Lotus Elise Sport 135: PH Fleet

Has it really been 12 months since my last fleet update? Because it only seems like yesterday that my Elise was sending smoke signals across Northamptonshire in the braking zone for Luffield. End result, recovery from Silverstone to Surrey with suspected sump gasket failure. Preferable, it has to be said, than the gasket failure more commonly associated with the K-Series, but still a predicament that left me with a car in Reigate, a garage 50 miles away, and no easy way of marrying the two up. AA rules meant another ride on the flatbed of shame was out the question, so my only other option was to press our family wagon, and its hither-to-unused towbar, into service.

First time for everything, right Danny?
First time for everything, right Danny?
Having never towed anything before, the whole thing was a nerve-wracking experience from start to finish. Manoeuvring in the tight confines of the block where I rent a garage had me tied in knots, and driving down had me regularly glancing behind me to check it was still there, and constantly fearful that I might end up stuck down a narrow lane, or taking out some innocent piece of road furniture at a junction. To my great relief I made it to Analogue Automotive in Petersfield in one piece, just the one traffic island wedged under the wheels of the trailer.

A few days later came the good news that it was just a minor leak from the sump, which had dripped onto the hot exhaust and caused the white smoke. The sump was fixed, as well as a split CV gaiter, just in time to join a grand PH team outing to Anglesey.

Lotus ownership doesn't get much better than a long drive up through mid and north Wales on fabulous roads with the roof off and blazing sunshine. Or at least it shouldn't get much better, unless you have smoke as blue as the sky rising sporadically through the grille of the engine cover. What now?

Call this a work in progress...
Call this a work in progress...
Inside the engine bay there was evidence of spatter around the engine bay, but the oil level was fine and there were no obvious leaks. So I carried on, cautiously. During the whole drive, there can't have been more than four or five puffs of smoke, so I hoped it might just be CV grease that hadn't been cleaned up. Indeed, it was confirmed later to be just that, but the rest of the journey and the whole weekend was slightly fraught as a result.

The next morning the fluid levels all seemed good, but with that element of doubt, and a duo of 620 Caterhams lying idle in the pit garage, I didn't need much convincing to limit the Elise's track time. I still had to get it home, after all.

But I wasn't going to travel all that way and not chalk up a few laps, especially when Mark Hales, who was there coaching the PH track newbies, offered to come out with me. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Honestly, he offered. I didn't harass him at all.

I won't try and recount every nugget of wisdom that was passed on during those brief couple of sessions, mainly because I'll probably get it all slightly wrong, but the main thing that stayed with me - apart from the idea of striving for complete smoothness of input - is a direction to turning in much earlier than I am used to. And I don't mean pitching it in, rather slightly loading up the wheel before the turn in point to put some attitude into the car and generate some feedback to work with through the corner. Something useful in anything, but particularly a light, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a rearward weight balance.

Wonder what Danny is focused on here
Wonder what Danny is focused on here
And when we swapped seats and he took me out in the PH Fleet Skoda Octavia, I was blown away by the smoothness and delicacy on display. It didn't feel like we were ever going fast, and the downshifts were perfectly executed, and so subtle, I had to look at his feet to check he was actually blipping the throttle. But, of course, as soon as I took over the reins it became patently obvious that his pace was extremely difficult to replicate with any consistency, and all too quickly mistakes crept in, and frustration boiled over into ham-fisted over-driving.

Even so, a classic British track, in three iconic British sports cars, with tuition from a legendary gentleman racer and Wales's most spectacular roads bathed in unbroken sunshine - blue smoke or not, it had been a weekend to cherish.

Since then I've properly cleaned up the engine bay and had no sign of any smoke. I've also stripped and replaced the gear linkage bushings, replaced the coolant tank - which had split - replaced the leaking exhaust flexi pipe, removed the stereo, speakers and aerial (I've used it once since I bought the car) and moved it out of its leaky garage. Now it's got a shower cap to keep rain out of the cabin and plenty of air circulation to dry it out. Having finally moved office, and with some decent roads between home and work, I'm looking forward to giving it a regular weekly run on the commute. I'm also hoping to exorcise those Silverstone demons soon, and I think the PH team needs start planning that return visit to Anglesey...

: 1999 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Month? Year more like, involving puffs of blue smoke, track tuition from a legend and a memorable (for the right reasons) drive across Wales. And a bit of fettling.

Previous reports
For speed add lightness, to wallet in this case
Suspension fettling brings results, just in time for the alternator to go pop
Scottish road trip answers 'should I sell?' dilemma
Is it time for the Elise to go?
A cry of alarm from the Lotus - just drive me!
To Goodwood in the Elise
Why is the Elise slower on its new suspension then?
Nitron suspension upgrade for Danny's Elise
Elise shows its displeasure at winter weather
Pilgrimage to Hethel and a lap with handling guru Matt Becker
New wheels on and roof off; to Spa!
Handling's sorted, now surely it's time to go faster
Welcome back again old friend!



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Comments (13) Join the discussion on the forum

  • 573 14 Mar 2017

    You hoping to put more miles on it this year Dan? Hopefully I'll see it about locally.


  • suffolk009 14 Mar 2017

    Lucky man. An Elise is still on my "to do" list.

  • lukeyman 14 Mar 2017

    suffolk009 said:
    Lucky man. An Elise is still on my "to do" list.
    Mine too. Only since 1996!

  • Tickle 14 Mar 2017

    I bet you are made up with that £9.5k purchase price for the 135 now Danny!

  • Striple 14 Mar 2017

    mine three

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