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Lotus Elise Diary - April 2007

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16th April

Having had my Fury R1 on the road for a while nowRemote site, I thought I'd try and give an objective comparison with my old standard 1.8l Lotus Elise. I'll aim to be as objective as a I can but, this is a car that I've built to my own personal specification, so I'm going to like some aspects of it :-)

First of all the looks. This is of course a very personal thing. I love the front end of the Fury. It's classically beautiful, slightly retro, definately purposeful. It's how I think a sports car is supposed to look, with clean swooping curves, slightly reminiscent the Jaguar D-typeRemote site. The colour is also a very personal thing. I chose 'Old English White' because I'd seen a Fury R1 in this colour before and I liked it. It's a coloured gel-coat and not a paint finish so the suface finish is not as good as that on my old Lotus. I may consider a painted, metalic finish at a later date. At the rear, things are not quite so pretty. Functional best describes the rear of the Fury. Its sister car, the Phoenix is good example of how it could be improved upon. I think my black undertray improves the looks by breaking up the solid expanse of white on my car. Some wider, more purposeful rear tyres would also improve the rear aspect and this is a planned upgrade.

Entry to the car was never going to be conventional given the lack of doors and low floor. If you thought getting into a Lotus Elise could be ungainly, then try a Fury. Fortunately, the low height of the car means lifting you leg over the side of the car is not that much of a challenge. Access is definately improved for the driver, with the fitment of a smaller steering wheel. Mine is removeable, making entry that much easier but I've never felt the need to remove it when getting in. You step into the car and onto the seat, then lower yourself down into the fairly narrow cockpit, keeping your legs straight and using the seat and the roll hoop to support yourself.

It's a snug fit but not a tight one. The Fury cockpit is noticable wider than my brother's Striker. Once in, finding the 6-point harnesses can be a challenge but clicking the individual straps into the Schroth rotary buckle is a simple task. Adjusting the belts is also easy thanks to the nice and simple pull-strap design. Compared to a standard over-the-shoulder seat belt it is a slow process but, part of the whole build up to driving the car.

Once inside the view is even more basic than the Elise. No doors, no air vents, no window winders, no heater and controls, no interior lights, no gear stick, etc. Even the Digidash seems minimal compared to the Elise Stack unit. I do miss a nice analogue speed and rev counter though. I'd have loved the interior to have the simplistic aluminium finish of the Elise but I've gone for powder coated black chassis panels. The temporary covers on top of the side panels need replacing with something to provide a higher quality finish. The Suzuki bike mirrors provide decent visibility behind and the rear wheel arches don't obstruct the view. The Audi TT rear-view mirror also provides a decent view rearwards, if not a slightly narrow one.

Starting the engine is a matter of twisting the key and waiting for the Digidash to go through it's start up sequence. Whilst this is happening, the fuel pump starts to whirr and once the fuel injection rail is up to pressure the ECU silences the pump. A quick check of the 'aux' light on the Digidash is required to ensure the car is in neutral. My car is wired up to start in gear. A quick press of the 'start' button fires the engine into life. A start button is not really an essential item in a sports car and is more of a fashion accessory nowadays. In this car it does make more sense, providing separation between fuel rail priming and engine start. As expected it's a pure motorbike soundtrack but one with much more depth than the donor bike, thanks to the custom 4-2-1 manifold and the larger, open air filter arrangement. A dab on the throttle results in a free-reving bark and you can tell immediately that there is no flywheel softening the engine response to throttle inputs. You sit lower down than when in an Elise. The bodywork is close to your right shoulder and occasionally you find yourself leaning on it.

Gear selection is via the paddle shift. It's a 'one down, five up' arrangement. Pull on the left paddle to select first and then on the right paddle to go up through the rest of the gears. Repeated use of the left paddle takes you back down through the gears, passing through neutral on the way to first from second. With the oil cold, selecting first results in a clunk through the transmission but once up to temprature, changes are much smoother. I was worried my paddle shift mechanism would be a bit too heavy but the weighting and movement is near perfect. The ability to change gear without moving hands from the steering wheel makes you feel much more in control, especially when cornering. Once warmed up, upshifts can be acheived without use of the clutch, simply easing of the throttle slightly as you pull on the paddle. This makes gear changes lightning quick compared to those with a traditional gear lever. If you think it is not as involving as a gear lever then you are wrong. My paddle-shift design implements the most direct connection between driver and gearbox that is possible. Perhaps a little too direct really because a bike gearbox needs to be punched between gears and not really eased from one to the next.

Torque from the R1 engine is around the 80lb-ft mark and this is more than enough to propel such a light-weight car. You have to remember that this engine has a primary reduction gear with a ratio of 1.5, meaning that in reality the torque at the wheels is comparable to a standard Lotus Elise with a 1.8l K-series engine. The engine has no flywheel though so it is a bit 'lumpy' at low revs. The car pulls away cleanly from 3000rpm but you need to rev the engine up towards 6000rpm to access the real torque, a point at which the standard Elise would be starting to run out of puff. Pulling away in second gear is easily acheived. The clutch bite point is slightly harder to judge than that of a normal car and the slip range is quite narrow. It takes a a few hours practice to get familiar with the actions required to make smooth progress. Pootling around town would not be my idea of fun. The custom manifold, larger air intake and modified ECU mapping release a bit more power and torque than the standard R1 bike set up. Power is around the 160bhp mark but this has yet to be confirmed. I had been told to expect the whole car to tingle from the engines vibrations but this has not proved to be the case. The engine seems well isolated from the chassis in this respect with only the brake pedal showing any obvious signs of engine harmomics.

Once on the move the first thing that strikes you is the urge and responsiveness to throttle inputs. With so little mass to shift, the acceleration up through the gears is ludicrous. I've yet to quantify the in gear times but I plan to dig out the AP22 and quantify the cars performance at a later date. The targets were 0-60mph in less than 3.5s and 0-100mph in less than 8.5s and I don't think it will be far off these figures. The car pulls cleanly from 3000rpm all the way up to the 11,500rpm red-line.

After the acceleration, the next thing to focus on is the steering response through the tiny 290mm diameter Momo steering wheel, connected to the 2.4 ratio quick rack. With no assistance, the response is electric and the feedback good but, I think the feedback was better on the Elise. The quick-rack masks some of the feedback, adding slightly more weight to the wheel. There is no bump steer as such but changes in the road surface can appear to alter the direction of the whole car as it keenly tracks any undulations. This makes it feel slightly darty but totally connected to the road. It would be disconcerting if the minimal inputs into the steering wheel did not keep the car on the desired line but they do. It feels like harder work when compared again to an Elise but, given the design brief and intended usage, this is as expected and a desirable characteristic.

Superb handling was at the top of the design brief for this car. The car has yet to be fully set up and corner weighted and to be honest I've yet to really push it to it limits. Even so, I'd confidently say it beats my old Elise in the handling department. The perfect weight distribution, the lack of overall weight and lack of unsprung mass are the key. Combined with quality Nitron springs/dampers and grippy Yokohama A048R tyres it results in a car with much better balance and one that provides much more confidence. There is no feeling of impending lift-off oversteer and the car drifts neutrally when really pressed. The spring rates are road biased but they is virtually no body roll and pitching under heavy braking. Given the same set of corners, I know the the Fury will go round them quicker because I've compared it on my favourite local roads.

Good brakes are an essential part of any sports cars specification and after handling, were next on my list of priorities. Being a major safety feature this is another area where no expense was really spared in specifying top quality and light-weight components. To be honest this is the one area where I expected more but I think I'm just being too impatient. The brakes are not even bedded in yet. The brake bias is adjustable and further testing is going to be required to get the set up optimal. Feedback is good but not brilliant yet. I will make it so with time and more money if required.

I loved the basic cloth seats on my Elise. They were the most comfortable seats of any car I've ever driven. They lacked the required lateral support for track days though. The seats in my Fury were hand made by me and are frankly rubbish. They are the next planned upgrade.

A truly great car needs a truly great engine, the definition of which is usually, easily agreed upon. Engines vary though and some people like lazy, torquey engines with a lovely V8 rumble and some like high revving screamers. I like both. The advantage of building a kit car is that you get to choose something that meets your requirements and preferrences, with few compromises. The Yamaha R1 engine is by most peoples definition a great engine. It is also a technological and engineering masterpiece. That such a light lump of metal, with a mere 998cc can produce around 160bhp is incredible. I just love the sound of it. If used for the daily commute to work, it is going to get on your nerves at some point though. But, if you are up the for this kind of driving experience and adrenaline rush, then it really does provide an award winning soundtrack to accompany the other elements of the driving experience. It is not quiet.

I've got to mention practicality really even if it wasn't on the design brief for this particular car. There is some storage space behind both seats and a little bit more on the 'parcel shelf' behind the seats but, other than that, luggage is destined for the passenger footwell or seat. The fuel tank has a capacity of 6.5 gallons, giving a range of 220 miles under normal road driving conditions and considerably less when driven as intended. There was an option to fit a larger 8.5 gallon tank raising this to 300 miles but, I didn't take it.

When I had my Lotus Elise, I couldn't believe my luck. There was a tingle of anticipation everytime I approached the garage door to take the car out. It was a truly special experience for me and one that I have since realised, not many people can appeciate or understand. That's their loss. I was worried that a cheaper, self-built replacement would not be quite such a special experience but so far I have been proved wrong. Their is if anything, an increased sense of apprehension on opening the garage door, simply because driving the Fury is a scarier and a more immersive and raw experience.

The Fisher Fury certainly gets attention but it doesn't get the instant recognition and admiration that the Lotus did. I don't care much about that aspect of car ownership though. For me it is about the one-on-one relationship between driver and car and the best moments come without an audience or another car dissapearing in the rear view mirror. The Fury is everything my Elise was and more. Not only is it totally bespoke to me and my personal specification but it improves upon the Lotus in almost every respect. The handling and driver involvement have moved on up a step on the ladder. The gear change and soundtrack have moved on up two. Compared to the standard Elise, the performance is well, to be perfectly honest it's not in the same league, the Fury being at least two seconds quicker to 60mph and seven seconds quicker to 100mph. To get this kind of performance in an Elise you need an Honda power plant and a supercharger, which cost more than my Fury R1 did to build.

I waited a long time to buy the Elise and even longer to finally drive my Fisher Fury R1. It's been a huge journey but the wait has been worth it. If I had the cash and the garage space, I would buy a standard Elise S1 to go alongside the Fury tomorrow. It is still in my mind the best car that walks the fine line between road and track. There are some days (when its raining for a start, when you have to negotiate speed bumps and when you need a reverse gear!) where the added practicality and safety would justify the slight loss of driver involvement and performance. For now, I'll have to settle for some good weather and the full on experience of the Fury. Let's hope it's a good summer.

29th April

With the brilliant weather, I've done a fair few more miles now in a wider range of conditions. And I'm loving it!

The Fury doesn't do bumpy B-roads as well as the Elise. The extra weight and softer suspension on the Elise meant it managed to keep a better connection to the tarmac under on even quite rough roads. The Fury tries hard but skips on the roughest of surfaces. On a more typical road though, the connection is sublime and some of my best moments of road driving have been in the last two weeks. I once said of my Elise, that I could not see the need for more power on public roads and then went and changed my mind some time later. I'm going to say the same of my Fury now and I know I won't be changing my mind. It's as quick as a big sports motorbike between the corners and faster through them (ignoring the fact that a bike can straight line some of them), with way more grip and better brakes. I'm not just scared of it now. Familiarity and more trust in my own engineering skills means I'm starting to concentrate on the driving alone and not worry about the various levels, pressures and temperatures. With a helmet on, even the odd few rattles get lost under the engine noise.

The other thing it lacks compared to my Elise is brake feel. The stopping power is still getting better but the ability to sense the point of lock up isn't there yet. I need to get a lot more miles in though to fully bed the brakes in and then they need bleeding again. Maybe some larger master cyclinders would help too. Braking in the Fury doesn't result in any noticable shift of weight though. It's as if the car is weightless. No front-end dive, no roll in corners. It just stops, very quickly.

I really wish I'd put some A048R tyres on my Elise to see how they felt. I'm running the soft compound version and the grip in the dry is just awesome, so long as they are up to temperature. I won't have to experience in the wet (unless it rains on track), I'll just take another car :-)

When I finally do own another Elise, I'd be tempted to try one with a quicker steering rack. So long as it didn't do anything to the feedback through the wheel though. The ability to drive with out taking your hands off the wheels is great. The Fury's turning circle also has to be about two-thirds of that of the Elise.

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