Lotus Elise S1 - Rolling chassis

A sorted S1 should be a joy in the twisties. But there are caveats...
A sorted S1 should be a joy in the twisties. But there are caveats...
...and specialists are recommended
...and specialists are recommended
This is where the Elise can become very complex. The extruded aluminium used to make the chassis is bonded together, which makes crash repairs very difficult to get right. Any car that has been in a heavy accident needs to have been expertly fixed or the whole car will not drive as it should.

The good news is the main tub is incredibly strong and can withstand major impacts. Unlike most cars, much of the chassis in an Elise is very easy to see, so look for ripples in the surface that indicate damage or poor repairs.

Check under carpets for problems
Check under carpets for problems
A new chassis tub will set you back more than £10,000 new, so this is the most important area to scrutinise with the Elise. If all looks good, get underneath and check the underfloor is smooth and undamaged from a track day off. There's a slight cross in the under panel to give some strength, though very early S1 Elises do not have this.

The rear subframe is the only significant steel component in the Elise and it does rot. It's easy to replace, but the subframe alone is £500 to buy plus labour to fit it, and this means swapping the engine on to the new subframe.

A more likely problem will be damaged suspension mounts. These are glued on with extra rivets to hold them in place in an accident. If they are damaged, they cannot simply be reattached or welded. Unless a professional repair has been affected, with evidence to prove it, walk away and find another Elise.

Check glued nuts and bolts. (Matron!)
Check glued nuts and bolts. (Matron!)
The Elise uses double wishbones, coil springs and dampers all round, with an anti-roll bar at the front. It's a simple and effective set-up, but the rear toe links are prone to wear, as are the ball joints and shock absorbers.

Luckily, these show up as an easily identified clonking noise and are straightforward to replace. The front suspension's ball joints wear too, so budget for replacing these at some point during ownership. Very early Elise S1s suffered from wheel bearing wear, but most should have been sorted by now.

Any Elise that doesn't track in a straight line should send alarm bells ringing. The steering rack offers a quick but not nervy unassisted 2.7 turns from lock to lock. If the rack is worn, it's expensive and involved to replace.

Keep an eye on the tracking
Keep an eye on the tracking
Brakes on the Elise have a relatively easy time thanks to the car's light weight, but track use will dramatically lower their life expectancy.

The early metal matrix composite (MMC) brake discs of early Elise S1s last very well, but are less well suited to track use as they don't dissipate heat as well as the later 282mm vented steel discs used all round. A set of MMC discs will be very expensive to replace, if you can find a set for sale.

Standard Elise S1s have five-spoke alloy wheels, with 185/55 VR15 front tyres and 205/50 VR16 rears. The same front tyre size is used on all models, but the Sport and 111S versions gained 225/45 VR16 rear tyres. The 111S has a 12mm wider track than the standard car's 1453mm to fit the wider tyres and the 111S also came with a new style of six-spoke alloy wheels.

PH Buying Guide - Lotus Elise S1

Introduction
Powertrain
Rolling Chassis (viewing now)
Body
Interior
Insurance Quotes
Lotus Elise S1 ads (PH Classifieds)

Comments (5) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Scuffers 05 Jul 2011

    Got to ask, who writes this stuff?

    for example:

    article said:
    The rear subframe is the only significant steel component in the Elise and it does rot. It's easy to replace, but the subframe alone is £500 to buy plus labour to fit it, and this means swapping the engine on to the new subframe.
    never seen a subframe rot out yet (in over 10 years of playing/working with them) and you would normally change the subframe without touching the engine, the mounts are onto the ali tub, not the subframe.

    if Pistonheads are going to publish this kind of thing, I would suggest they get some decent proof-reading and verification first....

  • MJK 24 05 Jul 2011

    Wishbones should be checked for corrosion. They're expensive to replace if you let them rot far enough.

    Chassis is £3,500 plus a large surcharge that's refunded when you return a large chunk of the old chassis that included the VIN number. Don't know where the £10,000 figure came from.

  • MX7 05 Jul 2011

    Scuffers said:
    Got to ask, who writes this stuff?
    Alisdair Suttie apparently.

  • Chris-R 06 Jul 2011

    Scuffers said:
    never seen a subframe rot out yet (in over 10 years of playing/working with them) and you would normally change the subframe without touching the engine, the mounts are onto the ali tub, not the subframe.

    if Pistonheads are going to publish this kind of thing, I would suggest they get some decent proof-reading and verification first....
    Al tells us the subframe angle was initiated by info from a well known Elise specialist, and was subsequently substantiated by SELOC club members. (No names no pack drill, etc!) smile

    He (and they) are not saying it's a common issue (as your post affirms), but one worth looking out for.

  • Scuffers 06 Jul 2011

    with respect I have never seen a single picture, heard of any stories, etc of a subframe that's rotten to the point of requiring change.

    they are VERY heavily galvanised, and whist they can look really dirty and stty, they have not corroded.

    (this is different from the ones people like me have taken, striped off the zinc, and re-plated using passiveate or the like to save weight).

    eg.


    that was a 12 year old car/sub-frame, just with the plating removed to clean up.

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