Mods & Con­se­quences: How to make Lo­tus’ Elise even bet­ter

The Lo­tus Elise is ar­guably the great­est ever sports car, but there’s still room for im­prove­ment

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Living With Classics - Richard Dredge

’It feels more nim­ble than the later Se­ries 2 Toy­ota-en­gined cars’

To some, if ever there was a car that rep­re­sented four-wheeled per­fec­tion, it’d be the orig­i­nal Lo­tus Elise – a car that made all oth­ers ap­pear in­ert, with its amaz­ing han­dling, per­for­mance and brakes. So the idea of try­ing to im­prove any as­pect of the Elise may seem fan­ci­ful. How­ever, some own­ers have found that there are ways of mak­ing the Elise even bet­ter.

Club Lo­tus chair­man, Alan Mor­gan, says: ‘The Elise Se­ries 1 is such a de­light­fully sorted car in stan­dard 118bhp form that it’s fab­u­lous to drive with­out any changes at all from the fac­tory spec. You can carry so much speed through cor­ners, and weigh­ing in at only 725kg it feels sig­nif­i­cantly more nim­ble than the later Se­ries 2 Toy­ota-en­gined cars. That’s ar­guably the great­est thing about the Se­ries 1 – its agility. If you want more speed, try to find a 135/160/190 Sport or a 111S VVC ver­sion, but be warned – they’re quite rare.’

Rel­a­tively few Elise Se­ries 1s were built – and some of those are now in rel­a­tively poor con­di­tion through use, ne­glect or ac­ci­dent dam­age – so if you’re lucky enough to find a re­ally good orig­i­nal car, you’re bet­ter off keep­ing it that way, un­less you re­sort to fit­ting a few re­versible mods. What you’re more likely to buy is a de­cent car that will ben­e­fit from a few sym­pa­thetic up­grades to the brakes, sus­pen­sion or tyres. A cared-for car shouldn’t need any up­grades to the cool­ing sys­tem, how­ever.

But as Alan Mor­gan notes, while most of the best Elise mods are sub­tle, you can go much fur­ther if you want to. He says: ‘Some of our mem­bers have fit­ted Audi 1.8T, Honda VTEC or Ford Du­ratec en­gines, which com­pletely change the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so there’s much more grunt and less del­i­cacy. It’s not some­thing that would suit every­one, but it is a dif­fer­ent ap­proach that works for some.’

sUs­pEn­sion £600+

Orig­i­nal springs and dampers will ben­e­fit from fresh parts. If they’ve al­ready been swapped they may be tired or not suited to your driv­ing. Ei­ther way think about re­place­ment with OE or af­ter­mar­ket parts.

GE­om­E­Try £200+

The Elise’s ge­om­e­try needs to be set up per­fectly; if the toe-in, track­ing, cam­ber or cas­tor are even slightly out, it will wreck the han­dling. Get the ge­om­e­try checked at least once a year and change worn bushes as a mat­ter of course.

BrakEs £350+

Orig­i­nal Me­tal Ma­trix Com­pound (MMC) discs are no longer avail­able and the as­so­ci­ated pads are costly. But there are lots of steel discs and af­ter­mar­ket pads avail­able, with Green Stuff pads a peren­nial favourite among own­ers.

TyrEs £50+ apiECE

Chang­ing the tyres on an Elise can have a fairly dra­matic ef­fect on its han­dling and what suits you might not suit every­one else. So seek lots of ad­vice first and avoid fit­ting large wheels and tyres at all costs.

Driv­inG £250+

It might not have much power but the Elise’s lim­its are very high and get­ting the best out of it will al­most cer­tainly in­volve some pro­fes­sional driv­ing in­struc­tion. It’ll be money well spent, even if you’ve no in­ter­est in track driv­ing.

En­GinE £300+

Your first steps should be to fit an in­duc­tion kit, ECU remap and a matched ex­haust man­i­fold backed up by a more ag­gres­sive camshaft. A ported and pol­ished cylin­der head is worth­while, too – you can even fit a turbo.

Ex­HaUsT £340+

Some ex­hausts are ef­fec­tively a di­rect re­place­ment for the orig­i­nal sys­tem while oth­ers sound sportier and/or help the en­gine to breathe more freely. Be­ware any­thing too boomy, though.

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