Elise: Buyers Guide

Look out of the window now. It's probably raining, grey and miserable. Well that's perfect weather to be buying a convertible sports car and ideally an Elise. Buy now before the sun comes out, the roofs come off and the prices firm up.

You're still dreaming about it. You've read all the reviews, the tests, the group comparisons, the complaints, the praises and yet you'd still like to have one. So did I - and here's my take on the buying experience after going through it myself!

For a new car, you're looking at a minimum of £23k, or more likely £26k, but now the second hand market has dropped and three-year-old cars can be had for around £15k which to all intents and purposes is a bargain.

Which Model?


Standard Elise (118bhp, launched June '96) 

Elise Sprint / Sport 190 (Track car, July '97)

135 Sport
(135bhp, Nov '98) 

Elise 111S 
(VVC, Mar '99) 

50th Anniversary Elise
(118bhp, Jan '99) 

'Heritage' (JPS) Elise 
(118bhp/VVC, July '99)

'49' Elise 
(118bhp/VVC, Oct '99)

'Millenium' Elise 
(118bhp/VVC, Oct '99)

Sport 160 
(160bhp, Feb '00) 

Elise Mk2 (Oct, 2000)
135 Sport Mk2.

Sounds good, but which model makes the best buy? The table lists the Elise models sold by Lotus - and for the uninitiated, it's a bit bewildering. Things become a bit easier if you then consider the kind of money you want to spend. At the lower end of the market come the earliest, no frills cars, which can be a bit of a snip. For those new to the sports car thing, a standard Elise will be more than enough to put a large smile on your face.

For those trading up (or down) and wanting something a bit more potent for the weekend with perhaps the occasional trackday, then something like the 135 or 111s models would probably suit you better, but are relatively new and command a higher price. Both have more power than the standard car and with the close-ratio gearbox are purpose built for increased fun on the track. Then we come to the Sport 160 (and its rarer bigger brother the Sport 190). For those looking for bangs-for-buck this is hard to beat - though erratic idling plus other tuning issues makes the more cautious buyers nervous leaving them as veritable bargains for the more dedicated buyer.

If you're really into your Lotuses you might want to consider the Elise's bigger brothers - the 340R and the Exige. Both make incredibly potent track day weapons, with the Exige perhaps getting the nod for practicality - it has a roof! However both make exciting road cars too and can be tuned (with factory approved mods) to around 190bhp.


Another aspect of these cars to consider (as with almost any other vehicle for sale) is the revisions and 'upgrades' made to the cars both in terms of design and construction throughout their five year history.

elise5.jpg (42609 bytes)The most obvious thing that changed was the replacement of the original MMC brake discs with plain old cast iron, caused by the supplier being unable to meet demand and going bust! This added some unsprung weight to the car and contributed to the steady increase in weight from around 700kgs to a more portly 750kgs (the equivalent of a medium-sized passenger!). It's a fine balance between the creativity of the original design and the added robustness of the revised designs and if this is something that concerns you then have a look at some of the web sites listed at the bottom who go into the revisions in more detail.


Depending on how minimalist you are, the thought of no stereo and plain cloth seats may not be a problem to you but most people opt for a radio kit, leather seats and driving lights. That of course was almost as many extras as you can specify for an S1 Elise! If you want to fit driving lights or a stereo to a car that doesn't have them then it can be a costly process; its much easier to buy a car that has them fitted already and pay a little extra in the first place.

elise4.jpg (59048 bytes)If you intend to use an Elise all year, especially if commuting, then a hard top is a very welcome extra. If you wanted to buy one, then you'll not get much change from £1k, and that's unpainted, so again pay a little extra and get an Elise that has one already. Note that if you want to fit a hardtop to an early Elise then you'll also need to change some of the fittings on the car; its best to consult a dealer to confirm this is the case or not before getting it done.

The last thing to look for is an alarm. Be aware that the Thatcham CAT1 alarm was an extra over the standard immobiliser, so not every car will necessarily have one. This could cost up to £400 to have fitted, and in most cases is a requirement for insurance, so once again, this is an item to look out for on prospective purchases.


Some owners also feel compelled to modify their cars, whether it be simple bolt-on power upgrades such as exhausts and air filters, or the full monty major engine surgery from the likes of Turbo Technics (how does 270bhp grab you!?).

Minor mods are usually of little concern but heavily modified cars can often damage the resale value of a car. Generally buyers are nervous of major changes or non-standard cars so if you're gemmed up you can acquire more car for your money. Bear in mind that you'll have the same troubles selling the car on yourself, but then again who ever mentioned selling it on…!

Look at... er... what?


Check out Rob Collingridge's excellent Elises.co.uk for details of common problems that affect the Elise. Be aware of them before you go to inspect a car - ask if the owner has experienced/fixed them. www.elises.co.uk

So you have a budget, a car to look at and no clue as to what to look for! It always seems obvious what to look for before you lay hands on the car and then it's easy to be distracted in the excitement. Make a list and check the obvious -

  • Interior: scuffed/worn/scratched?
  • Bodywork: scratched/stone-chipped/misaligned panels?
  • Roof: general condition/tears/fit and finish?
  • Tyres: condition? Same brand all round?
  • Alloys: scuffed/original wheels?

If these things look right and the price is right then before you spend your money, it is well advised to have a professional inspection, not least for peace of mind. These can be arranged by the AA, RAC etc, although you'd be best advised to have a word with your local dealer or Lotus specialist. They'll be cheaper and probably more knowledgable of the car (it's an unusual car remember). The outcome may give you something to haggle about or you may want to walk away. Either way, an inspection will give you peace of mind before you buy. Don't forget an HPI check too.

Test Drive

If you can manage to get a test drive then don't forget to actually 'test' the car - do all the gears work, is the steering sloppy, how bad are the rattles (it will rattle!), etc. Since it's a very different experience than the normal shopping trolley, try to drive a few to get an idea of how an Elise should drive. You'll soon get used to all the attention too - even after five years people still seem agog when an Elise drives by. Try to imagine what happens when they see a 340R….

elise6.jpg (72696 bytes)Obvious it may be, but when haggling, its always best to have an idea of what the typical asking price of the Elise you're looking at is. With the Elise, mileage has a large influence on price since most cars are hardly driven, with an average of around 10,000 miles in three years. A lot of Elises are of the same specification with regards to extras too so don't forget to take this into account if the one you're looking at is lacking some. Haggle hard. Most sellers will drop the price some, and dealers have been known to knock £3,000 off the sticker price just to make a sale, especially in the winter months. A full Lotus service history is a bonus, but don't be put off by a specialist service history from a place such as Lakeside. Talk to other owners on the 'net to get an idea of who the respected dealers and specialists are.

Get to work now and you could have one of the most uniquely styled and stunning sports cars ever made on your driveway by the spring. Turn that dream into reality - now!

Useful Links Other Info
[links]More Elise|lotusElise[/links]

Elise Owning Members of PistonHeads

PH Elise Forum

British Cars Elise Forum

Real World Price Guide

Comments (46) Join the discussion on the forum

  • adrianr 01 Mar 2002

    Nice intro Laurie!

    One minor correction, the brake supplier (Lanxide) didn't go bust - they are still around. I believe they made a batch of disks at a promotional price for Lotus original projected production run of 2500 cars, then when volumes escalated it wasn't economic to tool up for mass production and Lotus switched to steel as a fallback. There was also the "interesting" wet weather performance of the MMCs to consider.


  • lozza 05 Mar 2002

    Oops. sorry 'bout that. A minor mistaike but I should know better. Thanks for setting me straight!


  • Lordbenny 18 May 2014

    So, THE hyper car of the decade, you've won the lotto and you've been offered either one, what's it going to be?

  • greggy50 18 May 2014

    I have gone Ferrari as for me the V12 engine is far more special than the McLaren and I also much prefer the styling

    Mclaren will win this poll though because its British no doubt

  • Rich_W 18 May 2014

    Do we really need another thread about these 2 cars?

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