Back in the mid-1990’s, Kia was looking to improve its image, and wanted a nice sports car to help promote the brand. However, developing a sports car on its own was deemed too costly, so the South Korean auto manufacturer did what the Japanese auto manufacturers used to do back in the 1950’s, i.e., to build an existing European car under license.
This is what lead Kia to knock on the door of Lotus, and asked them for rights to reproduce the M100 Elan in South Korea. This was great news for Lotus, because the Elan was hardly the sales success they had hoped for – I guess the public didn’t really care for a front-wheel drive Lotus – and selling its tooling and production rights would help fund the development of the Elise.
Hence, the Kia Vigato was born, and while it looked almost identical to the Lotus Elan, there were some differences. Most obvious change is to the design of its rear lights, which are of Kia’s own design, rather than the Renault Alpine units Lotus was using. Kia also used their own engine, so gone was the Isuzu-sourced 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder, replaced by a normally-aspirated 1.8L four-cylinder. The Elan produced about 165 hp, the Vigato about 149 hp (although I’ve seen numbers as low as 133 hp for this model).
While Lotus had produced 3,855 units of the Elan between 1989 to 1995, Kia managed to only produce roughly 1,000 units of the Vigato between 1996 and 1999. It remains the only convertible model ever put into production by Kia.
The Kia Vigato was sold mainly in Asia, but some units made their way to Europe, and now, there is one for sale in Canada at Gentry Lane in Toronto.
So, if you want something to confuse most car buffs at the next ‘Cars and Coffee’ event in your city, this Kia Vigato might just be the car for you!