PH Fleet


Thursday 17th May 2012


Rain stops play and instead inspires musings on how much trust we place in reviews and reviewers

When I was shopping for my Elise the biggest influence on my decision to hold out for one of the rarest of the breed was a review, written by someone I've never met, printed in ink on paper, perfect bound and placed on a shelf in a newsagent. I'm sure I'm not alone in placing a massive amount of faith in a five-star rating from a magazine with three letters, but what really cemented my decision to buy a Sport 135 was the revelation that it had been awarded second place in that same publication's 1998 car of the year competition (bet you can't guess what won).

OK, so it didn't actually win in the end...
OK, so it didn't actually win in the end...
Yet try as I might, I just couldn't track down the article itself. It seems that this particular issue has become pretty rare over the years - copies are fetching £25 on eBay - and I drew a blank finding any kind reference to it online. So the opportunity to actually getting to read said review only arrived a few weeks ago, thanks to a friend with a copy in the loft.

Tell me I'm right
With any purchase, particularly those as significant as a car, it's human nature to seek vindication. No one wants to feels like they've bought a lemon. So it was comforting to read the praise that was heaped on this little car, so new that it only arrived from the factory on the second day of the test. Phrases such as 'immense fun' and 'a revelation' leapt from the page, but it wasn't until the final spread that I found out just how close to slaying a Goliath the Elise had come, missing out by just one point to the 996 Carrera 2.

Praise heaped on Elise inspired purchase
Praise heaped on Elise inspired purchase
Of course there were criticisms, but these will be familiar to any Elise owner and included a disconcerting vagueness to the front end in the wet, a stringy gear change and a roof of Rubik's cube complexity. Interestingly the article repeatedly talked about changes to the suspension on the Sport 135 over standard S1s, something I've not heard mentioned before.

As a relatively new Elise owner, I've been absorbing information like a sponge ever since I bought it. Even now, my curiosity for what's been written about it remains strong. But I can't help but wonder how the petrolhead of the future will find guidance in their quest for motoring thrills? Will there still be magazines offering extensive archives of knowledge? Will words, represented by characters rather than verbalised, still carry weight? Will journalists and writers find their opinions eclipsed by user reviews?

As close to track comparison as Danny got
As close to track comparison as Danny got
Rise of the armchair expert?
Personally, I think the medium might change, but I firmly believe there will always be people seeking the judgment of an expert. And by that I mean someone who has the experience to be able to contextualise any car among both its forerunners and its contemporaries, and craft an analysis of it in such a way as to entertain and inform. As much as video offers that instant gratification, I can't imagine returning to peruse old Youtube clips in the same way as I can a dusty box of back issues.

And my Elise? Well, I had hoped to be telling you about a little on-track comparison with Caterham's Supersport. And I got as far as Rockingham - the chosen venue - on a day of utterly biblical rain, only to find the circuit literally underwater and the event cancelled. If this rain ever ends, hopefully I'll get a chance to reschedule it in time for the next report.

In the mean time, feel free to mock my efforts to skid the Elise at Abbeville in the videobelow. Ridicule expected; constructive criticism welcomed.

Fact sheet
1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Aborted attempt to compare against a Caterham, sheltered indoors reading old road tests instead.

Previous Reports
Shiny new dampers and suspension, followed by a shakedown atAbbeville
A Lotus joins the PH Fleet - but will it prove lots of trouble?



Author: Danny Milner