Lotus Elise S1 Sport 135
Peugeot 205 GL, Peugeot 205 XS, Ford Ka (went a bit pear-shaped there), Ford Puma, Renaultsport Clio 182
Why I bought it:
I'd been wavering for a while about what to replace my old Clio 182 with. Half of me said 'get a Clio 200 Cup; a sensible next step with enough space to hold a mountain bike.' The other half said 'life's too short, sod practicality and buy an Elise.' I swung back and forth for weeks until I was even boring myself with the procrastinations.
Lots of revision followed, reading as many of the copious buyer's guides as possible. My first viewing was a standard S1with the help of an Elise-owning friend, followed by a cheap, tatty early S2 (that previously belonged to one of the PH staff) but neither really felt right. The classic problem was I'd set my sights too high and I wouldn't really be content with a standard car. What I wanted was a 111S or, better still, Evo's pick of the Elise range and 1998 ECOTY runner-up; the Sport 135.
I found one for sale in Plymouth and despite a few question marks over the brakes and steering rack, I took the plunge. Number 48 of the original batch of 50 was mine.
Ignore the buyer's guides at your peril. All of my painstaking research went out of the window when it came to inspecting the car. I hoped the play in the steering was a worn bushing; it was, in fact, a knackered steering rack. I didn't notice the leaking rear damper (another £120) and I believed the previous owner when he told me that all Elises had a stiff gate when changing gear.
To avoid buying an armadillo (nice and shiny on top, but a total mess underneath) take a jack and a torch to the viewing. Ideally, remove the wheels, drop the undertray and have a good poke about.
Expect the unexpected and make sure you reserve some of your budget to pay for the inevitable problems that will crop up post-purchase. There's stacks of information online, with SELOC's Tech Wiki being a great place to start your research.
Falling, and I mean that literally, into the Corbeau seat feels like a driver change at Le Mans. The view out over the front arches could be from any number of classic sports cars; It came as little surprise to learn that the car's designer, Julian Thompson, owned a Dino at the time he penned the Elise.
Operating the perfectly-placed extruded aluminum pedals, simple aluminium ball-topped gear lever and dainty wheel is a joy. Feeling the texture of the road through the steering, the communication of the chassis as it weights through a corner, and listening to the frenetic soundtrack from the K-Series just over my shoulder feels special every time I drive it. I removed the face of the stereo on the day that I bought it, and it hasn't been used since.
All these aspects are great, but what really excites me is the challenge of learning how to drive it properly. It's a journey that's just beginning.
Just when I thought I'd sorted out all the problems, that finally I could stop spending money, put the tools away and actually enjoy driving it for a while, something else breaks. But its ok, I think, because it's only a flat battery. I mean, how hard can it be to change the battery? Well, after two hours, with my knuckles wedged between pipework and chassis rails, possibly bleeding but impossible to confirm because I can't see or feel my fingers, and the invention of several new swear words, I can reveal it is a complete can utter clusterf...
And the great thing with Elise ownership is that a new, and even more painful DIY job is always waiting just around the corner.
I found insurance for a reasonable £500 with REIS on a limited mileage policy despite being kept on the street. And four track days are included with that.
Tax for my sport 135 is £215 a year, and 40mpg from basic 95ron makes running it pretty reasonable too.
Where I've been:
My first track day in the Elise was at Bedford. It was probably the wisest decision I've made in the entire time I've owned it. First lap, post warm-up, the back end started to come round at 70 on a steady throttle. So the rumours were true...
Brands Hatch was the next outing, and being armed with my Bedford experience certainly saved me from an expensive excursion when exactly the same thing started to happen around Paddock Hill Bend.
I've also been to Oulton Park, which is rich is history and incredibly rewarding to drive, and back to Bedford, which, er, isn't. But it is a good place to have your first spin, when you find out that 10 per cent extra weight sitting in the passenger seat has a big effect on the handling.
I'm planning on holding onto it for a while as I feel I still have a long way to go before I feel truly confident, and competent behind its wheel.
My upgrade list is ambitiously long and completely unaffordable, but I can but dream, can't I? I've just snapped up some Yoko Advan AD07 tyres to replace the rock-hard Hankooks it's presently wearing. New dampers are next on the cards, probably Nitron's Street Series models. At some point I'll get the suspension refreshed, which includes stripping and re-plating the wishbones and fitting new bushings and ball joints. And all the while I have to try and keep my hands off the all-important HGF contingency fund.
Danny takes his Elise round Brands...