When Lotus launched the front-wheel-drive M100 Elan in 1989, enthusiasts were understandably nervous.
The new machine had to live up to the old car that was (and still is) one of the best-handling machines ever built – lightweight, agile and, of course, rear-wheel drive.
But if anyone could crack the front-wheel drive sports car Lotus was the company. Quite apart from its in-house heritage, the firm had carried out consultancy work for other manufacturers dealing with the main issues, namely torque-steer and understeer.
So when it came to designing the M100, Lotus knew something radical was needed and it set about countering the problem head on.
The answer came in the form of firm suspension bushes, but lower wishbones that were linked to a separate casting, which in turn was soft-mounted to the chassis. The system allowed for some fore/aft movement, while keeping the suspension’s geometry accurate.
The result was a machine that Autocar & Motor christened ‘the world’s only front-wheel drive supercar’ on account of its resistance to understeer, fluid steering and ability to deliver a touch of lift-off oversteer.
That the set-up also offered better noise insulation was just a bonus.
Power came in the form of an Isuzu 1.6-litre twin-cam engine, which Lotus had helped GM to develop, in either naturally aspirated or turbocharged (SE) form.
Both offer spritely performance, but combine it with durability that means both units can cover 300,000 miles between rebuilds, if properly maintained.
It was a clever design if not profitable, so GM (which owned Lotus at the time) halted M100 production in 1992 when it realised it was losing money on every one.
When Bugatti bought Lotus in 1994 it built 800 S2s (now the most sought after) and then sold the tooling to Kia, which produced 1000 cars using its own 1.8-litre engine.
Now a good example of the Elan can be had for as little as £6995. This machine comes with a 21-stamp service history and is a turbo model with 137mph potential.
Like every Lotus, the M100 has a formidable fan base that can be found at www.lotuselancentral.com, www.clublotus.co.uk and www.lotusdriversclub.org.uk, although we wouldn’t expect to hear anything other than praise.
That’s because the M100 combines everything we know and love about Lotus with a characteristic seldom encountered in such circles – durability.
Probably the best-known weakness is rear wishbones that rot from the inside. It is a £1000 job that gives you the opportunity to retrofit S2 galvanised items.
Roofs can also give trouble (look for water stains on the seats) and the car can be prone to scuffed wheels on account of its width, but that is about it.
A glassfibre body and backbone chassis mean that corrosion is rarely a problem and the turbo should last as long as the motor. It features a separate water pump that should circulate coolant round a stopped hot engine. Listen for it after a test drive.
It makes you wonder if there’s any need to buy a perfect one, but such examples do exist. Dry-stored its entire life, this machine is described as totally immaculate and has covered less than 30,000 miles.
Lotus took a risk when it built the M100, the car could have turned the fans against it, but it confirmed the Norfolk-based firm as a master of ride and handling that few can compete with.
It may be front-wheel drive, but the M100 is a true Lotus and one better bought with the help of our free buyer’s guide.