The Lotus philosophy is simple — build ’em light, fit a small but powerful engine, design a striking but efficient body, add an advanced suspension and braking package … then put it all together, sit back and watch sporting drivers having fun. And that, ladies and gentlemen of the road, is the case for the Lotus Elise.
It was a convincing case, too, for this splendid roadster with echoes of Italian supercar styling was an instant hit when it appeared in 1996. The Hethel-based outfit had been developing the Elise Series 1 convertible for a couple of years, taking a bonded aluminium chassis and adding a fibreglass body shell. Coupled with the 16 valve 1.8 litre fuel-injected K series engine, this ensured that the Elise’s performance matched that of sports cars that cost more. But the real joy of the Elise is the all-round driving experience, as both handling and roadholding are exceptional.
But — although plenty of standard Series 1 cars were made and sold — performance was the name of the game, and numerous special editions of the Elise were built before Series 2 came along in 2001. Some were simply clever marketing ploys — like the green-and-gold Lotus 50th anniversary edition or the John Player Special black-and-gold Type 72. The Exige of 2000 was actually a hardtop Elise.
But others like the 1998 Elise 190 VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) with its race seats and harnesses, roll cage, adjustable suspension and 187 bhp were for the driver who liked competitive weekend track outings. This market was also served by the Elise Sprint (later the 111S) of 1999, soon to be joined by the Sport 135. The final evolutions were the Elise Sport 160 and 190 in 2000. Special editions and performance models are the most highly sought-after Series 1 Elises.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1,796 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The ultimate development of the Elise Series 1 was the Lotus 340R (just 340 built) — this eye-catching open-top special with roll bars, external wheels and scooped bonnet was issued in 2000 as a performance special intended for track and road use.