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Lotus Elise

Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise

Buyer Beware

  • An Elise may be so far removed from your usual remit that even a duffer may feel fantastic. Drive a few to gain a datum point, or enlist a good specialist. Similarly, join an owners club for top advice and cars on sale. May also help with a sane insurance quote.
  • A service history by someone who knows what they’re doing is essential. Look for evidence of maintenance having been carried out every year or 9000 miles, unless you’re looking at a highperformance edition. These would include the 190 VHPD, Sport 160, Exige and 340R, and they need attention every 6000 miles.
  • Highly-modified cars have usually been thrashed; minor upgrades are generally the sign of an enthusiast owner who has probably looked after the car. If the car has been pranged, then poorly repaired, the floor will be rippled and the rear sub-frame may have cracks in it. A major impact will have twisted the car’s chassis and hence its whole structure; the only way to fix it properly is to completely rebuild the car, which won’t be economically viable.
  • The alloy under-tray can also get bashed about by speed bumps, or bottoming out through overenthusiastic driving. Look for buckling or impact damage. The rear sub-frame can also corrode, so check its condition.
  • A lack of ABS catches many weekend owners out after driving their moderns. Check body for signs of bodged repairs, as panels are dear to replace.Look at the tyres; uneven wear can mean an outof- true chassis. On a test drive, see that there’s no wandering, odd vibrations and so on.
  • The K-Series engine is famous for its ability to overheat, partly because of its design and partly because of its small coolant capacity. Take a look at the level of the coolant, because Elise radiators can be rather fragile. On the VVC engine the variable cam timing assembly can fail.
  • The ball joints in the front suspension wear out after 35,000 miles, while dampers last just 20,000 miles. Once these need replacing, the car’s dynamics suffer badly so use top quality replacement units.
  • Steering racks typically wear out within 35,000 miles, so check for play in the system to see if a new one is needed.
  • Make sure the alloy wheels haven’t been damaged, as replacements are no longer available for the Series 1. Used or aftermarket items can be tracked down however – and are often fitted anyway.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 5/5

    Mind blowing dynamics (if in good order) and pace with economy.

  • Usability: 3/5

    It’s a modern – but entry/egress usually becomes a chore for most.

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    It’s a modern – meaning it’s not especially DIY friendly or cheap.

  • Owning: 3/5

    Low depreciation, high mpg, insurance may not qualify as ‘classic’.

  • Value: 4/5

    Prices are rising for good ones and will remain so, few bargains left.

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They don't make sports cars like they used to – or do they? With the Lotus Elise the answer is yes!

What would Colin Chapman think of the Caterham 7, one of the greatest sports classics ever, if he were alive today? Actually, the car’s creator is likely to be appaled at the thought of such an ancient design still cutting the mustard. Where is the progress, he’d wonder? No, Chapman was a forward thinker who had little time for the past, which is why he’d always pick the car’s up-to-date spiritual successor, the Lotus Elise, instead. Now, some may say that the Lotus Elise, launched as recently as the mid 90s, is too new to be considered a true classic. Surely it’s a young person’s sports car, more suited to the ‘max power’ brigade? Well, people said the same of the hard-core Caterham/Seven in its heyday, and that was over 50 years ago! Here at Classic Cars For Sale we reckon that the Elise is already a classic, instead of just being one in the making. Rather than appealing to Caterham enthusiasts, who are a breed apart, it is perhaps more enticing to the MX-5/MR2 or hot-hatch owner wanting something more thrilling, without old-car hang ups. Does this also sound like your sort of classic?

Which model to buy?

We’re concentrating on the original ‘Mk1’ Elise for this feature, as it’s the one that’s still the most revered, plus it’s the one that’s climbing in value – sometimes exceeding those of the revised S2 models. There’s a fair selection of Elises to choose from. The Elise was launched in July 1996, with a 118bhp 16- valve fuel-injected Rover-sourced K-Series engine. Alloy wheels, immobiliser and cloth trim were all standard, while leather trim and metallic paint were extra-cost options. Various tuning companies offered more electrifying Elises, almost as soon as it left Hethel, but the first official high-performance edition was unleashed in March 1998, when the fab 187bhp Elise 190 VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) model went on sale. Although it was built more as a track-day special, with race seats and harnesses, roll cage and adjustable suspension fitted, it was also road-legal and so is strictly for the die-hard enthusiast. Hot on the heels of the VHPD came the 340R, which was unveiled at the 1998 British Motor Show. Perhaps the most extreme Elise variant ever, it was initially planned to be a regular production car, but ultimately just 340 examples were built, hence the name. In March 1999 the Elise Sprint appeared, but it was quickly rebadged the 111S, with a 143bhp version of the VVC K-Series engine. Variable valve timing was standard on this higher-powered unit, together with six-spoke alloys, additional rear spoiler and wider rear tyres. At the same time, the Sport 135 appeared, but just 50 were built, each with uprated brakes and suspension. These were instant collector’s items.
The final versions of the Series 1 Elise were released in May 2000. The Sport 160 produced 160bhp from a non- VVC version of the K Series engine; it also featured a higher rear wing and metallic grey five-spoke alloys. It was around this time that the dearer Exige went on sale. Effectively a fixedhead Elise, with a 177bhp version of the 340R powerplant, there was also the option of upgrading to 190bhp. Exige also featured a closer-ratio gearbox, while there was much more grippy downforce, thanks to a huge rear wing you just can’t miss. As well as these standard production editions, there were all sorts of special editions, such as the Type 49decked on old Lotus F1 colours, the Type 79 (in honour of the ‘Ground Effect’ 79 F1 car) and the GT1. All were built in tiny numbers but they all provided the same puredriving experience of the regular Elise but with more individuality – if that’s at all possible. Elises are going up in value and the days of a goodsub £8k car are disappearing in the rear view mirror. Forget the usual trade books, £9000 is the minimum for a straight, solid S1. And be quick as many of the 10,619 S1s are being snapped up by French and German enthusiasts, especially the base 18is, strangely. If you want something truly special, you can pay up to £13,000 for one of the last cars built, with a low mileage. Pricey but a good Elise will always hold its value. If you’d prefer an Exige, you’ll have to dig pretty deep, since just 500 examples of the S1 were made and they’ve held their value very well - it’s easy to spend £20,000 on one! Cars that have had official Lotus Motorsport parts fitted are usually worth more than standard versions.

Behind the wheel?

Although raw, the Lotus Elise is certainly no roughneck

Perhaps we should start this section by advising how to get behind the wheel because, with its high thick body sills and tiny pillar box opening with the hood erected, entry and egress certainly sorts out the athletic from the arthritic. Dignified it isn’t, but once you’ve got the knackclimbing in is not as bad as you’d think,  although perhaps you may not like enjoying the ritual every day of the week – especially oldies like our editor! There again, as you’d expect from Lotus, the Elise was designed with one thing in mind and that was to offer the best possible driving experience rather than creature comforts.With a mid-mounted engine for optimum weight distribution, plus light weight and stiffness courtesy of the special alloy superstructure, the Elise is one of the few cars that offers greater agility than the original Elan which is no mean feat. While most modern cars have controls that are too user-friendly, that’s not something which afflicts the Elise; driving experiences don’t come much more raw than this Lotus. The brakes – which don’t have the ‘benefit’ of antilocking – are perfectly weighted and so is the steering, while the driving position puts you right in the thick of the action. But, before you run away with the idea that the Elise is perfection, read on! Yes, those handling limits are way above what most mortals are ever likely to touch on the road but, in the wet, the Lotus can display a dark side and bite the hand that feeds it… with petrol and tyres! That much maligned K Series engine (which appears so much more reliable in the Lotus than when slotted midships in the MGF – but is it?) has all the power you need for such a lightweight car. In standard 1.8i trim you’re looking at supercar pace. According to Autocar, back in ‘96 a sub six-second blast to 60mph was on the cards, with ludicrous overtaking punch. A standard Elise is fast enough for the majority of owners yet, driven at a sane yet quick road pace, is still good for 30mpg. Indeed, gentler driving by owners has seen a diesel-like 40mpg achievable! Although raw, the Lotus is no roughneck. Creature comforts are minimal yet, true to Chapman’s design philosophy, a bone-jarring ride isn’t the result of such sublime handling. A radio was not standard, and you’d need a good system to drown out all the noise, yet the Elise is quite okay for touring and certainly no less obliging than a Caterham.

The Daily Option?

Being so modern, the Elise is suited for daily use –- so long as you don’t mind the awkward cockpit drill. Once inside it’s snug and comfortable while the heating and ventilation are miles better than with many classics, as you’d expect. The K-Series, if kept topped up with oil and water, is not as fickle as many are led to believe and is certainly flexible and economical. But, would you want to use an Elise every day and dilute that special feeling when you go out for a weekend treat, perhaps heading to the track where so many other owners take theirs to explore those amazing handling limits in safety? In fact, given that the Elise can be tricky on the limit, perhaps it’s best swallow your pride and take an advanced driving test, of which there are numerous around. Apart from learning to handle the car best, and so get the most enjoyment out of the it, this may also help reduce insurance premiums. Talking of insurance, not everybody treats the Elise as a classic yet, so you may need to shop around to gain an acceptable policy and price. That would be our first step if thinking of buying an Elise as you may be in for a shock… especially those under 30. As our editor keeps remarking on his advancing years, age does have some benefits!

Ease of Ownership?

Modern mechanicals may not lend themselves to hometinkering but they do, usually, ensure turn-key reliability and convenience. There are plenty of Lotus specialists around who deal in the Elise, as do several MGF experts. Apart from the usual complexities of electronics, the rest of the running gear is fairly conventional, although it would be wrong to say that the Elise is a DIY dream. Keep an eye on the coolant (low level warning systems are available – try Brown & Gammons), use top quality oil and treat it gently when cold and the K -Series should be as durable as any other modern powerplant.We know some owners even replace the head gasket (of which there are improved types available) as preventative maintenance; costly but can save a lot more in the long run. When checking a car out, an HPI check is a must as many are pranged on both road and track, let alone thrashed. Plus you don’t want a ringer stolen/sold on car either, do you? Accidents aside, the actual chassis and body assemblies are fairly durable, although there were some concerns about cosmetic surface corrosion of the footwells when new. Rear sub-frame rot is more serious still however, so check well. As with all out-of-the-ordinary cars, it can pay to have an expert vet a vehicle for you as the Elise can feel a bit floppy around 50,000miles – (see our buying advice box out) but would you notice?



Elise is introduced using hybrid chassis and 118bhp MGF-derived engine. Specification includes special Stack LCD instrument pack and Lotus/Nardi steering wheel. Options include leather trim and alarm/radio kits.


Elise Sport 190 (costing £33,500 new) announced boasting 190bhp and an adjustable suspension. GTI racing model surfaces with twin turbo 3.5 V8 or 6-litre Corvette engine option!


Elise Sport 135 joins line up. Based upon the 1.8i model but with a 135bhp engine tune and larger section rear tyres. Hard top is optional. Other specials around this time include Type 49 and Type 79 limited editions.


111S joins the ranks that March using higher powered MGF VVC engine for 143bhp. Power-steering with Pirelli P Zero tyres and carbon-fibre dash inserts are standard. Hard-top now optional.


Last of the S1 cars include the Elise Sport 160; the figure donating its engine power. 225/45 rear tyres are fitted. Hard-topped Exige offshoot is launched with 190bhp engine and racing rear spoiler.

We Reckon...

Comparisons with the Seven are inevitable although they are completely different beasts. Of course the Elise is much more suited to modern tastes yet it is as hardcore as the Seven in it’s own right and must rank as one of the best Lotuses ever made. If they ever make a modern take of The Prisoner, No6 should be driving an Elise in the first episode!

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