Miata Fighter: 1990 Lotus Elan M100

While it is very different from the original Elan, the fascinating Lotus Elan M100 is an impressive feat in engineering and development. This 1990 Lotus Elan that Barn Finds reader Roger found here on Craigslist is a quality example of an oddball sports car.

Available in San Francisco, California, this is one of only 559 Elan M100 models imported into the United States. The Elan M100 was the result of worldwide developmental efforts – Lotus designed the car in England, Isuzu of Japan supplied the powerplant, and USA’s General Motors played a huge part in funding the venture. This particular example is very clean, with the seller noting how they have performed various maintenance and performance upgrades throughout their ownership.

The vehicle’s interior incorporates various red elements, complementing the exterior of the vehicle. The bucket seats not only look comfortable, but they will also assist in keeping occupants planted during spirited driving.

The odometer on this Elan displays 99,733 miles.

Under the hood, you’ll find an Isuzu-supplied turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. It pairs to a 5-speed manual transmission to drive the front wheels, which is an extreme rarity in the Lotus world – the Elan M100 remains the only front-wheel-drive (FWD) model the company has ever produced. Despite that, Lotus and Isuzu must have done something right with this Elan, because many consider it one of the best handling FWD vehicles ever produced.

The seller of this fun convertible is asking $18,000, though reasonable offers are also considered. Could you see yourself buying this rare and unique Lotus, or would you rather appreciate it from a distance?

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Comments

  1. Bakyrdhero

    Nice Capri

    Like 9
  2. Capriest

    Yeah, pretty much! FWD turbo 4, micro sized convertible. The capri could technically seat 4 as well. I’ve been in the back of one, and I’m 6ft 220#. You could buy 6 of those in Mint condition with less miles for the cost of this. My sister in law couldn’t give hers away and it was a turbo 5spd. There’s also the miata of course which has the massive advantage of rwd. You could build an LS miata for less. Just NO! This is a car you could NEVER spin the tires on for fear of people finding out it’s dirty secret and mocking you. I had never seen one before……what a massive letdown when I saw that engine pic. I would feel like such a fraud driving this.

    Like 2
    • AUTOVISA

      #Capriest you’re right, also I’ll take my grinder and erase Izuzu on the valve cover.

      Like 3
    • Bear

      IMHO the Capri is NOT in the same league as this Lotus.
      “Apples & Oranges”.
      The Capri was decent looking, but performance & reliability were awful.
      There is a good reason that the Capri resale values are extremely low.
      As they say, “The market has spoken!” :-P

      Like 3
    • Sandy Claws

      I disagree, what is wrong with FWD? Okay, the asking is far too much, but the Lotus name I imagine is where that comes from, more snob appeal, and we all know how far that goes with certain companies. Izuzu makes a fine little engine, I have a 5 cylinder from them in my GMC pickup of all places, and ya know what? It rocks! Miatas are great, no doubt, but can it hurt to encourage other small cars like it so we have choice? Is this not an all inclusive nation?

      Like 3
      • Capriest

        I have no problem with fwd. I’ve owned and enjoyed several fwd cars. A fwd Lotus roadster just has a cadillac cimarron feel to it for me. The Cimarron I can appreciate in an ironic way. This, I would just feel like a poser. If I was going to drop 20g’s on a fwd classic I would get an integra type r or something. I would actually rather have the isuzu impulse over this. Now I know how Isuzu got Lotus to design the suspension on that car.

        Like 3
      • Capriest

        I don’t mind the Isuzu engine in it btw, it’s the direction it’s mounted that was a letdown.

        Like 1
  3. Bear

    I had the ’89 Isuzu I-Mark RS (with the Lotus designed suspension option) with this same powerplant (…minus the turbo).
    It was a GREAT car with more than enough power to spin the front tires, & it handled like it was on rails!
    It loved to cruise at 90mph on the freeway & I typically took it over 100mph on one little freeway connector in the SanDiego suburbs during my morning commute.
    AMAZINGLY, I never got a ticket in that car. (HOW that happened is beyond me….)
    That was one of the funnest & most reliable cars that I have ever owned.
    (BTW: My CA Vanity Plate was “LOTUS RS”.)

    This Lotus would undoubtedly handle great, & that peppy Isuzu powerplant will likely provide lots of dependable power for many years to come.
    :-)

    Like 5
    • Capriest

      I love these little box rockets. A friend in HS had one, and he drove it to it’s limit all day! That sucker went good it certainly lightened my complexion a few times.

    • RS driver

      I am driving a real nice RS example currently, that I traded for an Isuzu Stylus XS, same car basically but had an updated body style and was very well appointed with power options. My current RS is a dependable, fast fun car and is a pleasure to drive. The 1.6 DOHC motor has a 2 stroke like power band that comes on like a ton of bricks at 5500 rpm right to the 7800 rpm redline.

      Like 1
  4. Theodore Donahue

    Yes ! Capri was the very first thing I thought when I saw the picture!

    Like 1
  5. Bakyrdhero

    I had to google the Isuzu I-mark rs because the picture wouldn’t load for me. I remember those! Another one of those cars that seemed to be everywhere until it wasn’t anymore. At least around here in Massachusetts.
    I actually liked that two seater convert Capri. My first memory of seeing one in person was when the stunningly beautiful French teacher in Junior High bought a brand new white one. For some reason it fit her perfectly and I picture her every time I see one of those cars..lol.

    Like 1
    • Bear

      “Bakyrdhero”,
      The I-Mark “Lotus” RS was a great little car.
      Impressive 4-banger performance, Incredible Lotus-tuned handling, Japanese reliability, and all at an affordable price point that made them very popular back in ’89.
      They even had a 4-door version that was a reasonably option for those who wanted to drive a “sporty” kid-hauler.
      My ’89 2-door RS came with the Recaro seating package (yes, REAL Recaro bucket seats!) which added significant “hold your butt in place” comfort during heavy cornering activities!
      Back in the day that car was referred to as being a “Miata buster” because it actually out-performed the Miata in several side-by-side road tests. …& all at a price point that was significantly lower.
      The ONLY Negative about the car was the BOXY body that they had to begin with. The side skirts, front & rear bumper redesigns, & the rear wing helped with the appeal-factor, but that boxy greenhouse was pretty hard to overcome.
      Still, IF I could buy a new one again today I’d do it IN A HEARTBEAT!! :-)

  6. Dracula

    Ooooooh yes! Just luv the blood red color. Makes me hungry. I would like to “dig up” and old friend and take a moonlight drive in it as we go out to grab a “bite” to eat!

    Like 1
  7. Bakyrdhero

    Nothing like pride of ownership Bear! Looks like a fun hot hatch and I’ll bet the pricing was very competitive back in its day. Those Joe Isuzu commercials come to mind. How is parts availability?

    Like 1
    • Sandy Claws

      Come on, didn’t we all trust Joe Izuzu? Back then, it was just fun to say “Izuzu”! Still is, of course at my age, I am easily amused.

      Like 1
  8. Bruce

    I suspect that most would consider me as an owner of both a Europa and an Esprit Turbo I would look down upon this Elan but I do not. While not as fast it is most certainly as much fun. Sort of like a giant roller skate you strap yourself in to. Comparing it to other front wheel drive cars that have a lot of power and good handling misses the point in large measure. There is a connection between driver and machine that Lotus puts into their cars that most companies either can not or will not put in.

    All Lotus are a lot like fighter planes, you do not so much drive them as you put them on as with your clothing. If you have to think about driving it you are doing it wrong. It may not have the punch of others it also does not need to slow down as often either but it slows nicely when necessary. THESE THINGS ARE FUN. They were too expensive when new and Lotus has never had a great dealership support as other larger companies have. Now however you have the chance to buy something amazing for the cost of a used econo-box. Something that looks different, drives as good or better than most and will leave you picking bugs out of your teeth from all the grinning.

    That is my only complaint with the one I drove. Really windy and in need of a wind deflector or tonneau cover. The one I drove did not have one. Have one made and you will not be in auto heaven but you will be close enough to see the glow.

    Like 3
  9. Chuck Foster Chuck F

    Naysayers, have you driven one? I didn’t think so. I had a driving project for a while, I wish I had it back, traded for a 3500 Chevy tow truck and regretted it, was a blast to drive. “it is regarded as one of—if not the—best-handling FWD cars in history.” https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/04/16/ebay-1991-lotus-elan

    Like 2
  10. Ralph

    The baddest Geo Storm ever made……

  11. Ghost of Chapman

    Suprised at some of the hate. Obviously they have never driven one or know the technology behind it. I’ve owned 2, plus 2 original Elans, plus 2 Miatas, +++. These cars don’t drive like fwd cars and they are extremely dependable. Yes, they have a couple issues like badly aligned glove boxes, some had issues with cable shifter, but overall an extremely fun and agile sportscar. GM owned Lotus at the time and the GM connection is apparent in some of the shared parts. Not a car for everyone but no car ever is. I won’t hesitate to own another one if I found one close to home.

    Like 5
  12. moosie moosie

    Lotus translates to
    Lots
    Of
    Trouble
    Usually
    Serious

    Like 1
    • Robertv

      Drive one. Then comment

      Like 6
    • Paul

      I had a 73 Lotus Europa Special and not a problem ever, that would make my car a grandpa to this car, LOL

      Like 2
  13. sidedraught

    A lot of the commenters here dont know what they are talking about, these are really a great little car.

    Like 1
  14. DayDreamBeliever Member

    Here is one with a few aftermarket mods (dumb ones?) that sold for $17K four years ago: https://www.mecum.com/lots/HA0415-207794/1991-lotus-elan/ But it only showed 18K miles.

    I prefer the yellow, which hammered at $15K six years ago: https://www.mecum.com/lots/HA0415-207794/1991-lotus-elan/

    • Sandy Claws

      Marketing to rich people 101, ask far more then it is worth. Rich people like being able to own something that most people can not, so go ahead, charge away! They actually want to pay more, because we can’t. Now if it was a 356, sky’s the limit!

      Like 1
  15. Dave Mazz

    I ran across a BAT listing for one of these scoots, same color but with 17,000 miles. It was shown as being sold for $12,500, on 8/5/2016.

    Like 1
  16. davew833

    Little known trivia: after Lotus ended production of these in 1995, they sold the production rights to Kia who built it for the Asian market from 1996-99. They were visually identical save for the taillights and Kia fitted a different engine.

    Like 4

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