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Lotus Elan SE

Published: 12th Nov 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE

Buyer Beware

The bodywork is one of Lotus’s best efforts and only hard used and abused examples will show signs of fibreglass crazing (it looks like cobwebs) and splitting skins.

* Always check for poor accident damage. Look for dodgy panel fit, wonky, pop-up headlamp operation and blotchy paint.

* Replacement chassis parts are available, while the ‘clamshell’ body manufacture means quick and easy replacement of panels; the front section costs the thick end of £800. Very early cars are reported to be less rigid than later cars.

* The Isuzu engine and drivetrain is almost unbreakable. See that the camshaft drive belt has been replaced on time (60,000 miles) or big damage and bills result.

* Talking of cams, apart from checking for wear (lots of top end clatter), the assembly’s sensor can play up causing running on problems (the engine’s dash warning light should also illuminate unless it’s been cunningly disconnected – check!).

* The Isuzu gearboxes are generally durable but occasionally the gear selector cable has been known to break – if so, fit improved S2 parts. A short shift conversion was offered by Lotus and in the US, a limited slip differential was made.

* Pay special attention to the front and rear suspension arms. These are made of steel and rust heavily – they should be inspected annually to stay safe. S2s are okay because they use galvanised parts.

* The interior isn’t quite so robust as the rest of the car. Look for sagging leather trim, deteriorating door and window seals (which can cost up to £700 to rectify), hood leaks (look for wet, damp trim and a musty smell – it’s very common), misted up instrument binnacles and general decay.

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Lotus’s front wheel drive Elan is 25 years old – but we bet you never thought of owning one. Well, here’s why you should!

Brands Hatch recently held a birthday party for the least loved Elan, the M100. Twenty five years ago it was launched to an eager Lotus fan base as a long awaited replacement to the original which was killed off 15 years earlier. However, the all new Elan for the 1990s only had two things in common with the original – that iconic name and those fab pop-up headlamps!

At the same time Mazda launched an all new sports car that was loosely based upon the original Elan, the MX-5. One was a sale flop and was dropped after less than six years, the other has just celebrated its silver anniversary; three guesses for which one we’re talking about!

For all that, Colin Chapman would have approved of the poor selling Lotus though, because he had little time for dwelling about the past and the forward thinking M100 embraced all that was so right about a sports car for the 1990s.

The front-wheel drive Elan M100, with its Isuzu mechanicals is a far better car than its sales figures suggest and they are an incredible bargain. Best of all, that old Lotus acronym (you know the one) is consigned to the dustbin. And that’s why you should think about owning one!


There’s three models to consider; the launch base Elan, the turbo SE and the revamped S2 launched in 1994, two years after the original car was dropped from production. Common to all was an all new front-wheel drive chassis which employed a stiff box section with the suspension systems mounted on innovative alloy ‘rafts’, keeping changes to the suspension’s geometry changes as minimal as possible.

Lotus is certainly no stranger to using external power plants and this time it turned Japanese – namely Isuzu – to supply the engine (Lotus was owned then by General Motors). It was one of the most sensible moves the British firm ever made, as it delivered performance with utter reliability. Two tunes were offered, entry level Elan with a normally aspirated 1.6-litre four- cylinder, kicking out a not unreasonable 130bhp or a hotter, more popular Turbo SE) that yielded a meatier 165bhp and was the mainstay of the line up which sadly netted just 4000 sales.

After a two year layoff, Lotus, now owned by Bugatti of all people, relaunched the Elan with some subtle changes. Badged the S2, it was a Turbo only model with a slightly detuned 155bhp, catalysed engine, modified chassis, larger tyres and added appointments, all taking the new Elan up to a bank busting £24,500! As a result just 800 were made and the car was soon dropped and the design flogged off to Kia…

The SE is the more popular sight by far and the most popular pick as a result although it’s reckoned that the later S2 is the better all round car thanks to its improved build quality and better development, although the loss of 10bhp due to the catalyst does take the edge off of out-and-out performance.

Along with the unloved Elite/Eclat and Excel GTs, all Elan M100s are dirt cheap for what it offers but this won’t always be so. Prices range from a few thousand to around £12,000, which is pennies when you consider what good original Elans now go for and up to ten grand for good Elans will become commonplace. At the recent Brands Hatch Lotus Festival, we spoke to a couple of owners who have spent almost double this on full house restorations, so the tide is turning for these cars. Due to their rarity (less than 100 made, it’s said), it’s hard to value a non turbo car but expect one to sell for much less than an SE simply because they aren’t as desirable. There again it’s folly to look a gift horse in the mouth and we wouldn’t turn down a NA model as some mods to the engine’s breathing, especially the exhaust, can give it almost SE pace. That said, experts stress that you really should go for the SE and that you must never buy a standard Elan without power steering because the car’s outstanding handling is significantly compromised.

Colours count a lot. Red cars can fade badly quickly, especially if they’re not looked after. As a result, being red, they turn to a less than pleasant shade of pink. Specialists usually won’t touch these cars to retail as it means an expensive respray, while British Racing Green cars can highlight panel defects.


Yes, the Elan was front-wheel, drive but you’d scarcely appreciate it, so precise and balanced is the car’s still highly praised handling that 25 years on, is still regarded as one of the finest front-wheel drive handling cars made.

The M100 at launch was described as a ‘90 per center’ but in a positive way as it implied that the car was designed for 90 per cent of owners to be able to drive it at 90 per cent of its full potential, 90 per cent of the time, meaning it’s a sports car that most enthusiasts can drive with gusto yet crucially without drama or fear.

It was because of this that more than one road test described it as the ‘GTi sports car’ (although it wasn’t automatically meant as a compliment) and the M100 is certainly a different car to drive than either the original Elan or a Mazda MX-5.

Like the original Elan, the M100 rides amazingly well for a sports car – that wide track chassis helps out a lot. And it’s a lot more civilised and solid than the original, Elan, too. Unlike the snug original, the wide- bodied M100 is roomy and well suited for touring but on all models don’t dismiss a horrid hood lightly as they cost almost £1100 complete (plus up to £750 fitting), from Burrage & Associates of Norfolk (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) who also deals in M100 repairs, spares, sales and restos.

That Japanese engine was hardly the sexiest four-cylinder around at the time yet while it lacks the sheer character and pedigree (and unreliability!) of the classic Lotus-Ford lump, it does its job admirably.

Even the normally aspirated model is good for a seven-and-a-bit second sprint to 60 and top speed of close to 130mph; Turbos shaded it by a second and 10mph respectively. Rumour has it that up to 200bhp can be wrung from the engine, mainly by chipping and turning up the turbo boost, but leading Lotus expert Barry Ely of Essex advises against it because it makes the car far too unruly to drive and can even break the engine
mounts. A better, milder alternative is an Everest chip which he sells.


The Elan is a bit of a mix in this department. On the one hand it’s durable (engines have known to last for 300,000 miles!) and relies upon a lot of 80’s GM parts sourced from Vauxhall Astras and Cavaliers and some of the running gear came from the Isuzu Piazza Turbo, which in turn used Vauxhall Viva/ Magnum hardware.

So far, so good. However, the Elan uses dedicated suspension parts such as the rear wishbones which rot and cost £400 and driveshafts are around £400 each. Track control arms cost almost as much, while Lotus dampers are £200 a go! And while that Isuzu engine is as cheap to source as it is long-lasting (from around £350), if it does need a rebuild you’ll find the gaskets needed practically impossible to obtain…

New bodies and chassis frames are still obtainable but expensive at £4000 for the former. Rear light clusters come from the rare Renault GTA so are not cheap either. Elan, Lotus Talk and the new specialist M100 hoods can help, although this new kid on the block comes with the sad message that many cars are being scrapped for their parts although not to MGF proportions. Yet.


Thanks to its build and reliability, a good Elan M100 is as capable a daily driver as any MX-5. Their performance and more importantly, great reserves of handling and braking make mincemeat of the daily grind and economy is always around 30mpg.

Unlike original Elans, the M100 was pretty watertight if the hood is in good order although sadly heated rear screens aren’t available yet. Air conditioning was optional but electric windows were standard, although these invariably play up. Worthwhile tweaks include better brakes (either pads or bigger discs) and bigger tyres.

We Reckon...

If it wasn’t for the stature of the original Elan, the SE (M100) would be better regarded than it is. Forget your prejudices and try one because this Lotus is as fun to drive as any MX-5 and equally usable, even as a daily driver. Values have turned and owners are now prepared to spend money on theirs so it’s best to buy one now while they are keenly priced. You won’t regret it.

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