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Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise Published: 26th Feb 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
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Jeremy Walton swaps a Frog-eye for an Elise and is already counting the cost CAR: 1999 Lotus Elise 135 Sport YEAR: 1996 OWNER: Jeremy Walton

We left November’s 2015 issue and my search to replace a BMW 635i and a1958 Frog-eye now zeroed in on a 20-years old débutant: Lotus Elise, a search partly propelled by sentiment for ride and handling time spent up at Hethel with cars that were pre-production as well as a subsequent failure to buy against a 1996 dealer order. The sheer driving joy of most variants up to S2 111S and 135 Sport levels overrode all the alternatives but I soon decided that I wanted an S1 because it was likely to retain its value better in the same way as Frog managed (they are-ed).

Unlike finding a Frog-eye, this time the search was short and sweet. A local Morgan specialist had an S1 in 111S format with the bonus of a hardtop topping the vivid 143bhp ex-MG VVC K-Series motor and an excellent dealer service history. This customer car was on sale for a while, advertised at £13,950. New Elms proprietor Tim Ayres stooped down to the demo ride as a passenger and I was impressed, although the hardtop booming in the cabin and a ride a lot harsher than remembered (it’s usually, typically, fairly Lotus compliant), detracted from the thrills of driving this particular Elise.

It was a fair test and Tim agreed to negotiate with the owner on my offer, which was tempered by some Dutch dealer history. I was to discover more than one Elise with the same country popping up on service or import records. European Type Approval was originally granted to Lotus via last minute testing in Holland for S1…


I soon spotted another tasty S1 within the Piston Heads online classifieds. This time it was a 1999 with the sensibly uprated 135 Sport spec motor. From November 1998 on Lotus assembled a batch of 49 Sport derivatives, then 34 slightly modified. They shared 135 handbuilt horsepower (non-VVC) in place of the standard 118 horses; obtained via a reworked Janspeed cylinder head and sports exhaust system. Just as useful in the speed department is a genuinely closer ratio gearbox, and cross-drilled iron discs because the original MMC metal matrix composites were dropped in June 1998.

The 135 sported some individual features. Most useful were Lotus ‘Competition’ seats and sports steering wheel. Externally there were side 135 Sport decals, durable metallic Quicksilver paint, headlamp covers and silver for the rollover bar, all hidden beneath the glass fibre cover under the blue deck chair cover that serves as a hood on an S1. My model differed in details; 111S alloys and tyres, complemented legally via modest rear spats, a black fuel filler cap (twisted, mine supplied as a spare), matt finish to the alloy gear lever knob and 135 Sport decals with additional 99 logo, for example.

This Elise showed 54,000 miles with a daunting MoT record to back it up: ‘daunting’ on a VW scale because of its 50 per cent annual fail rate, and usually for emissions! The asking price was £11,500 from a private lady owner located some 35 miles from my home.

Detail aftermarket uprates were useful such as blue leather seats, Momo detachable steering wheel, a posy metal gate for the floppy gearchange, on-board recharging, refurbished road wheels with barely brushed Toyos sitting on a radically low ride height suspension. Not the best original spec, I thought, plus the red insert cloth seats and original steering wheel were not present. Original seats were available for extra cash, but unlike the car they were a bit rumpled. Besides, I liked the perches provided, complete with their inflatable backrests.

The Elise was beautifully presented, despite living outside, under a cover, for much of its lightly used recent life. Only the inevitable scars of the rear hood pins marred the paint and the nose-section lacked the expected stone chips. In short it was a well-preserved credit to the lady and I broke all the second-hand buyer rules, taking a lengthy ride out with mechanic Kevin Nicholls of KN Cars, rather than driving myself for insured value reasons.

This Elise had a top end rebuild by KN less than 1500 miles previously. A split water hose, consequent overheating demanded a head gasket with the precaution of a replacement, uprated, and radiator. So we tested into dense Swindon ring road traffic on a hot day and out onto the M4.

It performed exactly as I had remembered; 135 motors should be sporting startling acceleration and yet surprising civilisation at speed, even with the hood off. The ride was tough, but not as punishing on the passenger side of this 135 than as a driver within a 111S.

Suitably impressed, I did the deal after negotiating a sliver of discount to take account of immediately taxing it, and arranged collection with the electrotransferred balance. I was extremely fortunate in that the lady seller not only kept this clean car conscientiously, but she also knew her financial services sector. All the payment stuff, including taxing the car was dealt with rapidly and extremely efficiently.


That first drive back was memorably exhilarating and scary at the same time. Exhilarating beyond belief on Wiltshire’s open A roads and crested swerves as you’d expect an Elise to be, scary in traffic as only a K-Series engine can be. Why?

Delivery day corresponded to a particularly hot 25 degrees summer day that made sure that the engine temperature of 90 degrees was exceeded in small town rush hour with ease. Waiting on an uphill minor road junction to join a busy A major road, 100 degrees arrived and disappeared, and then the digital Stack dash started to pulse on/off. Visions of four figure bills to follow our first trip materialized!

I did join the A-road in unseemly haste and the digital readout calmed down somewhat, reporting under 90 degrees within a 55 mph mile. Home safely with no further dramas, I spent the next 24 hours studying the well-thumbed handbook to be reassured about the 120 degrees boiling point of the pressurized Lotus Elise cooling system. Then 200 miles establishing priorities and a wish list. But I didn’t fancy that again!

My cooling fears were tackled by using Lotus-approved coolant with a glycol supplement (shades of WW2 Rolls Royce V12 aero motors!), ensuring that the 15lb/ft. pressure cap was healthy and , for good measure, I ran with the heater slightly on, just in case!

The result was a fairly steady 84-85 degrees in mild traffic, 87-89 in five-minute jams. The dash hasn’t defaulted to flashing mode since, but it hasn’t honestly been tested as severely as in that first collection run.

I was a bit worried by only having one functional Cobra immobiliser key for the slightly later factory installation so I contacted the company on its website, but to replace the programmed touch key required its return to Cobra Car Tech department. I did not want the vehicle out of service, never mind any ‘lost in post scenario,’ so I still take that solo key fob risk…

I bought a very useful shower cap to use instead of the clumsy S1 hood. It served well both in Britain’s earlier showery Summer at shows and Silverstone Classic.

My temporary top came from Elise Parts online and was more expensive than the Club Lotus item, as I discovered when I joined that club. An insurance discount from Footman James persuaded me away from returning to Hagerty again, who would only allow 3000 miles pa on this ‘modern,’ where FJ offered another 2000 annual miles – it certainly pays to shop around.


As I twirled toward my first Elise 1000 miles, a nasty hidden pothole decided my priorities on how best to spend money on my Lotus. Following a visit to an Open Day for official Lotus dealers Williams Automobiles, a fantastic drive back from Gloucestershire saw the Lotus hit a clump of potholes skulking in shadow near Castle Combe.

Slowing for the next junction there was a strong vibration, which persisted for 35 shaky miles home. I managed to isolate that it was speed related and could drive around the worst of it, but there was no doubt I would not be using the car again until it was fixed. And I already knew that suspension was definitely too low and that one rear damper was leaking profusely, so the suspension needed urgent attention meaning that the gear change had to wait.

At £80 an hour and with Morgan a more established speciality at the official Lotus dealership in my locality, I started looking for a local specialist with a lower labour rate, expertise in ride and handling priorities… Oh, and a trailer to take it away!

I found it all, but not where I expected. More adventures were required before a successful answer and new problems of a more mundane nature appeared, but more of that next time.


New Elms [Morgan specialists: see text]:

Piston Head: My Elise was found on this classified site; go to used-cars

Kevin Nicholls KN Cars: Located outside Swindon, Tel: 07850468092

Williams Automobiles, official Lotus & Morgan Dealers located outside Bristol: Wide range of standard and modified bits. Excellent service with a loyalty discount service

Also online and browsed were: which is more modified and competition-orientated. Subsequently used http://www.elise-shop. com, failed to realise Dutch origins. Monitor eBay for rare parts the factory stopped producing

Club Lotus: Strong Elise membership and necessary for classic insurance, plenty of events and valuation service

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