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Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan Published: 11th Feb 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
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OK, so you can’t really compare the iconic Lotus against its 1990’s Japanese interpretation but do the four generations of Mazdas make a great alternative and at much less cost? And what about the forgotten ‘new’ Elan Lotus made?

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the late Colin Chapman must feel well chuffed in automotive heaven because when Mazda chose to make a sports car of the 1990s, it chose the 1960’s Lotus Elan of three decades earlier. The result, after taking a good many to bits to see where the magic lied, is the best selling sports car in the world that after 25 years of production (yet never straying far from the original template) appeals to all types of drivers, many who aren’t even enthusiasts. In this respect you can’t be further away from the original Elan if you tried…

A new Elan was rumoured for many years before its 1989 launch and Lotus released its all new Elan at the same time the MX-5 hit these shores, without a hint of retro about it. Chapman would have fully approved of the front-wheel drive concept, as he hated living in the past. In this special Clash of the Classics we ask is, (price apart of course) how do you like your Elans?



Living in the past isn’t the way things are done at Hethel, so Lotus developed an entirely new up-to-date Elan designed for modern motoring. Front-wheel drive, with a transverse-mounted engine and five-speed gearbox, plus power steering, all wrapped in a slippery wedge-shaped body, the M100 Elan could not be more different from the original if it tried.

Can you blame Mazda for copying the original Elan? After all, it was the benchmark of the 1960s and Mazda took all the car’s best bits, such as the styling, and made it suitable for the 1990s As compact as it is cute, it’s hard to believe that the Mk1 MX-5 is more than 25 years old. A classical front engine, rear wheel drive format like the Lotus, it’s even said that the Jap’s twin cam engine (taken from the 323 saloon) was designed to look like the evergreen Ford ‘twink’ that originally powered the Elan.

The interior is similarly retro styled, with traditional wood and leather on some special editions – of which over 30 were marketed in the UK – yet with a style of its own. The Elan M100’s interior is like the exterior – very 1990s although a mis-calculation at design stage led to that odd bloated look, unlike the original Elan and the MX-5, both which look just right from all angles. Being made of steel, the Jap is better manufactured than the glass-fibre Elans and much better assembled than the original ever was – hardly unexpected.

All of which means that the Mazda makes a terrific all year round sports car – even more so with the optional hard top. But on the other hand, MX-5s are everywhere and, if you want individuality, then the M100 is the one to go for, if for no other reason that relatively few were made. The values of original Elans (£20,000 minimum for a fair runner) mean that most are used sparingly where as MX-5s are common daily drivers. The M100 has to be one of the most durable Lotuses ever made, chiefly due to its tough Isuzu mechanicals, and amazing value where less than £5000 can nab a good one. MX-5 prices are all over the place although sub £2000 buys can be past it and pretty rusty.



If you love rear-wheel drive, hang-thetail- out sports cars, then you have to discount the M100 even though this Elan still – after a quarter of a century – feels one of the safest and most confidenceboosting sports cars ever made. That’s a result of its front-wheel drive chassis and brilliant development work at Lotus masking its ‘hot hatch’ nature well.

The MX-5. Mazda really caught the spirit of the classic Elans and not just the same fun-filled handling but also Mazda’s sheer attention to detail such as the rifle-bolt gearchange and the sharp steering makes you feel that you’re in an old sports car like an Elan – but without the associated hang ups. Purists will always regard the original Lotus blueprint as the best. The roadholding may now be considered modest on those skinny Cortina 155x13 tyres but the joy of the Elan lies in its delicate nature that demands delicate fingertip driving. The Elan’s compact size allows a keen driver to exploit the Lotus to the maximum in safety although the way an individual Elan drives depends on its condition and past history – they can vary greatly. A liveliness of the rear end that needs considerable watching in the wet is something that Mazda seemed to have copied far too closely when it used the Elan as its guide! Whisper it but some Elan experts regard the Plus2 an even nicer handler due to larger ore secure chassis – and what a shame that Mazda has never bothered to launch a 2+2 MX-5. The 3rd Generation MX-5 was widely criticised for becoming a little too soft and numb to satisfy die-hard drivers.

The M100’s engine is a bit of an oddity, being sourced from Isuzu (another GM company who owned Lotus at the time). Yet, while this 1600 twin cam isn’t the most charismatic of lumps, in 165bhp SE Turbo guise it gives the M100 old school Elan Sprint pace and 30mpg is no problem either.

If you like your sports cars to be ultra quick, then the front-wheel drive Lotus beats an MX-5 hands down. Not that the Mazda is slow. It provides ample performance in 1.8-litre and Mk3 2-litre guises and, best of all, feels and sounds classically sporty.

What lets the quietly impressive M100 down is its character, and for all its excellent, fail-safe handling and remarkable grip it does feel like a Peugeot 205 GTi in drag. That’s hardly a criticism as the lovely Pug is one of the greatest hot hatches ever made but you may not like, or want, a hot hatch feel in your sports car.

Talking of feel, this is what separates the Elan from the rest by a country mile. Shorn of today’s wizardry such as engine managements systems to smooth out the assorted flat spots carburettors suffer from, the security of anti-lock brakes and the convenience of electric power steering, the 1960’s car has a ‘mechanical feel’ the others simply can’t emulate although the MX-5 tries; for the majority of us, that’s the appeal of a classic car. Mind you, the characteristic kangaroo-ing Elans suffered from due to a nasty cheapskate drive coupling design is something well worth ridding by way of modern driveshafts.

Only the later Elan Sprints and Plus 2s boasted a five-speed gearbox like the M100 and MX-5 and as a result feel a bit frantic with that Twin Cam buzzing away. If it’s an Elan with a modern flavour that you are after then perhaps a Spyder Cars interpretation is the answer. Sporting modern Sierra running gear and the zesty Zetec engines taken from the Mondeo, you can make an Elan as user friendly as an MX-5…



A clear win for the Mazda when it comes to the practicalities understandably. MX-5s are dead reliable and as inexpensive to run as a Fiesta, plus there are plenty of good specialists and parts suppliers around to help, now the Mk1 is regarded as a classic. The flipside is that their VW Golf-like durability can lead to considerable neglect by non-enthusiast owners. The M100 Elan doesn’t live up to the old LOTUS acronym and is equally durable. The problem lies in some spare parts which can prove expensive, and unobtainable in many instances; engine gaskets being one recent problem (although does use a fair percentage of Vauxhall electrical gear). It’s easier to maintain and repair an original Elan although restorations can be extremely pricey if you want it done properly. The good news is that M100s are now being treated better by owners and specialists although whether the car will become a true classic is debatable. According to Lotus experts Paul Matty and Barry Ely Elans will soar this year and the Sprints in particular so don’t let the urge linger.

And The Winner Is...

The MX-5 is the most logical buy by a mile, but who would have one instead of an Elan given the opportunity? In the end, it all comes down to how much you have to spend surely? The Mazda scores with its user friendliness, practicality and value – small wonder that so many enthusiasts run one as a second classic or daily driver. And it’s to Mazda’s credit that the recently launched 4th Generation not only retains the magic of the original but has gone back to its roots and is far more fun than the Mk3 which was too middle of the road. The M100 is great – ask any owner – yet unlikely to become a classic. But as an inexpensive modern classic as well as a serious performance car, it has few rivals. As we eluded to earlier, the ‘best’ Elan could come from Spyder Cars although a good ‘Elaned’ Mk1 MX-5 is certainly no poor substitute (see News pages).

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