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Lotus Elan SE

Published: 25th Jun 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elan SE
Lotus Elan SE
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Do you drive this great classic or are thinking of buying one? Here’s how to ensure that you get the best out of your car for years to come

The all-new Elan launched, like the MX-5, 25 years ago, only had two things in common with the original Lotus classic; the name and those pop-up headlamps! Thanks to Isuzu mechanicals, care of Lotus being owned by General Motors at the time, the SE is super robust and reliable.

There’s a justifiable growing following for the car and it’s easy to maintain – go to Elan or Lotus for more details.




Original Elan brakes are at best adequate if used hard; easiest way to stop quicker are to fit better pads like EBC or Mintex M1144. S2 brakes are next step but you may need the rims to suit. There’s a variety of upgrades from the likes of Wilwood, AP, EBC and worth fitting if the original discs and callipers need replacing along with braided brake hoses for better pedal feel.


No specific problems with the set up – lack of use can result in rusty discs and seized callipers at the rear, especially if the car is simply taken out for washing and the brakes left wet. A lot of the car’s running gear was based upon the Isuzu Piazza Turbo which in turn relied upon trusted Vauxhall Viva/Magnum so there’ some interchang-ability of parts. Elans run on 205/50/ZR15s, with the S2 rolling on rarer 16inch rims – the latter which are more damage prone, it seems.



There’s no mystery about uprating the Elan’s suspension and sportier dampers and springs are available. However, speak to an M100 expert first on the best route, as the car was finely tuned by Lotus and you could spoil rather than improve it. However, given the price of genuine Lotus dampers, it’s worth going an aftermarket route. American M100s incidentally used different rim sizes to the UK cars.


Biggest concern is the rusting of suspension parts. Front track control arms and rear lower wishbones are the most serious areas which will cause an MoT failure; replacements are later S2 type and so galvanised but Lotus ones cost some £400. TCA around £350 per side and dampers are well in excess of £200 each! Wheel bearings can easily be knocked out by track days, hub carriers work loose.



A cheap upgrade is to fit a better air filter, either as a straight replacement such as K&N, or as a more effective induction kit – some kits are available on the American market. There’s a raft of parts to improve the turbo’s performance while ‘de-cating’ the S2 further improves performance. Converting to a closed loop injection system for added power as some have done, means will also need to install an oxygen sensor, like the S2, plugging directly into the existing wiring loom.


Just slapping on the usual go faster turbo trickery can harm the engine and some tuning parts can be a risk. It’s best to speak to the likes of Superchips or a Lotus expert such as Barry Ely, Kelvedon or Paul Matty (who devised some tuning gear) first before embarking. One way to protect a chipped turbo is to fit an aftermarket dump valve to rid the system of pressure quicker (some are adjustable manually) but it can be quite noisy in service. Make sure that de-cating an S2 version doesn’t infringe annual MoT test due to high emissions.



SE and its turbo means chipping and associated mods can jack up the 165bhp to 200bhp without lifting a torque wrench, but Lotus expert Barry Ely warns don’t do it as it can make car unruly in the wet with severe torque steer plus will break the gearbox mount and even front subframe! Milder old school tuning works best he advises, involving a better exhaust system – said to pull out the power on SEs and a worthwhile fitment on normal car – and an ‘Everest’ chip, both from Ely.


Isuzu is super sturdy – 300,000 not unknown! Used units are on eBay for just £400 but Ely says that’s you can’t get gasket sets to rebuild them… Cam’s sensor play up causing running problems, a £100 fix. While not a known fault, overheating can be a worry as there’s lots of hoses to renew and rads clog up.  Radtec, NAR and Aaron Radiators sell uprated ones. Cambelt should be changed every 60,000 miles; breakage will wreck engine.



You used to be able to purchase uprated gear shift cables and special ‘short shift’ kits from Lotus but these are no longer available – worth tracking down however. Also worth tracking down – usually from the States – is a limited slip differential and hardier poly bushes for the transmission mount bushes. Gearbox is broadly similar to fwd Vauxhall Cavalier set up.


Biggest failing is gear linkage which breaks but is cheap to repair – best to fit improved S2 parts. The transmission is known for leaks but a kit is available to cure this too. If a new driveshaft is required, be prepared for a £400 invoice plus fitting. A clicking sound on full steering lock indicates shot CV joints. Gaiters are known to split but it’s all routine stuff.



Cloth was standard with two tone leather optional; any refurb has to be done by a trimmer as we know of no aftermarket trim kits but Vauxhall custom bits for dials etc can be used. Air con was offered and can be retro fitted but it’s a real job as are making those electric windows work smoothly but Ely says he’s perfected it.


Leather trim isn’t especially sturdy; seat bases break, door and window seals deteriorate which can cost up to £700 to rectify. Common also are misted up instrument binnacles. Replacement hoods cost around £1000 now so look after it; new rear perspex windows can be grafted on.



Apart from the factory hard top and a choice of aftermarket wheels, there’s not a lot of scope for alternations. A change of colour may help as reds are prone to go pink, British Racing Green frequently highlights body imperfections, blues show up stone chips. Very early cars are reported to be less rigid it’s rumoured. Rear light clusters come from the Renault GTA.


Body and chassis are available but expensive; a new bodyshell costs thick end of £4000, for example.Doors frequently snag front wings but can be adjusted out. They are also a prime source of rattles and creaks along with the floor, seats and trim which you may fail to completely eradicate. Body gel coat usually tough although needs specialist repairs when it lets go.



Cam angle sensor is as prone to failing as head gaskets are on MGFs! The car will run but likely to   be poorly. Lotus redesigned it for later models but an auto electrician may be able to repair your original. Higher under bonnet temp on tuned cars may need attending to or wiring may suffer.


Being a fibreglass car, dodgy electrics are common but not as bad as many others. Most of the switch gear originates from the Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier and so cheap to source, but problems with the electric window motors (which do play up and may require a specialist to fix), droopy pop up headlamps (caused by motor failure) will be dearer to put right plus starter motors may play up.


The reason this feature majors on the turbocharged SE is quite simple – so few NA Elans were made – less than 130! Experts say that if you are thinking of buying an M100, you must avoid the normal car unless dirt cheap. Yet why? Even without the turbo there’s still a handy 130bhp on offer and it’s not beyond the intelligence of a keen enthusiast to fit a turbo unit or go the whole Brodie Brittian Racing conversion. Another possibility is to fit the larger 1.8 unit fitted to other Isuzus overseas or a Toyota MR2 engine, which Lotus used for development purposes. One thing you should be very wary of is a standard Elan without power steering because the handling is compromised say experts – again it can be converted.

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