Altogether 3,855 Elans were built between November 1989 and July 1992, including 129 normally aspirated (non-turbo) cars. 559 of them were sold in the US, featuring 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 airbag.
They also had wider 16-inch wheels with more offset thanks to an undercover scheme devised by Kimberly and myself (optional in most markets, standard in the US) instead of 15-inch as on the UK model. The conflicting objectives of design and engineering were often a problem at Lotus, the Elan has always looked way better on wider wheels and tyres with a lower ride height, you see some great ones around these days that achieve the ‘look’ that I always wanted!
As something of a ‘post script’, after leaving Lotus in 1989 I was asked by a very small but dedicated group of Lotus engineers how they might propose a lighter, cheaper coupé version of the Elan. At that point in time Lotus was in a very turbulent state, an attempted management buy-out by a couple of directors was badly viewed by ‘old school’ Lotus employees, and they wanted to put a coupé proposal to some GM directors to show how the appeal of the Elan could be widened.
Using a local model-making company, Dove Company Design, and with myself ‘moonlighting’ from McLaren, we quickly built a proper running prototype, which we showed to a group of GM directors; part of the show was a couple of tables filled with no longer needed parts together with a much revised bill of materials.
The headlights, for example, were from the Opel Calibra and they saved both weight and a large amount of money. Unfortunately, this suggestion fell into a boiling vat of politics and disappeared from sight. It would seem that it was not in the interest of some top Lotus people that the Elan should be a continuing success.
A limited edition of 800 Series 2 M100 Elans, produced June 1994–September 1995, was released during the Romano Artioli era. Artioli, at that time owner of Bugatti, had bought Lotus from General Motors in 1994 and only discovered after the deal that enough surplus engines were available to make this possible, they were actually on a ship from Japan and had already been paid for by General Motors.
According to Autocar magazine, the S2 addressed some of the concerns (?) over handling, but power was reduced to 155 bhp (116 kW; 157 PS) and the 0–60mph acceleration time increased to 7.5 seconds, due to the legislative requirement to fit a catalytic converter in all markets. The S2s have very similar performance to the USA vehicles, having an identical engine management system calibration and similar overall vehicle weight.
Following my departure to McLaren, Julian Thompson took over at Lotus as head of design. One of his first projects was to design a show car based on the Elan, the Lotus M200 Speedster. The car was first shown at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show and later at the 1992 Geneva Show. The project was originally conceived soon after I left but there was little enthusiasm for it within the company until a sudden request from marketing for “a show car, needed in a real hurry” re-started the project.
The exciting little yellow speedster, which I really liked since it represented Lotus’s ‘lighter and simpler’ ethos followed the fixed headlight route of the ‘low cost Elan’ project; the twin cockpit interior, designed by David Brisbourne, caused a stir at the time, with its ‘ladies swimming costume’ fabric covered seats.
Although it was originally a non-runner Ken and Neil Myers not only restored the car for Lotus dealer Paul Matty, they also made it into a proper road-legal running car. The car was offered for sale by auctioneers Bonhams at their Goodwood sale in 2012, but remained un-sold, suggestions are that it was eventually bought by an enthusiast in Holland for as little as £20,000!
After the final production run of the Elan in 1995, Kia Motech (Kia Motor-Technology) bought all the licences related to the Elan from Lotus in order for Kia to manufacture its own version. In late 1995, following this acquisition of the Elan, Kia produced a show car version to gauge public opinion for a Kia sports car, it was called KMS-11.
However the production version looked nothing like the KMS-11, it was almost identical to the original. The most obvious differences were the wheels and the taillights, designed by Kia, in place of the Renault Alpine rear lights of the original Lotus version.
The car, built in Hwaseong, South Korea, was sold as the ‘Kia Elan’; it was sold from 1996 to 2000 only in the Korean market and could not be considered a great success. During its four-year production life, except for 1997 when just over 400 Kia Elans were sold. In total, for the other three years around 300 found customers.
The Elan name revived
During an extraordinary period around the years 2009-2012 Lotus went through what can now be seen as a crisis of bizarre management and vision. Famously, at the Paris Auto Show of 2010, CEO of Lotus, Dany Bahar, accompanied by many 'movie personalities', unveiled five new concept cars including a ‘New Elan’, a new Esprit, Elite, Eterne and Elise. It was at this point that observers believed that Lotus had ‘lost the plot’!
The Elan was to be a 450hp supercharged 4.0-litre V6 engined, seven-speed, mid-engined car complete with optional KERS energy recovery system, supposedly capable of 193mph and 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds! A large, over-styled ‘generic’ sports coupé with no recognizable Lotus design cues, nothing could have been further from Chapman’s original Elan; both the car and Bahar vanished without trace two years later. “Anyone can make something complicated. It takes genius to make it simple.” Einstein.
So is it time for a proper ‘New Elan’? Less Spartan than a Caterham 7, more practical than a Lotus Elise, front engined but with the elegance of the Renault ‘Fly’ concept!