Friday 10th August 2001


LOTUS ELAN M100

So competent it's almost boring!? Ten years on the Elan M100 might force you to question what you want from a sportscar.

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3855 Series I Elans were built with all but 180 being SEs (turbocharged).
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539 Elans were shipped to the USA
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The SE cost £19,850 at its launch in 1989.
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0-60mph in 6.7 seconds, top speed is 137mph.
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The Elan M100 has made its mark in history as arguably the finest handling front wheel drive car ever. It's a bit of anomaly of course. A front wheel drive convertible sports car? The concept seemed a tad barmy at the time, but whilst rest of us chortled into our beers, the engineers at Lotus quietly beavered away producing this most remarkable car.

Making use of a 1600cc four cylinder engine from Isuzu may not have had much cachet but it was a sensible choice in terms of reliability. Turbocharging boosted power to a healthy 162bhp, enough to do justice to the incredible chassis.

Short lived

The other reason for the Elan's notoriety is the fact that is was reborn twice. Having produced almost 4,000 Elans by 1992, Lotus's owners at the time - General Motors - pulled the plug. Exchange rate woes and an enormous development cost (rumoured to be tens of millions of pounds) that wasn't being recouped killed the car off. Then in 1994, the new owner - Romano Artioli's Bugatti - set in motion a second production run after it was realised that parts for almost 800 cars were gathering dust in a warehouse. With some minor updates, the car got a second breath of life. Once that run was exhausted, the production line and tooling was shipped out to South Korea where Kia produced a slightly modified version.

Many Elans can still be seen around the UK, with its sure footed handling ensuring that fewer have been planted in hedgerows compared with sports cars driven by more hairy chested enthusiasts.

With that in mind, we took a drive in a 1992 Elan to see how it's stood the test of time.

Celery Stick

Lowering yourself into the seat, it's quickly apparent that this is quite unlike any other sportscar. A long dashboard reaches deep into the sloping windscreen with almost none of the bonnet visible as you peer over the dash. The corners of the car are completely out of sight and despite its compact proportions, deceptively it feels like you're sat a long way back from the front of the car.

Turning the key and firing the engine into life it's quickly apparent that one area that hasn't been tuned is the exhaust, with a rather uninspiring fizz emerging from behind you. Slip the long rubbery celery stick into first and away you go. Power is adequete, rather than startling. It's quite perky as you amble off in second gear and once on the open road there's a good surge of power from around 3,500 rpm as the turbo kicks in giving useful torque rather than scary amounts. What is remarkable given what the engine is kicking out, how well the front wheels cope with it. There is a complete absence of torque steer. Even on full lock and teasing it with your right foot, the car just glides around with no kickback through the power assisted steering. There are many a modern manufacturer that could learn from this ten year old car.

Crisp?

Personally I was expecting a crisp handling experience with the front wheel drive getting on my nerves, but I was to be disappointed. The handling is so flattering, absorbing whatever the road throws at you almost so well that you might feel uninvolved. It insulates you from the harshness of British roads, riding competently over potholes with none of the drama or associated rattles and clunks that I anticipated. It's so comfortable! The seats are well padded - if lacking in lateral support - and one of the lasting impressions of the car as a whole is that of comfort.

Push on hard across the twisty bits and the car glides through the bends with no drama. Driving the car on public roads, you've next to no chance of provoking any drama from the chassis without driving beyond the safety confines of the road itself. Depending what you want from a sports car this will thrill or disappoint, there's probably no middle ground. If you want a hugely competent car that won't get you into trouble unless you're mental then this is it. If you want a car that can be provoked into needing occasional bouts of bravado then the Elan will quickly bore you.

There lies the paradox. It's so competent, yet as a result not entertaining enough for my tastes. As a very safe, fun, relatively quiet and comfortable convertible sports car I can't knock it though. Have you seen my hairy chest...?

Thanks to Adrian Blyth for the loan of this car. www.adrianblyth.co.uk

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