1. Beg, borrow or steal a laptop with ElanScan and an interface then log your test drive for later analysis if there are any concerns.
2. Take a large mirror and torch to enable you to see under the car easier.
OK, you’ve set aside the budget, won the lottery or had a bit of luck. Your thoughts turn to a sports car – well, you should do it at least once. You don’t want to spend too much money on it, you’d like to out-perform a Porsche Boxster for mid-range acceleration and have a usable car with a convertible roof. You might consider an MX-5 or a Celica Convertible or a TVR but eventually decide on the M100 Élan – full of character, pedigree and a delight to drive. You peruse LEC, maybe even meet some of the guys there and trawl through the ‘For Sale’ section, eBay and auto trader. You make an appointment and turn up to look at your first Élan. What do you look for?
Starting at the front,
Under the bumper there is a Rubber lip – past encounters with kerbs, small mammals or spare bricks left on the Queen’s highway may have damaged it. They are not particularly hard to get hold of but are held on by many screws. If it is damaged the bumper itself may have suffered as well – look for chips and cracks. Fast cars suffer from Stone chips and the M100 Élan is no exception. These can be found in most places all over the front of the car and on the mirror covers. Blue cars seem to suffer particularly badly from this. The front end can be re-sprayed for anything between £400 and £1000 or you could live with it. It’s now time to get down to it. Get on your knees and look under the front there should be a black plastic Cover or under tray under the radiator straight behind the bumper extending the width of the car. If it is not present this is a sign of neglect and may have mean that the radiator support has been exposed to salt and wet. Look for signs of water / coolant stains on or around this area - it could point to a leaking radiator and/or hoses. Not particularly expensive to fix. While you are on your knees looking underneath the front examine the Prongeron – this is the metal bit running between the front wheels down the middle of the car towards the bumper. It has a ‘do not jack’ sticker on it, but some less scrupulous owners and garages choose to ignore this and it may have dents where trolley jacks have been used on it. This can distort this important part of the car’s chassis – it might not necessarily be a bad thing but points to lack of care on behalf of the owners and / or garages. A few Élans have been seen with area and other bits of the chassis sprayed with a black under seal-like substance – this was supposed to happen as part of the anti-corrosion regime by the Lotus dealer network and it quite normal(?). Before you stand up take a glance at the Track Control arms – these can corrode quite badly but would have to be really bad if you wanted to spot it on a quick inspection – ideally you’d take the wheels off and bang them with a hammer to check!
OK, you can stand up and dust your knees off. Stand back and check the Panel fit – bonnet, pods, clam and bumper – the gaps between these items should be even all across the front and round to the wheel arch. If there are odd gaps this might point to body damage in the past. Check that the pods and bonnet are level. On some cars the front of the door catches on the rear of the panel behind the front wheel arch. This is quite common and can be fixed with a bit of adjustment / coaxing with a mallet.
Look at the Wheels, do they have any dents or scuffing? They can be refurbished for not too much money or bought second-hand. Are they the original wheels? You might not be bothered by after-market replacements but some purists are.
Poke your finger through the spokes and run it across the disk – is there a ‘lip’ at the edge? If so, they might need replacing, but standard ones are very cheap. Check pad wear, too, standard pads are cheap. There are a few upgrade options for the front brakes, generally speaking they are a good idea because the standard brakes are relatively poor and do not match the performance of the car if it is used energetically.
Look at the tyres. Are all the Tyres the same? Do they at least match on the same ‘axle’ front and rear? Are they worn? If worn they should be worn evenly otherwise this could point to tracking / toe-in problems. Most Élans will have had at least one replacement Exhaust by now – at least the rear box. Have a look at the rear box ; ideally this will be stainless steel and should appear reasonably shiny. If there are any holes in the system, this would be picked up in the MOT Test. In any case, they are not particularly expensive to replace (thanks to LEC group buys – an upgrade here can yield performance benefits) Still standing up, put your finger through the spokes and see if there is a lip on the Rear disks ; glance at the pads, too. The rear brakes are relatively expensive to replace.
Next we move on to the Hood – I’m assuming it is up at this point! - check the rear edge is sitting firmly on to the deck at the rear. If it isn’t it is possible that the tensioning wires are broken or need adjustment. This is a task best left to the experts! It is a quirk of Élan hoods that a wear point occurs where the frame touches it every time it is deployed – check that this hasn’t left a hole just above the tail end of the window, or that it has been reinforced or patched. The Condition of rear window should be checked if it is very opaque it might well need replacing if the rest of the hood is OK otherwise expect to shell out for a new hood. It is important to check the condition of the rubbers seals around the windows – these are expensive (if you can find any) and fiddly to replace and if they are in poor condition, with cuts or chunks missing you will definitely suffer when it is raining!.
While we are that back borrow the Boot key open the boot and inspect the interior. If the boot key is worn and there is only one and you do decide to buy the car, it can be tricky to find a locksmith with the correct American GM blanks – you have been warned. Check the carpets are clean and present, lift them up and check the Jack / wrench and Space saver are present. You might be lucky and find a Tool kit in the well at the left hand side – these were originally supplied with the car – the tools are not overly useful – if you are a hands on type you’ll already have better but it is a nice feature nonetheless – especially if it is entirely complete with the penknife (not all kits had that).
Close the boot and look carefully at the Rear lights – they are rather large and if cracked can be expensive to replace although they have been seen on eBay for around £100. Look at the Rear number plate. Early Élans had a Perspex cover flush with the light assemblies, later ones and S2s have a recessed plinth mounting. Number plates under the cover have been known to suffer and decay make sure it’s Ok, but they’re very cheap to replace if not.
Time to get on out knees at the rear of the car to examine the ‘Achilles Heel’ of the M100 Élan the Rear lower wishbones. If it is an S2 it will have galvanised wishbones so you won’t have a problem but earlier SEs or NAs will suffer unless they have been effectively rust proofed. If you’re a ‘hands on’ sort of person they’re pretty straightforward to replace and galvanised replacements are easy to come by. If not, you may have to pay up to £1000 to get them replaced professionally. Again, glancing at them won’t help an awful lot – you really need to belt them with a hammer or the wheel brace – if you hear a muffled thud you may have a problem.
Moving to the front of the car, it’s time to look under the bonnet. Bonnet stay should be present and correct and clip neatly into a clip at the rear of the bonnet. Have a look and note any New jubilee clips this normally means a hose here or there has been replaced which is a good sign. Look, too, at the General cleanliness ; if it is really dirty and shabby it may not have been looked after. The engines are pretty oil tight apart from the cam angle sensor oil seal this can create an oily mess on the right hand side of the engine but it cheap and easy to fix. You may find an enthusiast has butchered some of the hoses and pipes and fitted Blow off valves, manual boost controls or KN filter. Some of these have been done on a neat manner, some not so neat. It’s a matter of personal taste, you may prefer your Élan in an original state. Look for any water Leaks near the thermostat or radiator connections. Unscrew the oil filler cap and look for any Residue – if you see some mayonnaise like substance there this could mean the head gasket is faulty. Normally the oil in an Élan is fairly clean and has to be changed every 6 months in the turbo –equipped SEs and S2s – pull out the dipstick and check the colour of the oil, if you see anything other than oil, for example beads of water there might be a problem with the head gasket. While on the subject of fluids, look at the brake fluid reservoir – the brake fluid should be clean and clear as changing the brake fluid is part of the B service and should be done every couple of years or so.
The underneath of the Élan bonnet should have a layer of Sound deadening material this should be sound and smooth. One car I looked at had this hanging down and it had got damp from a leak in the washer jets then it had created a damp situation on the throttle cable which shed it’s plastic coating and rusted away. The area where the Throttle cable fits into a clip can result in the plastic coating eroding and the metal outer rusting – not too expensive but a swine to fit. Finally, while under the bonnet look at the ‘Swan neck area’ – inboard and at the rear of the light pods a part of the clamshell curves in an S shape. If this area is anything other than smooth or has cracks or chips in it, then the likelihood is that the car has had a knock at the front at some stage. Have a close look at the chassis sticker. It’s not an embossed brass plaque but a piece of paper under a sheet of plastic. If it is missing or looks like a photocopy stuck under a piece of sellotape then be concerned. It might be that the car has had a respray but even then it should be properly fixed. OK, we’ve finished under the bonnet, but we might get a helper or the owner to start the engine. Listen for any knocks or rattles. If the engine is cold, you should expect to see about 5 bar on the oil pressure gauge on tickover. When warm, it should drop to around 1/2 way between the 2.5 bar and 5 bar mark on tickover and be around the 5 bar mark at 3,000 rpm. It is quite normal for a tapping noise from the, er, tappets on start-up – they are hydraulic and until the pressure builds up the clearances are too high resulting in a tapping noise. This noise should go away, if not in a few minutes then after a run on the road when the engine has warmed up fully. Close the bonnet.
Check with the owner to ensure you will get all the keys. The Élan often came with a factory-fit alarm or immobiliser otherwise they have been fitted with one as stipulated by the insurance company. Make sure you get 2 sets of keys and remote control blippers, it’s good to have a spare set and it can be a pain getting copies.
OK, that completes our study of the exterior, let us open the door and look inside. Check the condition of the Seats. Some Élans may have a sagging seat base especially on the driver’s side [the most used seat], this looks pretty awful but is simply due to some small c shaped clips failing. They are cheap and easy to replace and can transform the look of the seat as well as providing a more comfortable ride. SE and NA Élans had the option of a leather interior, this was in striped panels keyed into the door cards as well. The panels would be yellow or red depending on the body colour. S2s came with a different pattern set – the stripes were dropped and they came in grey or magnolia. Some cars may have had a retrim- all the ones I’ve seen have been done very well and can transform the interior. Have a look at the Carpets. There should be overcarpets to protect the main carpet, proper Lotus ones would be preferable, but if they’re worn they can be replaced. Put the hood down – with the owner’s help – if it not down already. Marvel at how easy it is and how neat it looks with the hood down. Look at the B post caps just behind the seat, these should be present and correct. They are hard to get hold of and fiddly to fix. The Élan looks nicer with them in place. Glance around the cockpit and make sure they are no scuffs or scratches on the dashboard or console. Now start the engine, it should fire up straight away and settle to a smooth idle. I recommend putting the hood back up for the test drive as any mechanical noises will be more apparent with the hood up. Check the operation of the remote electric mirrors and ensure the electric windows go up and down smoothly. Parts to fix these can be obtained but are a pig to fit - either taking up a lot of your time or costing you a lot at a specialist! Voltmeter should be showing around 14Volts with the engine running. Make sure the rev counter and speedo work.
Take it for a drive (with the owner’s permission and if you have insurance. If you are driving on your own policy you will only be covered for third party risks, any damage to the car you are driving is not covered. Take care with this point). Look out for gear changes, make sure you can change up and down smoothly, any resistance felt going into a gear can point to gearbox trouble. When the engine is hot, accelerate hard from about 3,000 r.p.m. Check you are not leaving a plume of white smoke behind which can point to a potential problem with the oil seals in the turbo (this doesn’t apply to NA models, of course). Élan engines are pretty bullet-proof and should not smoke much at all. While Steering at low speeds as you approach full lock you will hear a hissing noise, this is very normal on the Élan and is nothing to worry about.
It is quite normal for some leaks in wet weather, water will trickle down the windows and / or door pillars this is fairly normal, but it shouldn’t be too excessive. Keep an old towel in the car!
Time to look at the paperwork, you will want to see the Service history which will be stamps in the owner’s handbook or notes made by the enthusiastic hands on owner. Note the mileage in the history and look at Previous MOTs. Look at the current MOT and check there are not too many serious potential faults; obviously it makes sense to buy a car with a long MOT because this postpones the day when you may have to spend money on the car. An MOT test will cover most of the ‘inspect’ items on and Élan service so it is a good thing to have. Make sure the average mileage tallies with the condition of the car and the service intervals. Some owners keep Bills for work done, have a good read of these and you can see what has been replaced and determine what hasn’t – consider the likely cost of fixing these items. Get the V5 registration document and check the chassis number matches the chassis number on the sticker under the bonnet. The chassis number is also stamped on the end of the rear chassis outrigger on the right hand side and should be easy to see even with the wheel on.
These are the very worthwhile upgrades it would be good to have, if your potential purchase doesn’t have them then they should be on your shopping list to be fitted as time and finds allow;
Front brakes upgraded - AP, Hi-Spec or Wilwood if possible. Galvanised rear wishbones fitted. Stainless steel exhaust system fitted (2 1/4 to 2 1/2" ideally). AB gear cables fitted. ESM chip fitted. Upgraded dampers fitted.
Start haggling. If you find a good one, you like the colour and the price is right then welcome to the LEC Élan world of motoring.
Addition suggestions from Sy:
The undertray (to which you allude) wasn't a one piece item on earlier cars (AFAIK)*. It was formed out of a series of piano key like sections all separately screwed/bolted in place. Don't forget whilst inside the cockpit to check all electrics - windows, heater, mirrors, lights etc. Rear discs are expensive (but I suppoe this is all about individual consideration). Take a tape measure and compare (side to side) the distance of the front of the rear wheels to the corresponding point on the wheel arch. Check for residue in the coolant header tank.
Additional information from clemo
buying an Elan is fun but can be tricky.. here is my advice (and it is only that! ) PRICES the low prices look apealing but can turn out to cost you so much more in the long run.. an owner enthusiast will generally know the price of his/her car .. due to the fact they have probably spent a good few thousand on it putting all the niggely bits right .. and even when you may look at it , you think that it may well need to spend more !! COLOUR my advise would be at your price range don't be colour driven , as in ohh i don't want red or green ... with 5k take the best you can get or find more money ! this is not a dig at red or green , far from it. you will notice that 4 out of 5 cars on ebay will be red or green this means that you can take your pick as to what it has had done , not is it a rarer colour... and don't for one minute think that red means pink ... it doesn't i have had 3 red elans all that are red and have only ever seen on pink Elan and that was due to a duff sprayjob not fading lotus paint. Also green ones are not driven by grandads, many of the nicest cars on here are green... this is just in house joking that could be read wrong to a 1st time reader. and whilst i am at it .. N/A'S are not that slow .. i own one !!and most digs are usually at me !!!
SERVICING when asking what it has had done , don't be upset if it has been looked after by the owner enthusiast.. this is a good thing. we know our cars . and if we don't somone on here does . so you need not always put it into a lotus specialist for an expensive oil change or such. service history is nice . but not vitaly important. to know that it has been looked after properly by the owner is just as good , if not better . i like others know every squeek and rattle of my car !.
MILAGE/ENGINE some elans are now 16 years old so high milage is not so much of an issue , again if it has been well looked after 200k can be achived. however if not an engine rebuild can cost easily £3000. mine did. so listen to it. start it from cold. buy a head gasket tester £20.
CONDITION. again elans can be 16 years old . so don't expect an a1 mint condition Elan. they were not even that when they came out of the factory ! panels don't alway line up rear spoilers never fit properly on one side . thats part of the lotus hand built charm! roof rubbers will be showing signs of wear , some roofs will have small rub marks in them.
UNDERNEATH. wishbones is somthing you will hear a fair bit about.. can be replaced on se / na for later s2 versions(s2 is galvanised). so get underneath and check them. they rust . but don't have kittens if they have not been replaced. if you did then you will probably never buy an Elan. may now have scrapes due to road humps.
BUYING. try and take an enthusiast with you . let us know .. we are quite a helpful / nosey bunch! but if you can see a few before you run head 1st into buying the 1st one you drive saying " don't worry i can fix that" as parts can be out of stock or expensive.
RUNNING for me i have now had 4 years trouble free running ... prior to that i spent thousands on my car. when they are good they are great ! but when they have issues they can be a nightmare. many tall people use their cars as everyday drivers.with the addition of a hardtop they can be virtually leak free for all year driving . PRICES due to the limited amounts made, and the comfort they provide elans are quite well sort after. prices are quite high. (higher than an equal year elise) i think an Elan is quite a sound investment. many drivers can use their car and sell it for equal money 2 years later.
FUN they are fun. they should be on the national health. it would make everyone smile .it also brings out the nicer side of you as a driver, people look. whats that? it is a pleasure to drive fast as it sticks so well, or slow as it tours so nicely. once you own one you will know why most owners say " reluctent sale after 5 years" or such alike..
on an Elan most things can be fixed , replaced or re manufactured. cars being broken to provide future owners with parts so don't worry to much about what if .... buy it and enjoy it ...
LEC is a good place to dip your toe in for information or jump in with both feet. there is a couple of events every year where we all have a shandy or to and it is far from the trainspotter outings where vin numbers are exchanged. whats more kids and partners join in too...
go buy one...
Clemo's guide March 2007
Loooking around at the pre spring prices... what a buyers market.. from the "A1" top of the pile right down to the "do em uppers" be it £12000 down to £3000 they are still in essence open top Elan driving.
listen to the weather forcasters this is due to be the hotest on record. listen to practical classics and the Elan is a sound investment..
practical classics base the s2 Elan along side elise prices... so a choice of open top motering by lotus...
try them both.. but you will probably find the Elan a more "usable comfortable car"
the cheapest car on auto trader is £3600 and comes with a high mileage tag .. but what does this really mean..
150,000 miles are being achived now by elans .. and they still sound sweet.. as long as they have been serviced and had the cam belt changed you should have no problems with another 20,000.. now whilst that sounds like its at the end of its life it should have loads more left in it... but lets just say 20,000 . if you are using the car as a second sunny day car then thats years of buget price driving... if you actually do 4000 a year thats 5 year of open to driving.. all for only £3600 .. and a self service at £50 a year. and do the cam belt straight away for piece of mind.. any garage £120
the more you pay the better it gets... mid range cars a £5000. with say 100,000 miles. good service history and better condition cars. look after it and its going to always have around that value.. and whats the worst that can happen .. it drops of to £4000 over the time it takes to do another 50,000 miles... still sounds like bargin price lotus ownership to me...
as for the top of the pile late s2's say £10,000 with low mileage, full paperwork and low owners. these cars will dictate the ceiling price of the rest and will always be sought after by people wanting the best of the best... the more the years roll by , the fewer these top cars become .. so the more they hold their value..
but the most important thing i have missed IS... that these prices WILL go up when the sun comes out...
its not an mx5 or an mr2 made in the bucket loads.. this is a hand built prestigious marque with years of motering history made in limited numbers...
go buy it (before i do !)
Putting things right
These are approx costs for faults and 'necessary' updates on cars you go to view. If a car needs one of these, this list may help you decide what the car's worth offering. The prices are only estimates and include labour. They're also minimums - so non-lotus parts where available and the lowest prices where a job's price range is quite variable (e.g. respraying)
- Thatcham Cat 1 Alarm - £350
- Gear cables - £250
- Alloy refurbishing - £50 per wheel
- Side window weatherstrips - £30 (DIY)
- Rear brake - ???
- Front brake - ???
- Replacement hood - £1000 plus (and hard to source)
- Full bodywork respray - £1000
- Hood liner replacement - £50
- Cam belt replacement - £70
- A-post seal - Replacement not currently possible
- Rear wishbones - ???