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Lotus Elise 135 Sport

Lotus Elise 135 Sport Published: 28th Jun 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise 135 Sport
Lotus Elise 135 Sport
Lotus Elise 135 Sport
Lotus Elise 135 Sport
Lotus Elise 135 Sport
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...but Jeremy Walton seems to be paying the price for past poor servicing CAR: Lotus Elise 135 Sport YEAR: 1999 OWNER: Jeremy Walton

I see that in this issue of Classic Motoring, it also contains a comprehensive buying guide on the Lotus Elise and I can tell you that as a drivers’ car few others – at any price – comes close. However, you may not get much chance sampling those famed behind-thewheel delights if my experiences are anything to go by!

Regular readers will recall that I was searching for a sports car to replace my much-missed Frogeye Sprite, eventually settling for an S1 Elise. Not being a total novice at buying cars, I thought I’d found one of the best S1s around for the money. I may have been mistaken!

The first 1000 miles had proved mildly adventurous in my rare 135 Sport version, but they paled beside the next 1000 or so and the heartbeat-tweaking, financially wounding calls continue…

However, I got the car I wanted at the price I wanted and the driving experience still dwarfs anything affordable that I have experienced. But oh the hassle it’s caused.

With its uprated suspension and ultra low ride height, some really sensational motoring was enjoyed albeit before a nasty pothole curtailed play. More on this later because before that, there was an incident to amuse Mazda MX-5 fans.

I dared to take the Elise to a Mazda MX-5 current model drive début in the UK. Some of the power outputs (circa 135bhp) matched across from Lotus to Mazda in the latest examples of the World’s most sold sports car, even if the kerbweights remain unsurprisingly biased toward the Elise. The Mazda remains a fully equipped showroom model and the S1 Lotus was focussed on the original Chapman lightweight, minimal frills, philosophy.


I liked the cheaper, sub-£20k, example of 2016 MX-5 better than the fat-wheeled, Bilstein-damped, more powerful and expensive alternative version and I’m not alone in this view (try both-ed). I have well respected the MX-5 since it débuted generations ago and understand why it has literally sold a million and counting. Yet the drive thrills of the Lotus always steered me away from one and the, same goes for Toyota’s MR2, too.

Press day drive over, and my Lotus rudely taught me why the Japanese are right to emphasize reliability. You guessed it, Elise would not start: it was not quite so simple as a flat battery, although uncovering the true reasons took me well into 2016 and a third specialist resource to find the fault.

Initially, and with either a film crew’s assistance or that of the AA, hitching up to an auxiliary battery would (eventually) get it to fire up. The battery that came with the Elise had cried enough over the winter and so was duly replaced. Working with an AA man into the night, we man-up through scraped knuckles, wriggling the forward-mounted Renault Clio/Fiesta battery out from its beneath the windscreen washer bottle and front radiator location.
Easy it was not but another Elise adventure was chalked up!



Keep that battery/starting issue in mind over four recurrences, while I tell the tale of the mechanical hardware alterations. Intermittent non-starts that persisted, even with that new battery fitted.

Pothole damage needed sorting first, hardly helped by a ride height set so low that it scraped on any suburban garage slope. It looked track-ready, but you could hear the punishment my Elise took along our rumpled public byways. A bill for over £1000 from a specialist saw the suspension and springs sorted back to production specifications (albeit by using pre-used Konis), as the rear ones had started to weep.

The ground scraping ride height was raised by over 20mm at the front and similarly corrected at the rear, again to reach production tolerances that suit the Elise best. The end result was a proper Lotus with much of the ride quality expected that goes with the brand and a lesson how not to ‘modify’ an already well-sorted classic!

The post-pothole vibration was remedied with compression repair of the 16 x 8-inch rear rims that had taken the major shock impact of the pot hole: comparatively milder work overcame the grumbles from the slimmer 15-inch diameter fronts.

Overall, a big gain and there were, admittedly smaller wins on the gear change quality after the old transmission oil was changed and the gear linkage inspected. Grubby suspension arms received a clean and a coat of waxoyl after removing the notable surface rust – a very common Elise fault. Finally, the brakes were bled and callipers removed to scourge their pistons to overcome some binding issues.



An official Lotus A-service was paid for, but subsequent inspection and replacements revealed obvious deficiencies in the work done, which is why I am not revealing that specialist’s name for publication!

A shame, because some aspects that it carried out were excellent — the suspension was outstanding and cheap by contemporary standards, for example.

Sadly though, some service and inspection tasks were not performed as efficiently and allowed some major motor problems implanted by previous bodging to subsequently develop.

The following month meant obvious rectification for service items omitted previously, all forced on me by a repeat of that non-start issue, but this time when Elise’s engine was nice and warm.

A £200 bill from my local electrical specialists at Auto Services found distributor cap damage, requiring its replacement along with the rotor arm which also showed visible wear – plus what looked like thousand-year-old spark plugs were changed, too!. A heavy leak from the engine’s cam cover had filled two spark plug wells with synthetic oil – oh and corrosion of number one high tension lead was evident… And this was after supposedly regular servicing!

As I breached 56,000 miles on the odometer, the yellow AA van became a regular visitor to our driveway. First off there was a battery test failure and night fitting session of a conventional Yuasa item. I had thought Lotus would have some trick lightweight job, but it’s a regular small hatchback item carried on AA vans routinely. Final bill was £76.49 which I could have done without, but thankfully my AA membership covered labour costs.
That was last winter, but Feb 2016 and less than 400 miles later, the AA were back again as the new battery was totally drained of power. The engineer could not diagnose the fault, as no obvious drainage points were unearthed and the alternator checked out okay. All kinds of suspects were nominated, and even I could see that the fuse box was open to water spray and subject to chafing because it was not properly secured…

MGF-owning friends muttered something about crankshaft sensors, faulty alarm immobilisers and ECU defects but later, much later, a fault was found in the ECU itself but affecting the exhaust’s Lambda probe which governs the catalytic converter, which in turn can determine an MoT pass. I’d prefer to repair and not replace the ECU, not simply for cost reasons but as it is integral with the alarm and immobiliser.

A short fun-packed interlude of regular use lulled me into trusting the Elise again, especially as I had my trusty old CTEK battery charger on board charging system substituted for the previous owner’s low output, home-made, plug-in system. Regular charging was now effective and the engine was now cranking vigorously, but erratically. Or even failing to fire.

Using brutal tactics – battery pack and prolonged use of engine bay hand throttle alongside prolonged cranking, a third AA visit got it going. I had since found Esprit Engineering (01725 54449 www. for specialist work, so we just got the car going and I drove down to Downton for the first of two sessions at this specialist.

I currently have it back but am running it in after an engine rebuild! More terrible tales and worthwhile lessons learned but I am saving them for next time, dear reader…

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