Rare Rides: The 1991 Lotus Elan, With Power by Isuzu

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1991 lotus elan with power by isuzu

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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2 of 18 comments
  • Jatz Jatz on Feb 14, 2019

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

  • Namesakeone Namesakeone on Feb 15, 2019

    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.

  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.
  • ToolGuy From the listing: "Oil changes every April & October (full-synth), during which I also swap out A/S (not the stock summer MPS3s) and Blizzak winter tires on steelies, rotating front/back."• While ToolGuy applauds the use of full synthetic motor oil,• ToolGuy absolutely abhors the waste inherent in changing out a perfectly good motor oil every 6 months.The Mobil 1 Extended Performance High Mileage I run in our family fleet has a change interval of 20,000 miles. (Do I go 20,000 miles before changing it? No.) But this 2014 Focus has presumably had something like 16 oil changes in 36K miles, which works out to a 2,250 mile average change interval. Complete waste of time, money and perfectly good natural gas which could have gone to a higher and better use.Mobil 1 also says their oil miraculously expires at 1 year, and ToolGuy has questions. Is that one year in the bottle? One year in the vehicle? (Have I gone longer than a year in some of our vehicles? Yes, I have. Did I also add Lucas Oil 10131 Pure Synthetic Oil Stabilizer during that time, in case you are concerned about the additive package losing efficacy? Yes, I might have -- as far as you know.)TL;DR: I aim for annual oil changes and sometimes miss that 'deadline' by a few months; 12,000 miles between oil changes bothers me not at all, if you are using a quality synthetic which you should be anyway.