RE: Steal or no steal | Mid-engined maestros

RE: Steal or no steal | Mid-engined maestros

Saturday 6th August

Steal or no steal | Mid-engined maestros

Three mid-engined cars, each less than £20,000. And not one Porsche in the trio...


Lotus Elise S1, 1998, 61k miles, £16,500

With all the talk of the new Emira, we felt we had to start our mid-mounted showcase with the last real ground-breaker for Lotus. The car that saved the company (again), no less. The Elise S1. It’s a very different kind of car, of course. Where the Emira is pushing towards the grown-up end of the market and trying to steal sales from the likes of Porsche, you had to be a maverick to settle for the no-nonsense Elise.

As we know, there are no frills here. Of course not. You couldn’t have frills if you still wanted thrills from 120hp. But Lotus managed plenty of the latter and then some, by keeping the weight down to just 731kg. That’s all the little K-Series lump had to push, so 0-60mph was still a healthy six-something seconds. But it was the Elise’s balance that, well, tipped the balance in the car’s favour. Everyone who drove it fell in love with how composed and connected it was, helped by its pedigree double wishbones at each corner.

What drew me to this car was that it manages to make the Elise look almost plush. The colour combo of rich Azure blue with cream leather looks sumptuous. I mean, let’s not get carried away: there are still no carpets and billeted window winders, but that’s the pared-backness that’s simply part of the joy. And the condition of this one looks faultless. The experience has been enhanced by additions like Nitron suspension and a K&N induction kit, although don’t panic about that. The original parts are also included if you would rather keep it stock. So it's the best of both worlds. And brilliant. 

See the full ad here

Vauxhall VX220 Turbo, 2005, 55k miles, £19,950

Now, you could argue that not only is the Vauxhall basically the same car as the Elise, plus it was built by the same people and it’s even the same colour. Fair point. But it’s not the same, is it. An Elise S1 is simplicity personified. The VX220, with a fat turbo, is for those who yearn for the sense purity but want a lot more push. And that’s exactly what you'll get with this car.

Ironically, the existence of the Turbo was down to slowness. The slowness with which the naturally aspirated 2.2-litre VX220 was leaving Vauxhall dealers. So it built a surplus of Astra GSi 2.0-litre turbo lumps and re-engineered the VX220 to take them. This added some weight, of course, what with the intercooler, pipes and the blower itself, but 920kg? Even in 2003 that was still unfeasibly light. The output was 200hp, which was around 50hp more than the standard car, and 184lb ft. That meant 0-60mph was boshed in under five seconds. Could the chassis cope? Sure it could, which is the beauty of having a car engineered in Hethel.

Vauxhall took the opportunity to soften the ride and make the car more appealing to the masses when the Turbo came out. It wasn’t soft, though. The non-assisted steering was still direct and full of fizz, and while there was understeer as you gently approached the limit, there was power oversteer, too. So much of it, in fact, that Vauxhall famously lost six cars on the launch. So treat the VX220 Turbo with respect, aye. But enjoy it, too. It’s all about balance.

See the full ad here

Fiat X1/9, 1982, 37k miles, £13,495

Haha, that’s stumped you, hasn’t it? You thought a mid-engined list of cars for less than £20,000 had Porsche Boxster nailed on to it with a nuclear powered nail gun. Well, no, here’s the orange curveball. Okay, so a Boxster may be considerably more capable as a performance car, sound nicer and be less prone to rust, but it’s a bit…ordinary. So, why not go the classic route with a car that’ll have some saying “oh look, a Fiat X1/9!” with the vast majority thinking “what on Earth is that?"

Admittedly, that’s doing it a disservice because it’s a properly clever car from an era where Italian carmakers rarely shied away from a challenge. Its inline four-pot engine was designed by Ferrari engine ace Aurelio Lampredi, while the wonderfully 1970s styling was handled by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. Sure, it only produced 73hp, but it’s light, with most of its mass in the centre, making it incredibly agile. 

Best of all, it’s just as much of a bargain now as it was in the early 1970s. The example we’ve found is immaculate, with only 32,900 miles covered since it was first registered in 1982. Plus, it pulls off the perfect baby Ferrari look with the classic orangey hue of red with a cream cloth interior. All for £13,495. Beat that. 

See the full ad here


 

Author
Discussion

Turini

Original Poster:

324 posts

146 months

Saturday
quotequote all
That Elise does look lovely

Pflanzgarten

734 posts

5 months

Saturday
quotequote all
How are S1 Elise’s still so cheap?

HorneyMX5

5,083 posts

130 months

Saturday
quotequote all
No MGF or MR2?

SuperSonicSloth

125 posts

52 months

Saturday
quotequote all
The S1 Elise just looks better and better to me. I mean I wouldn't say no to either of the descendants either, but the first gen is aesthetic perfection.

edoverheels

223 posts

85 months

Saturday
quotequote all
All brilliant and great to see an X19. I had two of them - a gold 1500 as my first car and then a bright green 1300 with the ladders on the side which I kept for ages.
Great fun and packaging genius. However I don’t remember them being light or fast!

Craikeybaby

9,609 posts

205 months

Saturday
quotequote all
HorneyMX5 said:
No MGF or MR2?
MR2 is as obvious as the Boxster, and it was featured in this column last week. Even then there were complaints that they are featured too often. And MGFs are just rubbish.

Robmarriott

2,290 posts

138 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Pflanzgarten said:
How are S1 Elise’s still so cheap?
That’s almost my dream spec too, early MMC car, no frills, decent suspension… not my first pick of colour but I could compromise.

If only I had a garage.

C70R

11,665 posts

84 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Pflanzgarten said:
How are S1 Elise’s still so cheap?
Caught the Intercooler podcast this week, and inclined to agree with them on the Elise. Early, original cars will never be worth less than they are now, and can be used without too much worry over impacting values. Maybe not a sure-fire way to early retirement, but definitely a car that could be cost-neutral over the course of a few years.

Black S2K

1,152 posts

229 months

Saturday
quotequote all
edoverheels said:
All brilliant and great to see an X19. I had two of them - a gold 1500 as my first car and then a bright green 1300 with the ladders on the side which I kept for ages.
Great fun and packaging genius. However I don’t remember them being light or fast!
Ditto, but my second was mica blue not-Gran Finale.

They were quick though, being so narrow and very wieldy, you never needed to slow down.

Hingy

7 posts

190 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Robmarriott said:
That’s almost my dream spec too, early MMC car, no frills, decent suspension… not my first pick of colour but I could compromise.

If only I had a garage.
There are many who have an Elise outside protected under a decent cover. Just go for it!

Bencolem

778 posts

219 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Mid-engined sports cars under £20,000 seems a shallow pool to swim in; apart from the Boxster, Elise/VX220 twin, MR2, MGF and the X1/9 what other options are there really to choose from?!

Imported Pontiac Fiero? Ropey Porsche 914? Honda Beat / Autozam AZ-1 Kei car type curios? Kit cars?…

Edited by Bencolem on Saturday 6th August 10:08

Equus

13,807 posts

81 months

Saturday
quotequote all
edoverheels said:
All brilliant and great to see an X19. I had two of them - a gold 1500 as my first car and then a bright green 1300 with the ladders on the side which I kept for ages.
Great fun and packaging genius. However I don’t remember them being light or fast!
I had one as my first car after I passed my test.

The irony being that they were regarded as very heavy in their day, because they were designed to comply with American safety standards (in particular a high-speed rollover test) than never materialised, but at 920kg even with the later safety bumpers (880kg without), they're actually comparable with the later versions of the Elise, which is now regarded as a lightweight.

They're well down on power in standard from, mind you: the article is incorrect in stating 73bhp (that would be the 1300cc version) but even the 1500cc version (the car in the ad) was only 85bhp.



Edited by Equus on Saturday 6th August 10:50

ZedLeg

4,417 posts

88 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Was expecting some sort of 6R4 style MG Maestro. Disappointed.

paul13

240 posts

182 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Elise S1 for me, my dream realistic sports car - if only I had the spare funds! Probably too expensive by the time I retire.

njw1

1,839 posts

91 months

Saturday
quotequote all
ZedLeg said:
Was expecting some sort of 6R4 style MG Maestro. Disappointed.
^^ This. hehe

blade7

11,197 posts

196 months

Saturday
quotequote all
VX220 turbo out of those 3 for me. Must be plenty of potential for more power. Didn't realise they were £20k or more now though. I think when I've read about them in the past, there were some niggles with them.

abzmike

5,548 posts

86 months

Saturday
quotequote all
The Elise looks like a bargain - as said the value can only go one way. Much as I like the Fiat, not at that price.

Dombilano

453 posts

35 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Always had a soft spot for the VX220 turbo, rapid by any standard and less 'serious/beard' than the equivalent Elise

allan_whoops

4 posts

44 months

Saturday
quotequote all
The X1/9 was anything but light as pointed out by the post above. However, there was a company in Street that would shoehorn a tuned Fiat 2 litre twin cam in. You lost the rear boot as that is where the carbs and air filter went. It was the engine that it should have had.

It was also a seriously good bit of packaging in terms of the boot up front which the targa top went in and the cubbies behind the driver/passenger - one of which held the spare wheel.

I was thinking of buying one and met up with Barry Waterhouse in 1984. I still remember the blast around the Peckham council estates in his Monte Carlo (X1/20). He persuaded me that the Monte Carlo was the way to go but I was changing jobs and got a company car so never went ahead.

kambites

64,822 posts

201 months

Saturday
quotequote all
abzmike said:
The Elise looks like a bargain - as said the value can only go one way. Much as I like the Fiat, not at that price.
It surprises me that S1 Elise values haven't started to out-strip S2 and S3 cars. Really good examples, especially of things like the 135R and 111S, fetch a lot but you can get decent usable 118bhp S1s (as this appears to be) for surprisingly little.