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“The Lotus Elise is now the most successful Lotus to date, perhaps because it is the most ‘Lotus’ Lotus ever, and the man who should take the credit is of course our founder Colin Chapman”. Richard Rackham and Julian Thomson, Foreword to ‘Lotus Elise, the complete story’, John Tipler, 1998.
As one might expect, the Lotus Elise’ designers absolutely nailed what the car is about and as big Lotus fans (did you notice?) we can’t help but agree – the most ‘Lotus’ Lotus ever. The Elise successfully moved the company’s products away from the cutting wedges of the 1970s and ‘80s and more importantly marked a return to Lotus’ core values of added lightness, enabling modest power outputs go a very long way. The old adage that while more power makes you faster down the straight, less weight makes you faster everywhere is never more clearly demonstrated than by the Elise. The bonus is of course that with less weight you can then dispense with lots of other driver experience diluting stuff, from power assisted steering and brake servos to big wheels and brakes - if we are not careful we will start a lengthy discourse on the triple whammy of reduced un-sprung weight!
Literally and metaphorically at the Elise’s core is its chassis. On the razor-sharp cutting edge of technology in the early 1990s, this brilliant, massively strong, glued and riveted extruded aluminium masterpiece has gone on to spawn machines as diverse as a genuinely desirable electric car (Tesla) and Sports, GT and Supercars from the likes of Aston Martin and Jaguar, while also providing the ultra-strong structure for those Kings of the off-road, Land Rover.
When it came to the Elise’s styling, with technological innovation part of its DNA Lotus were never going to do ‘retro’ and revisit past glories, (besides which Mazda had already beaten them to it with the Elan pastiche MX5) though the fact that pen-man Thomson was smoking a 246 Dino at the time may have had some influence on the oh-so pretty final shape.
With a fibreglass body and aluminium chassis the Elise is arguably the closest thing you will get to a corrosion-free Classic (not something that could be said of the Dino to be frank) and at getting on for twenty-five years old we feel it has reached the point at which it can justifiably be categorised as such.
At the time of this particular Elise’s registration, 5th July 1999, the lead time for new cars was well over a year such was the demand for the lightweight roadsters, so having presumably been champing at the bit for so long, it is perhaps understandable that the first owner couldn’t wait the extra few weeks for a ‘V’ Registration. In an effort to keep the launch price bellow £20,000, Lotus went for a fairly basic standard specification with a long (for such a simple car) options list and this example was well specified with metallic paint, leather interior, an alarm/immobiliser and radio fitting kit, leaving just the driving lights option box unticked. As it is not easy to retro-fit any of these items, this is all good news even twenty years down the line.
Three years into Elise production, one could almost refer to this as a Series 1 ½ - E-Type Jag style – with many of the early cars’ ‘idiosyncrasies’ engineered out following input from Lotus’ crack development drivers (AKA the general public). The engine cover was now un-dentible fibreglass, steel brake discs stopped the car even if it was raining (which seems sensible) and without them squealing (never mind the passenger), the boot was fully carpeted rather than just lined with a bag and its cover had its own stay. A better hood was specified and perhaps most importantly, the clutch pipe was braided so pressing its associated pedal resulted in something actually happening behind your left shoulder rather than just inflating the pipe itself.
So S1 ½ credentials established, what of this particular example? Working from the outside in, the bodywork and ‘Ruby Red Metallic’ paint are both in excellent condition. The fiberglass panels are ripple free and show absolutely no signs of any crazing. There are one or two stone chips to the wing mirrors and a chip to the vulnerable driver’s side door extremity as shown in the photo gallery but overall the paintwork is smooth and bright with great depth and shine. The hood is very good outside with clean bright stitching though it is slightly faded in places inside. There is some very slight rippling to the external door glass seal retainers which is a common issue often far worse than in this case and relatively inexpensively resolved. All the glass and plastic light lenses are in good order with no cracks or chips though there is just the slightest amount of delamination to the windscreen as shown in the photo gallery. The wheels are virtually unmarked, secured with locking wheel nuts and shod in Yokohama Advans which have plenty of tread remaining.
Having championed the rot-free nature of the aluminium chassis, there is actually one well known and documented area of concern on an Elise; corrosion of the floors in the foot-wells, exacerbated by the factory glued in rubber mats. As can be seen in the photo gallery, this example has no issues in this area, possibly due to it having had carpet mats fitted.
The interior trim, such as it is, comprises magnolia leather sill finishers and the aforementioned foot-well carpets while the seats are ‘Tillet’ style fibreglass buckets with strategically placed pads at every point of contact. These are more comfortable than they look and the red with white piping colour scheme is a tip to Lotus’ of the 1950s and 60s. ‘Elise’ logoed optional alloy window winders are a nice touch and operate with a smooth action which we have to say is not always the case. The centre of the standard steering wheel (fun fact: made for Lotus by Nardi) has been trimmed in appropriate red alcantara which if not to a new owner’s taste should at least have protected the underlying spokes. A JVC single CD player is fitted completing the minimalist interior which is showing remarkably little wear and tear.
Documented in the history file is the fitting of a “135 conversion kit” by Chris Foulds and the engine certainly feels to have that bit more pep. A 55mm alloy ‘Trophy’ throttle body and Hurricane induction/air filter system provides better breathing, smoother more reliable throttle actuation and a nice edge to the induction note, while a sports exhaust does much the same downstream; all tried and tested modifications which are generally considered to have no significant downside. Big ticks then for the engine specification with good clean anti-freeze and oil suggesting it is in fine fettle too. Underneath all the under-trays are present and correct with no evidence of off-roading – intentional or otherwise. The suspension components look to be in good order with evidence of various new joints and conscientious maintenance. Some slight flaking to the finish of the front anti-roll bar is the only negative and shouldn’t really be something that causes too much sleep deprivation.
Delving into the History File reveals a full set of Factory Books with the Maintenance Record stamped by Factory Service Centres such as HR Owen, London Lotus Centre, Lotus Ribble Valley, Kinsey Jones and Christopher Neil up to 33,800 miles, with respected specialists such as Pure Lotus taking it on to 47,000 in 2014; eleven stamps in all. Multiple invoices then record the Elise’s rigorous maintenance program, notably from Chris Foulds Motors totalling £2,293 covering suspension and brake work, along with the fitting of the 135 kit and stainless steel down pipe in April 2013. The previous owner’s handwritten notes cover the last 1,000 miles detailing oil and filter changes, a new battery, alternator, plugs, an ignition coil, rotor arm, distributor cap and such like.
The Lotus’ first four paper MOT certificates are present covering the mileage up to 26,000. Later online versions note a ‘noisy exhaust’ in the Advisories but then there isn’t actually a section on the form for ‘Plus Points’. Apparent emissions issues eventually resulted in the refitting of the cars catalytic convertor in 2014 and since then just the odd inoperative light and some wear to tyres and brakes have been the only MOT test issues. A spare original immobiliser deactivator is also in the file along with the V5C.
Is the Elise a ‘Classic’ Lotus? A beautiful, ground breaking, mid-engined, uber-lightweight bundle of fun whose 675 kg mass (less than the fabled Elan) makes just 118 bhp go so far (and 135 even further) - what do you think? We would say, ‘of course it is’ and in fact put our money where our mouth is and bought one as an everyday car a few months ago; we just wish it was a nice as this one. Oh and by the way, according to the Financial Times today’s 246 Dino to Elise exchange rate is hovering at around the 27 to 1 mark.
Registration number: T243 LLK
Chassis Number: SCCGA1117XHC37008
Engine Number: 18K4FJ31255621