The word Elan derives from the French élancer, meaning to dart. Nice Price or Crack Pipe is starting out the new year with a Lotus that's pretty good at darting in and out of traffic.
When General Motors bought Lotus back in 1986, the infusion of money and resources that flowed into the tiny English car maker must have seemed like winning the lottery. And just like the daily life of a lottery winner, it changed the way Lotus did things. Instead of building cars with crossed fingers, in hopes that they wouldn't break down or kill their owners before leaving dealer's lots, the company undertook a diligent regime of testing and refinement before launching the M100 Elan. All that preparation cost money, and despite pricing that tracked the contemporary Porsche 911, Lotus lost money on every one of the nearly 3,000 Elans sold, including the 400 or so they shipped across the pond.
Much of the engineering of the front-drive platform had been completed by Lotus before the GM purchase, with the intention of using a Toyota drivetrain and badging the car as the Lotus Toyota- much like the venerable Lotus Cortina of two decades prior. Toyota's failure to provide capital, along with the death of Colin Chapman in 1982, made continuation of development impossible. The project was shelved, and Lotus' future seemed bleak, what with only the ten year old Esprit, and their engineering arm providing a trickle of revenue. Upon GM's
unwitting entrance into this automotive scam infusion of cash, the car was resurrected and Lotus started rooting through the GM parts bin rather than Toyota's.
That resulted in the car being powered by the 162-bhp, 1,588-cc Isuzu (remember them?) turbo four with an air-to-air intercooler. Isuzu also supplied the close-ratio five speed gearbox and ECM system, however the latter was remapped by Lotus for a more aggressive curve. Suspension is wishbone and coil-over at each corner, and despite being front-wheel drive, the M100 was lauded at the time of its introduction by both CAR and Autocar as being one of the best tools for getting from point A to point B when ignoring the route of the aloft crow. With a zed to sixty time of only 6.7 seconds, and a top end a few ticks shy of 140, that's believable. And for those of you who grumble about the Miatas you could buy for fourteen grand, go right ahead - there's plenty of them out there for you.
This '91 M100 looks pristine, despite the claim of a transient ownership that would rival the animal exploits of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Now living large in L.A., the Elan shows only 22K on the clock, as well as a clean top and mar-free interior. Scarcity and desirability by those who are familiar with the car's capabilities drive the $13,750 price tag. At that low a price, it's not going to be a car that demands a sedentary life stye to protect the investment- even using the car for its intended purpose of carving up canyons won't put too deep a dent in its value. That being said, some parts are very hard to come by, and purchasing this car will mean that you will become good friends with the folks at Dave Bean Engineering.
So, would you spend Kia money for a Lotus? And before you answer that, you should know that Kia eventually bought the tooling for the M100, and built the car themselves. Is $13,750 low enough to overcome the stigma of front drive and Isuzu engine? Or, does that price make this a dart that's missing the bullseye?
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