Supercar thrills at supermini prices? That's what a surprisingly economical used Lotus Elise promises
Believe it or not, you can now buy a Lotus Elise for less than £10,000! For that, you could have one of the best-handling cars ever on your driveway. Better still, surprising economy and reasonable running costs mean it shouldn't break the bank.
Using an advanced aluminium bonded chassis to save weight, the car is agile and follows company founder Colin Chapman's famous maxim of "Just add lightness" to the letter. Here we look at the original model, which featured an array of special editions during its four-year production span. Whichever you choose, they're all great to drive - and as capable on the track as on the road.
- Steering: typically, Elise steering racks wear out within 35,000 miles. Therefore it is vital to check for play in the system before you buy, to see if a new one is needed. If this is the case, it is a useful haggling point when buying second-hand.
- Ball joints: the ball joints in the Lotus's front suspension usually wear out after only 35,000 miles, while dampers can last a mere 20,000 miles. Once these need replacing, the car's dynamics suffer badly, so get them checked.
- Wheels: make sure that the alloy wheels haven't been damaged, as replacements are no longer available for the Series 1. Used or aftermarket items can be tracked down, though, and they look better than non-standard rims.
- Brakes: discs wear surprisingly quickly if the car is driven hard. On the other hand, they rust if the vehicle isn't used very frequently. Either way, check the condition of these, as it is possible they will need renewing.
- Coolant: keep an eye on the coolant level, as Elise radiators are prone to holing. The car's heater matrix also has a tendency to spring leaks, so you should look out for coolant spills in the footwell - they will be easy to spot.
Early Elises start at £8,500 privately, while traders ask up to £15,000 for a mint final Series 1. Pay £13,000 for a 30,000-mile T-plate Elise 1.8 - add another £1,000 for an equivalent 111S.
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Other specials are harder to price, but Sport 135s, Sport 160s and the like should be £12,000-£14,000 with 40,000-60,000 miles on the clock.
What to look for
Generally, the Elise isn't afflicted with blown head gaskets, which are common to most other 1.8 K Series-engined cars. Do get an HPI check, though. Tricky on-the-limit handling often means crashed cars; chassis repair is a specialist task.
Jun 1998: Rear suspension toe link bolt may loosen. Affects cars built from June 1996 onwards.Sep 1999: Possibility of fuel leakage on models made from July 1999 on.Mar 2000: Electromagnetic interference may cause misfire on cars built from February 2000 to March 2000.Feb 2001: Misfire and fire risk on 111S from September 1999 to August 2001.Feb 2001: Fuel may leak on cars from October 1999 to end of January 2001.Jun 2001: Steering rack wear risk on cars from Sept 1998 to January 1999.
Ian Watson from Poole in Dorset has owned his 2001 Elise from new. He has nothing but praise for the car - but not always for the dealer network, which sometimes delivers patchy service.
"I've had a few minor niggles, all fixed under warranty but not without inconvenience," says Ian. "Shop around to save money on servicing, while sympathetic upgrades such as Series 2 suspension and Yokohama Advan tyres are worthwhile. As long as you go into Elise ownership with your eyes open, you won't be disappointed."
An unrivalled driving experience at a fair price and with reasonable reliability, an Elise is possible to live with every day. It's as comfortable on the track as it is blasting along B-roads, with economy of 30mpg-plus. There are few standard models left, but that's no bad thing; a couple of minor modifi-cations make this car even more enjoyable. Patchy dealer network is backed up by plenty of independent specialists.