Lotus Elan M100
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door roadster|
|Engine||1,588 cc Isuzu 4XE1 I4 (petrol) 1,588 cc Isuzu 4XE1-MT turbo I4 (petrol)|
|Wheelbase||88.6 in (2,250 mm)|
|Length||149.7 in (3,803 mm) 152.2 in (3,870 mm) (US)|
|Width||68.3 in (1,734 mm)|
|Height||48.4–48.8 in (1,230–1,240 mm)|
|Curb weight||2,198 lb (997 kg) (NA) 2,370–2,447 lb (1,075–1,110 kg) (Turbo)|
The Lotus M100 Elan, launched in August 1989, was a two-seater, convertible sports car designed by Lotus, with a reliable Japanese engine and manual transmission supplied by Isuzu, and built with the development and testing resources of General Motors. Around £35 million (about $55 million) was invested in its development, more than any other car in Lotus history. Its design, featuring a fibreglass composite body over a rigid steel backbone chassis, was true to Lotus founder Colin Chapman's original philosophy of achieving performance through low weight, and the name "Elan" connected the car with its 1960s ancestor, the original Lotus Elan.
In 1986 the purchase of Lotus by General Motors provided the financial backing to develop a new, small, affordable car in the same spirit as the original Elan (last built in December 1972). A development prototype, the M90 (later renamed the X100) had been built a few years earlier, using a fibreglass body designed by Oliver Winterbottom and a Toyota-supplied 1.6-litre engine and transmission. Lotus was hoping to sell the car through Toyota dealerships worldwide, badged as a Lotus Toyota, but the project never came to fruition and the prototype was shelved (although Lotus's collaboration with Toyota had some influence on the design of the Toyota MR2).
The idea of a small roadster powered by an outsourced engine remained, however, and in late 1986 Peter Stevens's design for the Type M100 was approved and work began by Lotus engineers to turn the clay styling buck into a car that could be built. This process was completed in just under three years, a remarkably short time from design to production car.
The M100 Elan was conceived as a mass-market car and in particular one that would appeal to US buyers. Consequently, Lotus put an enormous effort (for such a small firm) into testing the car; over a two-year period 19 crash cars and 42 development vehicles were built, logging nearly a million test miles in locations from Arizona to the Arctic. The Elan was driven at racing speeds for 24 hours around the track at Snetterton. Finally each new car was test-driven for around 30 miles (48 km) at Lotus's Hethel factory to check for any manufacturing defects before being shipped to dealers.
The choice of front-wheel drive is unusual for a sports car, but according to Lotus sales literature, "for a given vehicle weight, power and tyre size, a front wheel drive car was always faster over a given section of road. There were definite advantages in traction and controllability, and drawbacks such as torque steer, bump steer and steering kickback were not insurmountable."This was the only front-wheel-drive vehicle made by Lotus. Every model made since the M100 Elan, such as the Lotus Elise, has been rear-wheel drive.
The M100 Elan's cornering performance was undeniable (on release the Elan was described by Autocar magazine as "the quickest point to point car available"). Press reaction was not uniformly positive, as some reviewers found the handling too secure and predictable compared to a rear-wheel-drive car. However, the Elan's rigid chassis minimised roll through the corners and has led to its description as 'the finest front wheel drive [car] bar none'.Unlike the naturally aspirated version, the turbocharged SE received power steering as standard, as well as tyres with a higher ZR speed rating.
The M100 Elan used a 1,588 cc double overhead camshaft (DOHC) 16-valve engine, sourced from the Isuzu Gemini and extensively modified by Lotus (a third generation of this engine was later used in the Isuzu Impulse), which produced 162 horsepower (121 kW). 0–60 acceleration time was measured by Autocar and Motor magazine at 6.5 seconds, and a top speed of 137 mph (220 km/h) was recorded.
Significant differences in the Isuzu-Lotus engine from the original include a new exhaust system, re-routed intake plumbing for better thermodynamic efficiency, improved engine suspension, and major modifications to the engine control unit to improve torque and boost response. Almost all models featured an IHI turbocharger.
A limited edition of 800 Series 2 (S2) M100 Elans was released during the Romano Artioli era (produced June 1994–September 1995) when it was discovered that enough surplus engines were available to make this possible. According to Autocar magazine, the S2 addressed some of the concerns over handling, but power was reduced to 155 bhp (116 kW; 157 PS) and the 0–60 acceleration time increased to 7.5 seconds, due to the legislative requirement to fit a catalytic converter in all markets. The S2s have very similar performance to the USA vehicles, having an identical engine management system calibration and a slightly lower overall vehicle weight.
After the final production run of the Elan in 1995, Kia Motors bought all the relevant license of the Elan from Lotus to manufacture their own version. Outwardly, the Kia version looks almost identical to the original. The most obvious difference is the different taillights, which is of own design of Kia Elan, as the original Lotus version taillights was of Renault Alpine's.
From 1996 to 1999, the Hyundai Precision & Industry Company (HDPIC) produced the car (in Daejeon, South Korea) as the Kia Elan for the Korean market, using a 151 hp (113 kW) 1.8 L T8D engine instead of the Isuzu-made 1.6. On Arabian Peninsula markets it was sold as the Galloper Elan.