The last time we played spotted with a Series 1 Elise it was following Lotus's 70th anniversary celebrations and Matt Bird was overcome with the all the joys of Hethel. For once, his sunny disposition suited the mood of the company: Lotus had just been welcomed into the Geely fold, and while it was very early days, it seemed like better times might genuinely be ahead.
Three years on and the optimism was clearly justified. Lotus is abuzz not just with the promise of a new product (something it could turn its hand to even in the bad times) but also the new buildings to build them in. Early word says the innovative Evija is very impressive, and our own eyeballs have confirmed that the Emira is the prettiest car to come out of Norfolk since the Esprit. What a difference big pots of money make.
Of course back in 2018, we knew none of this and Master B pondered the likelihood of a 725kg sports car coming to Lotus's rescue a second time around. This was always unlikely, of course - in fact, the Emira weighs almost exactly twice as much as the Series 1 Elise - and yet, if the frenzied reaction is anything to go on, it is likely to prove precisely what a resurgent Hethel needs to prove its new business model to an expectant Geely.
The Emira will obviously be very different to the Series 1, and yet it will be among the cars that it is compared with because the first Elise defined what Lotus meant to most people in the nineties and noughties. Replacing it spiritually will be no mean feat, either; prices for the early cars remain punchy not just because they are comparatively rare or regarded affectionately, but because they were just so darned good.
This one appears to be a case in point, having covered just 21k in the hands of a single owner. There are more expensive S1s in the classifieds - one that has apparently experienced just 1,761 miles - but there's something heartening about the prospect of an Elise that has clearly been used and adored, and 'always garaged by the gentleman owner'.
Moreover, this is a very early 1996 car, meaning that it ordered in a previous period of Lotus optimism, and was sold to someone who bought into the manufacturer's legend. Assuming the good health of the K-series motor, he was likely rewarded with 25 years of wonderfully memorable motoring. It will cost around £60k for someone to repeat the feat in 2022 with the Emira - or you could spend less than half that discovering what all the fuss is about.
SPECIFICATION | LOTUS ELISE S1
Engine: 1,796cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 120@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 122@3,000rpm
First registered: 1996
Recorded mileage: 21,000
Price new: £20,415
Yours for: £27,995
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