Could this be the furthest-travelled K-Series Elise?
By Mike Duff / Saturday, July 17, 2021 / Loading comments
The relationship between time and distance is a simple and immutable one, except at the outer edge of theoretical physics. But it causes considerable confusion when applied to elderly sports cars. This week’s Pill is a well-used and clearly well-enjoyed Series 2 Lotus Elise, one that has managed to cover 160,000 miles. That figure makes it one of the leggiest of its breed, reflected in the fact it is also one of the cheapest.
Most potential buyers won’t even try to see past that odometer score. It’s as shocking in this part of the market as one two or even three times as high would be for something more commonplace. Even two decades after the Series 2 Elise was introduced it is unusual to find one sporting a six-figure mileage in the classifieds. Yet because this one was first registered in November 2002 – the same month that Piers Brosnan’s dapper James Bond bowed out with Die Another Day – the annual average is far from shocking. 8,700 miles a year is hardly excessive.
While our Pill is very far from perfect, its very existence offers a stylish refutation to the stereotypes that have followed Lotus in general, and the K-Series powered Elise in particular. Lotus owners have been fielding questions about breakdowns, failures and the seriousness of usual trouble pretty much since the plates were stuck on the first road-legal Seven back in 1957.
And the Rover K-Series is an engine infamous for its well-documented tendency to blow its head gaskets, an issue that parts of t’internet will assure you falls under ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’ The dealer selling our Pill promises an extensive service history but doesn’t give any more details, so it’s entirely possible that will include details of at least one top end rebuild.
Regardless of its grenade-spec engine, this Elise is a car that has clearly packed plenty of adventure into its existence. A commendably honest set of pictures show the bodywork’s many blemishes in unfiltered detail. Or, at least, some of them. From the photographic evidence these include a crazed paint at the leading edge of the bonnet, a rash of stone chips at the front and cracking around the bumper’s left hand intake. There is more broken paint around the rear clam, lacquer has peeled in various places and one of the rear lights is discoloured and possibly cracked. It is also missing the large ‘LOTUS’ script that should be between the rear lights and the smaller Elise decal. Strongly suggestive that it has either had new paint, or new bodywork.
The inside is showing plenty of wear, too – the drivers seat bears the marks of many bottoms. Or maybe just one bottom, many times. The car is wearing a hard top in the pictures, but the advert says it comes with the fabric clip-in canvas alternative too. It’s not hiding anything and it doesn’t need to – as it’s being offered for £12,750.
If you’re emerging bleary eyed from a five-year siesta this last figure might not seem especially notable. Early and scruffier Rover-engined Series 2 Elises have indeed been this cheap in the past, although I can’t remember any falling substantially below this. But in recent years prices of the clan have been creeping steadily upwards as interest has increased, especially in the later Toyota-engined examples. There are owners who will tell you that the lighter K-Series, with its punchier mid-range, is actually the better engine. Not many, admittedly – but they’re out there.
The story of the Series 2 Elise is definitely one of the brighter points in Lotus’s history. When Russell Carr’s design team started working on a larger Elise to meet tougher crash test standards and support a return to the States in the late nineties there could have been no idea the resulting car would have to last as long as it did. The project’s lead stylist was a young Belgian called Steve Crijns, who – beyond the difficulty in pronouncing his surname – really should be better known on the basis of the bang-uppedness of the job that was done with minimal resources.
The original Elise had looked great when it was launched. But the Series 2 immediately made its predecessor look a little basic and under-detailed. The revised car lasted well, too – it had to given Lotus’s frequently parlous financial position. Despite several facelifts, the largest branded the Series 3, much of Crijns’ original survived all the way to the Elise Sport Final Edition launched in February this year.
But while Elises grew fatter and more muscular as the 21st century progressed, the early Series 2 was almost as frill-free and minimalist as the original. Even with the 122hp of the base engine it was capable of impressively brisk performance thanks to the combination of a sub-800kg kerbweight and well-chosen gear ratios. The boggo Elise could blast its way from 0-60mph in under six seconds, faster through the benchmark than many more potent machines. Acceleration tailed off as speed rose, but the chassis delivered plentiful grip and an instinctively adjustable front-rear handling balance that made any Elise easy to drive at a high percentage of its capability. There was no easier introduction to mid-engined physics.
Build quality was definitely better than that of the earlier Elise – GM had ordered various improvements to be made at Hethel for the parallel production of the Opel Speedster/ Vauxhall VX220. But as the Series 2 aged, so issues emerged. Beyond those unique to the K-Series the Elise’s mostly aluminium structure was largely immune to conventional rust, but not to galvanic corrosion where different metals meet. Steel subframes and suspension arms were also prone to grot, and the glassfibre bodywork is easy to damage and hard to repair, especially when it comes to anything that takes out the front or rear clamshell.
Any bodyshop appraiser look to quote for bringing our Pill back to A1 condition would probably check the printer was full of paper before dispatching an estimate to it. Doing so would require a serious amount of money, almost certainly bringing the total cost to more than the cost of a much more cosmetically tidy example. Yet arguably there isn’t any reason to do so; presuming reasonable mechanical health you could make an excellent case for buying this one for track use, or just the sort of everyday street-parked grind that modern sports cars are rarely subected to. Or a power-boosting conversion. It’s certainly hard to see how it could ever be worth much less, and if Elise prices ever do go crazy this could be the equivalent to one of those scruffy, long-parked 964 911s which now create bidding frenzies when they resurface.
Our Pill’s MOT history is pretty much as you’d expect given its visible condition: chequered enough to play chess on. The most recent ticket was a clean pass in June, but it failed last year on non-functioning brake lights and a worn suspension arm balljoints. 2019’s had a plethora of warnings about tyres, brake pipes and joints; the fact these didn’t come back suggests they were taken care of. Interestingly, the online data goes all the way back to the car’s first ever MOT in November 2005; one it failed for a blown headlamp bulb and cracked wiper blade. Some things never change.
The Elise’s retirement has brought home just how special the whole dynasty was. It’s no exaggeration to say that this was the car that saved Lotus. Now somebody needs to save this one.
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