Every once in a while, a weird crossover happens in the auto industry. No, we’re not talking about those tall-standing wagon-like, wannabe SUVs that everyone is buying. We’re talking about when one automaker takes another’s product and sells it under its own brand.

Currently, this happens with the Toyota Yaris iA, which is actually the Mazda2 sedan sold abroad with a new nose and Toyota badging. In the past, this has happened in a number of different scenarios, but one of the weirder ones we’ve come across is the Kia Elan. It was Kia’s first sports car, and it beat the new Stinger GT to the punch.

Kia Elan design shots

The Kia Elan is actually the Lotus Elan design. Yep, that Lotus. The one that produces awesome mid-engine sports cars. In the 1960s, Lotus had a fantastic little roadster called the Elan. That car stayed in production until the 1970s. After that, the company came back to the Elan name in 1989 with a front-wheel-drive roadster that had completely different styling than the classic car. It was relatively well-received but Lotus sold few of these cars. In 1995, the company ceased production of the model.

That wasn’t the end of the car, though. Kia reached out to Lotus, bought the design, and started production of its own front-wheel drive roadster that looked essentially the same. All Kia did to the exterior of the design was slap on a few Kia badges and redesign the taillights of the car. The most significant update came under the hood where Kia dropped in a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that made about 150 hp. It was less powerful than the Isuzu-sourced turbocharged 1.6-liter that Lotus used. Kia also made minor changes to the suspension and interior. As the video review below shows, Kia did somethings right and some things wrong. 

As you can imagine, this didn’t make the Kia Elan sell like crazy. Kia managed to only sell about a thousand of its first little sports car, making it quite a rare car today. Few models were sold outside the Asian markets, but some did sell to European buyers. Production lasted from 1996 to 1999. Kia hoped the car could challenge the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it failed miserably at that task.

It’s interesting to see Kia back in the performance car game with the Stinger GT. This time, instead of buying a design and modifying it, Kia poached designers from some of the best German automakers in the world and had them design an all-new car for the company. Already, it would seem that Kia’s Stinger will put the Kia Elan to shame when it comes to sales and reputation, and that sounds good to us.