Lotus Elan Central?
I’ll rephrase “Nitroman” and turn his words against him. (Nitroman was a senior member and is still listed as a moderator of LEC, repeatedly bad mouthed the Isuzu car owners, set himself up as a retailer and group buy coordinator, collected up some $40,000+ in payments, disappeared with the money, and they froze all his sales threads).
As Nitroman would say:
“For a group of people who own Elan M100s, the members of Lotus Elan Central know surprisingly little about M100s, about how to maintain M100s, and how to modify M100s.”
And you got three (3) vague responses in that forum, confirming the validity of the above comment.
I’ll offer the following information on the topic. Not from the viewpoint of a Lotus purist who dismisses the Elan M100 as a best forgotten blasphemy. Not from the viewpoint of a fan-boy who wears rose colored glasses and never admits the car’s faults. But from the viewpoint of a person who knows the Elan M100, the mechanism, and the history, inside and out, and can fairly and flatly state the car model’s good _and_ bad points.
The M100 was designed intended to be Lotus’ entry level sporty car, and a logical step up from the Golf GTi. It was to be the first reliable Lotus that was expected to be used for daily transportation, driven every day in all weather conditions, and live for 200,000+ miles. While the M100 is the most reliable car that Lotus built to date, as years have passed, even extremely low mileage examples have proven too unreliable to be used as daily transportation. It is far below the level of reliability typical of other 1990’s cars, and far below the level of reliability of the Isuzu cousins that share the same power plant.
When GM acquired the company, Lotus had moved the project no farther than a two seat Corolla, after almost a decade of “work”. Lotus anxiously embraced their newly expanded parts-bin, selecting the Isuzu engine, which Spooner rated as superior to the both the 4AGE and Ecotec. GM forced Lotus to deal with the project via a design competition. GM’s F100 proposal was for the Elan was true to the original Elan shape and would share the R-Body platform with the Geo Storm and Isuzu cars. Storm would be a four seat, FWD Non-turbo, the entry level Chevy, a stepping stone to Camaro and Corvette. Isuzu would have the four seat AWD Turbo variant. Lotus would have the 2 seat FWD Turbo variant. Each with unique styling and Lotus would have input on design, with significant appearance, equipment, and tuning changes to differentiate their own variant from the others.
Lotus, to their own determent, rejected this offer. Their in house M100 design certainly makes a striking statement in its appearance, and the suspension layout is revolutionary for a FWD car, but the overall execution is substandard. Cobbling together odd GM exterior and interior pieces for the sake of styling, Lotus dove into the GM parts-bin, selecting the rarest, least durable, and least dependable pieces. Lotus’ own plastic trim and filler panels between the parts-bin pieces are of such low quality that they are currently turning to dust. Exterior lamps borrowed from McLaren, (if in working order), are worth more when removed from the car, than the insurable value of the car as a whole. Unique pieces made of steel, such as the backbone frame and suspension arms, lacked anything approaching adequate rust or corrosion protection, and most currently have severe rust damage. The brakes were weak for 1990’s standards, and most cars will not currently pass MOT brake force tests without upgrade. The wheel bearing design is a mess, a 1960’s design up front, and the rear disc and hub are incorporated into one piece making it unserviceable. Lotus may have tested in Death Valley, but they used a radiator that is 27% smaller than Isuzu used with the “same” engine. The Lotus radiator will only support 117 HP, and the cars overheat when driven in traffic. Elan owners are quick to point out that Lotus did their own engine “development” (which actually amounted to only ECU programming and support pieces such as the radiator), and that this “development” yielded 162 HP compared to the US Spec Isuzu Impulse Turbo’s 160 HP. But they never mention (or are completely unaware) that the Japanese spec Isuzu Gemini Turbo factory rating for the same engine model is 178 HP. Lotus rejected the F100 and shared R-Body platform, and ordered all 5,500 of their engines in 1987, based on the 1st Generation specification. By 1990, when Isuzu put the same model number engine in their own cars, they had developed the engine into a 2nd Generation, with larger bearings, larger water pump, larger oil pump, new camshaft profiles, solid valve lifters, redesigned intake manifold, larger and redesigned throttle body with built in IAC valve and better TPS, streamlined engine control system, revised turbo housing, and factory installed blow off valve. The Elan lacked any of these engine upgrades.
The Elan M100 well deserves the title of best handling FWD car, but only when comparing factory original cars to other factory original cars. With any level of preparation for track use, the Elan quickly sinks from the field. The suspension is too soft and body roll to excessive, because the car was built for comfortable ride. This is _not_, by any stretch of the imagination, a FWD Elise. The knowledge base among the owners, and their favored UK Lotus specialists, is so shallow when it comes to the Isuzu engine, and dealing with the FWD layout, that they can not build a competitive, or even competent, track car. The UK “upgrade racing radiators” match the same dimensions and cooling capacity of the factory Isuzu radiators, and support 160 HP dependably, 178 HP with overheating issues. The UK brake upgrades improve pedal feel, but utilize smaller-than-original brake pads, and still struggle to pass MOT testing. For many years, the UK shops claimed that the properly sized 2 ½ inch exhaust was too big and “caused” boost creep, ignoring that this was not a problem with the Isuzu cars using the 2nd Generation engines, which use better engine control and second generation turbo housing. The UK shops continue to promote chip tuning, which was discredited more than ten years ago.
Meanwhile, the non-UK Isuzu experts, who are summarily rejected by the Elan owners, are building race cars out of the Isuzu cousin cars that run rings around the Elan and rival the track performance of the Elise:
The LEC seems more preoccupied with locating things like replacement door handles, pillar caps, and lamp covers, than anything else. The phobia induced by the rust issue has brought about a brisk market for stainless steel anything (headlight springs, suspension arms, etc.). A majority of the owners seem to believe that they bought a convertible Honda Civic, and because it has a Japanese made engine, therefore fart-can exhausts and neon color door panel/seat trim inserts should be plentiful and cheap, from the market of the Isuzu made cousins. They fail to realize that Lotus’ rejection of the F100 and shared R-Body platform eliminated compatibility outside the engine and that the aftermarket for Isuzu is narrow. The major Isuzu tuner is focused on race car prep, which is significantly more expensive than street performance or styling, and far removed from fart-can exhausts, neon trim panel inserts, and stainless steel headlight springs.
This leaves an owners group ripe for rip-off artists such as Nitroman, and Bob Brown. (Bob Brown is the previous title holder for largest LEC thief, a retail and group-buy con artist who stole only $20,000+ before disappearing). Promise the sky for pennies on the dollar, and the LEC members line up to be fleeced.
As far as purchasing an Elan for actual use, for the sake of reliability and performance, the best approach would be:
Pull the engine and replace it with a 2nd Generation engine. Convert over to the Isuzu engine control system.
Systematically remove all of the UK and GM Europe content and replace it with more reliable Japanese components, or more readily available aftermarket racing components.
Plan on spending tens of thousands of dollars custom building nearly everything, because there is nothing of acceptable quality or specification from the UK specialists.
Count on having no technical knowledge base to draw from, because, to date, there has not been a properly built modified Elan that either lived up to its potential or could keep pace with a properly modified example of its Isuzu cousins.
That particular car would be a good candidate for that approach, if priced relative to its apparent condition. The exterior body appears all there mostly in one piece. Obtain a Geo Storm donor car for the body electricals, interior, instrumentation, controls, etc. And, of course, the 2nd Generation engine block, crank, head, intake manifold, and throttle body. Convert the engine over to turbo spec. Custom build an engine control system, cooling system, brake system, and suspension. A small fortune later and you will have a car that will seriously embarrass the Elise, while remaining streetable enough to be driven to and from the track, instead of being trailered like the Elise.
On a side note: Those of us looking for M100 related content on this forum, could find it much more easily if the signature tags were excluded from the search parameters. Currently, every search for “Isuzu” returns 9 posts with the “Swizz Beatz ‘Isuzu Jeeps’” quote signature, for every one post containing actual M100-Isuzu related content.