We think of performance-orientated Kias as a more recent phenomenon, given that the Pro Cee’d GT is widely seen as the Korean automaker’s first proper stab at producing a hot car. The thing is, however; it isn’t. In fact, if you go back to the mid-to-late 1990s, you’ll see that Kia sold a two-seater drop-top sports car. And it was called the Elan.
Sound familiar? It should, because Elan is a name given to two Lotus roadsters, a rear-wheel drive car from the 1960s, and the front-wheel drive ‘M100’ Elan produced from 1989 onwards. When production of the M100 wound up in 1995 - with fewer sold than Lotus had hoped - Kia came along and bought the rights to the design.
The company then produced its own version of the car in South Korea - for the South Korean market - with the original 165bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged Isuzu-sourced engine swapped for a naturally-aspirated 149bhp 1.8-litre engine. The suspension was raised slightly, and the rear light clusters were of Kia’s own design, as opposed to Renault Alpine GTA units found on the Lotus. Various interior parts were also replaced with Kia items.
Around 1000 Kia Elans were sold, making the car much rarer than the Lotus version, of which 3855 were sold. Production ran from 1996-1999. Despite never being officially imported into Europe, examples of the Kia do very occasionally come up for sale on this continent.
While you’re unlikely to snag yourself a Kia Elan, there are always plenty of Lotus Elans up for sale. Prices start at just under £5000, and you’ll still be getting a very rare car indeed, with brilliant handling. Interested? Give this 1991 example a look.