first generation lotus Elise S1 sports car is one of the
purest driver's cars available today.
inline 4-cylinder, 16 valve
|| 5 speed
/ 1,611 lbs
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Similar and related vehicles:
Lotus Elise 111R
Lotus Elise S
Lotus Exige S
Lotus Exige Cup 240
Lotus Sport Exige GT3
Lotus Evora S