If you’ve been trying to save up for a Lotus Elise Series 1 at the bargain price of RM195,000, you’re too late… no more units will be available after this month! According to Lotus Cars Asia-Pacific, the last unit of the batch assembled at the Proton factory will be delivered to a lucky buyer before the end of the year.
It was exactly five years ago that Proton, which owns Lotus Cars, decided to assemble the Elise at its factory here. The aim was to offer an affordable sportscar to Malaysians and the Elise was certainly an ideal product. By assembling locally, the price could be lower as high import duties were avoided.
The timing of the start of the program was a bit unfortunate as the storm clouds of the economic crisis blew in that same year. Though the price was extremely attractive, uncertainty about the future discouraged most people from parting with their money then. A number of units were exported to Japan from Malaysia where the car has a strong following.
Nevertheless, the Elise is not like a Celica or Integra which goes through generation changes so quickly that its ‘shelf life’ is limited. Like all Lotus models, the Elise is destined to be a classic in its own right and whether you bought one in 1997 or 2002, you still own what will be a collector’s item (in fact, the Elise Series 1 is far more desirable than its successor).
“There is no plan for a locally-assembled version of the new Elise 2 so it will have to be imported from the UK in fully built-up form. This means its price will be a lot more as it will be subject to high import duty and at this time, Lotus Cars Asia-Pacific thinks it will cost around RM320,000,” said Reza Abdul Mutalib, Head of Proton’s Group Marketing Communications.
The existence of almost 100 Elise owners in Malaysia enabled a club to be formed and the Lotus Cars Club of Malaysia (LCCM) has been quite an active one – not surprising since all the owners share a common love of the car and the experiences it provides. Some cars have also been entered in the Merdeka 12-Hour Endurance races at the Sepang Circuit, taking podium finishes in their class.
The Elise was originally introduced in 1995 and it not only represented a throwback to pure sportscar principles but also incorporated some revolutionary state-of-art components. It had an extruded aluminium epoxy-bonded chassis which kept weight down. Aluminium not only gave the aesthetic properties of being “clean and pure” but its weight, lighter than steel, combined with the extrusion process made it a perfect choice for the Elise.
The engineers at Lotus also looked at alternatives for welding. After a series of tests, it was found that joints that used epoxy were more crash-resistant and stronger than conventional welding. The use of epoxies allows the entire surface of the joint to be in full contact with the receiving part versus welding where the strongest part of the joint is only at the actual weld location not to mention the distortion effect from the welding-heat.
What this translated to was an extremely rigid, durable and lightweight chassis. By having a rigid chassis, the suspension could be tuned far more precisely. In some vehicles with an inherent flex, the suspension must be able to cope and compensate for the flex and hence tuning is compromised.
The less a car weighs, the better its performance and that was one of the basic elements in the design philosophy of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. This has clearly endowed the Elise with quick acceleration, enabling it to get from standstill to 100 km/h in less than 5.9 seconds.
But what most people are not aware is that the light weight also has another benefit: a shorter stopping distance. Since the Elise is endowed with less mass, the car can decelerate far more quickly, getting from 100 km/h to standstill in less than 3.5 seconds.
To bring the weight of the car even lower, the advantage of aluminium was exploited even in the materials used in the brake system. The Elise is the first vehicle to ever use four disc brakes made from aluminium rather than conventional cast iron. The benefit is the great savings in weight from unsprung mass and excellent braking feel of the aluminium discs to the driver. Interestingly, the aluminium brakes reverted to cast iron later in the life of the Elise but all those assembled in Malaysia had only the original aluminium units.
Of course, when a car is too light, stability issues are evident and here, the long experience Lotus has had in designing F1 cars has been drawn upon. Older readers will remember that Chapman came up with body features which increased downforce so a car could get around a turn at very fast speeds. The Elise body is also shaped to slip through the wind and stick to the road at the high speeds it can reach.
Owners of the Elise have great driving experiences because of the way the car is set up to provide intimate communication and its precise responsiveness to steering inputs. This writer recalls a brief drive at the Batu Tiga circuit a couple of years ago and can attest to the superb balance which provides for exhilarating moments in corners. You can literally ‘dial in’ the amount of drift with power, maintaining total control over its orientation. You sit low down and in a location that allows excellent perception of the forces in all directions, and though the seating position is like that in a racing car, it is never tiring (or you never think about it since you are busy enjoying the drive all the time!).
As any Elise owner will tell you, this Lotus is not necessarily about outright speed and g forces but it is the intimate connection between the road, the car and driver. It’s all about feel… and being in total control.