The idea of a car you can use for race track days is nothing new in 2014.
As speed limits get lower and enforcement tighter, those with an urge to sample a little four-wheeled excitement have been turning to race tracks for years now.
It makes sense, too; a track-day offers the chance to go as fast as you like in a relatively safe environment, without having to constantly look over your shoulder for flashing red and blue lights.
Of course, such a strategy requires an appropriate car for the job, and opinions are split on this subject.
There’s a school of thought that says a big engine in a big car (typically a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon) will make for a great day-to-day car as well as a weekend track-star.
But increasingly, the hot-hatch is being seen as the way to go when it comes to driving the car to the track, enjoying yourself and then driving home again in the same vehicle.
But if you really want the unadulterated track experience, then sometimes you have to trade off day-to-day convenience and comfort and opt for something that is still road-registered, but a lot more track-oriented.
And that’s precisely where cars such as the Lotus Elise come in.
After some turbulent years, the Elise that arrived here in 1997 was an immediate hit with those who recognised motoring in its purest form.
There was absolutely nothing on the little Lotus that didn’t need to be there and its lightweight and agile handling and mid-engined balance made it great fun in the right circumstances.
The catch, of course, was that it was seriously flawed as a road car, namely in areas such as ride comfort, noise suppression and convenience gear. As well, it’s worth remembering the original Elise’s soft-top was a mad, convoluted thing that never kept much rain out even when it was new.
But on the race track or your favourite bit of country road, the Elise suddenly shone.
The five-speed manual gearbox was a delight, the sports seats hugged you tightly, the engine provided just enough oomph to be convincing and the handling and steering was pure racer.
Even the bare alloy floors and lack of an air-conditioner didn’t matter so much when the hour was right.
These days, the Elise uses Toyota power for much better performance and reliability, but cars built prior to that used a retuned version of British Rover’s K-Series four-cylinder.
More used to powering small, British hatchbacks with limited appeal, the engine wasn’t exactly a great fit with its 88kW of power and rather gruff nature, but with so little mass to move, it still did a decent job.
But it was never the most robust of units, so make sure all is well in that department.
Any smoke on start-up or under acceleration is bad news and listen for rattles or clunks coming from the engine.
We’ve heard of these engines needing rebuilds early in life, while preventative maintenance seems to be the key to longevity for the mid-mounted unit.
The service handbook should show oil changes at about the 12,000 kilometre mark and make sure good quality, synthetic oil has been used.
Cars that have been used on race-tracks should have this service interval reduced to closer to 5000 kilometres, so knowing the vehicle’s history is important.
Working on the mid-mounted engine is not as easy as with a conventional car, either, so be prepared for larger bills than you might have expected for engine work.
The Elise was based on an aluminium structure that was bonded together in places and clothed with a fibreglass body.
The construction method can be tricky to fix, so if the car has been damaged underneath in any way, then you could have big problems.
So the trick is to get the car to a Lotus specialist and get it on a hoist where a close examination of the chassis can be made. If it’s bent, twisted or badly dented, you should probably walk away.
Repairs to the chassis and tub were not recommended by Lotus back in the day, so a damaged car could be more expensive to fix than it’s worth.
Also, since these cars were so often driven on race-tracks, crash damage was common.
Check the body closely for repairs as it did not take a huge crash to distort the aluminium underpinnings.
Speaking of bodywork, the clamshell nose section can be repaired in some cases, but if it’s been hit hard, costly replacement might be the only solution.
Like any car likely to have been used hard, components like the brake pads, clutch and tyres can all wear quickly.
Make sure any replacement items are up to the standard of the originals and be prepared to keep replacing them: The Elise is not a low-maintenance proposition.
Make sure the headlights on the car look right and function properly; a design flaw in pre-2006 cars actually magnified the sun’s rays, melting the headlight’s internals. It wasn’t such a problem in Britain, but it claimed a few headlights in Australian conditions.
To be honest, a post-2006 Elise with the Toyota engine is a much better bet, but these are still hugely expensive for what is a tiny, narrow-focus, impractical car.
There are also those who think the earlier car is the better looking one, but the bottom line for most would-be owners will be price.
Oh, and the array of alternatives that offer potentially more bang for one’s buck.
Lotus Elise Series 2 with Toyota
Excellent vehicle and it is just different. There is not really anything as affordable and different as this sports car. The light weight separates it from anything else and the driving experience like little else on the market. I would say the fit and finish is average and convenience it never going to be the reason to purchase it but I am pleased to be enjoying a car that is not mainstream!
The engine is a gem. If you are an enthusiast who likes to drive, then this is an outstanding choice.
Mine is now 12 years old and I have had it from new. I keep all the records and the vehicle in good order as I look after it meticulously. It has done nearly 90,000kms and I have used it as a daily driver. The engine is from Toyota and is virtually the same as the previous model Celica. Makes parts and servicing easy. I also use the original dealer from the UK where I bought it new and had the opportunity to view it in the factory as it was being built to Australian Specifications was special.
If you are planning to do long trip, then look elsewhere though. It is noisy and over a long drive it is tiring because the car is tuned to transmit everything back to you through the wheels and the seat.
People often think it must be a Maserati or something else exotic but readily accept it as being a Lotus.
Raw driving at its best
There is something very special about the Elise. You feel so connected to the driving experience. It is something I have felt in no other car. The 1800 gives you that little bit more oomph and also a 8,500rpm screamer. If you crave adrenalin and connection, than this is it.
Corners like nothing else, engaging, street apeal, adrenalin, low fuel consumption
Getting in and out, rough interior, potholes
Questions & Answers
Sorry, there are no questions yet.
ProductReview.com.au has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence our content moderation policies in any way, though ProductReview.com.au may earn commissions for products/services purchased via affiliate links.