Guides d'achat Mk1

EVO Mai 2010


The evergreen Elise S1 was a star in its day - and it still looks tempting

Thanks to PHer Brett Fraser for contributing pics of his Elise S1 for this feature
Lotus knew it was on to a good thing with the original Elise. It had 1300 orders banked, complete with £1000 deposits, by the time the first car was delivered to its owner in August 1996. In theory, that should have been the first three years' production accounted for, but by this stage Lotus' management had decided to up the output from 400 cars per year to 2500.

Much of the Julian Thomson-penned Elise's early success stemmed from its superglue handling, unerring steering feel and brisk, if not outright fast, performance. These factors were helped by an all-up weight of just 723kg for the early car. Here was the true British sports car successor to the original Lotus Elan, so ably aped by the Mazda MX-5 that showed there was still massive demand for simple roadsters.

Brett may think it looks best in the dark...
Another key factor in the Elise's runaway success from the off was its price. The original and basic 1.8-litre car started at £18,950, though most buyers added extras such as leather seats, metallic paint and front driving lamps to push the price above £20,000.

Even so, the Elise was astounding value for money for a Lotus. It could cover 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 124mph was plenty for road and track work. The engine was lifted wholesale from the MGF, so it was a 118bhp 1.8-litre K Series motor. As the Elise developed, Lotus offered a Sport 190 model in 1997 for £33,500 with a 190bhp version of the same engine. It provided 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds and 141mph.

Only a handful of Sport 190s were built, and it was soon followed by the more affordable Sport 135 in 1998. It cost £28,950, covered 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds and had a 127mph. Production numbers for the Sport 190 and 135 models are included in the overall figures for the Series 1 Elise, of which 8,613 were made between 1996 and the last one leaving the showroom in 2001 as the S2 Elise arrived. Lotus also supplied 180 completely knocked down kits to its parent company Proton for assembly abroad and eight GT1 Elise-based racers were produced with a 3.5-litre V8 and power up to 550bhp.

...but we like 'copper chopper cam'.
Lotus added the 111S to the Elise range in 1999 to offer a more practical alternative to the entry-level car. The 111S used the MGF's 143bhp VVC variable valve timing version of the K Series engine. In the Lotus, it served up 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds, 130mph and cost from £26,950. A total of 1489 111S cars were produced and it was followed in 2000 by the Sport 160, which managed 337 units.

The Sport 160 was the final version of the Elise based on the basic model. It had 160bhp to give 0-62mph in 5.0 seconds and a top speed of 129mph. There were also the Exige models based on the same chassis as the Elise, the Sport Elise with 203bhp 1.8-litre engine that cost £55,000 for a season's racing, and the stripped to the bones 340R. However, here we'll concentrate on the Elise S1 rather than its more exotic derivatives.



The heart of the machine - by Rover
All road going S1 Elise models use a version of the Rover K Series 1.8-litre engine. The fuel injected 1796cc petrol motor is mid-mounted in the Elise, as it was in the MGF that donated to the Lotus. For the original Elise, it offers 118bhp at 5500rpm and 122lb ft of torque at 3000rpm to make the lightweight Elise surprisingly flexible and tractable. Autocar tested the original Elise and managed 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds.

Every S1 Elise built for the road comes with a five-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels. The Sport 135, 111S and Sport 160 models all gained a close ratio gearbox where first and second gears were raised and fifth gear was lowered to make the most of the upper reaches of the engine's rev band. Raising first and second gears had the effect of making the pricier, more powerful models no quicker from 0-60mph than the standard Elise, but on the move these faster cars proved their mettle, with the 111S some 5.8 seconds faster from 0-100mph the 118bhp model.

Any mayonnaise with that..?
The Elise's light weight gives the engine and transmission a fairly easy time, even in cars that have been driven hard. Horror stories about the Rover K Series engine's head gasket don't afflict the Elise as badly, though the engine's small coolant capacity means it's best to check the levels carefully and make sure the radiator is air lock-free. The radiator has plastic end caps that will fail, so budget for replacing the radiator if the work has not been completed recently. Also look at the oil filler cap for signs of 'mayonnaise' that are a tell-tale of a blown head gasket. Replacement and uprated gaskets are widely available. Look for leaks from the plastic intake manifold due to heat damage.

Every gear in the five-speed 'box should engage cleanly and precisely. An inaccurate shift is most likely to be worn linkages between lever and gearbox, which are straightforward for a specialist to sort. If this doesn't solve a poor shift action, the synchromesh has probably worn and this means removing the gearbox for a rebuild. The differential is very strong in the Elise, but watch for any whining noises that indicate many hard starts. The Elise is popular as a hill climb car, so this is a more likely problem than in most other sports cars.

Stainless pipes a desirable upgrade
Look for evidence of regular oil changes, 12-month or 9000-mile servicing intervals and a new cambelt every 54,000 miles, or 36,000 miles in the Sport 160 model. Only a truly abused engine is likely to fail completely, most likely from worn cylinder liners that will dictate either a full rebuild or new motor. Original exhausts wear through rot, so a stainless steel replacement is common and desirable.

A stiff clutch pedal action is not unheard of in the Elise, so either treat it with regular oil sprays or swap the original bush for a stainless steel pivot.



A sorted S1 should be a joy in the twisties. But there are caveats...

...and specialists are recommended
This is where the Elise can become very complex. The extruded aluminium used to make the chassis is bonded together, which makes crash repairs very difficult to get right. Any car that has been in a heavy accident needs to have been expertly fixed or the whole car will not drive as it should.

The good news is the main tub is incredibly strong and can withstand major impacts. Unlike most cars, much of the chassis in an Elise is very easy to see, so look for ripples in the surface that indicate damage or poor repairs.

Check under carpets for problems
A new chassis tub will set you back more than £10,000 new, so this is the most important area to scrutinise with the Elise. If all looks good, get underneath and check the underfloor is smooth and undamaged from a track day off. There's a slight cross in the under panel to give some strength, though very early S1 Elises do not have this.

The rear subframe is the only significant steel component in the Elise and it does rot. It's easy to replace, but the subframe alone is £500 to buy plus labour to fit it, and this means swapping the engine on to the new subframe.

A more likely problem will be damaged suspension mounts. These are glued on with extra rivets to hold them in place in an accident. If they are damaged, they cannot simply be reattached or welded. Unless a professional repair has been affected, with evidence to prove it, walk away and find another Elise.

Check glued nuts and bolts. (Matron!)
The Elise uses double wishbones, coil springs and dampers all round, with an anti-roll bar at the front. It's a simple and effective set-up, but the rear toe links are prone to wear, as are the ball joints and shock absorbers.

Luckily, these show up as an easily identified clonking noise and are straightforward to replace. The front suspension's ball joints wear too, so budget for replacing these at some point during ownership. Very early Elise S1s suffered from wheel bearing wear, but most should have been sorted by now.

Any Elise that doesn't track in a straight line should send alarm bells ringing. The steering rack offers a quick but not nervy unassisted 2.7 turns from lock to lock. If the rack is worn, it's expensive and involved to replace.

Keep an eye on the tracking
Brakes on the Elise have a relatively easy time thanks to the car's light weight, but track use will dramatically lower their life expectancy.

The early metal matrix composite (MMC) brake discs of early Elise S1s last very well, but are less well suited to track use as they don't dissipate heat as well as the later 282mm vented steel discs used all round. A set of MMC discs will be very expensive to replace, if you can find a set for sale.

Standard Elise S1s have five-spoke alloy wheels, with 185/55 VR15 front tyres and 205/50 VR16 rears. The same front tyre size is used on all models, but the Sport and 111S versions gained 225/45 VR16 rear tyres. The 111S has a 12mm wider track than the standard car's 1453mm to fit the wider tyres and the 111S also came with a new style of six-spoke alloy wheels.



What a body! GRP structure is one of the Elise's strongest suits.

Front driving lamps are desirable
Lotus is one of the best at making bodies from glass fibre and the Elise is proof of this. It's very well finished and hard wearing, which makes it all the more important to look for signs of crash damage or bad repair work. It's often easier to replace the front or rear clamshells completely.

Front driving lamps were a popular option with the Elise S1 and are sought after now. The 111S has a different engine cover to allow for the greater height of the VVC variable valve timing engine. Other distinguishing features of the 111S include standard Perspex headlight covers, small black plastic lips at the back of the rear wheelarches to keep the wider tyres legal, and clear front indicator lenses.

Expect to replace engine cover release
One of the few weak areas of the Elise S1 is its fabric roof. The simple piece of fabric sits over two spars and then clips into place, but the securing mechanism on early cars was much too fiddly and can easily be broken by careless owners. A replacement from Elise Parts is generally reckoned to be a better solution than another original hood. Storing the hood is simple as it fits behind the seats or in the boot. The boot release is tucked down behind the driver's seat and the mechanism is weak, so expect to have to fix this at some point.

Hard tops are fitted using the same mounts as the fabric roof, but there's more noise with the hard top than the soft roof. It will also leak just as much as an original fabric hood, so most owners don't bother with the hard top.



Minimalist interior means you can expect few problems here...

Stack dials pricey - but usually reliable
There isn't much to the Elise's interior. A set of fabric seats and minimal trim make it easy to repair or replace completely. Most Elise customer specified leather seats, which are hard wearing, but watch for water damage due to a leaky roof. Only the driver's seat slides back and forth for adjustment.

The simple dash uses a Stack instrument pod and it's reliable. Any faults here will be pricey to remedy, but the S1's electrics are sound. Switchgear is from Peugeot and works well, while the heater switches are simple and the stereo is within easy reach, even if it's not easy to hear at motorway speeds.

Wonky winders can be a tricky fix
It's also worth lifting up the carpets or mats to check the state of the aluminium as corrosion can go unnoticed, so as to make sure these surfaces are clean and dry.

Simple air vents blow warm air on to the screen to demist it, but expect there to be a fair bit of debris blown into the cockpit. It gathers as dust and grit on the large, flat dash top. A quick fix here is to place a thin material over the air intake in the front bonnet compartment.

Window winders are known to become stiff with age as the runners warp. It's a tricky fix as the mechanism is hidden inside the bonded door. Check the windows run up and down smoothly. It's also worth making sure the alarm functions properly.



(Insurance quotes provided by PH partner Adrian Flux)

Don't let the sun go down on your Lotus dream..? Oh never mind!
Based on a 1999 Lotus Elise 1.8 valued at £10000 and fitted with a Thatcham approved alarm/immobiliser.

All drivers based on no accidents, maximum NCB, 1 minor speeding conviction, and having owned the car for over 12 months with comprehensive cover.

Quotes thanks to PH partner Adrian Flux
Example 1) 30 Year old driver from London - a banker:

3000 miles per annum - £500.00 - £300 excess
7500 miles per annum - £650.00 - £300 excess
Unlimited miles per annum - £700.00 - £300 excess

Example 2) 37 Year old driver from Peterborough - a factory owner:

3000 miles per annum - £300.00 - £300 excess
7500 miles per annum - £375.00 - £300 excess
Unlimited miles per annum - £400.00 - £300 excess

Example 3) 55 Year old from Bristol - a property developer:

3000 miles per annum - £275.00 - £300 excess
7500 miles per annum - £315.00 - £300 excess
Unlimited miles per annum - £330.00 - £300 excess

Model variance:
For an equivalent 111S model you would be looking at an approximate increase in premium of about 15%.
For a 2004 MK2 111R model worth £15000 you would be looking at an approximate increase in premium of about 40%

Other Factors:
With regards to factors that affect the insurance premiums for these vehicles the age and value of the car would also have some bearing. For example if the car was slightly older or worth slightly less the above premiums would probably reduce a little, likewise if the car was newer or worth more the premiums would increase.

Other factors are the usual obvious ones when it comes to insuring these types of cars. Wherever possible keep the mileage down, and preferably keep them in a garage overnight.Having an aftermarket tracking device is also a big help, and relevant driving experience is a massive advantage. If you can show that you have a history of claim free driving in high performance saloons/sports cars it will be far easier to obtain competitive premiums for these types of cars.


Author: alisdairsuttie

Tuesday 5th July

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