The Lotus Elise is a special car.
Simple, light and effective. The brilliantly speedy, two-seater roadster is a staple of British car culture.
Much like humans, most sportscars and supercars become bulkier and heavier over time. It’s a natural progression. Manufacturers fill empty spaces with unneeded technological gizmos. And then charge a racket for supercharged limited editions.
Not with the Lotus Elise. Numerous editions and versions of this beautifully-balanced pocket rocket have been released since its inception 25 years ago. But with the Elise, Lotus has always been consistent in retaining its core values; focus on the driving, and let everyone else worry about the rest. The Lotus Elise is pure, essential and (most importantly) fun driving - a harmonic experience between road, car and owner.
Named after the grand-daughter of then-Lotus chairman Romano Artioli, the Elise was described as the “world’s most advanced sports car” on release. It went on to earn high critical acclaim. The Elise won numerous awards and inspired a host of other models including the Hennessey Venom GT and Tesla Roadster.
The Lotus Elise is an excellent track car available at a fraction of the price of a steroid-ingested supercar. It innovated the lightweight sportscar range and is widely renown as Lotus’ flagship model.
You can own a Lotus Elise today – check out the Racing Edge Paddock for more.
Lotus Elise: Born from an esteemed history
Lotus, and the Elise, will always have a rich history associated with racing. Founder Anthony ‘Colin’ Chapman studied structural engineering in London in 1948. While on leave from the armed forces, Chapman began to design and build race cars.
In 1951, Chapman produced the first race car that would be recognised as a Lotus. A year later, he formed the Lotus Engineering Company and in 1954, Team Lotus was founded.
Over the next few decades, Lotus and the Lotus Group would become household names in motorsport. Lotus won at Le Mans. It revolutionised Formula 1 and brought home numerous driver and constructor championships with Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel. Clark would also lead Lotus to an inspirational victory at the Indianapolis 500, as the company made waves on the world stage.
F1 world champions Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet all drove for Team Lotus during their careers, until it was finally disbanded in 1995.
Lotus even powered cyclists to Olympic Gold; in 1992, Chris Boardman won the 4000m pursuit on his Lotus Superbike at the Barcelona Olympics.
As Lotus enjoyed a dominant era on the racetrack, it was also developing successful road cars. The Elan, the Esprit, the Type 75 Elite, the Eclat, the Excel. In 1977, the Esprit made it to the big screen; Britain’s most famous spy, James Bond, piloted the supreme sports car in The Spy Who Loved Me. The Esprit Turbo was also used in For Your Eyes Only in 1981.
However, Lotus would soon produce another gem that would turn out to be their leading star.
The world welcomes the Lotus Elise
The year is 1995. Michael Jordan returns to the NBA, eBay launches, and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft reaches Jupiter. In September, the Lotus Elise is first revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Series 1 of the Lotus Elise, known unofficially as ‘S1’, ran between 1996 and 2001. Its feather-light dry weight meant it could reach 0-100 km/h in just 5.8 seconds, despite it having only 118 bhp of power.
A Lionel Messi-like low centre of gravity and speed earned the Lotus Elise instant recognition. S1 proved highly popular, selling 12,000 models in five years and drawing rave reviews from motoring critics.
Being a two-seater roadster with little room for luggage, the Lotus Elise attracted a more niche clientele than, say, the Ford Mondeo. For some, the mid-engine roadster became their ‘second car’ for weekend driving. For others, it was the perfect vehicle in which to embrace the ongoing track boom.
Featuring a fiberglass body shell on top of an extruded and bonded aluminium chassis, the Elise is both attractively light and quick. Its low weight not only is better for fuel economy and production costs, but also relieves stress on its components.
The diminutive nature of the Elise is the key to its brilliance. It is easy to accelerate, corner and stop: the three major components to driving. While the Elise has been adapted over the years, not a lot has changed. Just refined and improved.
The Elise through the years
Lotus launched several sportier versions of the already-sporty Elise through the years. The Sport 135, 160 and 190 and other special editions like its 50th-anniversary model with Lotus-coloured green and gold paint scheme were all marketed with the rise in track culture in mind. The 111S, with its 1.8-liter Rover K-Series engine, was followed by the track-conditioned but road-legal 340R concept car. Then came the hard-top Exige, largely influenced by the Elise.
Between 2001 and 2011, Series 2 of the Elise came into production. With new European regulations to meet, Lotus needed financial backing and General Motors answered the call. The 111S Type 25, in Jim Clark racing green with yellow stripes, remains ultra rare with only 50 examples made. As is the case with 2003’s Elise Type 23, based on one of Chapman’s early race cars, with its stunning white and Lotus-green livery.
In 2005, the Elise was introduced to America where it was marketed until 2011. Lotus switched to Toyota engines in 2007 ahead of the release of three new versions – including a super-charged sportier Elise SC and the collectors’ California edition.
Series 3 of the Lotus Elise was launched in 2010 and came with a facelift, as well as a 217 bhp super-charged model.
Lotus also entered into the fray of GT racing with the GT1, based heavily on the Elise. Seven GT1 race cars were produced, with one road car for homologation purposes. The whereabouts of the road car remains a mystery to this day.
In recent years, the high-performance Elise Cup and Sprint models have captivated fans with impressive stats. As of today, Lotus continues to push the boundaries of speed and driveability as the Elise remains as influential as ever.
The future beckons
With the release of the Evora and all-electric hypercar Evija, Lotus has been very busy this year. But the 2020 edition of the Elise remains a trailblazer for small, compact, fast cars. Its all-too-familiar traits still make it one of the most impressive cars to roll off a British production line.
The Elise was launched at a time when track culture was sky-rocketing. It is an era-defining car for a company steeped in racing prestige. Twenty-five years after it first came into our lives, the Lotus Elise still stands tall and proud. It is an incredible car that not only generates barrels of fun, but encapsulates the true spirit of driving. And not many cars can claim that moniker.