Lotus special editions | Six of the Best

Limited-run versions of the Elise and Exige have been Lotus lynchpins for years. Here's the best of them…

By PH Staff / Tuesday, February 9, 2021 / Loading comments

It's amazing to think that, once upon a time, there weren't any Lotus Elise or Exige special editions at all. Indeed, the entire first generation of Exige (albeit precious few cars in total) existed as just the one model for its entire production run. Since then both Lotus sports cars have become synonymous with limited-run spin offs of one kind or another, some little more than fancy paint jobs and others rather more deserving of their limited availability.

Accordingly, and with the Final Editions just announced, what better time to dust of the history books and rundown the best-of variants for your viewing pleasure. With so many having been launched since the 1990s, it was always going to be a tough ask to narrow it down to just six cars – and no doubt you'll have your own personal favourite – so we've gone with an equal split of Elise and Exige and limited it to those that enjoyed a proper production run – no one-offs or remakes here. Perhaps we'll cover 340Rs, 3-Elevens and Elise GT1s when Hethel's new lineup arrives later this year…

Elise Sport 190

(S1 2000, S2 2003)

As the launch engine for the Elise, the K Series will always hold a special place in Lotus history. So it seems only logical that the pinnacle of Rover-engined Elises made this list. Because while all of them were great in their own way, if we're talking about the best then there's only one car to consider – the Sport 190. The car delivered genuine intensity to the 1.8-litre four-cylinder, with 190hp and kerbweight of less than 700kg. Though it was never homologated for road use, the Sport 190 certainly made an impression – because there was a Series 2 190 as well…

Again using the Very High Performance Derivative of the K Series, the follow-up 190 was built by Lotus Sport and Performance – it's thought just 33 were made, and they're now highly prized. One to seek out, for certain, or cherish if you're one of the lucky few – Elises don't come much more exhilarating.

Exige LF1


With a motorsport history as rich as Lotus's, it's no surprise that it's been harnessed over the years to make some memorable road cars. Quite frankly, this could just be a list solely comprised of the F1 editions, although that seemed a little obvious. But there's no way the LF1 could be ignored.

Not simply because a Series 3 Exige looks so good in the Lotus Motorsport black and gold scheme, but because its 2014 launch was so near the end of Lotus's time in F1. (And it hardly looks set to return now.) The 81 Exiges were a reference to the 81 victories achieved in F1 between 1960 and 2013, each named after a particular race win. Though mechanically unchanged, with 350hp and 295lb ft from the familiar 3.5-litre V6, the LF1 did get Pirelli Trofeo tyres as standard. And it's hardly like the regular Exige was a dud to drive…

Exige RGB

Most of us would be grateful for a watch come retirement, but that wasn't going to suffice for Lotus's chassis guru Roger Becker on his 2010 departure – an entire limited-edition run was made in his honour. The Exige and Elise RGB were significant as the last Lotuses to use the Toyota 1.8-litre 2ZZ engine as well.

Derived from each car's 'S' model, both RGBs made 260hp and received forged alloy wheels. Colours were limited to Aspen White, Carbon Grey, Solar Yellow and Starlight Black, but came with all the desirable options of the time: Performance Pack, Touring Pack and Sport Pack were standard on all of the RGB Special Editions. Becker's signature, as well as a numbered plaque and unique monochrome badges, further marked the cars out. As end-of-the-line models akin to the new Final Editions, the Becker cars are now highly prized, commanding more money than some of their Series 3 successors. Good luck finding one…

Elise Cup 250 GP Edition

Yes, another F1-inspired Lotus special edition, and another mid-engined Norfolk sports car that looks great in black and gold, but again one with a little more significance than most. Not only is the GP Edition one of the fastest Elise special editions yet made, based as it is on the Cup 250, it also serves to celebrate an important anniversary for its maker.

Lotus turning 70, in truth, was quite a lot like Lotus turning 60 and turning 50: it was making sublime mid-engined sports cars but little else, and the birthday meet would see a few scallywags turn up in Carltons and Sunbeams. Come 80, Lotus will look very different. There won't be an Elise, Evora or Exige, cars that were in production for a combined total of more than 50 years and which accounted for more than half of all the Lotuses ever made. It's easy to imagine, then, the old anniversary cars becoming more coveted as time goes on. There was a whole range of 70th cars – the Exige was painted in some heritage colours and got a couple of stickers – but it's the GP Edition Elise that we remember most fondly.

Elise Sprint


Nothing proves that light is right better than a Lotus sports car, a point which the Sprint of 2017 doubled down on. With even the Elise having succumbed to a few extra kilos over the years, the Sprint was launched to show that adding lightness was very much still a priority. Yes, it was expensive and, yes, it's not a limited edition in the conventional sense, but for proving the Elise's wizardry in a modern context there's not much better.

798kg was the key figure, the lightest a Sprint could be if the standard weight saving equipment – lithium battery, carbon seats, forged wheels, that sort of thing – was combined with optional extras like lighter brake discs and carbon sill covers. It represented a 41kg weight saving over a pre-Sprint Elise, and also saw the debut of the exposed manual gearbox – saving a kilo and vastly improving the shift quality. Available as a supercharged 220 Sprint or a naturally aspirated 1.6 for the truly committed, the Sprint's £5k premium over standard put a few off – they're well worth it, if you can find one.

Exige V6 Cup


Not to be confused with the 360 Cup, Cup 380 and Cup 430 that followed – though that is easily done, granted – the Exige V6 Cup was about as serious a road car as was ever made from the S3. Built by Lotus Racing, the Cup was a race car for the road – no, really. With optional extras like the Ohlins dampers, full cage and HANS-prepped driver's seat, the Exige could be entered into the FIA-approved Lotus Cup. It was no mere motorsport inspired special.

Even the standard spec was serious: removable steering wheel, Nitron adjustable dampers, baffled sump, a fire extinguisher, fixed towing eyes and so on. If the S3 was perhaps a little soft to the purists, gaining weight and creature comforts over the four-cylinder cars, the Cup was there to prove a V6 Exige could be plenty focused enough. The verdict when PH pitched a V6 Cup against a Cayman GT4 was plain enough: "a pure adrenaline hit, a bit raw and properly intense but always thrilling thanks to a pleasing imbalance of power to weight." And you thought it was just another trim level…

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