Says Lotus of its front-drive, $34,000 sports car, "We didn't want to make another MR2."
No one believed it at first. The folks who brought us the Elite, the Elan, and the Esprit were going to build an entry level sports car with front-wheel drive. Well, so much for General Motors' policy of nonintervention in the activities of its recently acquired subsidiary in Norfolk, England. Moreover, the new Elan's engine and five-speed transaxle were to come from Isuzu, another GM associate. Lotus, it seemed, had sold out - in more ways than one.
The truth, according to Lotus's chief executive Mike Kimberley, is somewhat different. Lotus started work on its new small car way back in 1981. Back then, the two-seater was to have a front-engine/rear-drive layout, just like its nimble namesake from the sixties.
In 1983, with Colin Chapman dead and new financing on the way - including a 22-percent stake from Toyota - the project was rethought. Following a comparative assessment of similarly powered Toyotas - including front- and rear-drive Corollas and a prototype mid-engined MR2 - Lotus decided that front-wheel drive was the best choice for a sports car of this size and power. Besides, as Kimberley points out, "We didn't want to make another MR2."
After General Motors arrived on the scene in early 1986, however, there was more second-guessing. The styling of the X100, as the project was then called, was not exciting enough, and a Toyota engine was no longer appropriate. Lotus began again, this time hatching the M100, which three years later became the handsome car shown here.
In the meantime, of course, the Mazda MX-5 Miata arrived, very much in the style of the original Elan. Lotus is surprisingly relaxed about the Miata's instant success. The company asserts that it makes half of its livelihood carrying out advanced engineering for the world's motor industry, and, for the sake of its reputation, Lotus did not want to be seen offering a replica of a car from the 1960s.
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