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My Owners Diary March 2000

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2nd March 2000

At the Geneva Motorshow Lotus confirmed production of the M250 and the Sport 160 was announced. The Vauxhall/Opel SpeedsterRemote site which is based on an Elise chassis and build by Lotus was also prominent. Is it a Lotus? I'll let you know when I've test driven it. Vauxhall/Opel claim 0-60mph in less than 6 seconds from its 147bhp 2.2 litre engine and claim it's a minimalist sports car but, it's got drivers airbag and ABS. The plus side is that it has 17" alloys and a soft-top and hard-top designed in from the outset, unlike the Elise. But is it really a Lotus? Time will tell.

The Opel Speedster
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More controversially, Evo compare the new MR2 with the Elise 111S and state, "The Elise is out pointed on ability by the MR2". Surely not. The whole article talks about the lack of grip on the Elise front end and understeer. This isn't the Elise I know and love, my car never understeers unless highly provoked in the wet. I know the 111S is set up differently but I'm not convinced. By any definition the MR2 is another Eurojap bland and ugly car, the Elise turns heads, the MR2 stomachs. At an estimated £18,000 it's got to be value for the money though. Another one to take for a test drive.

4th March 2000

A virgin no longer, I've done it with my car on a race track! I was invited by Roger Bennington (MD of the Stratton Motor Company) to the OnTrack launch day at Snetterton for the chance of a possible ride round the track. It's worth a visit from Ipswich just for the great drive up to the track via some great roads (A1088, A143, B1111). Left at midday and arrived just as they were finishing for lunch. I drove up with the roof off, which was a big mistake because it was freezing cold despite the bright sunshine. I was shaking by the time I'd got to Snetterton. Damn good drive though.

I love the atmosphere at Snetterton, you can walk right through the pits, across the pit lane and stand next to the track on the main straight. Some amazing cars around (in no particular order), Caterham Superlights all over the place, a trio of Ferrari 355's, a pair of Ultima GTR's, the odd classic Aston Martin, an AC Cobra, several TVR's, the odd classic Porshe, and the whole array of Lotus cars. Lotus were doing some testing on a pair of Motorsport Elises and Roger was one of the test drivers. Some less exotic cars around as well like Subaru Imprezas, BMWs, Type Rs, etc. Not a fan of BMW cars but the Z3 M coupe is worth a mention because it was very quick on the straights, giving us a run for our money in the Motorsport Elise.

Met a few faces from Brandshatch last summer so we had a good chat about the Elise and I had a chance to look closely round the pair of Elise 49's on show. I must had tried all of the Elise seat combinations made to date and I still reckon the cloth seats give the best driver involvement and comfort (races seats aside).

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One of the Lotus employees had bought his personal Sport 135. It sits about 1½" lower than my car and on returning to my car made it look like an off-road vehicle. This one had the Sports exhaust and cat replacement pipe and it was loud.

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After lunch Roger asked me if I wanted to have a ride or take my car onto the track. I thought I misheard him, I wasn't expecting to take my car on track, I was lost for words. Fortunately he offered the services of an instructor which gave me time to get act together and thank him for the opportunity and accept it. If I had known I would have pumped the tyres up and studied the circuit layout.

My instructor (sorry can't remember his name) also does the Lotus driving experience days as well as OnTrack events. He wanted to drive the first three laps to introduce the circuit to me. Oh no! My baby in the hands of another. And he bloody well went for it too, drifting my car round like its never experienced before. All I could think was, please don't do any damage but there was little chance of that on such an empty circuit and with such an experienced driver. In the hands of a good driver my standard Elise can dance round this circuit. And then it was in my hands and it stumbled round.

Every so often in life we all do something deeply embarassing and today it was my turn. I explained that I'd never driven the track but often came up to watch others racing and often saw them lose it on the chicane so I was wary of it. I took it fairly gently but also didn't want to hold everyone up (being first out), so I set off at a reasonable pace. I completely under estimated the tightness of the chicanes last corner and span it on the exit. On my first lap! The instructor didn't say a word but I was already thinking it for him. Had to sit there while 7 or 8 other cars passed me by. Atleast I stayed on the track so there was no chance of any damage.

After a couple more laps I was upping the pace a little. By the second lap I had completely forgot about my poor car and just went for it. Just brilliant fun. Drifting round empty roundabouts is nothing compared to this. Four wheel drift through whole corners. My poor little tyres. The next six or seven laps were great, I chased a Ferrari 355 up the main straight and lost big time. I even overtook three cars, people were going slower than me! I watched an Esprit Sport 350 in my rear view mirror as it drifted sideways across the infield, grass going everywhere. There was one corner that I just couldn't get the hang of and the cones were not helping to hit the apexes. I have a new found respect for my car, it's even more fun than I had realised. I still don't think you need a quicker car. Unless you want to race against other people you are not going to have much more fun than this. You don't get to be an Olympic skier by going once or twice a year and in the same vain, the driver is always going to be the weakest link in my case.

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My car in the pit lane. Doesn't it look at home.

I was just about to go home at the end of the afternoon when Roger waved me over and asked if I wanted a ride in the Motorsport Elise. Wahoo! No hesitation this time, yes please. People like me drive our cars and think we are going fast but, in the hands of drivers like Roger this car does things that you don't normally associate with a car. This development car is one of the few to have two seats. The roll cage was where my head wanted to be so the whole thing was done crouched down hanging onto the roll cage so that I didn't get in Roger's way. Words are hard to find to describe the experience. It's like the car is always out of control yet perfectly in control at the same time, perfectly balanced and poised yet always on the edge of losing it. The combination of G-forces and adrenalin is intoxicating. You body feels it but your mind doesn't quite believe the messages coming back. This is one very quick car and I would kill to get behind the wheel on a race track. I would never do the car justice but it just has to be experienced. Nothing overtook us this time.

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This is the Motorsport Elise that I was taken round in.

A great afternoon followed by a great drive home (roof up this time). I've learnt more about my car than I thought possible and more track days are a must for me. Lets hope my free OnTrack membership arrives soon.

10th March 2000

Well, I never thought I'd be writing these words. I've sold my Elise, but only so that I can buy another one. I've sold it for a number of reasons, one being financial and the other logistical. My Impreza Turbo needs to be paid for and either the Rover Vi or the Elise has to go to pay for the balance. Carrying a wife and two kids round in an Elise is not an option. As soon as the Subaru arrives in July, I will sell the Vi and order the next Elise. The down side is that I will miss a fair chunk of the summer in an Elise.

Nearly twelve months after I bought it, the fun hasn't faded one bit. The car has never let me down and accident aside has been the most enjoyable car I've ever owned and could ever imagine owning. I handed it in with 5700 miles on the clock and zero rear tread on the tyres. First service is due in two weeks time so I've saved about £500 by good timing. This is one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in years but I think it was the right one at the moment. Lotus are producing better cars and the model range is expanding. Come August, I'm going to have a very difficult decision to make as to which Lotus I buy next, and who knows what other announcements are going to appear in the mean time. If Lotus can build the Exige, then how long till we see a new Elise? In the mean time I've got a Rover 200vi to remind me of what I'm missing, with a great VVC K-series engine but handling that doesn't compare to the Elise. Roll on July and a Subaru Impreza Turbo. That should help ease the pain a little.

At the moment I still can't see that I need anything quicker than the standard Elise. Basically I wouldn't change the specification at all, cloth seats are the best, driving lights are a must, and the alarm is for insurance reasons only. New Aluminium is the only colour for me. The only thing I'm in two minds about is the hard-top. I've sold my car for more than a new replacement from Holland so I'm not losing out financially. If I can be persuaded to get into a Sport 160, it might be another story.

My insurance quote arrived from Eagle Star and it's gone up from £440 to £515, which isn't too bad considering the size of the claim last year.

15th March 2000

Received an invite to Brandshatch on the 9th of April to watch the Motorsport racing and to see the new Elise coupe in the flesh. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it. Shame really since I've just bought myself a new digital camera.

17th March 2000

Booked myself a test drive in the new Toyota MR2 so I can compare it to the Elise myself. The test drive is on Monday. It will cost £18,495 on the road.

20th March 2000

Took the new MR2 for a test drive on my favourite road circuit this morning. This car should never have been compared to the Elise in the various magazines and the only reason I'm comparing them now is to 'put the record straight'. For the money, the MR2 is a good car but it's aimed at a completely different sort of driver. It has airbags, electric windows, CD player, anti-lock brakes, power steering, etc. and is very well equipped for the money.

First impressions are that it is very well built and has some neat design features, like the rear luggage compartments. On first driving off it felt pretty nippy but at 975kg and 140+bhp it ought to be fairly quick. It is a very comfortable and quiet car and you sit quite low (just like the Elise). Once out on the open road it would have been left for dead by my Vi and despite the fact that they both have a 1.8, 140+bhp, VVC/VTEC engine the Rover is miles quicker and this is backed up by the 0-60 times (7.2 Vi versus 8.0 MR2). And the Vi is 200kg heavier! Compared to the Elise ... (it's not worth it).

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The looks have grown on me. It is a bigger and wider car than I expected. It shares a few curves with the Boxster but is not a pretty car by any means. It sits a little too high on it's wheels and is just too Japanese for my taste. The folding soft-top is easy to use and stows away neatly (Lotus please note!). It has a perspex rear screen that fooled me, it looks so like glass. Two clips hold it in place and it can be raised and lowered from the drivers seat. The optional hard-top looks good but requires two to fit it. The lack of roll bar gives excellent rear visability.

I like the interior lock on the floor for the bonnet, even though this car can carry less than my Elise. Yes you heard me right, it has less space for storage than the Elise! The simplicity of the roof is great, the lockable dash cubby holes make it a more usable car day to day (though I couldn't find a handy space to put my digital camera whilst driving). The alloy wheels look cheap. It has nice polycarbonate light covers that are easily replaced and the front bumper panel is GRP and can also be easily replaced (Lotus note again).

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Although the MR2 feels very solid it really does remind you just how stiff the Elise chassis is. The MR2 suffers from slight scuttle shake (body flex). The Elise has no discernable body flex at all. The MR2 steering is light but offers average feedback, the rear end is well planted on the edge and despite sharing the same 185/205 tyres front and back (Yoko's not Pirelli's) it has comparable grip. You can get the backend out and I did, but it's not as rewarding or controllable, there isn't as much torque to control it with and you simply don't get the delicious feedback of the Elise. The brakes are nicely weighted and effective but again there was little feedback. Even with ABS I reckon I could pull up an Elise much quicker in the dry. And it would be more enjoyable too!

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The bottom line is that this car didn't excite me. It's too slow and the driving experience is just too cossetting and numb. It's a good, fun, open top car and offers excellent value for money and a reliable driving experience but it should not be compared to the Elise. It simply does not offer the same level of driver involvement and performance. The clinching factor was that as I drove back through town back to the garage not a single head was turned. That is something I have yet to experience in the Elise.

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