Today’s Nice Price or No Dice Kia Elan is a car you may have never heard of before — that is, outside of its original Lotus incarnation. Now that you know it exists, let’s see if its price makes it all the more memorable.
It seems there is no escaping the curse of questionable looks. That was a fact made clear with both the comments and the vote on last Friday’s $16,950 2003 Lexus SC 430. Not even a sexy saddle interior or amazing factory wheels could overcome the SC’s somewhat dumpy appearance which was a primary factor behind the car’s 53 percent No Dice loss.
We’re going to start out the discussion of today’s candidate by first talking about airplanes, specifically, Britain’s Avro Lancaster.
Put into service in 1941, the Lancaster became Britain’s principal heavy bomber and one of the nation’s primary offensive tools in fighting the war in Europe. With its twin-rudder tail and narrow fuselage, the Lancaster stuck an iconic look for the time. That fuselage proved so narrow, in fact, that the crew couldn’t wear their parachutes while on board. Four Rolls Royce Merlin engines jutting out from under the leading edge of the wing added to that unique look. The use of these water-cooled V12 engines over the air-cooled radials preferred by the Americans was important at the time since the same engines were used in the Supermarine Spitfires. Remarkably, both the Lancaster and the Spitfire also used the same avionics control panel on the dash. There was a purpose behind the use of these common elements — they shaved costs off of production, as well as man-hours in training and ongoing maintenance since ground crews only needed to learn how to fix one type of engine and could swap instruments between dissimilar craft as needed.
In Britain, this sort of parts agnosticism transferred handily from the aircraft industry to the cottage car building industry. Perhaps no company was better at such parts re-purposing than was Colin Chapman’s Lotus.
Over the years, Lotus has made use of other manufacturer’s parts to make its cars… well, cars. This was most important for the expensive to engineer elements like engines and transmissions, and for heavily regulated parts like lights and safety equipment.
For example, when Lotus introduced the M100 Elan in the late ’80s, it carried a drivetrain and some interior pieces sourced from Isuzu and tail lamps from the Renault Alpine GTA. All that made the development of the car cheaper and quicker, but sadly for Lotus, none of it seemingly made the car more appealing to buyers. The Elan’s poor sales hit Lotus’ finances like a wet mackerel, with production ending after just four years and fewer than 3,900 cars built. The result was Lotus once again ending up at the poorhouse door.
To recoup some of the investment in the Elan’s development, in 1995 Lotus sold the tooling for the car to the Korean industrial giant, Kia. That’s where the story of today’s candidate begins.
According to the Interwebs, this 1998 Kia Elan Vigato is one of about 1,056 cars produced by Kia following that purchase. The changes to the car from its Lotus incarnation are few but notable. Visually, the most obvious change was the replacement of the horizontal GTA tail lamps with Kia-designed units featuring round lenses and wrap-around indicators in the corners. Other than that, and the badging, the Kia and Lotus Elans are pretty much identical.
Under the hood, things are more drastically different, however. There, in place of the 160 horsepower Isuzu turbo four, Kia chose to fit a 151 horsepower naturally-aspirated 1.8 liter DOHC four-pot. That’s paired with a five-speed manual and powers the front wheels. Those wheels, by the way, are Lotus-branded 15-inch alloys that look like they’ve seen better days.
The car, in black over a black interior with red accents is the Vigato model which, it seems, was intended for the Japanese market despite it being LHD. When seated in the driver’s seat, you’re faced with a Kia-branded steering wheel, one that was shared with the contemporary Sephia. The rest of the interior looks just like the Lotus version. It’s a bit beat up in here, with some splitting in the upholstery seams and missing trim that may need to be addressed. The stereo is also AWOL, but that’s an easy fix.
Per the ad, the car has 58,000 kilometers on the clock (this is Canada, after all). That’s about 36,000 miles and despite that meager number, the ad claims that the engine has received a full top-end. Aside from that and the aesthetic issues in the cabin, the ad claims the car to be in decent shape and it does come with a new convertible top. The title is also listed as clean.
As interesting a footnote in automotive history as this car may be, it’s still going to be denied to those of us living in the U.S. since it won’t hit 25 years of age for another two years. That doesn’t mean that Canadians can’t buy it without issue, and heck, Canadians like interesting cars just like the rest of us.
So, Canadian or not, what’s your take on this extremely rare opportunity to own… a Kia? Does its CAD$8,900 (or about $7,035 U.S.) price make it all the more interesting? Or, does that price make this parts-bin special not the sum of its components?
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