Lotus Elise Sport 135: PH Fleet

If ever a stretch of road perfectly sums up the philosophy of a car manufacturer, it's the B1135 between the A11 and Hethel. From the driver's seat of my Elise, those few marvellously flowing bends, with their varying radii and multiple cambers, left me in little doubt that I was in Lotus country.

Would Danny's mods meet with Becker's approval?
Would Danny's mods meet with Becker's approval?
I'd been offered the chance to take my Elise home - the first time in 16 years - along with the opportunity to take it out on the Hethel track and, more worryingly, evaluated by one of the original ride and handling engineers who developed the car.

That someone would be none other than Matt Becker, son of Roger Becker - ex-chassis engineer and Esprit stunt driver in The Spy Who Loved Me. During the 90s, Matt was part of the team developing the Elise alongside Gavan Kershaw and Dave Minter. Countless hours were spent honing spring and damper rates, tyre construction and suspension geometry. There were never-ending laps of Hethel and probably more than a few trips up and down the B1135. Now Chief Engineer - Vehicle Attributes, it is his job to ensure the Lotus DNA lives on in every current and future car to come out of Hethel.

The Elise ready to dance in Becker's hands
The Elise ready to dance in Becker's hands
Engine-wise my Elise is largely standard, but the suspension has deviated considerably from factory spec, and while I can't claim to have got my hands dirty too often, I have been at the tiller when it comes to deciding what to upgrade. Nitrons with stiffer spring and dampers replaced the S2 Bilsteins a year after I bought it (the original Konis having long gone). At the same time the ride height was lowered by 35mm at the front and 25mm at the rear, toe and camber settings were altered and the tyres changed to Yokohama Advan Neovas (original Sport 135s came with Pirellis). Plenty of opportunity, then, to undo all the hard work originally achieved by Matt and the team. At least Lotus isn't renowned for its ride and handling. Oh, hang on...

With a busy schedule, Matt didn't waste any time sliding into the driver's seat, and before we'd even moved he was making observations. "You've got free play in the throttle pedal, and the steering rack grommet needs a greasing. But it's the quirky things like this that make them interesting."

Danny's Lotus returns to the place of its birth
Danny's Lotus returns to the place of its birth
Once on the track the comments continued. "It's interesting how much pedal effort you have to put into the brakes." With all of the Lotus range now equipped with servo assistance, Matt's first prod of the middle pedal required some recalibration.

During that first lap his inputs were measured and precise, forming a well-choreographed routine instilled from decades of evaluating cars. The response to every action was registered and fed into that extensive data bank of experience to build a picture of how it would react at the limit.

By the time we came round to the long, ever-tightening Andretti corner, Matt was ready to explore those limits. After turning in on the brakes and applying a generous helping of throttle, the back end loosened its grip on the sodden Tarmac. With quick but calm hands, Matt caught the slide, kept the accelerator pinned and drifted neatly around the entire bend.

The rest of the laps were conducted in a similar vein, with both Andretti corner and the zero-run-off Rindt hairpin being treated with consistent arse-out disdain.

Car is sorted; no excuses Milner!
Car is sorted; no excuses Milner!
From where I was sitting it was all incredibly smooth and casual. But, in between involuntary giggling, I couldn't help feeling a pang of jealousy. Why had I never managed to make my car dance like this?

When the fun eventually came to a halt Matt was ready to deliver his verdict. "It's very well balanced and the transition between understeer and oversteer was quite linear. It's just as I remember really: they're very fun; they're accessible. They're not the fastest, but you can play with the car. Actually, if anything this feels better balanced than we used to have. It's more benign than I remember. "

So, no excuses then, and at least I now know it's not the car that's holding me back.

Fact sheet
1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Homecoming results in thumbs up from Lotus' ride and handling guru.

Hethel vid clip

Onboard with Matt Becker


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (75) Join the discussion on the forum

  • renaultgeek 25 Mar 2014

    bit of a let down no? "I've ragged your tyres, car seems fine, bye"

  • Lione1 Richie 25 Mar 2014

    "Actually, if anything this feels better balanced than we used to have. It's more benign than I remember."

    Tell me I'm wrong: tuning is a waste of money wink

  • zebedee 25 Mar 2014

    over the years lots of people have tried different types of suspension set up and geo, especially those that have raced the cars. They can change the character quite a bit to suit different drivers and different uses for the car. I've just had my re-done (on Nitrons from the Koni LSS) by a new place so am looking forward to trying it out.

  • oldaudi 25 Mar 2014

    This is like taking your wife back to her first boyfriend. You allow the first boyfriend to take her for another test drive, whilst you wait outside the bedroom waiting for him to come out with a thumbs up or a thumbs down once hes "been round the track"


  • The Pits 25 Mar 2014

    Great to see the master in action.

    Stunning car control as you'd expect. While Matt Becker remains at Lotus they will always ride and handle beautifully.

    Your car looks like a peach!

    Nice write up, thanks.

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