PH Carpool: Lotus Elise S1 Sport 135

Danny Milner
Lotus Elise S1 Sport 135
Owned since:
October 2010
Previously owned:
Peugeot 205 GL, Peugeot 205 XS, Ford Ka (went a bit pear-shaped there), Ford Puma, Renaultsport Clio 182

Why I bought it:
I'd been wavering for a while about what to replace my old Clio 182 with. Half of me said 'get a Clio 200 Cup; a sensible next step with enough space to hold a mountain bike.' The other half said 'life's too short, sod practicality and buy an Elise.' I swung back and forth for weeks until I was even boring myself with the procrastinations.

Standard Elise wasn't going to suffice
Standard Elise wasn't going to suffice
What finally pushed me towards pure self-indulgence was a single-seater experience at Silverstone that I had been given for my birthday. If sitting in the tiny tub, gripping the arcade-size steering wheel didn't convince me, the moment I lurched onto the Stowe circuit (which took quite some time thanks to the snappy clutch) certainly did. I knew this was the kind of driving experience I wanted to be able to replicate on a regular basis. Why? The purity of the controls, unmolested by motors or microchips, and the lack of mass were a revelation. Even if an Elise could only recreate a measly 10 per cent of the experience, I knew I had to have one.

Lots of revision followed, reading as many of the copious buyer's guides as possible. My first viewing was a standard S1with the help of an Elise-owning friend, followed by a cheap, tatty early S2 (that previously belonged to one of the PH staff) but neither really felt right. The classic problem was I'd set my sights too high and I wouldn't really be content with a standard car. What I wanted was a 111S or, better still, Evo's pick of the Elise range and 1998 ECOTY runner-up; the Sport 135.

I found one for sale in Plymouth and despite a few question marks over the brakes and steering rack, I took the plunge. Number 48 of the original batch of 50 was mine.

Lotus challenges in every respect
Lotus challenges in every respect
What I wish I'd known:
Ignore the buyer's guides at your peril. All of my painstaking research went out of the window when it came to inspecting the car. I hoped the play in the steering was a worn bushing; it was, in fact, a knackered steering rack. I didn't notice the leaking rear damper (another £120) and I believed the previous owner when he told me that all Elises had a stiff gate when changing gear.

To avoid buying an armadillo (nice and shiny on top, but a total mess underneath) take a jack and a torch to the viewing. Ideally, remove the wheels, drop the undertray and have a good poke about.

Expect the unexpected and make sure you reserve some of your budget to pay for the inevitable problems that will crop up post-purchase. There's stacks of information online, with SELOC's Tech Wiki being a great place to start your research.

Track-focused spec for Sport 135
Track-focused spec for Sport 135
Things I love:
Falling, and I mean that literally, into the Corbeau seat feels like a driver change at Le Mans. The view out over the front arches could be from any number of classic sports cars; It came as little surprise to learn that the car's designer, Julian Thompson, owned a Dino at the time he penned the Elise.

Operating the perfectly-placed extruded aluminum pedals, simple aluminium ball-topped gear lever and dainty wheel is a joy. Feeling the texture of the road through the steering, the communication of the chassis as it weights through a corner, and listening to the frenetic soundtrack from the K-Series just over my shoulder feels special every time I drive it. I removed the face of the stereo on the day that I bought it, and it hasn't been used since.

All these aspects are great, but what really excites me is the challenge of learning how to drive it properly. It's a journey that's just beginning.

Danny's Elise snapped at Sunday Service
Danny's Elise snapped at Sunday Service
Things I hate:
Just when I thought I'd sorted out all the problems, that finally I could stop spending money, put the tools away and actually enjoy driving it for a while, something else breaks. But its ok, I think, because it's only a flat battery. I mean, how hard can it be to change the battery? Well, after two hours, with my knuckles wedged between pipework and chassis rails, possibly bleeding but impossible to confirm because I can't see or feel my fingers, and the invention of several new swear words, I can reveal it is a complete can utter clusterf...

And the great thing with Elise ownership is that a new, and even more painful DIY job is always waiting just around the corner.

I found insurance for a reasonable £500 with REIS on a limited mileage policy despite being kept on the street. And four track days are included with that.

Head gasket fund may get spent elsewhere...
Head gasket fund may get spent elsewhere...
I get my servicing done at local specialist Back on Track in Guildford. A basic A service costs around £170 and rises to around £500 for a C service, which includes the cambelt. Tyres are around £500 a set for Yokohama AD08s. Budget more for track orientated rubber like A048s or R888s. If you go the sticky rubber route, many people recommend upgrading the toe-links to cope with the higher cornering loads.

Tax for my sport 135 is £215 a year, and 40mpg from basic 95ron makes running it pretty reasonable too.

Where I've been:
My first track day in the Elise was at Bedford. It was probably the wisest decision I've made in the entire time I've owned it. First lap, post warm-up, the back end started to come round at 70 on a steady throttle. So the rumours were true...

Brands Hatch was the next outing, and being armed with my Bedford experience certainly saved me from an expensive excursion when exactly the same thing started to happen around Paddock Hill Bend.

I've also been to Oulton Park, which is rich is history and incredibly rewarding to drive, and back to Bedford, which, er, isn't. But it is a good place to have your first spin, when you find out that 10 per cent extra weight sitting in the passenger seat has a big effect on the handling.

Nitron suspension next on the shopping list
Nitron suspension next on the shopping list
What next?
I'm planning on holding onto it for a while as I feel I still have a long way to go before I feel truly confident, and competent behind its wheel.

My upgrade list is ambitiously long and completely unaffordable, but I can but dream, can't I? I've just snapped up some Yoko Advan AD07 tyres to replace the rock-hard Hankooks it's presently wearing. New dampers are next on the cards, probably Nitron's Street Series models. At some point I'll get the suspension refreshed, which includes stripping and re-plating the wishbones and fitting new bushings and ball joints. And all the while I have to try and keep my hands off the all-important HGF contingency fund.

Danny takes his Elise round Brands...


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Comments (107) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Insight 13 Jan 2012

    Got to say - that's a well written article for an amateur.

  • andreas542 13 Jan 2012

    Great read! I've always fancied one of these in the future, but I'll be hard pushed to pick one over, say, a Caterham when they're both intended as toys.

  • Dave Hedgehog 13 Jan 2012

    love it, 1 vote avg rating 0 smile

  • DanDC5 13 Jan 2012

    And I want an Elise again.....

  • hondafanatic 13 Jan 2012

    • heads off to classifieds while cursing Danny.

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