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Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise Published: 7th Jun 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise

Fast Facts

  • Best model: S1
  • Worst model: Anything suspect
  • Budget buy: S2
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Spares situation: Patchy
  • DIY ease?: Average
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: S1s are
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A true modern classic sportster
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Thoroughly modern Lotus that belies its age and is still one of the greatest drivers’ cars ever and reliability is generally fine if you buy a good one although there are abused examples that can catch out the unwary

Twenty years ago Lotus was in another of its regular perilous positions. The racing team was now just pages in the history books while its last car launch, the Elan M100, flopped spectacularly, albeit mainly down to its high price and the advent of the original Elan cloned Mazda MX-5, than shortcomings in its design concept. This left just the mellowing Esprit, launched 20 years before in 1976 based upon a chassis design ten years previously – strange for such a forward thinking, forward looking company! Thank goodness for the Elise, a driver-focused back-tobasics sports car of the Lotus Seven mould that recently reached the 50,000 mark, such is the model’s popularity.

Uncompromising as a good old fashioned sports car should be, but modern where it matters, such as passive safety abd reliability, it’s not surprising that many regard this Lotus as the perfect modern classic and that includes long-standing Lotus buyers who are now happy to pay on average £14,000 for a good Mk1 – and values will only go higher. A great car then but as with all Hethel heroes, you need to be careful when buying.


1996 Launched as a mid-engined sports car using a racing-style chassis powered by a 118bhp 16-valve fuel-injected Roversourced K-Series engine. Alloy wheels, immobiliser and cloth trim standard, but no carpets, anti lock brakes etc.

1998 Higher powered 187bhp 190 VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) launched. Although it was built more as a track day special, complete with race seats and harnesses, roll cage and adjustable suspension, it was road-legal and loved because of it. Hot on the heels came the track derived 340R. Launched at the British Motor Show it is the most extreme Elise variant of all, it was initially planned to be a regular production car, but ultimately only 340 examples surfaced so they’re already a modern classic.

1999 In March the Elise Sprint appeared, but it was quickly rebadged the 111S, using the 143bhp version of the VVC K-Series engine with its variable valve timing. Six-spoke alloys, additional rear spoiler and wider rear tyres are fitted. At the same time, the Sport 135 appeared, but just 50 were built, each equipped with uprated brakes and suspension.

2000 Final versions of the Series 1 Elise are released; 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 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 if the 0-60mph time of just 4.7 seconds was a bit on the slow side. The Exige also featured a close-ratio gearbox while there was much more downforce thanks to a huge rear wing. Another significant difference over the Elise was the steering, which was more direct thanks to a fresh steering rack, giving just 2.3 turns between locks.

As well as these standard production editions, there were all sorts of special editions such as the Type 49, Type 79 and GT1. All built in tiny numbers, they all provided the same pure driving experience of the regular Elise – which means plenty of smiles per mile.
2001 S2 introduced with a cleaner look and raft of improvements to the chassis and running gear, the chief change being the adoption of Toyota power units gradually displacing Rover ones due to emissions. This Elise has further evolved with high performance derivatives and this includes supercharged versions.


Unlike the now luxurious Esprit, Elise was designed with one thing in mind and that was to offer the best possible driving experience above anything else. With a mid-mounted engine for perfect poise, plus light weight and stiffness courtesy of the alloy superstructure, this Lotus is one of the few cars that tops the original Elan and the super Seven – which is no mean a feat.

Raw best sums up the drive. The brakes, sans the ‘benefit’ of ABS, are perfectly weighted and so is the non assisted steering which is so direct and communicative that you feel you are in an oversized go-kart, while the driving position with its rife-bolt gearchange and pedal perfection puts you right in the thick of the action – and nothing outside a full on racer puts you in the thick of it making every road drive a qualifying lap!

Then there’s the performance. In an MGF that K-Series engine goes well but in the much lighter Elise it’s nothing short of sensational – and that’s just the standard model! Yet the car’s pure efficiency means that 40mpg isn’t hard to achieve even when enjoying yourself.

However, there’s one downside to all this, and that’s the car’ lack of practicality. You might rightly say that the Elise isn’t about things as mundane as practicality, but after getting out of the car at the end of a long, fast journey with your ears ringing, and you might not be so enamoured. And then there’s the contorted exercise of getting in the cockpit. The Elise may be more usable than a Seven, but the Elise is really little more than a driving toy unless you’re able to travel very light when you go away, and you don’t mind the constant wind, road and mechanical noise. In short you have to be as hard core as the car – or treat it as a weekend plaything, which is what we’d prefer not simply to save the car but also the driver from wear. Like a 911, you have to be in the mood to pilot this Lotus and, like that Porsche, the Elise doesn’t take kindly to ham-fisted driving.

If anything the S2 is the much better, more civilsied car, especially once Toyota engines took over and that’s the view of leading Lotus specialists such as Paul Matty. And yet it’s the S1 which is the most wanted. Ditto the blood related Astrapowered Vauxhall VX220 which is the best of them all being kinder on the limit and has a slightly better ride – but alas, it bears the wrong badge!

Not surprisingly, the press simply adored the Elise from the word go and had scant negative to say about it – a case of the king’s new clothes? Not really it really is that good, and Evo magazine summed the car up the best saying; “The only way to get an Elise-like experience is to drive an Elise. Nothing else comes close”.


Paul Matty of Paul Matty Sportscars has been looking after Lotuses for some 40 years and recently told us that interest in the badge has gone mad; “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he enthused and added that even hitherto unloved models such as the 900 Series Elites and Eclats are increasing in value and finding buyers. And with the Elise now celebrating 20 years of production, marked by Lotus launching a special edition, there are few ‘bargains’ around. “If you have some money in a tin under the bed doing nothing, put it in a Lotus in 2016,” he advises.

Prices of early Elises started to notably climb a couple of years ago, not helped by a hungry market overseas, especially in Germany. As a result you’ll get little change from ten grand for a decent example. True, you’ll see some cheaper but these will be well worn or crash repaired and so a money pit. And if you want something truly special you can pay £15,000-£20,000 and more which comfortably exceeds the values of early Series 2 cars, which common sense says is arguably the way to go.

If you’d prefer an Exige, you’ll have to dig pretty deep as just 500 examples of the S1 were made and they’ve held their value very well. It’s easy to spend £25,000 on one. It’s the same with the 340R, with just 340 examples built, values are the same and so is the caveat about engine life.

Cars that sport official Lotus Motorsport parts fitted are usually worth more than completely standard cars yet on the other hand models decked out with unknown aftermarket parts will normally be worth less than a standard model.

Bear in mind that, as the years roll on, originality will become far more important than outright performance. Madcap engine conversions using Audi or Honda power are extremely difficult to value – and insure!

If there’s a fly in the ointment then it could be parts supply which remains patchy but Paul Matty says there’s very little he can’t get hold of. Maldon, Essex-based specialist Barry Ely adds factory parts comes in drips and drabs; Elise front indicators have been unavailable for a year, and as a result used ones are worth in excess of new prices, for example…


The best ‘improvement’ is to have a car properly serviced and set up (particularly the suspension) by a good Elise expert as many are out-of sorts and unless you know Elises you’d hardly know the difference – although you will on the drive home!

By the same token, many cars run on a shoestring roll and slide about on cheap tyres, which not only ruin all the good work done by Lotus but make any tuning pointless unless they are changed for some recommended rubber.

The K-Series engine is very tunable either by using Lotus spec parts or the aftermarket. Sprint model uses shorter fifth gear ratio plus there’s even a (Komo-tec) six-speed conversion, but it costs £4000.

Uprated rear tie link kits are available as are tailored damper/spring kits, but speak to an Elise expert first on best set up for road or track as they aren’t the same. Junking the standard dampers – which don’t last very long and are probably past their prime – for adjustables is a good move but know your shox; standard issue were red Konis. Yellow usually means that the car has the optional Lotus sports suspension pack. You can fit the Bilstein units from the later S2 Elise if you like. Faster steering racks are available, as is a drop link which replaces the existing one, for a slack-free movement of the antiroll bar. Even faster steering racks are available, although hardly needed for road as they can make the car feel too darty.

Because the original MMC (Metal Matrix Composite) pads are no longer available you need to fit aftermarket types, which is no bad thing as performance types from EBC, Pagid and Mintex. There is an exotic four-pot AP kit that’s like hitting a brick wall but costs some £1500. Alternatively, you can fit upgrades from higher power Elises.

Tuning the K-Series Rover engine is best done by following what Lotus achieved in the first place, we reckon. Then, as first step, opt for a better induction system coupled with 52mm throttle bodies that’s worth around 10bhp, before swapping the exhaust system for a typical 5bhp gain – this can include ditching the restrictive cat– before delving any deeper with a gas-flowed head (around £300-£400). If the head is wrecked, then bear in mind that it’s the same part fitted to 1.4-litre engines (Metros etc.) as valve sizes are all the same but VVC heads are different.

Camshaft changes on VVC engines means that the variable timing system has to be de-activated. If you have a standard engine, then you can up it to a good enough 140bhp care of a Power Train Products (PTP: 01455 622229) kit costing around £540 that includes two high-lift camshafts yet is said to provide better low rev grunt at the same time.

If you’re after a car that can be used on the road as well as the track, you can aim for usable 170bhp but don’t make it too ‘peaky’ advises Lotus guru Paul Matty and expect to pay up to £4000 to this. Some cars feature Audi TT or Honda engines which can be certainly heroically fast but are matter of taste.


In the nicest possible way. Lotus offers a Certificate of Provenance available for all models from the Seven onwards. The certificate includes (depending upon info available) the full VIN, model and variant, original engine and gearbox serial numbers, body and trim colours, optional extras ordered, build date and even the original dealer/ distributor dispatched to. These are priced from £40-£50 including postage depending upon information available. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or telephone 01603 732178.

What To Look For



  • If the car has been pranged and poorly repaired, the floor will be rippled and the rear subframe may display cracks. A major impact will have twisted the chassis; the only way to fix it properly is to completely rebuild the car, which won’t be economically viable.

  • A sure sign that the car has been whacked out of shape is a set of tyres that have worn badly and unevenly. The suspension geometry can be easily knocked out of true.

  • The alloy undertray can also get bashed about. Look for buckling or impact damage.

  • Rear subframe corrode, so get underneath and check. Just the part is over £500, and fitting it is a major task.

  • The roof is surprisingly complex considering how basic it appears, and it can also tear all too easily. Whatever the weather is doing, make sure you remove and refit the roof, to check that all the components are present and correct.




  • The K-Series is famous for its ability to overheat, partly because of its design and partly because of the small coolant capacity. However, in the Elise it’s less prone to giving problems, but you still need to make sure there are no signs of it previously having overheated, so check for that tell-tale mayonnaise-like substance on the underside of the oil filler cap. Also take a look at the level of the coolant, because Elise radiators can be rather fragile. That’s why even if the coolant is up to the mark, you still need to check for signs of coolant at the base of the radiator.

  • Head gaskets aside, the standard powerplants are pretty reliable if serviced right and the coolant kept up to spec, but the more high-performance such as the 190 VHPD, 340R and Exige, derivatives can be worn out within 50,000 miles. Look for signs of oil being burned (blue smoke from the exhaust under acceleration) suggesting that the piston rings and cylinder bores have worn.



  • The transmission is strong, and thanks to the car’s low weight there’s no reason for a high-mileage car to be suffering problems if it’s been driven with any skill and consideration.

  • The pedals can also become loose or sticky. Keep the bushes (which also wear on the brake and throttle) lubed with WD-40 or you can fit the post-1999 nylon type with stainless pivot which cures it. If your car still has a ‘red’ clutch hose, it should be replaced; try an uprated alternative for better feel while you’re at it.

  • Differentials will whine if the car has been subjected to too many emergency standing starts while gear selection will be tricky if the synchromesh has worn. However, don’t confuse the latter with simply a badly adjusted gear linkage; if you struggle to select any ratios even when you take things slowly and skilfully, then more than likely it’ll be because the linkages are all out of kilter.




  • A decent 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 high-performance 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 enthusiastic owner who has probably looked after the car properly.

  • Drive as many as you can to set a datum as they can vary hugely yet still feel fast and fabulous…

  • If you are not sure, break the bank and buy from a good Lotus specialist as they won’t touch the dodgy stuff and will be the cheapest and most stress-free way to go in the long run.

  • The special cloth seats aren’t too hardy but thankfully replacements are available, custom or original. The simplistic hood can be frequently damaged at the front and back by ill handling (it is a sod to fit) but Lotus offered cost effective repairs. Broken switchgear? Seek out Peugeot 205 items, Vauxhall Astra stalks, while the door mirrors are Metro-sourced (best buy them when you stumble across them as you don’t know when you’ll need them and be a fair old plus selling point).

  • If the engine is sick, the good news is that K-Series units can be bought for a song and the cylinder heads on non VVC units – including 1.4-litre Metros – used the same valve sizes so parts are readily available.

  • That said the availability of some parts, and this includes minor items such as light lenses can be extremely patchy which is why you see high prices asked on eBay for certain bits.




  • Steering racks typically wear out within 35,000 miles, so check for play in the system to see if a new one is needed – faster racks can be fitted if desired.

  • Ball joints (£25 a pop) in the front suspension wear out after 35,000 miles, while dampers can last just 20,000 miles, especially if the car is used hard or on the track.

  • 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 – but aftermarket types can affect used values.

  • Brake discs wear if the car is driven hard, and they rust if the car isn’t used very often. Either way, check their condition as they may need renewing. Certain brake items initially used are no longer available so speak to an Elise expert on best alternatives.

  • Wheel bearings can take a hammering due to high cornering speeds – typically they are £70 from a dealer or almost two-thirds cheaper elsewhere.

  • General wear and ill-aligned wheels can make an Elise feel odd. Uprated rear tie link kits are available as are tailored damper/spring kits which are preferable to mixing and matching, but speak to an Elise expert first on best set up for road or track as they aren’t the same.

  • Biggest worries here are cracked or rusty subframes, but the most common fault are worn tie rod links and ball joints, which will rattle and clonk as well as making the rear feel ‘loose’. If the links dry out and wear it can, in extreme cases, seize and snap causing the wheel to turn 90 degrees – not nice at any speed!

  • S1 rims are no longer available so you’ll have to have yours professionally refurbished or seek out a set via eBay etc. However be warned, their rarity means that values will soar so if you come across a bargain set – grab them while you can.

  • Elises are highly critical to tyres and the geometry – does car feel strange? However, it can also point to chassis distortion due to an accident so check here first!

Three Of A Kind

Built alongside the S2 Elise, the VX220 remains overlooked due to the badge, yet it’s the better yet cheaper car plus can be fixed at Vauxhall dealers. More relaxing to drive, Astra engine has more torque than Lotus unit, while the wider track make the handling characteristics less edgy. Equipment levels also tend to be higher, while a seriously fast Turbo was offered, with revised suspension for tamer handling. Try one first.
Well, it uses the same engine and is also mid-engined although doesn’t offer anything like the raw thrills of the Elise. But MGFs are dirt cheap to buy and more practical. Best buy is a non-VVC manual model, as the automatic CVT is nasty, unreliable and mega dear to fix and the VVC engine goes out of tune too easily. Chassis needs proper setting up (ride heights, geometry etc) and the car lacks stamina all round.
As the Elise did for Lotus, the Boxster similarly saved Porsche around the same time and you can buy this sportster that has the character and feel of an old 911 for around £3000. There’s lots to choose from and all generally drive great, even the base 2.5 model which some say lacks power – all 200bhp of it. Boxsters are expensive to repair and a DIY nightmare, so buy with care and go on condition rather than cheap price.


If an uncompromising sports car is your sort of classic, but you now find that the super Seven just too hard core and primative, then an Elise is the perfect solution. Keep an open mind on what one to buy as condition counts more than spec and for the same reason don’t hang out for an S1 if you find an ideal S2 on your travels. Or a Vauxhall VX220 for that matter…

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