The Elise has carved a niche in most petrolheads' hearts as a well engineered enthusiast product providing unique looks and a reputation for fine handling. Performance through light weight was the Chapmanesque principle applied during the design resulting in a spritely car at its elements in the twisties.
Putting your foot down in an Elise doesn't exactly unleash the dogs of hell though. For that you need to seek help from one of the many aftermarket tuners catering to the market. It's a busy market, with the owners of many K Series engined cars eager to wreak more power from the workhorse four pot..
The options range from the usual exhaust swaps and induction kits right up to the supercharger conversions provided by Turbo Technics with all manner of kits in between. The tuning industry surrounding the Rover unit is a reasonably mature one resulting in conversions that can stretch the little engine to its upper limits.
Surprisingly few European tuners have turned to transplants to give obtain more power. Import restrictions and greater familiarity with Japanese engines has prompted American tuners to use the Honda VTEC powerplant though. A more modern and sophisticated unit it has phenomenal potential. Slotted into the Elise it turns the nippy, lightweight roadster into a car capable of delivering supercar levels of excitement.
Remember that the Elise remains one of the few genuinely lightweight cars on the market weighing in at around 750kg. Slot in a VTEC unit from a recently trashed Honda and you have a rather exciting power to weight ratio and just as importantly it doesn't adversely affect the weight distribution.
And that's exactly what Blink Motorsport have done. They've taken a kit developed in the USA and converted their first Elise using the two litre engine from a totalled Civic Type R. I had the opportunity to try it around Donington Park last week at a Bookatrack track day.
Accelerating out of the pit lane it's immediately obvious that you're driving something a bit out of the ordinary. A more sonorous exhaust note accompanies the strong acceleration (0-60 in 4.0 seconds). This converted Elise was badly in need of some fresh suspension and smarter brakes, but to be fair it was the extra power that was highlighting the shortcomings. Easing my foot down it was a joy not to feel the Elise wheezing but instead gliding up the rev range without a hint of hesitation. The needle swept up and down the tacho as I concentrated on my track position. Balancing the car on the throttle and I eased myself around for a couple of laps to familiarise myself with the setup.
What stopped me hooning it round from the off? Apart from the respect needed when getting into someone else's car it was the six speed Honda gearbox. It's a delicate little item which my lumbering hands struggled with. Both hands on the wheel, urging the tough little Elise around the fast circuit I had real trouble when trying to select a gear with the pansy-like box. No doubt it can be cured with a bit of tweaking and tightening up it certainly marred my laps in places as I fumbled for the right slot like a virgin with Parkinson's.
For a large part of the circuit I didn't need to change gear though. With such a wide rev range available it's possible to keep the car balanced on the throttle and piling on the speed in a joyous powerfest. VTEC magic winds in from just under 6,000rpm and gives an healthy shove in the back and a distinctive exhaust note as all hell breaks loose in the valve train.
Road and Track
I'm no fan of the VTEC engine for road use as keeping the engine spinning in that magic zone isn't something that's possible very often in normal driving. On track however it's a different story - it's fantastic! The extra kick is very noticable as the boundary is crossed and can even get things a bit out of shape if you edge into the zone mid bend. On the straights it was capable of holding its own against some quite serious track day machinery too, a real testament to the package of car and engine.
It endows the Elise with the power it so deserves - and that's just the standard 2.0 litre 200bhp unit. The high tech motor is capable of a great deal more power. There are many race cars around the world making use of the Honda engine with extreme power. 250bhp is easily achievable without over stressing things. Blink Motorsport themselves are planning to experiment with alternative cams which should bring things up to around 220bhp. There's also talk of a 340R installation.
All good news so far. The bad news is that the conversion costs around £10,000 - leaving it as an option only to those who are deadly serious about needing more power. It's a confusing option at that price. Find an older Elise and you have the potential to create a 750kg, 200+ bhp car for less than £25K - great value. But for the existing Elise owner, it's quite an expensive upgrade and one that will only be taken up by those seeking to create a sensational road and track car.
That said, whilst it may also seem expensive in relation to other conversions, there's no doubt it will win hands down in the reliability stakes. The standard Honda unit should be good for many tens of thousands of miles even on track, whilst very highly tuned K series engines won't boast such longevity.
It's a wonderful marriage - you'll just need deep pockets to enjoy it.