Question: How many Elans were made?
Answer: Elan production first began towards the
end of 1989, the first USA market cars where released in June 1990. A total of
3855 Elans were built when production of the “Series 1” finished in
July 1992. Most of these were to SE turbo specification, only 180 were normally
aspirated. Just 539 federal Elans were ever built with only 117 being delivered
to Californian spec. When ownership of Lotus Cars moved to Bugatti a further 800
“Series 2” cars were built in 1994, 500 for the UK, Japan and Australia
and 300 LHD for continental Europe.
Questions: Is the Elan reliable?
Answer: The Elan is probably the most reliable
car Lotus has ever made. It was designed and built at a time when General Motors
owned Lotus. The financial backing of such a large corporation and the fact that
GM wanted the car to sell in the US ensured the Elan was subjected to far more
rigorous testing than earlier models. The car does have weaknesses, but it would
be fair to say that its major mechanical items are reliable and trouble free.
Lotus put a lot of effort into addressing the old bogey of quality and reliability,
testing the car from the cold of the Artic Circle to the heat of Death Valley.
The chassis, engine and transmission have certainly proved to be robust, other
areas such as the electric’s, soft-top and door internals are more prone
to niggling problems. These can take considerable time, patience and money to
Question: What goes wrong?
Answer: Not very much considering the Elan is
a hand-built, low-volume sports car. So it’s important not to take the following
out of this context.
Starting with the engine the one item that is almost guaranteed to fail at
some point is the Cam Angle Sensor, ‘CAS’. This device tells the ECU
the cam shaft’s position and causes the ECU to generate a Check Engine light
(Code 41) if it detects more than 20 revs without a CAS signal. Therefore, if
the CAS is still partially working you won’t always get the engine tell
tale light despite experience running problems. The ECU uses the timing of the
CAS signal to generate the fuel injector firing signals, so you can imagine the
problem! The CAS can be changed or if you are really brave, repaired, as the failure
is normally down to internal corrosion.
The IHI Turbocharger is remarkably reliable. Many cars have gone around the
clock-plus and not had any problems. No doubt the key here is regular oil changes.
Graham Arnold (of Club Lotus) always recommends fully synthetic oil as it copes
well with ‘heatsoak’. Another tip is to always let the engine idle
for a minute or so after a drive to allow the turbo to run down before oil starvation.
Always check that the turbo-charger turbine housing bolts have not worked themselves
loose. The ‘MAP’ Manifold Absolute Pressure sensor was particularly
prone to failure on early cars and was subsequently changed for a different type,
possibly from the Esprit, which is far more reliable.
The exhaust system can become fragile and most owners have had to replace various
sections including the down-pipe. The engine torque damper has also been known
to break loose. Routine inspections of the Elans underside are definitely a worthwhile
exercise. If you ever hear anything abnormal don’t leave it. Bolts and nuts
do work loose, and it’s far better to have items re-secured before they
fall off and cause major damage!
The gear linkage rates highly as a ‘will probably fail at some point’
item. Early cars were particularly prone to breakages (even occurring in road
tests!). Lotus did strengthen the couplings, and failures reduced dramatically
on later production. The gearbox itself gives no cause for concern nor does the
clutch, which seems able to last to incredible mileages given the nature of the
Electrical items such as the pop-up headlamp motors and electric windows do
fail from time to time, as they probably do on many other cars. The braking system
also requires regular maintenance to stay effective. Soft-tops do occasionally
rip and go out of alignment, but regular attention as with most items is the key.
The Elan will probably give you more trouble mechanically than your average family
car, but it will also provide you with a lot more fun.
Question: What is the difference between the S1
& S2 models?
Answer: When Bugatti came across a warehouse full
of Isuzu engines it decided to make a further limited production run of Elans.
This model became known as the “Series 2” and had a number of changes.
Larger more fashionable 7” X 16” wheels were fitted in place of the
European 6.5” X 15”s, together with minor changes to dampers and suspension
components to accommodate the heavier wheels. Lotus engineer John Miles gave CAR
Magazine the impression he was ‘somewhat pained by this concession to style.’
Stiffer bushings were used in the rafts to give a firmer ride and the power steering
was re-valved to give improved feel. The British motoring press particularly welcomed
this. A catalytic converter was also fitted in a new Bosal exhaust system which
slightly reduced the engine torque, and output power by 10 BHP. The rear suspension
top link was also re-designed to reduce cost.
CAR Magazine on driving the S2 said “The Elan has never been about pure
muscle; it’s about balance, precision and sheer dynamic ability and the
S2 has these qualities in abundance. Truth to tell, I can hardly detect the changes
in the Elan’s suspension, except for the fact the car’s ride is now
harsher at low speeds. So awesome was the original car’s cornering ability
that exploring the chassis’s limit was almost impossible. That hasn’t
changed.” Numerous other changes were made to the internal trim including
the seats, window controls, centre console and the steering wheel. The soft-top
also received some attention to its sealing rubbers in an effort to stem the leaks.
S2 Elans are nearly always seen in metallic colours, which certainly look very
eye catching when combined with their larger wheels. Unfortunately their performance
although still swift suffers with the engine’s power loss and extra kerb
weight when compared to the Series 1. 0-100 times for the S2 are some 4 seconds
adrift, and all the in-gear incrementals are beaten by its predecessor. The S2
was however a great sales success and gave Lotus a much needed injection of cash.
Question: What was the price of an Elan when new?
Answer: The original list price of the Elan in
1989 was £17,850 for the non-turbo and £19,850 for the SE turbo. Leather
seat facings and door trims added £780 and metallic paint £620. Air-conditioning
was standard on US spec. cars, but an optional extra at £980 on the European
spec SE. Road & Track listed the US Elan at $39,040 when it was road tested
in April 1991. The S2 went on sale in the UK in 1994 with a price tag of £24,500.
Questions: Why did Lotus stop making the Elan
so early in its life?
Answer: Lotus reportedly spent over $100 million
on development of the Elan M100. To be a success the Elan had to sell in relatively
high numbers, 3000 cars per year. Unfortunately the Elan arrived when its target
markets in the UK and US were in something of an economic recession. It was never
going to be possible to build a complex low volume sports car and succeed at the
price Lotus could charge. Lotus had hoped to sell 100 units per month in the US,
but struggled to sell even 40 with huge discounts.
The Elan was undoubtedly a car ahead of its time, which despite its sales failure
showed other manufacturers what could be achieved with FWD. The Elan did provide
Lotus with an engineering showpiece, attracting consultancy work from around the
World. The fact that there are so many roadsters for today’s market, and
that the Elan has been used as a benchmark by some of those manufacturers’
indicates very strongly the Elan was the right car at the wrong time. CAR magazine
said “Had the Elan been a no-hoper, a car with no future, the decision would
have been understandable. But it’s not. The Elan is the best small two-seater
open-top car in the World, one with an enormous future.”
Question: How do you check/change the gearbox
oil? (see also Transaxle Oil
Answer: The problem here is not removing oil but
putting it in. Despite beautifully clear drawings in the service notes of the
Speedo cable entry/refill point, you sometimes wonder if you’re looking
at the same car! Access is not easy but can be made easier by moving the coolant
header tank (no need to drain) to a better position, and possibly removing the
air intake hose to the throttle body. The Speedo gear, which must be removed,
is located at the rear of the differential housing and is accessed from above.
Tracing the speedo cable down from the bulkhead helps locate it. A retaining plate
needs to be removed by releasing a single screw before attempting removal. The
speedo gear normally puts up plenty of resistance to removal so be prepared for
a fight! Try not to use excessive force unless driven to it. If you need to add
or refill oil you’ll need a funnel and suitable length of hose (nobody said
this was easy). The original Mobil oil specified by Lotus is no longer produced.
Lotus now recommends Castrol TAF-X 75W/90, which is readily available and recommended
for the S2 Elan which uses the same gearbox as the S1. Draining the gearbox is
simply a case of removing the transmission drain plug from beneath the car.
Question: Can you increase the turbo boost on
an Elan? (see also Upgrade Comparisons)
Answer: It is nearly always possible to increase
the power of a turbo charged production engine by increasing the boost pressure.
The Lotus-Isuzu 4XE1-MT engine in no exception to this. The IHI RHB-5 turbo unit
is capable of producing considerably more boost pressure than the 0.65 bar limit
set by Lotus. It should be remembered that any increase in the boost pressure
will only affect the engine when it’s on boost so the engine’s low
speed performance will be unaltered. Many Elan owners who have increased the boost
pressure have not experienced any immediate reliability problems in doing so,
however there will be more wear particularly on drive-shafts, tyres, brakes and
of course the turbo charger. The under-bonnet/hood temperature will also rise!
You should certainly not increase the engine’s performance unless the brakes
are capable of stopping the car efficiently. It is also important that the engine
is tuned and running well before adding performance bolt-on’s. Even ECU
engines go out of tune, so make sure the plugs, filters, base engine timing, throttle
position sensor and CO are correctly set-up before making changes. You will probably
discover power you never thought you had!
There are a number of different ways of increasing boost but my advice is:
if you decide to increase boost make sure you consider the implications carefully,
and only then, choose a boost package from a reputable company.
The standard engine set-up in SE form produces around 165 BHP. One of the most
experienced companies in the UK who act as consultants to many manufacturers,
state that realistically you can achieve +40 BHP with the Isuzu engine. No doubt
more can be achieved but this would probably require internal modifications.
Another factor to consider is “Torque Steer”, which although virtually
absent in standard engine trim is more likely to rear its head if power and torque
are increased. Using a limited-slip differential is, of course, an expensive counter
option. Lotus openly states that 200BHP is a sensible upper limit for Front Wheel
A point for discussion:
Turbocharged engines are particularly prone to pre-detonation with the increase
in intake pressure. Believe it or not, if the pressure becomes too high pre-detonation
‘pinging’ or ‘knock’ occurs and output power actually
decreases. Pinging is not desirable as it stresses the engine increasing wear.
The Elan’s ECU actually checks for pre-detonation and retards the ignition
timing and waste-gate modulation frequency to ensure that ‘knock’
is prevented. There are some grey areas when considering boost increases: The
ECU software requires control of the wastegate as a means to prevent engine knock
in conjunction with ignition timing. This is clearly shown in the Lotus Service
notes. A device called a Boost Control Frequency Valve ‘BCFV’ vents
the wastegate pressure capsule to the atmosphere to enable higher boost pressures
before the wastegate activates. In standard set-up this occurs when the ECU allows
the boost to increase over the normal spring controlled pressure of 0.41 bar above
2900rpm. If the wastegate capsule is vented directly to the atmosphere without
the modulated atmosphere exposure of the BCFV, the boost would quickly rise above
0.9 bar and trigger fuel cut-off; don’t try it! The software in the ECU
is therefore theoretically capable of changing the boost curve and maximum boost
pressure without any mechanical changes to the turbo system!
Because it’s unclear as to how the ECU software is configured, it would
appear to me that any bypassing of the ECU’s wastegate control, such as
a bleed valve, could potentially jeopardise the control system’s ability
to prevent engine knock. As a practical example, if the base ignition timing is
wrong, promoting knock, the ECU will reduce the maximum boost available even in
The question that needs to be asked is why so many aftermarket systems rely
on physical changes to the wastegate system when revised software should be all
that’s required? The Elan’s GM sourced ECU is a standard module in
which different PROM (Programmable Read Only Memory) IC’s can be used, depending
on the type of engine being managed. If the system strategy and look-up tables
are contained in the PROM, why don’t the aftermarket companies offer revised
software only? Are we really being offered the best possible performance increase
with the least impact on reliability? What are replacement chips really doing?
If anyone reading this has been involved in developing ECU strategies and mappings,
we would be very interested to know the facts.
Question: Does the soft-top leak?
Answer: Yes. The soft-top is notorious for leaks.
It would probably be fair to say it is shower proof but not rain proof. The problem
area is around the windows. Experienced Elan owners tend to carry a towel which
can be draped across the ‘outside thigh’ to prevent ‘wet leg’
syndrome. You can improve things by ensuring the top is properly adjusted and
the sealing rubbers are in good condition. There are NO adjustments on the soft-top
itself, if it’s out of alignment the only adjustments are via the mounting
points in the ‘B’ posts and the position of the latch plates on the
windscreen header rail. The Lotus service notes should be consulted for details.
The S2 hood is better as the rubber window seals were modified, however users’
report that drips and leaks are still very much a part of Elan ownership. Always
check hood frames for corrosion when inspecting a potential purchase. The hood
frame can also damage the hood material after time. Check that the cross members
have strips of Velcro (hoops) running along the top of the frame cross-members.
Question: What can be done to improve the brakes?
(see also Upgrade Comparisons)
Answer: Interestingly, this is one area that was
always highly rated in terms of stopping power by most of the magazine road testers!
Brake-pedal operation however was often said to be ‘lacking in feel’.
Many owners have never driven a new Elan so it is difficult to say if these initial
reports are accurate, but one can only assume that they probably were at the time.
Reality is that the brakes deteriorate fairly rapidly, particularly if the car
is not used regularly. The rears are particularly prone to rusting and seizure.
Like all braking systems regular maintenance is essential and the system should
be bled and refilled at the proper intervals. If there is any doubt about the
system it should be tested for efficiency and balance (at an MOT station) and
corrective action taken to repair any faulty components. Always check the wheel
bearings, as excessive play will result in the pads being pushed back into the
calipers during cornering. This can cause excessive pedal travel and pedal softness.
A number of companies offer upgraded replacement front pads and discs, often available
from independent Lotus dealers, which can certainly give better feel. AP Racing
also do a caliper and disc upgrade, but this will not fit the standard 15”
European wheels and costs a small fortune.
Question: Are parts expensive?
Answer: Yes and No. Many Elan parts come from
the GM parts bin of 10 years ago, so a number of parts can be obtained from Auto-parts
stores. The Isuzu engine was used in a number of other models (in the US) so spares
are readily available.
If you are ever unsure about the suitability of safety critical non Lotus parts
don’t use them. Independent Lotus specialists are often an excellent source
of advice and quality spare parts at sensible prices. Many Elan parts are bespoke
items and can only be found at franchised dealers. These parts are inevitably
expensive. If you have to change the soft-top you’ll probably need to re-mortgage.
The good news is that for the present time availability on parts is very good.
Whether this situation will continue now Kia have stopped production of their
Elan will remain to be seen. Lotus Club (UK) meetings are an excellent place to
find parts, and Lotus themselves have even been known to sell-off major components
at quite unbelievably low prices! Keep your eyes peeled.
Question: Is the Elan easy to maintain? (see also
Repairs / Maintenance)
Answer: Well it’s certainly easier than
a Lotus Esprit. Most experienced DIY mechanics should be able to cope with most
routine maintenance tasks, although patience is required. A set of Lotus service
notes is an excellent starting point, will save hours of time and enable you to
obtain the best from the car. For most owners the biggest problem is simply getting
under the car. It’s much lower than you’d imagine, so a couple of
months on a strict diet works wonders! The engine packaging is tight so always
allow more time than you would normally estimate, and have a good supply of Elastoplast.
Most jobs are fiddly but possible. The oil filter can be difficult to remove as
it’s behind the engine. The tip here is to use the latest Lotus ST special
tool, it doesn’t cost much and extracts in seconds. Replacing plug leads
requires patience because of the twin coil location, beneath a very sharp bracket.
Changing the gearbox oil is best left until you’re really keen, and the
timing belt I’d recommend being replaced by your dealer. Plugs – easy,
Air filter – easy, Clutch adjustment – easy, Brake Pads – moderate,
Engine coolant change - moderate. Always refer to the workshop manual maintenance
schedules and never tackle something you don’t have the skill to cope with.
Tip: Saturday is a good day for repairs as Sunday then gives you time to recover.
Question: Is the Elan a good investment?
Answer: If a car could ever be considered a good
investment then a resounding Yes – for the present time. It’s quite
amusing reading through old articles about the Elan and seeing the diversity of
views about future residuals. When the Elan was killed off prices did rise, however
the expectation was that the Elan would plummet in value within a 10 year period
to the level of an Elite (at best), but much more likely to Europa levels or below!!!
The important factor is the current renaissance of the soft-top roadster. The
Elan is comparatively rare and has quickly becoming a design, dare I say “classic”.
Its Peter Stevens designed body and cab forward design still look stunning when
compared to many of today’s sports cars.
In the UK there has been very little change in used prices year on year despite
the models increasing age, and average mileage’s rising. It’s not
uncommon to see cars advertised at main Lotus Dealers with 65k + miles. Condition
seems more important than the odometer reading. “Because the car wears and
drives well on high mileage’s buyers don’t seem put off by 100k cars.”
These are the words of a leading Lotus Independent. At main UK agents a good condition
’92 SE will have a sticker price only 15-25% below its original sale price
of 7 years ago! Unless you’re flush don’t pay these prices unless
you want the warrantees. Check out the private sales, there are always low mileage
cars available at sensible (although still high) prices. In the US prices are
a lot softer as car prices are generally much lower anyway. Expect to see prices
in the range $15k -$23k.
Question: Where is the battery in the Elan? (see
Answer: Not under the bonnet/hood or in the boot,
as you’ll quickly discover when it’s flat! It hides in a cubbyhole
underneath the floor of the soft-top storage compartment. This placement was chosen
for both space and weight considerations.
Question: Where is the fuel filter in the Elan?
Answer: As with the previous answer it’s
under the storage compartment floor behind a removable panel to the right of the
fuel tank. Note this WARNING: Remember the fuel system is pressurised!! You must
relieve the fuel pressure before removal. Always consult the Lotus Service Notes
and follow the fuel pressure relief procedure.
Question: Where is the ALDL connector and ECU?
(see also How to Diagnose "Check
Engine" Light Problems)
Answer: In different places depending on RHD or
1) RHD – ECU behind the glovebox. The ALDL is situated in a dummy storage
socket below ECU. If you have AC fitted the ALDL will be above the ECU.
2) LHD – ECU in the driver’s footwell, to the left of the pedal
box on the front bulkhead. The ALDL is situated in a dummy storage socket behind
the glovebox. If you have AC fitted the ALDL is right by the evaporator unit at
the front of the passenger footwell.
Question: Can you run engine diagnostics without
Answer: Yes, and you don’t need an engineering
degree. Like all GM based ECU systems of the time, the ECU will illuminate the
check engine light ‘CEL’ if it recognises a problem (normally sensor
related). Note: If you have an intermittent problem then the check engine light
may not be on permanently. To activate the self-diagnostic mode the ECU test terminal
is grounded at the ALDL connector while the ignition is ON but the engine is stopped.
Trouble codes can then be interpreted from the flashing CEL and reference to the
Lotus Service Notes.
Question: Where is the distributor cap?
Answer: There isn’t one on the SE. The Lotus-Isuzu
engine uses two ignition coils working in the ‘waste spark’ method
of distribution. Each coil secondary is attached to a spark plug, firing two plugs
simultaneously as one piston rises and the other falls. One spark generates power
while the other is wasted in the exhaust. Interestingly, although the ignition
voltage is very high, there is very little resistance across the waste spark plug
Question: Is the Kia Elan the same as the Lotus
Answer: Yes and No. The Kia Elan body is made
using the original Elan tooling. The major mechanical components however are different.
The engine and transmission are not from Isuzu, and no longer turbo charged. The
car does look very similar, particularly to the US Elan that has the longer nose.
The rear light cluster is also new; maybe Alpine-Renault had run out of the GTA?
The ride height is considerably higher and the wheels different. Nobody seems
sure what has changed in the chassis; rumours are that it has been cost engineered.
If anyone knows what’s under the skin please tell us! My suspicion is it’s
basically the same. Only 1000 Kia Elans have been produced with no apparent shipments
to the UK and US. An early sample was road tested in the UK and given indifferent
reviews, although the handling was highly rated. It appears that already there
is a strong band of enthusiastic Kia Elan owners who look set to enjoy there cars
just as much as those with the Lotus marque. Bravo to Kia for making more parts.
Maybe the tooling will be up for sale again. Let’s hope Caterham Cars make
Question: Who designed the Elan?
Answer: The body was designed by the now well
known Peter Stevens who went on to design the World’s fastest road car the
MacLaren F1. As a little topical aside his services were also called upon to help
Subaru improve the appearance of its Impreza! Simon Cox a graduate of the Royal
College of Art styled the interior and Tickford did the development work on the
hood. Blame them for the leaks! Jerry Booen designed the chassis after which Roger
Becker and John Miles (who drove 12 times in Lotus Formula 1 around 1970) worked
on the ride and handling. As an aside: Lotus never actually built the S1 chassis
in house, a company called Motor Panels did this. For the S2 Lotus sourced the
chassis panels and welded them together before sending the completed assembly
to Motor Panels for electrostatic corrosion proofing.
Question: Where do all the rattles come from?
Answer: They can appear to come from everywhere.
Owners’ experience’s point to a number of areas: The doors, which
are incredibly complex and hence full of rattly bits. A strip down inevitably
finds loose brackets and screws that can be tightened. Nothing beats the elation
of tracking down and curing door rattles. They are incredibly annoying but can
be beaten. The soft-top also comes in strongly, up or down. It tends to clatter
about in the stowage area. Some rubber strips between the underside of the storage
cover and the large soft-top latches can work wonders here. When up, any misalignment
inevitably gives rattles any excuse. The latch area is also a definite rattle
zone. If anyone thinks they have a rattle free top they should consult an audiologist!
The dash area depending on the temperature has numerous buzzes. Your level of
tenacity and supply of sticky bits of cardboard will determine your success here.
On the whole the body panels are not a problem. If rattles do occur they usually
emanate from the headlamp pods and bonnet, all of which can be adjusted.
Question: Can you improve the performance by fitting
an after-market exhaust? (see also Upgrade Comparisons )
Answer: Probably not. The standard exhaust system
although not as “fruity” sounding as some owners would like seems
fairly well optimised. However, stainless steel ‘standard’ replacements
are reported to improve the sound quality. Personal experience of non standard
rear boxes is that power can easily be lost and flat spots produced. This was
particularly noticed when reverting to the standard Lotus rear box and discovering
more mid range urge. Many so called ‘performance systems’ can actually
reduce engine torque, so be careful. It is also interesting to see how well Lotus
calibrated the engine to perform with a ‘closed loop’ catalyst for
the US version. Torque is 2lb ft down and power only 5bhp. The engine calibration
was deliberately set-up to compensate for the increased backpressure caused by
the catalyst. Straight through CAT free systems fitted to US spec. Elans will
certainly not meet emission standards. It is also probably worth having the car
dynamometer tested before and after a change of exhaust to be sure that you have
really been sold an improvement.
Question: Will the Elan go rusty?
Answer: Yes, but you probably won’t notice.
The Elans body panels are manufactured from fibreglass so will not rust. The chassis,
brakes and suspension components will suffer from corrosion as the car ages. Of
course the speed at which corrosion occurs will depend on your climate. California
and Dubai is probably ideal, Wales is probably not. The steel chassis is galvanised
and is likely to last for many years unless it is damaged. The suspension wishbones
(particularly at the rear) are far more prone to rust, so an annual inspection
is recommended to check their soundness and repair any sealant damage. In general
the Elan is far better than many vehicles in this area if looked after. Garaging
is definitely recommend, and if you own a Red Elan, keeping it out of the Sun
will also slow the dreaded ‘Pinking’.
Question: Were there many design changes to the
S1 Elan during its life?
Answer: As with all products there were a number
of small changes to the Elan during its all too brief time in production. Many
of these will probably never be known but there are a few which warrant mention:
1) Early production cars had Fold Back Opera Glass type headlamps which were
both complicated to manufacture and noisy in operation. Lotus had the added problem
of ensuring that the lamps did not dazzle on-coming vehicles as the pods folded
into position. A single pivot headlamp mechanism was introduced from VIN6300 which
was essentially the same as used on the Excel and Esprit models of the time. The
later style headlamps look much better, particularly from the side, and operate
in a much more dignified way.
2) The rear suspension anti-lift angle was modified from 5 degrees to 2.5 degrees
on vehicles from VIN: M 6644 (there are a few exceptions after this). This change
reduced the tendency for the rear end to lift under braking. US spec. models were
all 2.5 degrees.
It is possible to see if an Elan is of the earlier set-up by inspecting the
rear wishbone anchorage channel. If it runs straight to the lower wishbone without
a joggle (kink) then it’s 5 degrees. If there is a joggle, then it’s
the later set-up of 2.5 degrees.
3) The fuel tank breather system was revised on all Elan models from VIN: M
6634. A new balance pipe assembly was made to allow a different route for the
breather pipe. This prevented the possibility of tank breathing problems when
the vehicle was parked on a steep slope with a full tank of fuel.
4) There are three different rear brake proportioning valve configurations
used which all operate when a pressure of 15 bar is reached. The early four valve
3/15 (0.3:1) pressure ration systems had an upper limiting valve of 65 or 70 bar.
These configurations were later simplified to a single 2/15 proportioning valve
in each of the rear brake feeds with no upper limiting. The later is the preferred
system recommended by Lotus should any problems be encountered with the earlier
5) Later cars do not have the novel Perspex ‘anti-Gatso camera’
Question: Can the handling be improved?
Answer: This can be a very emotive area. Firstly,
it must be realised that the Elan was designed as a fast but safe handling road
car. Lotus put considerable engineering time and expertise into producing a chassis
that would not only perform brilliantly but also provide exceptional ride characteristics
when compared with other sports cars. The Elan chassis has different handling
characteristics for the US and European markets because the roads and driving
styles are different. In Europe speeds tend to be higher, and in the US the roads
bumpier and more prone long wave undulations “freeway hop”. Lotus
deliberately tuned the US cars to give more driver reward at lower speeds. European
drivers’ quickly discover that much of their car’s ability shows itself
towards the upper end of the performance envelope. It must also be remembered
that the Elans suspension was developed for particular wheel/tyre combinations
and changing these components will have an effect of the cars handling and ride.
The original lightweight Michelin MXX2 tyres specified for the car in Europe are
unfortunately no longer available.
In 1992 Car Magazine set out to “Pick the World’s Fastest Car”.
They were not looking for the fastest track car but the quickest car on the open
road. Their choice of vehicles: The Lancia Delta Integrale Evolution, the Porsche
Carrera 4 and … the Lotus Elan SE.
In 1994 Autocar said when looking back on the S1, “The car worked beautifully
and looked great. It had tenacious roadholding, a supple ride, remarkable high-speed
stability and foolproof handling; people said its ground-covering ability rivaled
that of the Esprit. If road testers had a complaint, it was that the car’s
enormous cross-county performance was too easy to use: the engine was quiet, you
couldn’t make the chassis oversteer on wet roundabouts, the traction was
enormous and the steering was so uncorrupted that it felt lifeless.” Guess
they were unimpressed!
If the Elan is only to be used on a smooth track, then there is little doubt
that a different set-up may well improve lap times. Outright grip may be enhanced
at the expense of ride quality for example. Whatever is improved will undoubtedly
be traded-off against another characteristic of the car’s handling, that’s
just life. Lotus have always been one of the leaders in this area of car design,
and their intention was to make the Elan one of the World’s finest handling
cars. That it still sets a standard few FWD cars have reached in the last 10 years
suggests that some-things are simply best left alone.
Question: Are body repairs expensive?
Answer: Oh Yes. Do everything you can to avoid
damage. The body is made up of a multitude of fibreglass panels that are bonded
together. Repairs to this type of body require specialist knowledge to achieve
good results, this is never cheap. The backbone chassis although strong can be
distorted easily in accidents. If it goes out of trim, the car will probably require
a new chassis. Lotus do NOT recommend repairs once the chassis has been stressed.
Drive carefully and avoid parking next to old neglected vehicles ;-)
Question: Which is better Elise or Elan?
Answer: Not a fair question. It depends entirely
on what sort of sports car you want. Lotus over-engineered the Elan, which is
great for those who bought one, but not for a small car company trying to run
a profitable business! The Elise was designed to be a much cheaper and simpler
car to manufacture. It is of course a great car to drive in good conditions. Where
the Elan scores is in the depth of its ability and safety. It is a car you can
feel secure in all weather conditions, its ride is supple and the driving environment
is comfortable. Forget the hype, drive both models and see which suits you best.
Question: Can you lower the Elan?
Answer: Probably, but why? The Elan is only 5.1”
off the ground and making it any lower will almost definitely result in damage
to expensive items such as the oil, air inter-cooler and chassis. The Elan is
already a low sports car that occasionally bottoms out. The progressive handling
characteristics are also helped by virtually constant roll centre heights irrespective
of the car’s roll angle. So again, another area best left alone.
Question: How long does an Elan last?
Answer: A long time if you look after it. Fortunately
many owners don’t use their cars as everyday drivers. That’s not to
say you shouldn’t, but it does mean that many cars have below average mileage’s
and are somewhat mollycoddled through the winter months. Therefore many Elans
are still in great condition despite their age. Equally many cars have done very
high mileages without engine rebuilds. If well maintained the engine is probably
good for around 200,000 miles before a major overhaul. Dampers also last well,
despite what you may read. To sum up major mechanicals are very sound. Where you
do have to be careful is electric’s, interior (leather does crack) and hood.
Although the chassis is galvanised parts of the chassis perimeter frame are not.
Although these parts are laminated into the body, little is known about their
long-term durability. Deterioration of the bodyshell is virtually nil and gel
cracks are relatively rare. Compared with earlier fibreglass shelled Lotus’
the Elan looks set to last a very long time.
Question: How do you remove the inner panel door
Answer: With great difficulty unless you know
how. This is a very common question as there are lots of door related issues:
rattles, speakers and electric windows. A good starting point is a visit to your
dealer to obtain some spare orange plastic door button retaining clips.
1) Prise out the orange clip and remove the door button. There is a trim retaining
screw behind this button that must be removed.
2) Remove the screw behind the interior door release handle, and unhook the
handle escutcheon from the trim panel. You should now see two screws securing
the handle bracket and door trim to the door shell. Remove these.
3) Carefully remove the inlay cloth/leather trim from the elbow recess, and
remove another two screws at the rear of the door handle.
4) Carefully pull off the carpet inlay at the bottom of the door to reveal
7 plastic ‘scrivets’ as Lotus call them! You will need to stick the
carpet back with a suitable adhesive later.
5) Remove the three screws in the dash recess at the front of the door trim,
and last but by means least, the screw behind the door weatherstrip. This can
be tricky to find as its behind the top rear end (door button side) of the weatherstrip
which is bonded to the door. The door trim can now be removed.
6) Refitting, as they always say, is the reverse of the above! Take care when
refitting to make sure the door button lock rod passes through its aperture, and
that it’s in its fully up position when refitting the infamous orange retaining
Question: Why is the Elan also called the M100?
Answer: All Lotus car projects have a development
number attached to them. In the case of the Elan it was M100. Some other well-known
and not so well known projects are: ‘26’ Original Elan 1962-1966,
‘79’ Esprit 1975-1980, ‘99T’ Honda V6 powered racer 1987,
‘102’ F1 car with Lamborghini V12 1990 and ‘111’ Elise
As another little aside, the engineering team thought up a rather nifty mascot
for the M100.
A cat on roller skates with its ears and tail pinned back with speed.
In 1991 Lotus were given a British Design Council Award for the Elan!!
Question: Does the Elan have airbags?
Answer: The US version of the M100 has a driver-side
airbag. The UK and European M100s do not have an airbag. Don't be fooled, the
dash does look as though it has a passenger-side airbag, but I assure you no M100
was ever made with one of these!
Question: Why did my battery go dead when the
car was resting for a few days?
Answer: This has happened to a handful of people
(myself included). It seems the trunk (boot) switch contact may malfunction and
cause the trunk light to stay on. This will run down the battery over about a
day or two. I think the only way to diagnose this is to (1) put your child or
small friend in the trunk and ask them if the light goes out, (2) drop your video
camera in there while recording and see what the light does, or (3) put an electrical
meter on the circuit and see if it closes with the trunk lid!! You could try cleaning
the electrical contacts or adjusting the position of the switch to fix this, or
you can just disconnect the switch to stop the drain from happening again.
Thanks are in order from us all to Steve for this marvelous listing!! Steve
is very knowledgeable about the Elan and it certainly shows here. He lives in
Farnham, Surrey, UK, and has probably passed more Elises on the track with his
stock Elan than will admit to.