Lotus Elan M100 (Cabriolet), 1989-1996
The Lotus Elan M100 was in production from 1989 until 1996. Styled in house, it is a front-engine, front wheel drive convertible range seating two adults.
The Elan was developed as an entry level Lotus, a small roadster to attract people to the marque, and was initially borne of a joint venture with Toyota that would inspire the MR2. When GM took a controlling stake in Lotus, the plan was revised - using Isuzu running gear and front wheel drive under an up to the minute body. Modern clientele used to fast cars would have grown up with front wheel drive, making the layout the most comfortable for use as well as practical. Developed for the US market, it was extensively tested prior to launch with 42 development cars and almost 20 crash test mules used.
Power was by two variants of the same 1.6 litre engine; a naturally aspirated 130bhp variant of which just 129 were sold between 1989 and 1992, and a 162bhp Turbo which accounted for the majority of the 3855 sold. Just over 500 went to America, with revised panels to allow a larger crash structure. Plans for a coupe to replace the Excel never came to fruition. In 1994 and 1995 a surplus of engines meant that a Series 2 production run was possible under Romano Artioli. In 1995 the rights to the design were sold to Korean manufacturer Kia, which produced just over 1000 Kia Elans for Asian markets. In Britain the car was replaced by the Lotus Elise.
At launch there were few rivals, though arguably Mazda's MX-5 reinvented the Lotus Elan concept in a more traditional manner. As time passed more sports cars were launched, and we would consider the MGF VVC and Mercedes-Benz SLK230 as logical rivals for the little Lotus. Different in feel but perhaps not so different in British spirit, we might also consider an entry level TVR Chimaera as a possible option. Of course, by going front wheel drive Lotus was targeting those who grew up with hot hatches, so grown up hot hatches like the VW Golf VR6 and BMW 325i Compact would likely have been on the would-be Elan buyer's shopping list new.
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