Toyota engaged Lotus to assist with engineering work on the Supra. During this period, Toyota became a major shareholder in Lotus, later giving up their holding when General Motors bought Lotus.
Part of the deal between Lotus and Toyota included the use of many Toyota mechanical components in Lotus' cars. The original Excel (aka the Eclat Excel) used the W58 manual transmission, driveshafts, rear differential, 14x7 in alloy wheels, and door handles from the Supra Mk II, which was made from 1982 to 1986. The engine was the familiar all-aluminium, DOHC 2.2 L Lotus 912 slant-four engine also used in the Lotus Esprit S3.
Launched in October 1982, the Excel received two major upgrades during its 10-year production run. With the introduction of the Excel SE (a 180 bhp (134 kW; 182 PS) engine vs the standard 160 bhp (119 kW; 162 PS) engined car) in October 1985, the bumpers, wing and interior were changed, including a new dashboard. In October 1986 the Excel SA with automatic gearbox was introduced. Further facelifts in 1989 saw Citroën CX-derived mirrors, as also featured on the Esprit, and 15 inch OZ alloy wheels to a similar pattern as the Esprit's.
The Excel is also known for its good cornering and excellent handling thanks to 50:50 weight distribution.
According to Lotus records, only 1 Excel was manufactured to USA specification. The decision not to release the model in the USA was due to that country's stringent emission regulations (which would hinder the car's performance), and poor sales of the car in Europe.
By 1991, Lotus was planning to replace the Excel with a coupé version of the Elan roadster, but these plans were shelved as a result of falling sales which saw the whole Elan project cancelled and no direct replacement for the Excel when it was discontinued in 1992.
415 are still registered in the United Kingdom as of 2011, but 240 of them are SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification).James May purchased one on the television show Top Gear in the fourth episode of season 15. Top Gear also used a Lotus Excel in the James Bond 50th Anniversary Special and converted it into a submarine. This was done to prove the Lotus Esprit used in The Spy Who Loved Me wasn't science fiction.
Model Year changes
In 1984 the Eclat changed to using body-coloured bumpers. It also received a louvered bonnet, a boot spoiler, and new eight-spoke alloy wheels became an option.
The front wheel arch profile was flared, but it became no wider overall. The boot opening was made larger, while front fog lamps and a VDO instrument cluster were installed. 15-inch wheels became an option.
Rear view of 1986 Lotus Excel S.E. (Sweden)
In October 1985, for the 1986 model year, the S.E. option arrived, coupled with the more powerful H.C. (High Compression) engine. The fascia and switchgears were modified on all Excel models, along with an upgraded air conditioning system (a cost option) and a standard adjustable steering column. The standard Excel remained available alongside the pricier S.E.
In 1988 the Excel received a number of under-the-shell improvements, including a lighter, cross-drilled crankshaft, new engine mounting legs and bell housing, altered rear body mounts, a boot floor brace and revised body shell undertray, and a revised fuel system. In terms of appearance, the 1988 Excel looked mostly as it had done since 1984.
A 1990 Excel, showing the external upgrades introduced for 1989
In 1989 the Excel was given another makeover, with a restyled bonnet, new front and rear spoilers, updated road wheels and interior trim. The rear view mirrors were changed to the aerodynamic ones from the Citroën CX. The engine was not forgotten, receiving an air intake temperature control system for increased longevity. The Excel continued to be built in small numbers until the plug was pulled in 1992.
Hethel 25th Anniversary Celebration edition
Only forty of the "Hethel 25th Anniversary Celebration edition" were produced, 35 in Celebration Green Metallic and 5 in Calypso Red. This special edition received a Clarion CDC 9300 head unit, a remote control stacking CD player and upgraded speakers, red instrument lighting, air conditioning, a full tan leather interior with perforated leather panels and tan leather-clad steering wheel. The floors were carpeted in 100 percent Wilton wool. The car's technical specifications were as for the standard Excel.
Excel S.E. 1985–1992
Excel S.A. 1986–1992
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^Büschi, Hans-Ulrich, ed. (5 March 1987). Automobil Revue 1987 (in German and French). 82. Berne, Switzerland: Hallwag AG. p. 357. ISBN3-444-00458-3.