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Postby GeoffSmith » Fri 31.07.2015, 22:41

From Peter Stevens' Facebook:

The Lotus Elan from the Type 26 to the 2010 Paris Show concept via M90, X100 and M100

Part 1

The conception and design of a new model by a major automobile manufacturer is usually a structured process that will have come from a careful analysis of the market and a projection of costs and sales and therefore profitability. There are some smaller companies that have never worked in this way and historically Lotus is a good example; the products were the result of a passion for building cars that demonstrated the engineering philosophy of Lotus’s founder Colin Chapman. He believed that simplicity, light weight, and in particular the adoption of new materials and processes gave a sports car the combination of excellent ride quality and outstanding handling that would differentiate his cars from the compromised offerings of the company’s competitors. Chapman, began thinking about a replacement for the original and tremendously successful 1962 Lotus Elan (1) almost as far back as 1974. The Elan was Lotus’ biggest commercial success to that point, reviving a company whose resources were much depleted by the more exotic but much more costly to produce Elite. Four different series of Elans were produced up until 1973, including a coupe version. Seventeen thousand original examples, including the Elan +2, were produced. The original Elan was designed by Ron Hickman, who went on to make a considerable fortune when he patented the Black & Decker WorkMate.

At the start of the ‘New Elan’ project, designer Oliver Winterbottom, with support from Tony Rudd, at that time Lotus’s Chief Engineer and Michael Kimberley, Engineering Director, began work on a two seat, short chassis version of his Lotus Elite. Winterbottom’s design language at that time was very much of the hard edged, ‘wedge’ school of form development, as shown by his 1976 Lotus Elite 2+2 front-engined grand-tourer (2), code name M50 or Lotus 75 in the company’s complex numbering system. In 1981, Oliver Winterbottom, who had left Lotus in the late 1970s, was brought back to Lotus, after a stint developing the Tasmin for TVR (3), somewhat similar in style to much of his work at the time. He was asked to design a new car to complement the Excel and the Giugiaro designed Esprit and to bring some profitability for the company through increased production. Lotus was always short of money and to a degree still is. The new car was to reintroduce the Elan name, which had not been used since 1975. Like the Lotus Excel of that period, the plan was to make use of the company's close relationship with Toyota and use their already well-engineered suspension and engine components. His first M90 thoughts (4) were developments of his TVR and earlier Lotus work. Winterbottom always had a rather dramatic and sometimes confrontational relationship with Colin Chapman; the development of the M90 was particularly difficult time for both of them, Chapman was not happy with the designs that he was shown and neither was Chief Engineer Colin Spooner. The M90 went through many iterations (5, and 6) and finally, following suggestions from Toyota, who were to supply the 1,600cc twin cam engine, Winterbottom tried softening his design using a white foam full-size design model, tentatively called M90/X100. (7)

In 1982 Colin Chapman died of a heart attack and at this point M90 ground to a halt; at this point Lotus started to run out of money again!

In early 1984 David Wickens of British Car Auctions ended up taking a controlling interest in the company, and so the Winterbottom project was started up again, apparently still named M100. An open two seat roadster version was built for evaluation, this was a running car complete with a folding soft top. Wickens decided that as an indication of the new regime at Lotus future projects would be given an ‘X’ ahead of their number instead of an ‘M’, unfortunately he forgot to tell anyone at the company about this and so caused a large amount of confusion at Lotus when he announced to the press that there was to be a new smaller car, the X100, particularly confusing for Winterbottom who thought that his project had been cancelled!

Both Lotus and in particular Spooner were beginning to lose interest in the project and could see that the proposed ‘New Elan’ was never going to be a production success unless there was a big change of culture, and maybe that should come from outside the company. As a result of this decision I was approached by Colin Spooner in June of 1984 to become involved as a freelance designer for Lotus; the project was described to me as being a small two seat open sports car. At this time it was not known whether the car was to be front engine, rear wheel drive – front engine, front wheel drive – or even mid engine; not an easy brief to follow. It was also not clear what the project code actually was, I was told it could be either M90 or maybe X100, or even M100!

The big problem with Lotus’s production method at the time was that the body was made in two halves, a ‘top shell’ and a ‘bottom shell’, joined by an ugly out-turned flange that was covered with a big black, square section moulding. To my mind both the Esprit and Elite were ruined by this detail. Therefore one of my first thoughts was how to redesign this joint condition. I produced a number of design sketches for review by Spooner (8) and I guess Kimberley, although at this stage I had no direct contact with him. One design was chosen and from this; using the Royal College of Art clay studio over the summer vacation period, I made a 1:5 scale model, and using Letraset graphics called my model both X100 and M100 (9). This was presented to Mike Kimberley and Winterbottom by Colin Spooner; the occasion was, not surprisingly, rather tense and then noisy. Winterbottom had not been told about my proposal and was not happy with the outcome but Lotus management had made the decision to abandon M90 and pursue X100 using my design theme.

At this point in time Lotus were working with Giorgetto Giugiaro and Ital Design on a concept car for the 1984 UK motorshow, the intention was that this car, ‘Etna’ (10), was to be a long term replacement for the Esprit. I was invited to examine the show model before it was introduced to the public and asked if its design language could be adapted to the ‘New Elan’. By this time it was decided that the X100 would most probably have a Toyota FWD drive train but I was asked to consider that it just might have a mid-mounted engine! Having seen the Etna I was convinced that we needed something more sophisticated than my earlier proposal and so started work on a new design with some Etna styling cues (11). To save time, and probably money, it was decided that the full size model of X100 would be built in Italy by a company in Turin called CECOMP. They were the modeling facility that many of the Turin based design houses went to for quick, high quality concept models; they worked in plaster rather than the styling clay that I was used to, the inflexible material resulted in rather ‘stiff’ surfaces. It was at CECOMP that I began to understand why the contemporary VW Golf and Scirocco looked as they did. The completed plaster solid show model was shipped to Lotus for a presentation in February 1985. On arrival at Hethel it was greeted with great enthusiasm, it looked as if at last we had a car to develop. Simple test cars were built using somewhat crude GRP (glass fiber) panels and work started on developing the ride and handling of the front wheel drive coupe, but to me it just did not seem like a Lotus ‘sports car’. I was never totally happy with the scaled down ‘Etna’ look of the car. (12)

Part 2

By the summer of 1985 I began work on a convertible version of X100 (13), we should really have made the open car first, got that absolutely right and then done the coupe because the resulting roadster was rather boring. With Etna looking very unlikely to become a production reality I felt that the design cues taken from it had become a negative rather than a positive influence. At this point it was once again clear that Lotus was short of money so the X100 project was put ‘on hold’, or stopped until new funds became available.

The company needed a major industry partner or owner and the two best prospects were both US based, Chrysler, with whom we had collaborated on projects, or General Motors (both companies were after the Lotus 'Active suspension' technology); it was GM that made the best offer for the company. A deal was quickly done and suddenly we no longer had Toyota engines available to us but were offered any motor from any of GM’s subsidiary companies. The 1,600cc Isuzu engine and transmission that was chosen was so much smaller than the originally intended Toyota unit that new packaging opportunities became available to the team. And a new model number was chosen that reverted to the traditional ‘M’ designation following the departure of David Wickens. At this point GM’s design chief Chuck Jordan decided that it was his designers in Detroit who should design the third iteration of the ‘New Elan’. It was at this time that Spooner and I were alarmed to learn that there was a dedicated M100 studio at GM. Colin Spooner then discovered that Ital Design had also been given all the packaging information for the new car, neither he nor I were very impressed by this move from Kimberley who said that this was just a strategy to motivate the home team! However Spooner found the budget for an ‘in house’ proposal and within days he and I had made arrangements for a full sized 'showcar' to be built for us by MGA in Coventry, a very experienced prototype build shop who were both good value and proposed an aggressively short build time. For me time was also short so I got straight into a quick sketch programme and within a week had a good idea of how the new design should look (14). Without the constraints of the 'Etna look', which I thought was a continuation of the Italian folded paper philosophy and would give us an appearance that was no better than contemporary, a much softer and more organic feel was possible. My thoughts were, and still are, that if you design a generic and immediately acceptable form then it is only through intense fiddling with the details that you differentiate your car from all the others. This still happens except that these days designers tend to use complex head and tail lights to make that differentiation. My intention was to make something very different for that time and if not everyone liked it that was OK with me. A quick 1:4 scale model (15) was made and after just one review by Kimberley and the board we started the full size show car. The 14th of November 1986 was when my car, GM's proposal and the car from Giugiaro were shown to the board; GM were represented by John Taylor from Opel and Ital Design by Silvano Corvasce. These two spent most of their presentation time strongly criticising my proposal whilst telling everyone how great their cars were. My plan was to ignore the other two proposals and concentrate on the production readiness of our in-house design. Thanks to some great creative work from young designer Simon Cox we had a fully finished and detailed interior with space for the 6 foot 5 inch (195 cm) Kimberly to sit comfortably (18a), GM only showed an interior design sketch and Ital sent an interior buck six weeks after the event. The GM car looked like a Buick roadster (16), beautifully surfaced but without much character, and with no feasibility, it was 20 inches (500mm) longer than our car and 5 inches (125mm) wider so it looked huge. The Ital car was a great disappointment to me, I was a big fan of Giugiaro and so was expecting something outstanding, but what we saw looked like a rejected Renault Fuego replacement. It had two upper body components, one showing a convertible, the other showed how it might look as a coupe (17); this car was almost as big as the GM car, 250mm longer and nearly 200mm wider than ours. I remember thinking at the time that neither company understood what a Lotus was all about; small, light and nimble (18). The directors made their decision without the design representatives being present and much to my delight they voted 15:0 in favour of our proposal - so it was to be a Lotus designed at Lotus.

GM, and particularly Chuck Jordan (16a) were not at all happy with the outcome, Jordan was quoted as saying that his team had already lost two design competitions with us and no way was he going to lose a third! He flew across to the UK, demanded to evaluate the car for himself, and wrote a remarkably rude and critical document saying how amateur and crude the car was. His one sensible observation was that the front air intake needed more 'Lotus feel' to it. That was the only change that I would agree to, an approach that Spooner was a little uncomfortable with. The relationship never improved with Jordan until we met at the Detroit Autoshow a few years ago, by which time he was well into retirement and happy to greet me like a long lost buddy! In truth he was an ultra competitive perfectionist who hated losing and so the fact that our team also won the ‘in-house’ design competitions for The Lotus Opel Omega, Corvette Indy phase III and Cadillac LSS (light sports saloon), really annoyed him. Lotus, and in particular Spooner, felt that my strained relationship with Chuck Jordan was causing a problem with engineering consultancy opportunities coming from GM to Lotus; he is quoted as saying that the problem went away when I left to work on the design of the McLaren F1! The M100 Elan was launched at the 1989 London motor show and went in to production in early 1990 (19).

Designers are often asked how close to their vision the production car turned out and that is what happened to me at the time. The answer then is that same as I would say today; on the early cars the track was too narrow and the wheels were not central in the wheel openings, and the wheelbase, and whole car ended up 50mm too short thanks to a major communication problem between the draughtsmen and production guys. However the biggest frustration that I suffered was that the boot, or trunk, opening lines were totally in the wrong place (19b). Production engineers had told me that you would never notice the cut line towards the rear where they had changed the opening of the trunk lid from the back of the car to the side of the car; but it really was too noticeable for me to accept! It was the only line on the car that jarred with the form. I managed to get this changed on later cars but I still troubles me when I see an older Elan. Apart from that it is still a very satisfying project to have worked on!

Part 3 in two weeks time!
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Re: Facebook

Postby lotos » Sat 22.08.2015, 21:10

Wow, no replies? That was riveting and fantastic, thank you for posting.

I wonder if the other 2 design entries are available to check out.
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Re: Facebook

Postby superbad » Sun 23.08.2015, 05:35


Look up Peter Stevens on Facebook, there are photos of the other two proposals (among many other cool photos). The GM is like a cross between a mini Buick Reatta and a Fiero, the Italdesign looks like every show car they built in the 80s. Pretty sure they recycled the concept a couple years later for Subaru- looks remarkably like a Subaru SVX
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Re: Facebook

Postby Ian T » Sun 23.08.2015, 09:14

lotos wrote:Wow, no replies? That was riveting and fantastic, thank you for posting.

I felt the same way, but read it while busy and said to myself I'd come back later to reply. A good read, well written and left me looking forward to more. I forget his name now, but the chap who registered here and told us about the first sign and implementation of the sound system in the M100 was also interesting and gave some insight into the compromises the team had to live within at the time.

I avoid FaceAche for the most part, but might have to make an exception if this sort of content is readily accessible. My biggest plea is that forum users don't adopt it as their means of sharing useful information, as is happening on many other forums. The sad fact is that FB is engulfing this space and not providing as useful a repository of information, unless, that is, you are an advertiser...

So... More please. :)
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Re: Facebook

Postby mitreklov » Sun 23.08.2015, 10:26

Like you Ian I avoid FaceCloth most of the time. However I've just spent the past half an hour reading through all three parts of the M100 story and studying the images posted on Mr Stevens FB page, well worth the read I must say.

I had never realised the differences of the rear spoiler between the US and UK models. Peter writes about not being happy with the way the back end was engineered and indicated that he had it changed back to his original design on the US models. Its a shame we never saw it on the UK/ROW models as I think it looks so much neater and slicker.

The full text, photos and part three are here, you don't even need a account to read it, which is handy since I don't have one:

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Re: Facebook

Postby markv » Mon 24.08.2015, 22:56

GeoffSmith wrote:From Peter Stevens' Facebook...

A fascinating read - I spent a couple of hours reading through his facebook postings. Thanks for posting the info Geoff!

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Re: Facebook

Postby Fredjohn » Mon 24.08.2015, 23:13

Much cheaper to read it above and on facebook than buy Peter Hughes book, which contains pretty much the same info.

Unfortunately I've already bought the book....... :( :( :(
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Re: Facebook

Postby Rambo » Tue 25.08.2015, 22:20

Here's part 3 for those of you (like me) that can't be bothered with FaceBook.....

Lotus Elan Part 3
Altogether 3,855 Elans were built between November 1989 and July 1992, including 129 normally aspirated (non-turbo) cars. 559 of them were sold in the US, featuring a 'stage 2 body' which had a different rear boot spoiler arrangement together with a lengthened nose to accommodate a USA-compliant crash structure and airbag (19a), they also had wider 16-inch wheels with more offset thanks to an undercover scheme devised by Kimberly and myself (optional in most markets, standard in the U.S.) instead of 15-inch as on the UK model. The conflicting objectives of design and engineering were often a problem at Lotus, the Elan has always looked way better on wider wheels and tyres with a lower ride height, you see some great ones around these days that achieve the ‘look’ that I always wanted!
As something of a ‘post script’, after leaving Lotus in 1989 I was asked by a very small but dedicated group of Lotus engineers how they might propose a lighter, cheaper coupe version of the Elan. At that point in time Lotus was in a very turbulent state, an attempted management buy-out by a couple of directors was badly viewed by ‘old school’ Lotus employees, and they wanted to put a coupe proposal to some GM directors to show how the appeal of the Elan could be widened. Using a local model making company, ‘Dove Company Design’, and with myself ‘moonlighting’ from Mclaren, we quickly built a proper running prototype which we showed to a group of GM directors; part of the show was a couple of tables filled with no longer needed parts together with a much revised bill of materials. The headlights, for example, were from the Opel Calibra and they saved both weight and a large amount of money. (20) Unfortunately this suggestion fell into a boiling vat of politics and disappeared from sight. It would seem that it was not in the interest of some top Lotus people that the Elan should be a continuing success.
Series 2
A limited edition of 800 Series 2 (S2) M100 Elans (produced June 1994–September 1995) was released during the Romano Artioli era. Artioli, at that time owner of Bugatti, had bought Lotus from General Motors in 1994 and only discovered after the deal that enough surplus engines were available to make this possible, they were actually on a ship from Japan and had already been paid for by General Motors. According to Autocar magazine, the S2 addressed some of the concerns (?) over handling, but power was reduced to 155 bhp (116 kW; 157 PS) and the 0–60 acceleration time increased to 7.5 seconds, due to the legislative requirement to fit a catalytic converter in all markets. The S2s have very similar performance to the USA vehicles, having an identical engine management system calibration and similar overall vehicle weight. (21)
M200 Elan
Following my departure to McLaren, Julian Thompson took over at Lotus as head of design. One of his first projects was to design a show car based on the Elan, the Lotus M200 Speedster. The car was first shown at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show and later at the 1992 Geneva Show (22). The project was originally conceived soon after I left but there was little enthusiasm for it within the company until a sudden request from marketing for “a show car, needed in a real hurry” re-started the project. The exciting little yellow speedster, which I really liked since it represented Lotus’s ‘lighter and simpler’ ethos followed the fixed headlight route of the ‘low cost Elan’ project; the twin cockpit interior, designed by David Brisbourne, caused a stir at the time, with its ‘ladies swimming costume’ fabric covered seats. Although it was originally a non-runner Ken and Neil Myers not only restored the car for Lotus dealer Paul Matty, they also made it into a proper road legal running car. The car was offered for sale by auctioneers Bonhams at their Goodwood sale in 2012, but remained un-sold, suggestions are that it was eventually bought by an enthusiast in Holland for as little as £20,000!
Kia Elan
After the final production run of the Elan in 1995, Kia Motech (Kia Motor-Technology) bought all the licences related to the Elan from Lotus in order for Kia to manufacture its own version. In late 1995, following this acquisition of the Elan, Kia produced a show car version to gauge public opinion for a Kia sportscar, it was called KMS-11 (23). However the production version looked nothong like the KMS-11, it was almost identical to the original. The most obvious differences werethe wheels and the taillights, designed by Kia, in place of the Renault Alpine rear lights of the original Lotus version. The car, built in Hwaseong, South Korea, was sold as the ‘Kia Elan’ (24); it was sold from 1996 to 2000 only in the Korean market and could not be considered a great success. During its four year production life, except for 1997 when just over 400 Kia Elans were sold. In total, for the other three years around 300 found customers.
The Elan name revived
During an extraordinary period around the years 2009-2012 Lotus went through what can now be seen as a crisis of bizzare management and vision. Famously, at the Paris Auto Show of 2010, CEO of Lotus, Dany Bahar, accompanied by many 'movie personalities', unveiled five new concept cars including a ‘New Elan’, a new Esprit, Elite , Eterne and Elise. It was at this point that observers believed that Lotus had ‘lost the plot’! The Elan (25) was to be a 450hp supercharged 4.0-liter V6 engined, seven speed, mid-engined car complete with optional KERS energy recovery system, supposedly capable of 193mph and 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds! A large, over-styled ‘generic’ sports coupe with no recognizable Lotus design cues, nothing could have been further from Chapman’s original Elan; both the car and Bahar vanished without trace two years later. “Anyone can make something complicated. It takes genius to make it simple.” Einstein.
So is it time for a proper ‘New Elan’? Less Spartan than a Caterham 7, more practical than a Lotus Elise, front engine but with the elegance of the Renault ‘Fly’ concept! (26)

An extremely interesting read and great to hear from someone heavily involved with the M100 project ;-)
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Re: Facebook

Postby Jamie N » Wed 26.08.2015, 10:54

Nice read Mark, shared views on Faceplook as well. :D No wonder the M200 remained unsold, that is just a mess.
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Re: Facebook

Postby CalElan » Wed 26.08.2015, 21:04

great read!
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Re: Facebook

Postby lotos » Wed 26.08.2015, 22:49

Found it, thank you. Wow, the GM proposal couldn't look more American if it tried. Has a touch of 1st gen Ford Probe to my eyes, too. But certainly doesn't look European/British. The ItalDesign I've seen before, that's the one that reminds me of the Dodge Daytona (basically predecessor to the 1st gen Mitsubishi Eclipse), a pretty car but not a Lotus, at least in coupe form. The drop top ItalDesign model looks pretty good and very M100-esque.

The cool thing about our cars is that they are unique - they aren't just another "well we need a sports car, it'll have the engine in front, the drive wheels in back, and the same generic look of the rest of our fleet." It looks like nothing else, and everyone asks me what it is all the time when I'm out and about with it.

The value of these cars in great condition should be $30k IMHO. They're the perfect sports car, as they are comfortable, look exotic, get great gas mileage, have a huge trunk, and are easy to maintain. If we stop listing the cars at the cheap prices they'll stop selling at the cheap prices.
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Re: Facebook

Postby CalElan » Wed 02.09.2015, 01:16

....or stop selling all together!
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