Should the Harvard Business School need yet another case study in how a great idea can go counter-clockwise down a toilet if not executed properly, please have them refer to the launch/introduction/sale of the 1991 Lotus Elan Turbo SE in the US.
Introduced during the same twelve-month period as the Miata, Geo Metro convertible and Capri droptop, the Elan was simply ignored by the American public. It was just another small sports car (with the Isuzu name staring back at you from the engine bay), and hugely overpriced at $40,000. You probably didn't know they cost $43,000 each to manufacture-I guess they weren't planning to make it up on volume with this one.
Federalization snarls delayed introduction by months; a few dealers didn't receive inventory until mid-1991 and then painfully stocked new product through the second quarter of 1993. Most Elans were sold at a rebated price of $32-34,000.
65% of these wonderful rockets were produced in Calypso Red while the cry from the Lotus lovers was, "we want yellow (fifty-one produced), British Racing Green (thirty-seven produced) or black (six produced)." Okay, so Mike Kimberley and Adrian Palmer, the former Lotus "think-tank-brain-trust," missed Fenway Park by an entire state. We should thank them nonetheless for making this fine car and blessing us with 546 examples, a little short of the original aggressive target of 3,000 units per year.
Now let's shed the bad karma for a moment. A properly driven Elan could lap Road Atlanta just one-half second slower than a 1991 Esprit Turbo, with the Esprit producing over 100 more bhp. European magazines would routinely pit the Elan successfully against the Lancia Integrale or the Porsche 911; they understood the sophisticated and incredibly robust suspension and handling package that the Elan had to offer. It was referred to by the motoring press as "The fastest car you could drive from point to point in real traffic."
0 to 60 mph can be accomplished in 6.4 to 6.7 seconds, which is fast enough in a straight line, and even more fun when accelerating down an exit ramp. Top speed was rated at 137 mph.
All 546 cars came equipped with gray leather, A/C and black canvas tops. The only original factory option was a trunk-mounted CD player. Many Elans have since been fitted with aftermarket sport exhausts, different waste gates, adjustable boost systems, fog lights and rollbars. The front-wheel drive (originally maligned by the purists) works magically in the wet and snow.
The 1.6-liter, 162-bhp, 16-valve motor, fitted with multi-port fuel injection and mated to a five-speed gearbox, has turned out to be rather bulletproof. The composite body panels don't ding, rust or scratch easily and two sets of golf clubs happily fit in the boot. The top is very simple and efficient to use.
Watch for an unfortunate rip in the canvas top from the hinge catching (expensive to repair), dash warpage (replacements now unavailable), poor glovebox fit, bent rims, maladjusted shifter cables and bad window motors. Sun-bleached cars will show peculiar paint fade and composite sinkage is not uncommon, leading to blotchy paint.
Average cars today routinely have accumulated less than 30,000 miles. Yellow, green and black are still the most sought-after colors. When a 3,000-mile car comes up for sale, it's not unusual for it to bring $30,000; enthusiasts understand the car now, appreciate what it has to offer and are finally, ten years after it was produced, willing to pay for it. (But still not to 1991 list prices.)
My advice is to buy an Elan and take advantage of its robust drivetrain. Drive it 100,000 miles and confound your neighbors that a Lotus can actually go that far without exploding into a million little English bits. The Elan will keep pace with any SLK, Boxster or Z3 and provide far more exclusivity. Best of all, they still have a crisp, modern appearance that makes them look far newer than you would expect from a twelve-year-old design. Enjoy.

Comments are closed.