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Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise Published: 23rd Mar 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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

The Lotus Elise is considered the modern alternative to the classic Seven and while not as straightforward to maintain at home as that 1950’s design, this Lotus can be confidently serviced by a keen enthusiast at home with normal tools and parts supply remains ok; you can even take your car to the factory for rectification. There’s a healthy crop of Elise specialists around: Bell & Colvill, Kelvedon, Foulds Motors, Barry Ely, Hanger 111, Paul Matty, Plans Motorsport, Eliseparts.com, South West Lotus Centre, Lakeside Engineering and Allon White, for example, so help isn’t far away. The best cars are those that have had a few sympathetic upgrades rather than wholesale replacement of major parts as some aftermarket modifications can make an Elise much worse instead of better. After all, when the base vehicle is as good as this, you need to be careful before meddling with the mix…

1. Engine output

 

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Although an MGF engine, Elise boasted higher power and using factory parts is a logical move. A better induction set up plus (TF) 52mm throttle bodies is first step that’s worth around 10bhp and a smoother delivery. Then add a sporty exhaust system (worth 5bhp) which can include ditching the cat before delving any deeper with a fully gas-flowed head (around £300- £400). Due to restrictive nature of the K4 ECU, engine upgrade packages have been not popular on the S2 says elites.co.uk but Power Train Products and Thielert has certain tweaks and packages.

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Being a K-Series unit, head gasket is a major concern, although failure isn’t as common as it is on the MGF – or are Lotus owners just more philosophical? Improved types, such as the gasket fitted to later Chinese MGFs, are readily available as preventative maintenance (£38 from Eliseparts. com) as are better rads. If the head is wrecked, bear in mind it’s the same part found even on the 1.4-litre engines (Metros, Rover 200s) because valve sizes are identical and they can be picked up very cheaply, although VVC heads are different.

2. Engine

 

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Cam changes on VVCs means the variable timing system has to be de-activated. If you have a standard engine, you can up it to around 140bhp by using a Power Train Products (PTP: 01455 622229) kit, also DVA Power offers number of 1.8 K-Series packages. If you’re after a road and track car, aim for 170bhp. Don’t make it too ‘peaky’ advises Lotus guru Paul Matty. Later S2s used Toyota MR2 units: 189bhp (N/A) engine or 218bhp supercharged (SC) plus there’s also the 134bhp S.

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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 to good effect such, such as Honda and Audi (V8) powerplants where almost 400bhp was obtained. Toyota VVTi engine can have serious oil drinking (bore wear) and noise issues. Keep the cooling system in shape; an uprated rad is a wise step and, for under £120 (from MG experts Brown and Gammons), fit a low coolant warning light that provides precious time to pull over.

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 fit 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, replacing the existing one, resulting in a slack-free movement of the anti-roll bar.

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Certain parts don’t wear too well and need replacing. For example, new steering racks cost £320, 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 require replacing, the car’s dynamics suffer badly – test drive another example and compare. If you’ve just bought an Elise and it feels a bit wonky, have the geometry checked, by nothing less than a Lotus expert. Oh, and the dampers are fitted ‘upside down’ – on purpose…

4. Body and chassis

 

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There’s a fair old scope for customising such as air splitters, more purposeful looking spoilers, body kits, quick release service panel kits etc (look for Belgian Alvan and Austostyle Solutions products) but the rarity of S1 cars means that originality will always rule. There was a rare aftermarket gull-wing hard-top made but very few were sold (quality issues) – try an owners’ club. The clamshell front end can be replaced at home but it’s a £1500+ job so you might want to try to localise repairs first.

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The biggest worry of course is past accident damage. If the car has been poorly repaired, the floor will invariably be rippled (easy to spot) and the rear sub-frame may be cracked (more difficult). A major impact will probably have twisted the chassis; the only way to repair it properly is to completely rebuild the car. You may want to ditch the stuck-down plastic matting as it can hide corrosion; it’s really only cosmetic but keep a watch on it all the same. Official factory Lotus protecters for vulnerable stone chip areas are cheap at under £30.

5. Brakes

 

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Original MMC (Metal Matrix Composite) pads no longer available which is no bad thing as performance types from EBC, Pagid and Mintex work as well, although cast discs now need to be fitted. Elise-shop.com offers full set of Greenstuff pads for £88 and £118 for the front discs; rears cost same. Four pot AP kit is a bit like hitting a wall but costs some £1500. Alternatively, upgrade from later, Elises.

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There’s nothing to trick you here, although disc wear can be high (especially if used on track) and callipers have been known to seize – mostly more common on little-used classics and track-day cars. There’s no ABS of course and we don’t know of anybody fitting 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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MGF transmission but Lotus played around with the ratios. The close ratio 111S, and the 135 Sport, have best set of cogs, albeit their ‘shorter’ fifth makes high speed cruising more frantic although ideal for track. There’s a six-speed from Komo-tec who crams in an extra cog in your existing ’box; speak to Elise experts Hanger 111 about this. Uprated clutch hose has better feel and longevity.

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Clutch and synchromesh take a pounding, while the gearchange can become sloppy, rather like MGFs; Eliseparts has a better linkage upgrade for under £40. The pedal can also become loose or sticky. Keep pedal box bushes (which also wear on the brake and throttle) lubed with WD-40 or fit post-1999 nylon type which seems to cure it. ‘Red’ clutch hose should be replaced by now. .

7. Rear suspension

 

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As with the front, general wear, a biff with a kerb and ill-aligned wheels can make an Elise feel odd, so you must sort this out before any improvements – most cars need some fine tuning, say Elise experts. Upgrades should start with better adjustable dampers and poly bushing 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 first of all on the best set up for road or track work as they aren’t the same thing.

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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 while rare is not nice at speed! As with the front, the Lotus benefits from a full geometry check and reset as many cars are out of sorts in this department – it’s £150 or less but is money well spent.

8. Tyres and wheels

 

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Quality tyres make a huge difference to how any Elise handles, so don’t skimp here, especially for track days. Toyo, Yokohama, Khumo and Dunlop are the popular choices; other types are available but not all are particularly suited to the chassis, so consult a Lotus expert or an owners’ forum before spending a lot of money on the wrong rubber. Plus have the geometry checked to suit as an odd vibration or resonance can set in, leading to early wear of ball joints, wishbones, etc warns Elise experts Hanger 111.

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Factory S1 rims are no longer available so you’ll have to have yours refurbished or seek out a set. Be warned, their rarity means that values will soar so if you come across a bargain set – grab them. Failing this, you can, of course, use a wide range of aftermarket alternatives but don’t overlook Vauxhall VX 220 rims as they will obviously do the job well. New wheel speed sensors for S1 (the originals are obsolete) are available from Eliseparts.com for £25 a go.

9. Interior

 

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All cabins are sparse by nature so 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, plus decorative alloy ‘rings’ for the Peugeot-sourced switchgear as well as sportier track day gear and hand brake levers. Official Lotus floor mats are available although non logo ones are considerably cheaper. Differing transmission tunnels means S1 parts don’t automatically fit later S2.

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The Elise’s special cloth seats aren’t too hardy but thankfully replacements are available, custom or original although don’t sell the originals as their desirability (for originality) means they can fetch silly money (ask our Elise owning contributor Jeremy Walton-ed). The simplistic and rather fiddly hood can frequently be damaged either end by ill handling and frayed tempers. Broken switchgear? Seek out Peugeot 205 items and Vauxhall Astra stalks, while the door mirrors are Metro-sourced and window winders stem from classic Minis.

And another thing…

A fine track day car, there’s an equally exciting racing series called the Lotus Cup UK Championship and Elise Trophy Championship that offers a range of disciplines, from short sprints to endurance races both on UK and selected European circuits. Only certain controlled mods are allowed, sourced through Championship Approved Parts such as Avon ZZZ tyres. Entry fees range from £595 per round to £4032 for an inclusive package with the first race scheduled for Snetterton on Saturday, 17th March – worth going along to check it out, talk to the drivers and owners’ clubs don’t you think? Full details on lotuscupuk.com.



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