken or, at best, works only some of the time. But it’s British in origin, so we won’t criticize it.”

            Not to [email protected] on the Brits completely, as people in every country seem to do at least a few things well, at least when circumstances allow. E.g., the building I lived in in London dated to 2001 and absolutely shamed most post-1986 US construction in terms of solidity. (My architect friend pegs ’86 as the year build quality for the average new construction US building slipped down to the “bad” half of the spectrum.)

          • 0 avatar


            Sounds like the tag line for British Leyland.


            Interesting about 1986 and building quality, does he say why he pins it to that year?

          • 0 avatar

            No, there’s nothing specific to ’86 per se; it’s just his mile marker on the road to decreased quality.

            I’ve lived and worked in a number of buildings dating from the late 18th century to the present, and I’m strongly inclined to agree with him. Several factors at play (my opinions, but I can say with almost certainty that he’d agree):

            1) Not specific to construction, America’s post-1980 mentality of “Why make money doing the right thing when you can make more money doing the wrong thing?” seeps into developers’ mindsets. (That mentality’s always been with us, but its grown in momentum over the past four decades.)

            2) A general expectation that a building’s being razed is a matter of ‘when’ rather than a matter of ‘if’.

            3) The fact that a significant percentage of present-day Americans never have worked nor lived in a well-built building. As my friend says, “People don’t know what they like; they like what they know.” They might know granite & stainless, and they almost certainly know central air, but they don’t necessarily know lath & plaster walls that keep you from hearing your neighbors.

            To point #2, certainly our perspective is skewed in that we don’t see that 1843 or 1907 structure that was intended as cheap or temporary, but it’s also true that the median American home used to be built to an “It will be here indefinitely, perhaps forever” standard. Now, it’s built to a standard of “Meh, people are buying the land, not the land and the house. This will get torn down in a generation or two.”

            Bear in mind I’m speaking in generalities. An aunt and uncle of mine lived in a ’70s home that was pretty flimsy. Friends recently sold a 2005 home that was very solid.

            I’m not against knocking down a bad building to put up something better, but it’s depressing when something like a nice 1910s home that would cost a fortune in 2010s labor and materials gets knocked down in favor of a McMansion that’s built slightly better than a movie set.


  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    beautiful car, with styling cues from v8 Esprit.Off the subject (which I like to do to enrage other B&B). I wish there was a market for a budget Evora , now that Toyota upgraded their 3.5 V6 with DI/PI, its a powerful motor mostly hamstrung by efficiency geared 8spd trans.
    We have it in our Sienna, it pulls well to redline and would sound good with a proper sport exhaust I’m sure.

  • avatar

    Road morsel. I’m astonished Mazda has done so relatively well with theirs.

  • avatar

    I remember when this was introduced, it was to be the revival of the British roadster–except that when it came out, unbeknownst to Lotus/Isuzu/GM, halfway across the world, Mazda was about to show the world a proper two-seat sports car.

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