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
’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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.