the guys at Back On Track helped alleviate some of my fears. Very few cars they've seen has had more than minor chassis corrosion, and certainly not anywhere near as severe as the car in the thread. All the same, knowing that my car had spent some of its life near the coast was enough to fast-track the suspension refresh.
Stop, spanner time
The whole process is not too far removed from grown-up Meccano, and many Elise owners have undertaken the work themselves. But without access to a garage, or even a drive, this wasn't really an option. At least I could keep the skin on my knuckles and everything could be done in a day - drive in, drive out.
still took all day. Removing all the seized old parts is a long-winded process and, as you'd expect from a 14-year-old car, both the grinder and the persuader were called into action.
While I kept the boys fuelled with tea, and scrubbed away at the undertray, gradually the crusty, the rusty, the split and the perished made way for the fresh, clean, bright and shiny. And a few pockmarks around the upper front wishbone mounts aside the chassis was given a clean bill of health. A prescription of regular check-ups, and lashings of ACF50 anti-corrosion spray, should see my Elise through another decade at least.
In Elise land, Bilstein, Nitron, Gaz and Quantum seem to be the most popular upgrade options. I read all the forum threads, digested the marketing spiel and picked the brains of the guys that fit these things day in, day out. In the end Back on Track's Stef recommended the Nitron NTR Fast Road set-up as a good mid-priced option. Individually dyno-tested and fully rebuildable, rebound and, more importantly, compression are adjustable in ratio via a single dial at the end of the piston, meaning that you can play with the settings without getting lost in a world of clicks.
My route home also included a short but tasty bit of B-road. Its fast, sweeping corners feature sharp compressions that really unsettle the chassis, and even in a straight line there are enough bumps to feel like you're about to be ejected from the Tarmac. At 60mph with the worn out Bilsteins it was a wild ride.
With the Nitrons fitted, the drive home was like night and day. Immediately noticeable was the improvement in stability. A single movement of the steering wheel was all that was needed for turn-in, and that initial input could be held throughout the turn, even over the most prominent of mid-corner bumps. And where a series of undulations would once totally overcome the dampers, the car now feels completely secure and planted.
So a big job ticked off - one that hopefully won't have to be repeated for another decade at least - and a fantastic improvement to the one thing that really matters with an Elise - the handling.
Time for a shakedown
A couple of weeks later, I got the chance to enjoy the upgrades properly at one of Lotus on Track's regular days at Abbeville. I'd been meaning to make the short hop across the Channel for some time, lured by the promise of a tight, twisty track with lots of run-off. Less than an hour from Calais, it's actually 80 miles closer to home than Oulton Park and, with day returns on Eurotunnel available for as little as £40, the costs pretty much even out as well.
Abbeville is not unlike a pocket-sized version of Bedford Autodrome. Overall speeds are low but it's easy to get a good flow going and the many hairpins are great for exploring power and lift-off oversteer. I certainly did a lot of exploring, but as I soon found out on the first of half a dozen pirouettes, mastering the Elise's mid-engined layout is a delicate balancing act. Suffice to say I'm still a long way from sliding it around with complete confidence, but I'm nothing if not stubborn, so I'm determined to make this a 'when' not an 'if'.
Car: 1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Once in a lifetime suspension refurb brings new lease of life to tired limbs and joints.
A Lotus joins the PH Fleet - but will it prove lots of trouble?
Ride Height: 110mm front/120mm rear
Camber: -1 front/-2.5 rear
Toe: 0 front/2mm in rear
Dampers: 10 clicks from full stiff front/12 clicks from full stiff rear
Springs: 400lb F/475lb R