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Lotus Elise S1
A first generation lotus Elise S1 sports car is one of the purest driver's cars available today.


Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise S1



Year 1996 - 2000
Engine 1.8 litre, inline 4-cylinder, 16 valve
Transmission 5 speed manual RWD
Max speed 126 mph
0-60 mph 6.1 seconds
Horsepower 118 horsepower
weight 731 kgs / 1,611 lbs

Background
Lotus has always favored the lightweight, stripped down approach to automotive design. And for the first generation Lotus Elise, the S1 (Series 1), this was more true than ever. In a world where model bloat has ruined countless promising sports cars via a slow, blubbery death, the Elise S1 is a refreshingly pure driver's car. To add to the sweetness it's also a great looking car, and even though it's been around since 1996 it still looks contemporary and has the ability to turn heads.

The Lotus Elise S1's designer, Julian Thomson, wanted to give the car the soul of a motorbike. The styling and equipment found in the minimalist interior - including the aluminium and rubber trim elements and no-nonsense, two-dial instrument panel from Stack - were designed to further enforce this influence.

The car's engineering was led by Richard Rackham, a man who shared the belief that the Elise should be a simple and pure sports car which carried on the Lotus tradition of 'adding lightness'.

When the car was first unveiled it was planned as a niche vehicle which wouldn't be a bulk seller or money spinner. In fact Lotus only planned to sell 2,500 cars in total. However sales massively exceeded this number, and to date (including the second generation Elise) over 33,000 Elise's have found homes all over the world.


Drivetrain
The first generation Lotus Elise was powered by a Rover K-Series 1.8 litre, 4-cylinder engine. This unit produces 118 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm and 122 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm. Okay, granted, both those numbers sound pretty weak compared to contemporary sports cars. But in a car weighing just 731 kgs (1,611 lbs), this powerplant could haul the Elise to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds. Top speed was 126 mph, not blisteringly quick, but on the twisty back roads the car was designed for it was more than adequate.

The Rover K-Series engine itself is tried and tested - hence its frequent use by many small-volume manufacturers and kit car builders. In the Elise S1 the most common cause of engine failure is a blown head gasket, usually caused by a leak from the ever-so-slightly inadequate cooling system. The newer type of rubber gaskets are far less resistant to failure, and if fitted they more or less cure the problem.

The transmission is handled by a manual 5-speed gearbox which - of course - sends the power to the rear wheels. The transmission cables are the weak points here. Due to their relatively long length they can get stretched over time (faster if the gear changes are a bit aggressive) leading to damage to the selectors. Checking and adjusting the cables regularly (about every 20,000 miles) will prevent the selectors from being damaged.


Chassis and Body
Obviously if you want to make a superlight sports car with impeccable handling then you're going to have to get the chassis exactly right. And with the Elise S1 Lotus' engineers were spot on. The car featured an extruded and bonded aluminium tub, over which a hand-laid fiberglass body was placed. The chassis has proved to be one of the best Lotus ever created. However the downside of its specialist construction method is that it's difficult (and expensive) to repair after an accident. If you're thinking of buying one, make sure the epoxy glue - which is used to bind together the aluminium chassis elements - is in good condition and there are no cracks or chips which are visible.

Also, and this isn't the car's fault, many Elise S1's have been used and abused (in the best possible way!) as part-time track cars. So again if you're in the market for one make sure it hasn't had too hard of a life. If it has, then at the very least check it was properly looked after and maintained in-between its thrashings.

The fiberglass bodywork of the Lotus Elise S1 is a thing of beauty. From every angle. It's also stood the test of time pretty well. However the paint can suffer from bubbling in localized areas when subjected to extreme temperatures - both hot and cold. Other weak spots in the bodywork include the steel headlight housings - which are vulnerable to rust, and poorly fitting leaky roofs.


Suspension and Brakes
The Lotus Elise S1's suspension system was a wonderful setup, and it contributed greatly to the car's superb dynamics. The suspension and steering system is vulnerable to rapid wear, especially the bushings and ball joints. Almost every aspect of the suspension setup is adjustable, and it's important to have the alignment regularly checked to keep the handling at its sharpest. Originally the first generation Elise was fitted with metal-matrix brakes formed from sintered aluminium. However due to their significantly reduced stopping power in the wet, Lotus only used them on the early cars. Most owners nowadays choose to replace the discs with upgraded alternative units when it's time for a change.


Interior
The interior of the Lotus Elise S1 really is a case of 'what you see is what you get'. There's two seats, a 3-spoke sports steering wheel, and almost no accessories or creature comforts. It is a very functional place to be, but in a focused driver's car it's almost perfect.




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