Long ago when racecars used tires with tread, I owned a couple Lotus cars. While stationed in Germany, I bought a 1968 Lotus Europa and picked it up at the factory. After returning from Vietnam, I bought a 1956 Lotus 11 LM that I raced in the early ’70s. Then I got into Alfas. But the Lotus lust never left me.
While planning my car adventures for 2017, I made a list of cars I’d like to cover for this magazine. The list included the Lotus Elan +2, which I consider to be one of the prettiest Lotus cars ever. I was able to find two, gathered information and photos for an article, then attended the Lotus Owners Gathering in Birmingham, Alabama (Click here to view). After that, I was on the hunt for another Lotus.
One of the models I saw in Birmingham that interested me was the later Elan, the M100. Odd for a Lotus, since it was front-wheel-drive, but owners seemed enthused about their cars. When I saw one for sale in Atlanta, not too far from me, I started doing my homework. Schedules interfered with my seeing that car, so while sorting that out, I called a friend, Mike Glore, who has a number of Lotus cars, including an M100. I wanted to ask Glore about his impression of the car. He bought the car new and gave me a rundown on it. Then he hesitated before telling me that he was considering reducing his collection, and the M100 might be for sale. By the end of our conversation, I had arranged to see the car a couple weeks later, and it came home with me.
The M100 is possibly the most developed Lotus street car ever. The development was so involved, Mark Hughes wrote a book, “Lotus Elan,” about it. It took nearly 10 years from the decision to return Lotus to its roots, until the M100 was produced.
Chapman had taken Lotus up-market in the 1970s, but there was enough pressure in-house, especially by chief engineer Mike Kimberley, to develop another small sports car that Chapman relented. Development of the rear-wheel-drive M90 began using Toyota components. Financial issues temporarily stopped the development until Toyota became an equity partner in 1982. The M90 was taken to the prototype stage, but there had been a parallel effort at Lotus to design a front-wheel-drive sports car, designated the X100. Eventually, the M90 was dropped when arguments that front-wheel-drive was the thing Lotus needed won out. There were definite advantages in packaging of the engine and in the number of potential power units available. There followed a considerable development effort that even used a Corolla “Mule.”
Late in 1985, two of the main shareholders of Lotus pulled out, leaving the company in financial difficulty. Lotus needed a big partner, and GM became that partner in January 1986. Toyota took a dim view of this development and took their engines back. That left Lotus looking for another power unit, and they found it in the Isuzu 1600-cc turbo, DOHC, four-cylinder.
So, the X00 became the M100 – a small two-seat sports car that was designed to save Lotus. Production began in 1989, but it only lasted until 1995, when Lotus moved on to other models under new owners.