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Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan
Manufacturer Lotus Cars
Production 1962–1973
Assembly Hethel, England
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupé
2-door roadster
Layout Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine 1,557 cc Lotus TwinCam I4 (petrol)
Wheelbase 84.0 in (2,134 mm)
Length 145.0 in (3,683 mm)
Width 56.0 in (1,422 mm)
Height 45.5 in (1,156 mm)
Curb weight 1,516.8 lb (688 kg)

Lotus Elan is the name of two convertible cars and one fixed head coupé produced by Lotus Cars. The original Type 26, 26R Racing version (of the S1 Elan), 36R Racing version (of the S2 Elan), 36 Fixed Head Coupe, 45 Drop Head Coupe, and the "Type 50" +2 Coupe, circa 1962 to 1975, are commonly known as the 1960s Elans.

A similar Elan-inspired model called Evante was produced from mid-1980s by British Lotus specialists Vegantune.

The Type M100 from 1989 to 1995, is also commonly known as the 1990s Elan. This second model was also produced in South Korea by Kia Motors between 1996 and 1999, rebadged as the Kia Elan.


  • 1960s model 1
  • 1990s model 2
    • Origins 2.1
    • Testing 2.2
    • Handling 2.3
    • Engine 2.4
    • Sales 2.5
    • Series 2 2.6
    • Kia Elan 2.7
  • 2013 Elan 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • References 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • Bibliography 5.2
  • External links 6

1960s model

The original Elan was introduced in 1962 as a roadster, although an optional hardtop was offered in 1963 and a coupé version in 1965. The two-seat Lotus Elan replaced the elegant, but unreliable and expensive to produce Lotus Elite.

It was the first Lotus road car to use a steel backbone chassis with a fibreglass body. At 1,600 lb (726 kg), the Elan embodied the Colin Chapman minimum weight design philosophy. Initial versions of the Elan were also available as a kit to be assembled by the customer. The Elan was technologically advanced with a DOHC 1557 cc engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and 4-wheel independent suspension. Gordon Murray, who designed the spectacular McLaren F1 supercar, reportedly said that his only disappointment with the McLaren F1 was that he couldn't give it the perfect steering of the Lotus Elan.[1]

This generation of the two-seater Elan was famously driven by the character Emma Peel on the 1960s British television series The Avengers.

The "Lotus TwinCam" engine was based on Ford Kent Pre-Crossflow 4-cylinder 1498 cc engine, with a Harry Mundy-designed 2 valve alloy chain-driven twin-cam head. The rights to this design was later purchased by Ford, who renamed it to "Lotus-Ford Twin Cam". It would go on to be used in a number of Ford and Lotus production and racing models.

Lotus Elan +2
Production 1967–1975
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupé
Layout Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine 1,557 cc Lotus TwinCam I4 (petrol)
Transmission 4-speed manual (all-synchromesh)
Wheelbase 96.0 in (2,438 mm)
Length 169.0 in (4,293 mm)
Width 66.0 in (1,676 mm)
Height 47.0 in (1,194 mm)

An Elan +2 was introduced in 1967 with a longer wheelbase and two rear seats. The Elan +2 embodied the Lotus spirit: It was a fast and agile sport coupe. It combined the performance and reliability of the Elan "Coupe" with genuine 2+2 passenger comfort. Tested maximum power: 108-126 bhp (net) (depending on the model); top speed: 120 mph (190 km/h), 0–60 mph in 7.9 seconds, 0-100 mph 21.8 seconds. 5,200 Elans +2 were made: fewer than 1,200 of these cars remain in the roads today. Their relative rarity, beautiful lines, impressive performance and practicality are the main factors for the rising interest on these cars among collectors.

The Elan ceased production in 1973 and the Elan +2 in 1975, replaced by the Elite II and Lotus Eclat. An estimated total of 17,000 original Elans and Elans +2 were built. Because of its successful design and rigorous attention to cost control on the body, chassis, engine and the transmission, the Elan went on to become Lotus' first commercial success, reviving a company stretched thin by the more exotic and expensive to build Lotus Elite with fiberglass monocoque body/chassis and all-aluminium Coventry Climax engine; and enabled funding of the Lotus success in racing over the next ten years.

In 2004, Sports Car International named the Elan number six on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1960s. The original version of the car was designed by Ron Hickman,[2] who also designed the first Lotus Europa as part of Lotus' GT40 project bid and made his fortune having designed the Black & Decker Workmate.

The original Elan is usually credited as being the design inspiration for the highly successful 1989 Mazda MX-5 (Mazda Miata in North America). Two Elans were intimately evaluated by Mazda in the process of designing the MX-5.[3]

1990s model

Lotus Elan
Production 1989–1995
Assembly Hethel, England
Designer Peter Stevens[4]
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door roadster
Layout Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine 1,588 cc Isuzu 4XE1 I4 (petrol)
1,588 cc Isuzu 4XE1-MT turbo I4 (petrol)
Transmission 5-speed manual
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)
1991 Lotus Elan – Federal (USA) version

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,[5] 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."[5] 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'.[6] Unlike the naturally aspirated version, the turbocharged SE received power steering as standard, as well as tyres with a higher ZR speed rating.[7]


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.


Two variants were available at launch, the 130 bhp (97 kW; 132 PS) Elan 1.6 (retailing at £17,850) and the 162 bhp (121 kW; 164 PS) Turbo SE (£19,850). Initial sales were disappointing, perhaps because its launch coincided with a major economic recession in the UK and USA, and perhaps also because it coincided with the cheaper Mazda MX-5 which was arguably similar in concept, though the MX-5 was quite intentionally nostalgic and old fashioned (apeing the original Elan), while the M100 was deliberately futuristic, modern and forward looking. The Elan was regarded as a good product in a bad market, but was also very expensive to make (the cost to design and produce the dashboard alone was more than the total cost of the Excel production line), and sales figures were too low to recoup its huge development costs.

Altogether 3,855 Elans were built between November 1989 and July 1992, including 129 normally aspirated (non-turbo) cars. 559 of them were sold in the US, featuring a 'stage 2 body' which had a different rear boot spoiler arrangement together with a lengthened nose to accommodate a USA-compliant crash structure and airbag, and 16-inch wheels (optional in most markets, standard in the U.S.) instead of 15-inch as on the UK model.

Series 2

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.

Kia Elan

After the final production run of the Elan in 1995, Kia Motors bought all the rights to the Elan from Lotus in order for Kia to manufacture its own version. Outwardly, the Kia version looks almost identical to the original. The most obvious difference is the different taillights, designed by Kia, in place of the Renault Alpine rear lights of the original Lotus version.

From 1996 to 1999, Kia Motech (Kia Motor-technology) produced the car (in Ansan, 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 1.6 turbo-charged unit. In the Japanese market, the car was sold as the Vigato.

2013 Elan

Lotus Elan
Production concept, not produced
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupé
Layout Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive

A new Lotus Elan was announced at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. It was hoped to be in production by 2013, but the project was cancelled before the car entered production.[8] The car was to have featured a 4.0-litre V6 engine and was to have weighed roughly 1,295 kg (2,855 lb) [9]


  • Arnold, G. 1981. The Lotus Elan and Plus Two Buyers Guide 1962 - 1975. Club Lotus
  • Clarke, R.M. Lotus Elan Collection No.2 1963–1972. Brooklands Books. ISBN 0-907073-68-9
  • Harvey, C. 1982. Lotus: The Elite, Elan, Europa. Oxford Illustrated Press. ISBN 0-902280-85-6.
  • Hughes, M. 1992. Lotus Elan. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-194-7.
  • Lotus Cars Limited. 1974. Lotus Elan +2 Workshop Manual. Lotus Cars
  • Read, Robin (1989), Colin Chapman's Lotus (The early years, the Elite, and origins of the Elan). Haynes/Foulis, ISBN 08-542-9703-0.
  • Road & Track Staff (2012). "50 Years of the Lotus Elan". Road & Track 64 (4): 66-74.
  • Robinshaw, P. and Ross, C. 1995. Authentic Lotus Elan and Plus 2. Motor Racing Publications LTD. ISBN 0-947981-95-0.
  • Robinshaw, Paul & Ross, Christopher (1989), The Original 1962–1973 Lotus Elan (Essential Data and Guidance for Owners, Restorers and Competitors); additional notes by Ron Hickman. Motor Racing Publications Limited, ISBN 0-947981-32-2.
  • Taylor, M. 1990. Lotus Elan, The complete story. The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-011-3
  • Taylor, W. 1998. The Lotus Book, a complete History of Lotus Cars, 50th Anniversary Special. Coterie Press Limited. ISBN 1-902351-00-2.
  • Wherret, D. 1993. Lotus Elan. Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-377-X
  • Wilkins, Miles (2003), Lotus Twin-Cam Engine. Motorbooks, ISBN 978-0-7603-1692-4.



  1. ^ Road & Track Staff (2012), p. 71
  2. ^ Smith, Sam (December 2012). "The Lotus Elan 1962-1973".  
  3. ^ Sass, Rob (June 2009). "Worth the Weight". Sports Car Market 21 (6): 28. 
  4. ^ "Designer". Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  5. ^ a b "M100 Sales Manual". Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  6. ^ Andy Enright (2008-10-10). "Lotus Re-position". Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  7. ^ Quattroruote: Tutte le Auto del Mondo 1992 (in Italian). Milano: Editoriale Domus S.p.A. 1992. p. 447. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Lotus cars website retrieved 2010-09-30". 


  • Holmes, Mark (2007). Ultimate Convertibles: Roofless Beauty. London: Kandour. pp. 94–95.  

External links

  • LotusElan
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