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CATEGORIES (articles) > The Cars are the Inspiration > Lotus > Lotus Elan History

Lotus Elan History

Lotus Elan
Manufacturer: Lotus Cars

Lotus Elan is the name of two convertible automobiles and one fixed head coupé produced by Lotus Cars. The original Type 26, 26R Racing version, 36 Fixed Head Coupe, 45 Drop Head Coupe, and the "Type 50" +2 Coupe, circa 1962 to 1975, are commonly known as the '60s Elans. The Type M100 from 1989 to 1995, is also commonly known as the 1990s Elan.

1960s Elan

The original Elan was introduced in 1962 as a roadster, although later a coupé version and an optional hardtop were offered. It was the first Lotus road car to use the now famous steel backbone chassis with a fiberglass body. The Elan was technologically advanced with a twin-cam 1558 cc engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and 4-wheel independent suspension. The twin cam engine was based on Ford's Kent and would go on to be used in a number of Lotus production and racing models. An Elan +2 was introduced in 1967 with a longer wheelbase and two more rear seats. The Elan ceased production in 1973 and the Elan +2 in 1975. An estimated total of 17,000 original Elans and Elan +2's were built.

This generation of the two seater Elan was famously driven by the character Emma Peel on the British television series The Avengers. 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, who also designed the first Lotus Europaas part of Lotus' GT40 project bid, as well as the Black and Decker Workmate.

The original Elan is commonly credited as being the design inspiration, if not the outright predecessor, for the original 1990 Mazda Miata.

1990s Elan

1990 Lotus Elan SE

The second Lotus Elan (often known as the M100 Elan based on its internal Lotus model number), released in 1989, was a technical tour de force but one that also defied Lotus's "performance through light weight" tradition, some say to its detriment. Its styling by Peter Stevens, who was also responsible for the redesign of the Lotus Esprit, was also controversial.

The idea of a front-wheel drive Lotus, powered by a turbocharged engine, was a brave concept and its cornering performance was undeniable (on release the Elan was described by Autocar magazine as "the quickest point to point car available"). However the handling was negatively compared to the original Elan both by the press and some Lotus loyalists, often being accused of lacking driver feedback.

The relatively high price of the M100 Elan (vs. e.g. the Mazda Miata), along with the mixed reviews and the downturn in the global economy in 1992 particularly in the USA meant it was not a sales success, selling only 3,855 examples worldwide. Included in the 3,855 total is the series 1 production of 129 normally aspirated examples built for the UK market only. In 1991 the only year the vehicles were available in the USA, Lotus sold 559 Elans into this market with 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 16" wheels instead of the UK car's 15".

The M100 Elan used a 1588 cc twin-cam 16-valve turbocharged engine, sourced from the Isuzu Impulse, which produced 162 hp. 0-60 acceleration time was measured by Autocar and Motor magazine as 6.5 s, and a top speed of 137 mph was recorded.

In June 1992 Elan production ceased due to economic conditions and a desire by the then owner of Lotus, General Motors, to reduce losses which amounted to some 36 million UK pounds over the period the Elan was in production.

In 1996 and 1997, Kia built the Elan under license for the Korean market, using a 151 hp 1.8 L engine instead of the Lotus's 1.6.

Series 2 M100 Elan

A limited edition (of 800) Series 2 (S2) M100 Elans was released during the Romano Artioli era (produced from June 1994 - September 1995) when it was discovered that enough engines remained available to make this possible. According to Autocar magazine, the S2 addressed some of the concerns over handling but the 0-60 acceleration time allegedly increased to 7.5 seconds, which they thought was probably due to the legislative requirement to fit a catalytic converter in all markets. In overall performance the S2's have very similar performance to the USA vehicles, having an identical engine management system calibration and a slightly lower overall vehicle weight.

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