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Lotus Elise

Published: 16th Aug 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise
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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Steve Rowe remembers the cars, the tuners and the tweaks and tells why they’re still hot!

The Elise fi rst went on sale in July 1996 and quickly established itself as the ‘new’ Caterham as well as one of the greatest modern sports car ever. With an 118bhp 16-valve fuel-injected K-Series engine taken from the MGF, and also mid-mounted, it set a standard few rivals have ever matched. The fi rst offi cial high-performance model arrived in March 1998, when the Elise 190 VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) went on sale, with 187bhp. It was built more the track than the road, with race seats and harnesses, roll cage and adjustable suspension. The most extreme Elise derivative fi rst appeared at the 1998 British motor show. The 340R offered perhaps the most raw and focused driving experience ever to have come out of Lotus. While it was initially planned to be a regular production car, just 340 examples were built in the end. In March 1999 the Elise Sprint went on sale, although few were built. That’s because the model went on to become the 111S, which was a regular production model, complete with a 143bhp version of the VVC K-Series engine (slightly less than MG quoted incidentally). The fi nal incarnations of the Series 1 Elise were released in May 2000. The Sport 160 squeezed 160bhp from a non-VVC version of the K-Series powerplant. Along the way there were also versions such as the Type 49, Type 79 and GT1. All of these were built in tiny numbers, offering the same pure driving experience of the regular car but difering cosmetics. By the end of 2000 the Series 1 was obsolete, superseded by the Series 2.

Get One Now

The point that we’re making here is that there’s a wide choice of offi cially tuned models anyway which may be a better bet than tuning a base model, if you are intending to buy an Elise to further electrify. For that reason, too, be very wary of highly modifi ed examples, such as those used exclusively for track days, as they’re usually thrashed mercilessly and will probably be in poor shape – or worst of all previously pranged.Buy this Lotus on condition, above all else. Cars that have had offi cial Lotus Motorsport parts fi tted are usually worth more than completelystandard versions. However, an Elise decked out with parts produced by unknown aftermarket suppliers will normally be worth less than a standard car unless it’s really good. Accident damage is the biggest worry because, once the frame has been distorted in any way, the whole thing has to be replaced. If it isn’t, not only is the car’s structure adversely affected, but crucially it’ll never handle as well as it ought to, even when repaired. Look for evidence of buckling or rippling, mismatched adhesives or any signs of welding attempts. With the car on a ramp, inspect thealuminum fl oor for signs of damage. If rippled or buckled it’s because of an impact at some point. And don’t forget to check to see if the steel subframe, has corroded. It’s the only signifi cant piece of steel used in the car, and has been known to corrode. It is replaceable, but the part on its own is a hefty enough £500. Take a look at the tread wear patterns of all four tyres. There should be even wear across the width of all tyres (185/55x15 up front and 305/50/16 at the rear): if there isn’t, it’s probably because the wheels aren’t all pointing in the same direction. This could be because the tracking is out, but it’s quite possible that the car has been clouted, throwing everything out and diffi cult to put right. If it’s just tracking then take it to a Lotus Elise specialist. For around £100 it will really improve high speed handling. Lesser woes are worn steering racks and ball joints, deteriorating rear suspension bushes, shot brakes and damaged alloys (they aren’t available anymore new). We’ve left the best bit until last and that’s the K Series engine, which is prone to break due to head gasket failure and problems with the variable valve timing.

Hotting One Up

First job is to decide what you want to put the car through – fast road use only, or track days and competition use? If it’s the latter, then you’ll trade off day-to day refi nement for a harsher ride and tauter feel. Second step, make sure that the engine is in good order – hard used ones can be worn at 50,000 miles and it’s no good tuning a clapped out engine. It’s essential that the cooling system is in tip-top shape; invest in new coolant pipes and perhaps an uprated radiator (see our cooling feature elsewhere in this issue). For many, a well set up engine may be more than poky enough, so have a good Lotus expert service the car. The cylinder head is a good design, even if the valve sizes are the same as on the 1.4-litre engine fi tted to the Rover 200, although well over 200bhp is achievable. Better breathing is the fi rst step by way of an induction kit from the likes of Pipercross and K&N which is a good cost effective mod. A stage further is to fi t 52mm throttle body; these not only provide more power but are better made than the standard design. You can buy a Pipercross PK Induction Kit from around £85 and a 52mm Alloy Throttle Body for £150. With these fi tted you’ll notice a small increase in power and torque but, if you’re making these modifi cations, you’ll also want to add a decent exhaust system. Specialists such as Power Train Products (PTP: 01455 622229) will be able to supply stainless steel performance exhausts (as well as the induction components mentioned above). Although it doesn’t have to travel far to exit the car, the exhaust system still has several components, including the manifold, link pipe, Cat and silencer. You don’t have to replace all the components and could keep the existing Cat and manifold and just add a performance silencer. We spoke to Steve Morland, of Lotus specialists Morland Jones (020 8741 2303), and he explained that the various components can become seized together over time, making it hard to separate them. For instance, the connecting pipe can be hard to remove from the end of the manifold. Often sections have to be heated up to help free the connections. In the worst case, you might have to replace the manifold as well.

PTP sells all the exhaust components, with, for example, a Sports Cat for the S1 Elise costing £285, plus a Janspeed Supersport Exhaust Silencer costing £489. With a complete upgraded system you might get another 5bhp, but you’re also likely to get improved mid-range torque, plus a lovely exhaust note! PTP also sells a performance upgrade kit for £531 that includes two highlift, long-duration camshafts. This takes power from 120bhp to 140bhp, with improved torque giving better low-end grunt. To fi nd out about more serious upgrades, we spoke to Lotus specialist Paul Matty Sportscars (01527 835 656). If you’re after a car that can be used on the road as well as the track, you can aim for 170bhp. For this you’ll typically need to change to a performance head with bigger valves, plus performance camshaft, but you’ll have to change the ECU at the same time. Many people choose an ECU from leading specialist Emerald, which will typically cost £600, but you may have to pay another £500 or so to have it set up and mapped to suit your car. You’ll also want to look at a performance exhaust upgrade. As a rough guide, expect to pay up to £4000 to upgrade your Elise in this way, to around 170bhp.

Anything above this power level and the experts at Paul Matty say that the engines become quite ‘cammy’ so not really suitable for normal road use. If you want even more power, for use as a pure track car, it’s possible to bore the K-Series engine out to 1900cc and one owner who has done this is getting around 240bhp, but this isn’t a cheap option once you’ve added up the cost of all the extras needed to get the best from the engine.

However, at this level, most owners look at changing the engine. There are several options here. One is to go for the VHPD 190 1.8-litre K-Series strip engine, which is a direct replacement for the engine used in the Elise Sport 190. This produces just under 190bhp and features a nitro-carburised crankshaft, with forged pistons, rods and crankshaft, plus many other upgrades (check the website of PTP for full spec: www. ptp-ltd.co.uk). You can buy one of these units from PTP for £5589. Owners have also been known to fit the 20v turbo engine from VW/Audi into their Elises with good effect. For the ultimate Elise, some owners have also fi tted Honda Type R engines. The standard Honda I-VTEC engine produces 220bhp, so is well up on the K-Series unit, but some then supercharge this unit to produce 300bhp! For best results, this engine is mated to a Honda six-speed close-ratio gearbox and a limited slip differential. With the Honda engine, an Elise becomes a real supercar, with a four-second 0-60 time and a top speed around 160mph. Expect to pay just under £9000 for a complete professional conversion. Website http://www.hondaelise.com has details of companies that can carry out this conversion for you. Good luck with that one!

How Did It Drive?

There are several keys to the Elise’s astonishing abilities, but the most important one is weight. At just 690kg, that’s over a third less than an MGF, the car with which it shares the K-Series engine. So it’s not surprising that the Elise, even in basic tune, simply fl ies and its point-to point performance may be more than enough for many. In terms of performance that power to weight ratio means that, even in standard trim, an Elise can post a 0-60 mph sprint in under six seconds and truck on to well over 120mph, yet still return the right side of 40mpg on the road. Thanks to its mid-mounted engine, the car is beautifully balanced, with the steering verging on the telepathic. While most modern sports cars tend to have controls that are dulled, the Elise is a tactile delight that connects the driver directly to the road. Handling is a mid-range thrill; it’s pure racer like in terms of feel and speed but on the limit the Elise can bite – as many have discovered! Braking system is devoid of any fancy gizmos so, again, treat with respect in the wet and do learn the black art of Cadence Braking, won’t you?

Handling The Power...

Before any mods and upgrades are carried out, we cannot stress the importance and cost effectiveness of fi rst having the chassis checked and set up by a known Elise expert. It may cost £100 or so, but there’s no benefi t of super-dooper dampers and so on if all four wheels are pointing in different directions. It may turn out that’s all your Elise needs to corner sublimely anyway. Renewing the dampers is a good fi rst step as they usually peter out at around 20,000 miles anyway. Know your shox; standard issue were red Koni units. Yellow Konis 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, or go for off-the shelf adjustables. Before you move on to the springing, remember that Lotus engineers are some of the very best in the business and took years to fi ne-tune the Elise. In other words, you could ruin the car’s already sublime handling by fi tting an unsuitable set up. Speak to an Elise specialist fi rst as for road use it’s not really necessary. Similarly, with a car weighing so little, there’s no need to mad on the braking department. Indeed, apart from the earliest cars, Elises used plain cast iron discs. When choosing uprated brake pads, note that with no servo or ABS fi tted you don’t want to go too hard as pedal pressure may become unduly high. EBC’s Green Stuff pads are the fi rst step, and see how you go from there, followed by its straight replacement GD and USR Series discs. Apart from the fact that both look really sexy – especially the black-coated USR type they are also said to offer tangible benefi ts such as more uniform wear rates, enhanced dissipation of water dust and dirt and improved pad ‘degassing’. Other brake conversions are available, of course. Good tyres make all the difference to how an Elise handles so anything less than top rubber is essential. The upgraded tyre that most owners opt for is the Yokohama Advan Neova AD06 motorsport tyre. This is the tyre that’s offi cially recognised by Lotus and available from its outlets. It’s wider and with a different tread pattern, plus a stickier tread than standard tyres, making it better in both wet and dry conditions. Expect to pay £108 each for front tyres and £120 for the rears.



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