For a time sales were strong, helped by rave reviews from no less a magazine than this. It was all in vain. The car’s less than spectacular looks, high production cost and that perverse layout slowly did for it, and GM pulled the plug in 1992.
These first-gen Elans are called Series 1s to distinguish them from the S2s that followed in 1995 after Bugatti bought Lotus and, on discovering a stash of surplus engines, gave the car a second chance. At the same time the handling was sharpened slightly but power knocked back to 156bhp due to the fitment of a catalytic converter. Even so, these rarer S2s now fetch a premium over the more plentiful S1, but ultimately condition is king.
All too soon there were no more engines and S2 production ended, only to be revived briefly when Kia bought the rights to the model and dashed off a few examples for the Korean market.
Forward to today and, thanks to Isuzu’s engines and GM’s cash, the model has weathered the passing years surprisingly well. ‘Buyer beware’ (see below) highlights a few things to watch for, but if you find a cherished example with a good history, it should serve you well. It certainly won’t feel as baggy as early Elises can.
And just look at those prices. They top out at around £12,000, about where the Elise starts. In fact, £7500 to £10,000 is enough to get behind the wheel of a keeper in need of little attention apart from fresh oil and a new filter on the dot.
Will prices rise? Specialist Vincent Haydon reckons that as long as Elise values increase, Elans are sure to, but he warns against restoring a barn find at great expense. The model’s just not there yet. Perhaps one day…
An expert’s view
Vincent Haydon, Vincent Haydon Cars: “As a former Lotus dealer I well remember the Elan. There was a huge push on the Esprit with sales incentives and all sorts, but any objection to the Elan being front-wheel drive was easily countered by giving a customer the keys to the demonstrator. They’d come back with a huge smile and we had another sale in the bag. It helped, too, that it had an Isuzu engine, because people knew it wouldn’t go wrong. Today, they’re a bargain. From £7500 to £10,000 will get you a tidy one with a solid history – and it must be solid because they do like their oil changes.”
■ Engine: The Isuzu engine is bulletproof if regularly serviced. Evidence of fresh oil and a filter every 6000 miles is essential. Check coolant hoses for leaks and clips for corrosion.