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My Owners Diary April 1999

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2nd April 1999

Finally picked up my car this morning. Drove up to Long Stratton with my parents-in-law, Kim and Emma to pick up my car at midday. It wasn't on the forecourt when we arrived which was a bit of a worry, but Charlie had kept inside the showroom to keep it clean and dry. It looked stunning with the matching hardtop on. Another dream turns to reality! I'd hoped it was going to be a nice sunny day but it drizzled all the way up. Long Stratton Motors have been brilliant and Charlie Skelton in particular has been great. I've not been the easiest customer in the world but the whole experience has been relatively painless bearing in mind the long wait and all my calls have been returned and all my questions answered. I'd buy another car from them without hesitation (if only I could afford to!).

After about 15 minutes we were off in the car with my daughter being looked after for the day by her grand parents so that my wife and I can get acquainted with it. First impressions are that the car is quiet and the ride is not as harsh as expected, though still firm. The whole car feels rock solid, yet comfortable. Lotus now use red glue to stick the chassis together and it shows in the odd place. My car also has a GRP boot cover with added hump for the VVC bits (which are unfortunately not fitted to my car). Initially the seat was not very comfortable but I pumped up the lumbar support and nearly four hours later, it was still in heaven. I think the cloth seats help. The pedals are too close for my size 11's and I struggled with gear changes. My left shoe would catch on the clutch pedal as I tried to reach the footrest and my right foot would catch the accelerator as I tried to brake. This was easily fixed later by wearing a lighter pair of shoes. The gear box is noisier than expected but then it is a lot closer to your ears than in most other cars. Fifth is especially noisy, even more so on over-run. The tyres felt like they had little grip (something that went away after 50 odd miles) and the brakes simply did not stop the car for the first 100 miles (more on this later).

It drizzled all afternoon but the hardtop has transformed this car into a practical all weather car. It's relatively quiet, warm and there is not a hint of water ingress. I felt as comfortable in the driving rain as I do in my 200vi. Without the hardtop it would not have been half as much fun. The hardtop also encloses some of the engine noise and talking of which, it sounds gorgeous. How anyone could want it to be noisier is beyond me. On the odd occasion I did hit 5000rpm it roared! Perhaps it will be different tomorrow with the roof off. It doesn't sound as smooth as the VVC in my 200vi but it still sounds great. Charlie suggested I run the car in for 1000 miles at less than 4000rpm. I've achieved this pretty much but twice I had to hit 4500rpm to pass an MGF and an MX5. At 80mph it cruises quietly and it's easy to hold a conversation in the car. God knows what it will do with the full rev range available.

When we reached home I changed my shoes and then my wife had a go at driving. She's 5' 6" and with the driving seat fully forward she needed about another inch to push the clutch fully in. She's going to need another cushion to drive this car any distance. She loved it and we popped over to her parents to see how they were getting on with my daughter, mainly so that she had a familiar road to drive. I took her mother out for a quick spin and she also loved it. With the hardtop on its not the easiest car to get in and out of but with a bit of practice it's not really a problem. If my daughter's grandmother can do it without complaint, then I don't see what all the fuss is about. I then dropped my wife off back home for a snooze and had 3 hours in which to learn about the car on my own.

Despite the drizzle and the fact that I'm running it in, this car is hugely entertaining. I haven't had this much fun since I discovered girls! Probably got the same inane grin stuck on my face too. I tried to find quiet back roads on which to drive but still ended up going through the odd town and village. You get noticed in a car like this. By now I'd done over a 100 miles and the brakes were starting to work better. The smaller shoes gave me much better control and confidence in gear changes and braking, and the shiny surface on the tyres had pretty much gone. With twisty back lanes and only 4000rpm to play with I was having great fun. Even the alloy gear knob was getting warm with all the gear changes. Talking of which, the whole car is self heated from the engine and chassis (radiator pipes run through it). On my favourite roundabouts I could do perfectly balanced rear wheels power drifts in the wet, using the throttle to control the direction of the car and the steering to keep the front pointing in the right direction. Don't think it will be quite this easy in the dry but the feedback is like no other car I've driven.

By the end of the day I'd done 150 miles and was seriously having trouble getting out of the car (mentally not physically), it's that addictive. I've got no real complaints but if I had to choose one thing to complain about, it's the brake feel which will improve as they bed in. I'm also hoping the gearbox will get a bit quieter. I've picked up my first tiny stone chip but who cares when I'm having this much fun. Roll on tomorrow and my daughter is with her grand parents again. I can just see the headlines now, man leaves wife and child for car!

3rd April 1999

Had to wash the car this morning since it was covered from yesterdays trips in the mud and rain. Also removed the hardtop since the forecast was bright sunshine for the day. Don't know how much of it is down to the hard-top but it's a completely different car this morning. The gearbox noise has gone, the car is quieter and it still sounds great. It also feels faster and this is largely down to less claustrophobic view through the windscreen now that the hardtop clamping bar has gone. It isn't that much easier to get in with the roof off. Also fitted and removed the soft top to check it out. To be honest it's quicker to put the hard-top on. Drove six miles to get some milk when there are 3 shops within walking distance. How sad?

Spent the morning down my favourite country lanes and found myself just grinning more and more in the sunshine. God I love this car! The brakes and grip is awesome and words just can't describe the driving experience, so I'm not going to try. If you haven't been there yet, just take a test drive. Hitting 5000rpm more frequently than I should be but, not as often as I'd like. At 100mph with the roof off, the wind buffeting is light but the wind noise over your head almost stops conversation. Is it normal to spend your whole day wishing you were in your car? Two brief forays up to the 6000rpm mark. I'm bad.

The in-laws took my daughter for the afternoon so my wife drove us up to Thorpeness. Must have been finger trouble with the seat yesterday because she managed to find another three inches of seat travel and can now reach the pedals easily. The seat is a bit laid back for her liking but personally I find the driving position absolutely perfect. I had to drive relatively sedately back (at my wife's request) but went out on my own later for a proper spin. Took my father inlaw out for a spin and scared him into silence down some twisty country lanes. Now done 230 miles in one and half days of sheer pleasure. Promised to leave the car in the garage tomorrow and spend some time with my daughter so it's cold turkey time. I'm sure I'll have to pop out to the shops for something or other.

4th April 1999

Cold turkey, arse! Who was I kidding. Took my 10 month old daughter out for a spin to a fabric warehouse to buy some materials for my hard-top storage bag (see the DIY section) and she loved it. The baby seat fits perfectly into the bucket seat and she can just about see through the windows. She slept all the way back (picture ) which just goes to show how smooth a ride you get in the Elise. Got some disapproving looks from a guy + family in a people carrier though. He was so busy sending me evil glares he nearly piled into the car in front of him. At least I look where I'm going with my family on board!

Managed to squeeze another hours driving into the afternoon. Popped into to see another Elise owner to compare engine noise. My car definately sounds sportier and louder than the earlier cars and this seems to be true for other new Elises. Looks like Lotus have done something to improve engine sound from within but, my dealer didn't know anything about it. Funnily enough most of my neighbours have mentioned how quiet it is. Put the power down on a few roundabouts and managed to drift the back out in the dry. Beautifully controllable and behaving exactly as it did in the wet, except a few more revs required and higher G's felt on the turn. The brakes are just getting better and better. My braking points on my favourite roundabouts are about two thirds of those in my 200vi and I still haven't locked a wheel. Now done 280 miles in two and half days. Damn, the inane grin has stuck! How long are the rear tyres supposed to last? Filled the car up and so far I've averaged about 29mpg.

7th April 1999

Put the soft top on a bit of a hurry this morning in order to take the car to work. Big mistake. Took a friend out at lunchtime and it was raining by the time we got back. A small trickle of water ran down the inside of the drivers screen support, down the door and fortunately back under the door to the outside of the car. Will have to spend a few minutes investigating the cause. This means going back to the hardtop for the moment or buying a car cover. Looked at ones from Halford's and other car accessory shops this lunchtime and they are only splash proof. May end up making one of these as well out of Gortex or something similar. Ended up wimping out and putting the Elise back in the garage until I've looked at the roof and took the 200vi into work in the afternoon. The Elise felt slower in the wet but maybe that's just me being over cautious.

8th April 1999

Another Lotus (i.e sunny) day so off with the roof (takes about 30 seconds) and into work. The car is now faster and quieter. The soft-top traps higher frequency noises in the cabin (like the gearbox whine) making the car noisier and more 'thrashy'. The hard-top traps both high and low frequency noise in the cabin making it both more 'thrashy' and rorty at the same time. The Elise definately looks better with a hard-top on but is more fun to drive with no roof on. I can't stress this enough, the hard-top is a must have in the UK. Buy an Elise and for another £1250 you get an Elise coupe thrown in. Tell me thats not a bargain!

Popped out for a spin at lunchtime and had a close encounter with a bus on the way back home for lunch. It just pulled out, across two lanes of the dual carriageway without signalling, on the approach to a roundabout. I think I hit the limit of the braking envelope. The tyres didn't lock but the back end went all light and it felt like the rear tyres were turning to jelly with the rear end squirming slightly from left to right. Still stopped with 5 yards to spare and that's about 5 yards and 12 rows of seats better than I first thought. Good job the tyres were nice and warm from taking a friend out for a spin a few minutes before.

10th April 1999

Corrupted, totally and irreversably. Took the Vi out for a blast and the driving experience has been ruined by Elise ownership. Where there was once precise steering, there's now a 3 foot bath sponge for a steering wheel. The supple sports suspension has gone, replaced by a waterbed. My ears hear all the right noises but my eyes only get the slow motion replay. Was that 0-60 in 7.2 seconds or days? Three hours later and the Vi had started to grow back on me a little and I realised what a great engine the VVC is. It has more torque than the Elise below 3000rpm but sitting behind the wheel will never have the same appeal again.

11th April 1999

Out for a midnight run to experience the car in the dark. The Stack instrument pod looks so cool with it's bright orange needles glowing in the dark. The driving lights are outrageously bright and essential for my favourite roads. Because you are so low, it looks like no one behind you has dippped their lights, but the flippable rearview mirror solves this. With the roof off and the heating on (no fan required) you stay warm even on a cool night. Turn on the fan and you can toast yourself. Now done nearly 500 miles. Popped the hard-top back on (a task best done by two people) because the weather forecast next week is bad.

15th April 1999

One of those nightmare days where anything that can go wrong does. Fortunately, it started early in the morning so I took it as a warning and left the car in the garage. I'd catalogue the days disasters but, its a long and not very interesing list. The best thing that happened was ripping my shirt at work, the worst was dropping the hardtop whilst trying to put it into it's new protective bag (it's an awkward shape and quite heavy). Managed to put a few scratches on the roof. Most came out with a quick T-cut and polish but one or two are still visible. Couldn't bring myself to laugh at the irony of the situation. Left the Elise alone for the rest of the day. I've decided to put the hard-top away for the summer now and see how I manage with a soft-top and shower cap. Will dig it out again October time.

16th April 1999

Took 2 minutes to take my daughter to nursery this morning and 50 to get back home again! When people say the Elise is a hard car to get out of, they mean it, but mentally, not physically. It is much quieter now with the roof off and with 650 miles is starting to lose some of the tightness in the engine. Will probably take another 8000+ miles before it's really smooth though. It doesn't really pay to rev it much past the 6000rpm mark. Unlike the Vi, where most rapid progress is made by bouncing off of the 7000rpm red line. Averaged only 28mpg so far but, I put this down to the continual 'accelerate and brake' driving required by these Suffolk country lanes. I'm sure that if I was actually driving to get somewhere it would be much higher.

19th April 1999

So far I've avoided the 'lift-off oversteer' characteristics of the car but this evening I had a play on an empty piece of tarmac. The Elise is very controllable on the limit when powering into corners. You can control the direction of the car by drifting the rear end with the throttle quite easily. I've found that you can also do the same by lifting off of the throttle to make the back end drift round when required and using the throttle to then counter this tendency to spin. It requires quicker reactions and more concentration than power steering, and the further the back comes round, the harder it is to power out of it. You can't easily recover from anything beyond a 30° drift from the direction of travel. In real road driving conditions you wouldn't need to, unless you had to stop quickly in the middle of a tight corner. This would probably mean you have 'over cooked it' on a blind corner. With no room to power out of the drift the car is simply going to spin so we don't want to go there on the road. I now see why it's better to adopt a slow in, fast out approach, since this gives more 'head room' in which to control the cars direction.

As someone relatively inexperienced with rear-wheel drive cars I've found the Elise very controllable at the limit and the feedback quite amazing. The 'limit' is also a long way off from most other cars I've driven. One other interesting thing I've noticed is that from a standing start at a T-junction you can draw a beautiful arc with the rear end as you hurtle away from the junction. Feels great but can't do much for the rear tyres.

20th April 1999

Put the soft-top on properly this time and it's now rain proof. It's also stretched slightly which makes it easier to fit. The colder weather has meant the automatic choke holds the idle speed up at about 2000rpm for the first five minutes. It then drops back to the usual 1100rpm.

21th April 1999

Took the roof off and went out for a quick spin at lunchtime with a friend. I frightened him with the cars braking distances. Got caught roofless in the rain in the evening. Dashed to the nearest petrol station and had to put it up on the forecourt. Took about 60 seconds to fit, now that I know what I'm doing. It's true, you don't get that wet when driving at speed in the rain.

22th April 1999

Went out to the coast (Aldeburgh) this evening and got caught out in the rain again. Just kept driving this time and managed to outrun the worst of it. You don't get wet at all at 120mph in the rain. The rear window does though. It's a different story when you're stuck behind a lorry at 40mph! Still have to get a daily fix of Elise. I thought it might have worn off a little by now. I've now done 850 miles in 3 weeks. Last year I did 5500 miles in my Rover. Booked the Elise in for a 1000 mile service and booked myself a test drive in a 111S. My list of things to do at the first service has one thing on it, to oil the drivers door hinge!

25th April 1999

Spent the weekend in the 200vi driving to/from Birmingham. By the time I'd reached Birmingham it was starting to feel quite quick again. Got back on the Sunday evening and then went out in the Elise. The difference between the two cars was just amazing. One of the best drives I've had for ages, the Elise is has so much more talkative and faster.

30th April 1999

Gorgeous day and I've got the afternoon off the get the Elise serviced. Whizzed up the A140 to Long Stratton. The A140 is a difficult road to overtake on but, in the Elise there are just so many more overtaking opportunities and you can zip in and out of the traffic like a motorbike. First service was done and the door hinges oiled. The car feels much smoother and free reving than on arrival. It also sounds better.

New Aluminium just looks so good in the sunshine.
Click image for full size, 640 x 480 (57K)

Had an opportunity to drive the 111S which had also done 1000 miles like my standard car. This one had a sports exhaust and catalyst replacement pipe which made it outrageously noisy. It even popped on the over-run. I loved the sound of this car but, for every day use I just wouldn't want the kind of attention that it would bring. It is fine for a race track but after a few hours you just want to turn the volume control down.

Lotus have not improved the car with the changes to the 111S and it is certainly not as aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The spoiler grows on you and becomes less noticable, the wheels and egg-crate grille don't stand out and you can quickly forget they've been changed. Those unfamiliar with the Elise would probably not even notice them. The one thing that has to go is the tacky carbon effect dash. It looks awful. The leather padded seats are no more comfortable than my cloth seats but, they don't feel right, you are too detached from the driving experience because of all that padding, which is far too soft.

Having driven the car, I'm a convert to the close ratio gearbox. I apologise to Lotus and freely admit that they were right all along. I didn't think it would work but, the necessity to frequently change gear has been negated and actually improved upon by the VVC engine. The VVC feels like the standard engine upto 3500rpm but slowly pulls away so that by 4500rpm, the power increase is noticable. After that the standard car wouldn't keep up. It's just one long, more intense hit of acceleration right up to the 7000rpm mark. I love it! My car would have given up the chase at 6000rpm.

What this translates to on the road is simply more fun. For my favoured, hard driving, down twisty roads, there will be less need to change from 2nd to 3rd, or from 3rd to 4th and hence progress will be quicker. The acceleration between the corners will also be higher. Out on the open road there is more benefit. On the A140, a gap that would let me pass three cars would translate to four, maybe five in the VVC, since I could stay in 3rd gear and have an extra second or more of acceleration, without the need to find fourth. At which point I'd be doing about 90mph. Then you could do it all again in fourth if needs must. Anyone for fifth?

Since my standard car does 110mph in 4th at 6000prm, I'm not sure that I would miss the high 5th gear and for my favoured driving, the VVC with it's close ratio gear box is a definate hit. For long motorway cruises though, the relaxed 5th on the standard car is good. That the 111S is a better car is not in doubt, though I would drop the new seats and carbon-effect dash trim. Having driven my standard car back down the A140 straight after this experience, it didn't feel that much slower, which just goes to show how good the standard car is. The 111S just gives you that little bit more that we all crave for. Is the 111S worth the extra money? If you've got it, you might as well spend it. When I decide to change my car in a few years time, the 111S will be first on the list to replace it. Unless, a KV6 version appears in the mean time.

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