Front Drive Foray: 1991 Lotus Elan SE – Sold?

by | Sep 2023 | Craigslist ClassiFINDS, Sports Car Saturday

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September 29, 2023, Update – We confirmed the listing for this “ClassiFIND” expired, so with no replacement found, we’re assuming this ride is “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.

When someone said, “You can’t build a great handling, front-wheel-drive sports car.” the engineers at Lotus replied, “Hold my beer.” As a small independent British sports car manufacturer, Lotus Cars struggled for many years to remain solvent while providing its loyal customers with lightweight, great-handling sports cars.  All that changed in 1986 when General Motors (“GM”) acquired Lotus Cars.

Finally, flush with cash, testing resources, and a potentially larger dealer network,  Lotus set out to create an entry-level sports car.  The result was the M100 Series Elan launched in August 1989, which revived the brand name following a fourteen-year hiatus. A two-seater convertible sports car with front-wheel drive, designed in-house by Lotus, it featured an engine and manual transmission supplied by GM’s Japanese partner Isuzu.  Its design, featuring a fiberglass composite body over a rigid steel backbone chassis, was true to Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s original philosophy of “Simplicate and add lightness.”

Unfortunately, timing is everything in the automotive world, and Lotus launched the M100 Elan at the same time Mazda introduced the original Mazda Miata. Ironically, the original Miata’s design influence came from the 1960s vintage Elan.  The Elan’s $39,900 original base price could not compete with the Miata’s $14,200 ask, especially when the former had to convince buyers that they could build a great handling front-wheel-drive sports car.  Very few people bought the idea, literally, as an estimated 559 were sold over three years in the U.S.

This white 75K-original mile 1991 Lotus Elan SE for sale, last spotted in August 2023 on Craigslist in North Port, Florida (Sarasota), is a rare site to find for sale, especially on Craigslist.  The seller notes that their example features a fresh convertible top and seals from England.

Last offered for $17,900, Classic.com, the analytics and search engine for the collector car market, confirms the ask is in line with this guide’s six-month rolling results trend for all M100 Elans produced between 1989 and 1992.  By clicking on the green dots in the graph below, you can get a sense of what comparable examples sold for recently:

The 1991 Lotus Elan SE (Special Equipment) is a classic British sports car that is part of Lotus’ storied history of producing high-performance, lightweight, and agile vehicles. This particular model, the Elan SE, was part of the final series of the Lotus Elan produced between 1989 and 1995. Despite featuring a front-wheel-drive, transverse-engine powertrain, the Elan SE significantly improved over its predecessor, the M100 Elan, and was known for its excellent handling, innovative design, and spirited driving experience.

The 1991 Lotus Elan SE featured a sleek, aerodynamic design with a low-slung body emphasizing performance and style.  The car’s body construction relied on lightweight composite materials, which helped keep its weight down and contributed to its agility.  The front end of the Elan SE features pop-up headlights, which were a signature design element of Lotus cars during that era. The car featured a distinctive, wedge-shaped profile with smooth lines, and it was available in various colors, including the iconic British Racing Green.

The interior of the Elan SE was relatively compact, with seating for two passengers.  The cabin featured comfortable and supportive leather seats with plenty of lateral support to hold the driver and passenger securely during spirited driving.  The dashboard was driver-focused, with a clear instrument cluster that included analog gauges for speed, RPM, and other essential information.  Despite its compact size, the Elan SE offered a surprising amount of headroom and legroom for a sports car of its class.

The engine was one of the most significant improvements over the earlier M100 Elan. The 1991 Elan SE was powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine sourced from Isuzu, producing approximately 162 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque.  This engine was mated to a five-speed manual transmission, delivering power to the front wheels.  The Elan SE was known for its impressive acceleration, capable of reaching 0 to 60 mph in around 6.5 seconds, making it a quick and agile sports car for its time.  Lotus’ signature handling characteristics were also present in the Elan SE, with precise steering and a well-tuned suspension system that provided excellent road feedback and cornering capabilities.

The 1991 Lotus Elan SE is often remembered as the only front-wheel-drive the company ever produced before shifting its focus back to producing lightweight sports cars like the Elise and Evora.  Its combination of sharp handling, lightweight construction, and turbocharged power made it a unique and enjoyable sports car in its era.  Today, well-preserved examples of the Elan SE are sought after by collectors and enthusiasts who appreciate its classic design and driving dynamics.

The 1991 Lotus Elan SE remains an iconic representation of Lotus’ commitment to producing high-performance sports cars that prioritize handling and driver engagement. Its combination of lightweight construction, turbocharged power, and timeless design make it a classic among sports car enthusiasts.

The MotorWeek Retro Review YouTube Channel features this 1991 road test of the then-new 1991 Lotus Elan SE:

 

With less than one thousand imported into the U.S. between its short production run between 1989 and 1992, this 1991 Lotus Elan SE for sale is a rare sight.  Featuring a fresh top and only 75,000 original miles, this example appears to be a well-maintained Elan featuring a robust Isuzu drivetrain.

If you are serious about buying this Elan, you can start the conversation by using the contact information provided by the seller in their Craigslist ad.  When you connect, please mention that you saw their Lotus featured here on GuysWithRides.com. Good luck with the purchase!

Here’s the seller’s description:

“1991 Lotus Elan M100 SE Turbo in beautiful condition in and out. Only 75k miles runs and drives excellently. Five-speed manual transmission, cold AC, brand new convertible top, and seals from England. Power windows, mirrors, and headlights all work as they should. Fresh oil change and all maintenance up to date. Car needs nothing. Clear FL title. Might consider a trade for a really nice European classic or US muscle project, Harleys.Indians etc. Let me know what you have (no boats). No lowballs please.

Show or go: What would you do with this 1991 Lotus Elan SE for sale? Please comment below and let us know!

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