Elan FAQ

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General Questions

How many Elans were made ?

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.

What is the difference between the S1 & S2 models ?

See M100 Editions.

What was the price of an Elan when new ?

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.

Why did Lotus stop making the Elan so early in its life ?

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."

Is the Elan a good investment ?

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 is 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 mileages 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 warranties. 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.

Is the Kia Elan the same as the Lotus Elan ?

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 another bid.

Who designed the Elan ?

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.

Were there many design changes to the S1 Elan during its life ?

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 systems.
  5. Later cars do not have the novel Perspex ‘anti-Gatso camera’ numberplate cover!

Which is better Elise or Elan ?

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.

How long does an Elan last ?

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.

Why is the Elan also called the M100 ?

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 1995.

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!!

Does the Elan have airbags ?

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!

Does the Elan have ABS ?

No Elans were produced with ABS! Clearly the confusion stems from the fact that the Elan dash cluster was "borrowed" from a Chevy in the G.M. parts bin. Attentive viewing will note a tell-tale square for ABS within the cluster, but there is no lamp behind it. Despite lack of ABS, the Elan, being only just over one ton in weight, still had remarkably short stopping distance when new.

Some notable Elan little-known-facts ?

Most tortional rigidity of any open top car to date. Low coefficient of drap and minimal lift at full speed. Greater than 100Hp/litre engine output. First production car to ride on 45-series tires--developed with Goodyear for the U.S. model.

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.


Is the Elan reliable ?

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 electrics, soft-top and door internals are more prone to niggling problems. These can take considerable time, patience and money to put right.

What goes wrong ?

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 telltale 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 Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) 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 car.

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.

Does the soft-top leak ?

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.

Are parts expensive ?

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.

Is the Elan easy to maintain ?

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.

Can you run engine diagnostics without a Tech-1 ?

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.

Where is the distributor cap ?

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 during exhaust.

Where do all the rattles come from ?

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.

Will the Elan go rusty ?

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’.

Are body repairs expensive ?

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 ;-)

Why did my battery go dead when the car was resting for a few days ?

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.


For additional info, check out the Components category of the wiki.

Where is the battery in the Elan ?

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.

Where is the fuel filter in the Elan ?

As with the previous answer it's under the storage compartment floor behind a removable panel to the right of the fuel tank.

Warning.png 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.

Where is the ALDL connector and ECU ?

In different places depending on RHD or LHD configuration.

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.


For additional info, check out the Modifications category of the wiki.

Can you increase the turbo boost on an Elan ?

Yes. See the article on Increasing Turbo Boost

What can be done to improve the brakes ?

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.

Can you improve the performance by fitting an after-market exhaust ?

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.

Can the handling be improved ?

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.

Can you lower the Elan ?

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.