Our recent story about undervalued British classics inspired this week’s eBay search. While the original Elan (1967–74) was on that illustrious list, we stumbled upon a later Elan (aka M100, 1989–92) that was not.
Let’s get this out of the way first: The 1989–92 model was the first and only front-wheel-drive Lotus ever made, and it has turned off many drivers since the very beginning. Despite professional reviewers’ praise for the car’s handling, balanced transitions, and lack of torque steer at its introduction, chat rooms are filled with complaints that the M100 is front-wheel drive. Of course, most of these purists likely have never driven one. If they had, they would know that it is regarded as one of—if not the—best-handling FWD cars in history.
It’s also possible that timing of the introduction of the M100, concurrent with the Mazda Miata, led to comparisons. The Miata was clearly closer in design ethic and looks of the original Lotus Elan, and it also cost less than half of the $39,990 base price of this Lotus when it came to market.
Yet, if one considers Lotus’s overarching design philosophy of creating usable performance with light weight and innovative designs, then the Elan certainly qualifies as a true Lotus. Its Isuzu-sourced engine (both Lotus and Isuzu were partners of General Motors at the time) may not elicit lust among exotic car enthusiasts, but at least it promised reliable performance and lower cost of ownership. Don’t forget, the original Elan used an engine derived from a Ford, and current Lotuses (Loti?) use Toyota powertrains, so this isn’t as much of a departure for the chassis designers at Lotus as it first seems. The fiberglass body over a steel chassis was similarly light and in keeping with Lotus design philosophy.
That 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine produced 162 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, capable of accelerating the roughly 2400-pound car from 0–60 mph in a quick 6.7 seconds. If you don’t open the hood to see the Isuzu branding on the valve covers, the driving experience was certainly in keeping with Lotus tradition, regardless of which set of wheels were propelling you around a corner.
This week’s eBay find is said to have just shy of 27,000 miles on the clock since new and appears to be in very nice and unmodified condition. The $18,000 Buy-It-Now price places it squarely between Hagerty’s #2 and #3 condition values. Are these undervalued usable exotics or nearly-forgotten oddities?