PH Buying Guide: Lotus Elise S1

Lotus knew it was on to a good thing with the original Elise. It had 1300 orders banked, complete with Β£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.

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Brett may think it looks best in the dark...
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 Β£18,950, though most buyers added extras such as leather seats, metallic paint and front driving lamps to push the price above Β£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 Β£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 Β£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'.
...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 Β£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 Β£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.

Contents list:
PH Buying Guide - Lotus Elise S1

Introduction (viewing now)

Rolling Chassis
Insurance Quotes

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(PS. Please share general comments, thoughts and feedback about Elise S1 ownership on this article thread. For specific comments about any of the 'detail' topics listed above - they've all got their own threads. Cheers! Ed.)

Comments (61) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Curry Burns 05 Jul 2011

    Nice article Alasdair! thumbup

    On a seperate note, I think I met your lady wife last month, I believe she is a trainer for the Farming style company I work for. She's a lovely lady!!

  • Gad-Westy 05 Jul 2011

    Great read. Can't help thinking that early cars might be a reasonable investment, you'd certainly not lose much now.

    If I'm being picky, I don't think the S160 has the close ratio box, just standard ratios.

  • wooooody 05 Jul 2011

    Gad-Westy said:
    Great read. Can't help thinking that early cars might be a reasonable investment, you'd certainly not lose much now.

    If I'm being picky, I don't think the S160 has the close ratio box, just standard ratios.
    Yes. It was really based on the 111s from a styling POV (grilles, headlight covers, spoiler, carbon effect dash on the later ones) but with a tuned non-VVC K series & standard box. Of course there were a few other special things thrown in the mix as well, maily the wheels, seats & suspension.

  • Lawrence5 05 Jul 2011

    Great cars

    I had worked for Lotus so when I went out to buy a sports car I was determined to get a TVR. Drove a Chimp but came home with an Elise. Steering and handling are amazing..... only sold it as I bought an S2 135R. Easy car to drive and live with and not the compromise I thought - it was my only car for 2yrs ultra reliable having only paid out on consumables and only lost circa £1k in depreciation.

    The start of trackdays added to the success and the fact the K series had been in Rover/MG's race program meant plenty of cheap go faster bits for a chassis that could take more power.

    Still a benchmark for many engineers..... there won't be cars like this in the future so buy now biggrin

  • DeadMeat_UK 05 Jul 2011

    Great article.

    And if I may recommend to all readers of this thread, if you like sports cars, and track days, and you haven't owned an Elise S1, DO IT.

    I bought a new one and had it as my only car for 4 years. It was a great bit of kit for sheer driving enjoyment and handling. Especially as the roads generally get slower and busier, something you can have fun in at normal road speeds is a big plus.

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