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Lotus Elise

MOD&MEND Published: 19th Apr 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
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Do you drive this great classic or are thinking of buying one? Here’s how to ensure that you get the best out of your car for years to come

Thanks to its simplistic make up, if not build, the Lotus Elise is considered the modern alternative to the classic Seven. And, while not as straightforward to maintain at home s that 1950’s design, the Elise can be serviced by a keen enthusiast at home and parts supply remains good; you an even take your car to the factory for rectification.

There’s a good crop of Elise specialists around: Bell & Colvill, Kelvedon for Lotus, Foulds Motors, Barry Ely, Morland Jones, Paul Matty, Plans Motorsport, Eliseparts.com, South West Lotus Centre and Lakeside Engineering so help isn’t far away. If you have the (sadly underrated) Vauxhall VX220 alternative then apart from the engine, a lot of this information also applies to your car.

1 ENGINE OUTPUT

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Although it’s an MGF engine, the Elise boasted higher power and over 300bhp is on the cards, according to some tuners! If you have a standard engine, then upping it to Sprint (MGF VVC), ‘160’ or ‘190’ (VHPD) using factory parts is a good move. A better induction system and 52mm throttle bodies is fi rst improvement that’s worth around 10bhp and smoother delivery, then look to a sporty exhaust system (5bhp) which can include ditching the cat before delving any deeper with a fully gas-fl owed head (around £300-£400).

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Being a K Series unit, naturally the head gasket is a major worry, although it seems failure isn’t as common as it is on the MGF – or are Lotus owners just more philosophical about them going pop? Improved types, such as the type fi tted to Chinese MGFs, are readily available and worth fi tting as preventative maintenance. And, if the head is wrecked, then bear in mind that it’s the same part fi tted to even the 1.4-litre engines (Metros Rover 200s) because valve sizes are all identical. They can be picked up very cheaply, although VVC heads are different.

2 ENGINE

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Cam changes on VVC engines means the variable timing system (which is prone to give trouble anyway) has to be de-activated. If you have a standard engine, then you can up it to around 140bhp by using a Power Train Products (PTP: 01455 622229) kit for £531. This includes a pair of high-lift camshafts for better low rev grunt. If you’re after a fi nished car that can be used on the road as well as the track, you should aim for a hairier 170bhp and as a rough guide, expect to pay up to £4000 achieve around this output. Don’t make it too ‘peaky’ advises Lotus guru Paul Matty.

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There’s not much stretch from the 1.8, and 1900cc is about the limit but we’ve heard of other engines being installed, such as Honda and Audi powerplants, plus later cars used Toyota units. Keep the cooling system in tip-top shape; an uprated rad is a wise step and, for around £100, you can fi t a low coolant warning light that gives you precious time. MGF experts Brown and Gammons sell ‘em.

3 FRONT SUSPENSION

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Junking the standard dampers – which don’t last very long anyway – for better quality 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 fi t the Bilstein units from the later S2 Elise if you like and it’s a good cost effective move. Faster steering racks are available, as is a special drop link which replaces the existing one, resulting in a slack-free movement of the anti-roll bar.

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The car’s lightweight nature means certain parts don’t wear too well. For example, ball joints (£25 a pop) in the front suspension peter out after just 35,000 miles, while stock dampers can last just 20,000 miles if the car is used hard. And once these need replacing, the car’s dynamics suffer badly – test drive another example and compare. If you’ve just bought an Elise and it feels wonky, have the geometry checked, preferably by a Lotus expert. Oh and the dampers are fi tted ‘upside down’ on purpose…

4 BODY AND CHASSIS

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There’s a fair old scope for customising but the rarity of S1 cars means that originality will always rule. There was a rare aftermarket gull-wing hard-top made but few were sold – try an owners’ club. The clamshell front end can be replaced at home but it’s a £1000+ job so you might want to localise repairs. You may want to ditch the stuck-down plastic matting as it can hide corrosion; Lotus marketed some special acid to clean the fl oor as it’s really only cosmetic but keep a watch on it all the same…

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The biggest worry of course is past accident damage. If the car has been poorly repaired, the fl oor will be rippled and the rear sub-frame may be cracked. A major impact will probably have twisted the chassis; the only way to fi x it properly is to completely rebuild the car, which even given the increasing value of S1s, is unlikely to be economically viable.

5 BRAKES

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Because the original MMC (Metal Matrix Composite) pads are no longer available you need to fi t aftermarket types, which is no bad thing as performance types from EBC, Pagid and Mintex work well, although cast discs now need to be fi tted, too. There is an exotic four pot AP kit that’s like hitting a wall but costs some £1500. Alternatively, you can fi t upgrades from later higher power Elises.

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There’s nothing to trick you here, although disc wear can be high and callipers have been known to seize – most common on little-used classics and track-day cars. There’s no ABS of course and we don’t know of anybody fi tting one. Wheel bearings take a hammering due to high cornering speeds and typically they are £70 from a dealer or almost two-thirds cheaper elsewhere…

6 TRANSMISSION

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Essentially it’s an MGF transmission but Lotus also played around with ratios. It’s generally agreed that the closer ratio box fi tted to the 111S, and best of all the 135 Sport, have the best set of cogs, although the ‘shorter’ fi fth gear makes high speed cruising more frantic. There’s a six-speed conversion from Komo-tec who crams in an extra cog in your existing modifi ed ‘box but it costs some £5000.

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The clutch and synchromesh take a pounding, while the gear change can become sloppy, like the MGFs. The pedal can also become loose or sticky. Keep the bushes (which also wear on the brake and throttle) lubed with WD-40 or you can fi t 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.

7 REAR SUSPENSION

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Like the front, general wear, a biff with a kerb and ill-aligned wheels from fast-fi ts can make an Elise feel odd, so you must sort this out before any improvements – most cars need some fi ne tuning here say Elise experts. Upgrades should start with better adjustable dampers and poly bushing the ssupension’s joints, although don’t go over mad here. Uprated rear tie link kits are available as are tailored damper/spring kits which are preferable to mixing and matching. Speak to an Elise expert fi rst on best set up for road or track work as they aren’t the same thing which is adjustables come into their own.

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Biggest worries here are cracked or rusty subframes, but the most common fault is 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’ which is not nice at speed! As with the front, the Lotus benefi ts from a full geometry check and reset as many cars are out of sorts in this department.

8 TYRES AND WHEELS

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Good quality tyres make an enormous difference to how an Elise handles, so don’t skimp here, especially for track day work. Pirelli P Zero were original fi tment (185/15 front, 205 16 rear and 225s on higher powered cars). Other types are available but not all are suited to the chassis, so consult a Lotus expert before spending a lot of money. For example, Yokohama Advan A03A road/track tyres are super – in the dry! Plus they have the geometry checked to suit the new tyres as well.

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Offi cial S1 rims are no longer available so you’ll have to have yours refurbished or seek out a set via eBay etc. Be warned, their rarity means that values will soar so if you come across a bargain set – grab them now. Failing this you of course can fi t a wide range of aftermarket alternatives. Although they look different, Vauxhall VX 220 rims will obviously do the job.

9 INTERIOR

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Well there’s not a lot you can alter is there, yet amazingly there’s a wide choice of bling around such as snazzier door handles and window winders, carbon seats and steering wheels, decorative alloy rings for the Peugeot-sourced switch gear and sportier track day gear and hand brake levers. A German ‘Twin temp’ box adjusts heating and ventilation system to suit.

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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 fi t) 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 if you ever stumble across them).



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