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Elise Initial-Ownership Diary

Last updated 12-Apr-2000

22nd October - 9th November 1999

The last two and a half weeks have been quite a blur. I've put 1350 miles on the clock and the car is in for it's first scheduled oil change today which has given me the chance to reflect on the highlights of ownership so far.

So the car is in for it's first oil change and at the same time I'm having the basic Armourfend kit fitted. This includes the full bonnet, front spoiler, door mirrors and driving lamps. I'm omitting the driving lamps to have Pete Rowe's driving lamp covers fitted instead. I've also left a list of small niggles with the car not worth mentioning here. There's not enough time to replace the windscreen but there aren't any cracks appearing so I'll book it in again when it's more convenient. Haydon Daytune also tell me that the front clamshell needs to be removed to replace the windscreen - thank God the insurance claim is fixed-cost and doesn't affect NCD!

11th November 1999

I've had the car back for two days now and everything is hunky-dory. Excluding the Armourfend, the oil change came to £52.39. When I got back to the dealer the car was ready, cleaned inside and out. I had about 10 minor niggles with the car, all of which have been fixed. All-in-all I'm a happy punter.

24th November 1999

Last week I took the car to Autoglass so they could examine the chip in the windscreen. They reckoned they could cure it without replacement. Good news as it saves me £50 excess and the worry of convincing my insurance company to let my dealer replace the screen. So I went to visit Autoglass first thing Saturday to do the repair. My nearest Autoglass is about half a mile from my home and naturally, the inside of the car's windscreen was misted up. I decided to drive around until it was fully clear.

Taking a detour through a retail park, I performed a U-turn in a big junction, hit some black ice or oil or something and understeered straight into the kerb at what must have been about 10mph. I think the wheel glanced the kerb face on and we bounced straight off back onto the road in the direction I was aiming for. Nothing felt immediately wrong and I pulled over to check the damage to the wheel. It wasn't as bad as I had thought, a 5mm scuff around a quarter of the wheel rim. I cursed my bad luck and didn't give it much thought until the next day when I drove the car again, this time on a fast dual-carriageway.

There was quite a pronounced vibration through the steering wheel at over 70mph and then I noticed it right down to 40mph as well. I checked the wheel to see if I'd lost the balancing weight. I hadn't so I rang Haydon who suggested I bring it in for a check. I had the day off yesterday so I took the car over. On the way to Cambridge, hurtling down the A505 I heard a whack from behind me and checked my rear-view mirror to see black mesh standing upright on the engine cover behind the passenger's seat. Not wanting to lose whatever it was, I put on my hazard lights and stopped on the main carriageway to collect the item. It turned out to be one of the mesh engine covers, broken loose.

On my arrival at Haydon, I showed them the offending item being none to pleased to have bits fall off the car after only 2000 miles. The rear window seal had come away from the window earlier the same day when I removed the hard top. On closer inspection of the engine cover, two of the other mesh inserts popped out with just a tap. Since the introduction of the VVC engines, the engine cover has been redesigned to accommodate the larger unit. It seems that the mesh inserts used to be held in from the underside and now they're fixed to the top of the cover. The heat from the engine softens the adhesive and the rest is pretty obvious - the same goes for the rear window seal. I'm taking the car in this afternoon to have the engine cover inserts and rear window seal replaced.

With the slight damage to the wheel, Haydon first checked the wheel alignment which was spot-on. They then jacked up the car spun the wheel. After a couple of rotations, it was obvious that the wheel was bent! It seems that the spokes on the new wheel design can buckle quite easily. So, one new front wheel required and I was praying that the tyre wasn't damaged too. The wheel comes to £191 plus fitting but Haydon could do the job today. They needed an hour to fetch a new wheel and fitted an old, 5-spoke wheel so I could use the car during the hour I would have to wait for the new one to arrive. I must 12-spoke front wheel say, I do prefer the new, 12-spoke style wheels. Incidentally, you can't fit balance weights to the inside of the 15" 12-spoke wheels - there isn't enough room for them to clear the brake calipers.

I had already thought as much but the new wheel arrived in an "Oz Racing" box. My original tyre was just fine so with the new wheel fitted the car is back to driving impeccably. And after all that palaver, Autoglass didn't even manage to fix the windscreen. The chip is just as big and just as visible as before. On a positive note, I have managed to convince my insurers to let me have the screen replaced by Haydon and not one of their "approved repairers".

25th November 1999

Picked up the car yesterday after Haydon again failing to realise that if I need a lift from there to work I'll need a lift back again. In the end they paid the taxi fare and they've promised not to do it again! All four engine cover mesh inserts have been re-attached, as has the rear window seal.

Driving to work this morning (on damp roads) I'm finding that my driving style is finally changing to suit the Elise - it's only taken 2000 miles, jeez! I'm at the point where I know how fast I can enter a corner so that all four tyres will be squirming across the apex and the rear end will be alive on the exit. None of this would be visible from outside the car but the Elise provides your bum and your hands with so much information that you can drive the car just beyond the limits of the tyres. This is only in the wet, mind - I'd need to take a large number of "brave pills" to try that in the dry on public roads. I'll leave that sort of thing to track days. I'm also learning not to look at the speedo too much when "pressing on". It only serves to scare me and then I'm not relaxed at the wheel, resulting in missed apexes and mid-corner corrections.

29th November 1999

We took part in Andy Ballingall's 5th Fish and Chip Run on Saturday. The journey was from Moreton, Essex to Aldeburgh, Suffolk and I've since learnt that it isn't pronounced all-dee-burg! Dave also took his Esprit along without a navigator so he was stuck to our tail for the entire trip, even when we took wrong turns. We all had a great day out and the weather was favourable enough to keep the roof off the whole time.

One of the most memorable moments was the crescendo of noise whenever a few Elises (all equipped with sports exhausts) accelerated out of a 2nd gear corner. Other moments that spring to mind were when cars coming the other way fell over themselves to get out of the way on seeing 20-odd Loti(?) heading towards them and the look of disbelief on peoples faces especially when travelling towards the back of the pack.

You can see some photos from the trip and the route map itself here.

7th December 1999

Went to Costco in Watford Michelin Pilot Sport on Sunday and popped into their tyre shop while I was there. Costco stock Michelin tyres and I've used them in the past as a source of good, cheap tyres. I noticed that they had a new asymmetrical tread-pattern, the Michelin Pilot Sport. The 205/50 R16 tyre was £135 but they don't make a 185/55 R15. I'd quite like to give these a go but being a new design there's no information on how good they are. If anyone's in the need of a new set of rear tyres then why don't you try out the Michelins? There's some information on Michelin's web site.

21st December 1999

I was supposed to drive to Broadway (Hereford & Worcs.) today on business. It's a 180 mile round trip that I've done a few times before. The B4030 from Bicester to Chipping Norton is a terrific drive. Today however, there's a lot of snow and sleet about! It was sleeting when I left the house but it wasn't until I was properly on my way that I realised the car was out of its depth. Driving down a straight country B road the road surface was just wet, but whenever there was a gap in the trees fresh sleet was lying on the road.

Even at 20mph the Elise wouldn't go in a straight line through the sleet. This meant that I couldn't go much above 30mph through the wet stuff to give me enough time to slow down for the sleet. My fellow motorists didn't seem too sympathetic to my plight and I decided that with another 170 miles to go I didn't stand a very good chance of keeping the car within the constraints of the road width.

I concluded that there just isn't enough weight to press the tyres through the sleet/snow onto the road surface. Where cars in front were leaving tracks in the road the Elise made none. I won't be driving it in the snow again if I can help it. It's at times like this when I wish I had gone for the Impreza.

10th January 2000

When washing the car over the weekend I noticed that the rear tyres were looking quite worn. I checked with a depth gauge and was shocked to discover that the outermost groove was down to just 2mm. The car has only covered 4100 miles! The innermost groove was at 3mm and both tyres have worn identically.

I'm astonished at this rate of wear. If I had been on a couple of track days then it might make more sense but I've not locked the wheels under (dry) braking and only managed a very few smokey getaways. The car gets a good dose of heavy cornering but this isn't reflected in the front tyres which still have 7mm left.

On reflection, this would explain my wandering rear end in the sleet before Christmas. I've booked the car in for a (geometry) check next Monday to see if the dealer can explain it. I'll not be happy about forking out for a new pair of rear tyres if something's been out of whack. It looks like I might get the chance to try out the Michelins sooner than I thought.

27th January 2000

I've had the car back to Haydon who can't find a problem with it and politely suggested that my driving style was the reason for the rapid wear. I'd probably resign myself to this but my fuel consumption indicates that the car doesn't get the road to itself very often. I've averaged 33.5mpg over the last 5000 miles. The last few damp and frosty days have been quite entertaining with the rear end breaking away with very little provocation.

I've decided to get my money's worth out of the tyres and finish them off in style at a track day. As it's my first time I've decided to go with Easytrack to Kemble Airfield. This is happening tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it like a kid at Christmas! Easytrack have the added advantage of offering replacement tyres at good prices. I'm going to try the Pirelli P-Zero's again and monitor the wear rate very closely. At £100 per tyre I'm saving £40 over dealer prices which almost pays for the £65 track day.

As this is my first outing I thought I'd better get some insurance for peace of mind. I know there's nothing much to hit at Kemble but after browsing through Kathryn Rosling's photos I changed my mind. My Norwich Union policy ought to cover track days but after ringing my broker - surprise, surprise - they're saying "no". Apparently I was given a very discounted policy because of my "good driving record" and the cheaper policy doesn't cover track days.

A useful thread on alt.cars.lotus mentioned Competition Car Insurance gave one-day track day cover so I gave them a ring (0115 941 5255). I got £6000 cover (excluding engine and transmission which are under warranty anyway) with an excess of £750 for £46. More than I wanted to pay but worth it for peace of mind.

Roll on tomorrow...

1st February 2000

Well, that was fun! I got to Kemble in about 2.5 hours with quite a numb bum - although my tolerance has gone up from 1 to 1.5 hour's before I start wriggling about in the seat. Jonny and Marcus (Easytrack) gave us a quick briefing in the pilot's lounge in the tower. There was a slight problem however. Someone had parked "a chuffin' great jumbo" on part of the taxi-way that's normally used as part of the circuit (the Belfast loop). The 747 was being decommissioned with a team of workers dismantling and removing all sorts of components.

Initially, plan B was to use a different, triangular part of the runway(s) which would have given us a fairly large circuit. The problem here though was that the high-friction runway surface would be torn up by heavy cornering and destroy tyres. There was no option but to use the Belfast loop and mind out for the Jumbo. Given the space available this turned out to be no more than a slight annoyance (and a little scary).

My first stint out on the circuit resulted in a fair amount of spins but it didn't take long to get the hang of how far back-end could get out of shape before it became terminal. As soon as I managed to unwind the steering wheel quickly enough I had some satisfying power-slides going on. The day was all about exploring the limits of the car including the brakes which seemed much happier on the track than under normal road conditions where the pedal travel and feel can vary a lot. I might invest in a set of braided steel brake line hoses to get better brake feel.

By the end of the day my rear tyres were 75% slick which made for a lot of fun (and I lost 2-3mm off the fronts). I had been practicing heel-and-toe gearshifts all week and it really paid off when changing down from 3rd to 2nd (70mph to 30mph). Wearing racing boots also helped a lot with the braking but I had a problem with wearing my helmet. Basically, my head was pushed too far forward by the seat's headrest and by the end of the day I had a really stiff neck. It didn't help when I had a passenger ride in a supercharged 111S - the neck-snapping acceleration got quite painful by the end of the session (I wasn't complaining though!)

That said, I don't think I'll do another Kemble. It was great fun but I learned what I wanted to. By the end of the day I was aching to have a go on a nice twisty race circuit with hairpins, chicanes, kerbs and all the other factors that make driving a car such a demanding and rewarding experience. I'll nurse my new rear tyres for a while and then think about what to do next.

Oh... and there's some photos from the day here.

10th February 2000

I witnessed a nasty accident on the way to work this morning. I had been to the dentist and set off from Baldock just after 10:00. I was making good time with the lack of traffic at that time but heavy rain after a couple of dry days meant that the road was very slippery.

The middle part of my journey takes me across the A603 - a mostly straight and wide single carriageway. I overtook 3 cars down one of the straights - Land Rover Discovery followed by a Citroen Xantia, followed by a Subura Impreza Turbo. I looked behind to see the Xantia pull out followed by the Impreza who tailgated the Xantia while they were both overtaking the Discovery. The Xantia seemed to put up a fight and the Impreza took a good 10-15 seconds to get past the Xantia.

By this time I was half way up the only hill in the area and saw the Impreza approaching... FAST. At the top of the hill there's a corner to the left with some adverse camber which leads on to another straight where the hill descends. I braked for the corner (which is unusual as I normally just lift - but it was slippery). Once on the straight I actually watched for the Impreza to see if he intended to overtake me. When I looked back I saw the car side on - at the beginning of a spin. All I could do was watch and try to brake while he left the road after a 270° spin on the tarmac followed by a 2 metre drop into the field on the left and barrel-rolling twice before coming to a stop on its wheels.

By the time I was able to turn round and head back up the hill, several other cars had stopped. I called the Police and Ambulance as others approached the car. The guy was conscious and talking but there was no way he could get out. The Police arrived after about 10 minutes followed by paramedics and fire engines 5 minutes after that. All in all there were 3 Police cars, a doctor car, ambulance and two fire engines. The rear of the car was caved in over the rear seats and the front was sufficiently damaged to necessitate hydraulic cutting equipment to get him free.

As I was the only person to see what happened I had to wait around for 45 minutes before being asked about the accident. I had to say it was down to excessive speed but even though he must have been travelling 10mph faster than me he did have 4WD and I was surprised to see him lose it so dramatically. But when you enter a corner way too fast only an ejector seat will get you out of trouble.


23rd March 2000

The car is now at Haydon Daytune for its 9000 mile A service. I did 1100 miles last week with a 5-day trip to France. I took up the Official Lotus Club offer of a return Dover-Calais ferry crossing and 4 nights B&B at a hotel near Le Mans for £119 per person. Seemed like a good deal and I've always wanted to visit Le Mans.

Packing for two was not a problem at all. We happen to have a soft luggage bag which fits neatly into two-thirds of the primary boot space using all the available height. We got all our clothes, toiletries etc into this bag leaving space in the boot for an empty rucksack in the other third and all the ancillary space underneath the bodywork free for cheap booze and the like for the journey home. We discovered that a box of 6 bottles of wine fits very well into the passenger footwell above the footrest - in effect, creating a larger footrest - very handy.

The drive from Calais to Le Mans took 4 hours coming home and considerably longer than that on the way there. Embarrassingly long in fact. The Elise's good fuel economy made up for it's small fuel tank managing the 280-odd miles between Calais and Le Mans on a single tank. The only tricky bit of the route is getting through Rouen as there's no ring road and lots of major routes run through it. The roads in general are smooth and straight which is efficient if boring. Overtaking is tricky but this is one time where a passenger is a performance upgrade! I found that if I let a nutter Frenchman past me then I could use him as a guide for when to pull out whenever he overtook the car/truck in front. Trucks are everywhere!

Once you get South of the town of Le Mans the circuit is reasonably well signposted. There's a museum at the entrance which contains a good sample of Le Mans racers from the 1920's to mid-90's. As with most other tourist centres in France, there's precious little information in English which is a problem for me as my French is minimal.

It's a strange feeling driving round the public section of the 24-hour circuit. It differs from "ordinary" road by being lined with armco barrier, enhanced banking on corners and racing curbs. Even cruising around at the speed limit it's an exciting experience; passing blanked-off chicanes down the Mulsanne Straight and realising the enormous scale of the 24-hour race.

The French are considerably worse drivers than their UK counterparts. The Elise causes quite a stir wherever you go resulting in lots of tailgating although this seems to be de rigeur. They also seem to have no idea how to overtake and often employ the kamikaze technique. I've never seen so many beaten-up hatchbacks in my life and didn't see any other cars of note the whole time.

There's some photos of the trip here.

So, back to Blighty and the car's at Haydon Daytune for a service with 9071 miles on the clock. I've been waiting since November for a courtesy car so that they can have my car for a week to respray some dodgy paintwork under warranty. The rear clamshell has discolouration in a faded line from the RHS indicator to the diffuser as well as osmosis bubbles under the paint. Osmosis is also present on both doors. That's three-quarters of the car needing a respray! I don't mind, especially as the rear clam suffered quite a bit through the winter months, it will be good to have it as-new again.

As well as the paintwork, I'm having braided brake lines fitted to the car in an attempt to improve brake feel and in particular make it more predictable under heavy braking. I've heard a lot of good things about braided hoses on alt.cars.lotus so I think it's a worthwhile upgrade. Initially, Haydon quoted me £140+VAT just for the labour but after telling them that Brooke Kensington were selling them for £120 all-in they agreed to match the price. The hoses themselves tend to cost around £50 so it seems like a reasonable price to me and as this requires a change of brake fluid I ought to save some money on getting the service done at the same time.

2nd April 2000

It took an extra week but I've finally got my car back. The paintwork is OK (not perfect) but I'm left with numerous other problems:

All but the last item can be (or were) sorted. But it's the head-unit that pissed me off the most. It's a Kenwood MASK unit (see audio section) and I always blank-off the face when leaving it with someone else. When I finally turned the key to drive away I noticed that the familiar sound of the face rotating was absent and that the face was actually already rotated but not illuminated. It was dead - Haydon checked that there was power right up to the connector and the fuse(s) were OK.

What's strange about this is that the face was rotated before I turned the key. It suggests to me that someone's fiddled with it and either put in the wrong code too many times or something worse. I've left the unit with Haydon who can either get it repaired or replace it. I don't mind living without music for a little while but I've just replaced the speakers and would like to make use of them.

The service itself came to £208, plus £120 for the braided brake hoses. I don't know whether it's the new oil or that I've been using wheezy 1.2 litre Renault Clio for two weeks but the engine feels fantastic. It's now happy to rev beyond 5500rpm up to about 6200rpm before giving up.

I've also had both rear dampers replaced as they had become quite loud and generating the infamous "billiard ball" sounds effects. Something's not quite right at the rear-end though. Coming out of a tight 2nd gear left hander on the way home I experienced what I think might be "axle tramp". Under full throttle, the rear tyres didn't just stick or lose traction but sort of bounced up and down as if they were elliptical. My second set of rear tyres are also on their way out after 3500 miles! Haydon now admit that this isn't down to me and agreed to perform a geometry check while they had the car. However, their rig broke before my car got to it. I'm going to have to take the car to the factory service centre at Ketteringham Hall. That needs I need to take a day off work and be stuck in Norfolk but if it sorts out the rear end and tyre wear then it'll be worth it.

7th April 2000

Took the car to the factory service centre at Ketteringham Hall yesterday. The geometry check takes 4-5 hours so I wanted to get there early. I set off just after 06:30. It was a bright but frosty morning so I took the roof off to make an occasion of the drive up. Had the heater on all the way up and had to wear a hat and gloves but it was worth it (it's always worth it).

The 80-mile trip took less than 90 minutes and I arrived pretty much dead-on eight o'clock. I caught up with a new Elise Sport 160 just off the A11 which kept me concentrating on the way to the factory! Ketteringham Hall is an impressive place, a stately home inhabited by Lotus cars. The calm and tranquill surroundings are occasionally interrupted by the sound of a performnce exhaust... perfect! My car was whisked into the service centre to have a quick tracking check done before commiting to a full geometry check. The rear-end was out and so the car went off to the factory for a run on the Hunter at about 09:00.

It came back at 13:30 with the results of the geo. The rear toe-in is supposed to be set at 1.5mm - my wheels were set to 9.6 and 9.0mm. Everything was now within tolerance and an engineer had flung the car round the track and given it the OK. After some discussion (and phone calls to Haydon) Lotus agreed to replace all four tyres under warranty as the car must have left the factory in that condition. They only get 34 minutes to set up the suspension on the production line. So after another couple of hours I had a new set of rubber and a clean car to boot! I was really only hoping to get the rear set of tyres replaced so to get all four was a bonus.

During my visit I had even managed to get a half-day's work done in the customer suite. There was a desk and phone for me to use and I had brought the laptop so I made good use of the time in pleasant surroundings. They even supplied some sandwiches and crisps for lunch :-)

As usual however, things didn't go 100% to plan. As I got back onto the A11 for the journey home and passed 80mph I started to notice a vibration through the steering wheel. The front wheels were out of balance! I couldn't face turning round so I carried on with the judder.

At lunchtime today I popped down to Haydon who rebalanced all four wheels (I think!) while I got something to eat. Everything was done when I returned and now everything's hunky-dory... welcome to the rollercoaster ride of Lotus customer service!

Since the suspension geometry fix, the car has developed a tendency to understeer which is something I never experienced in the dry before. The car now handles as it is normally described and I can't say I like it much. That said, it does feel much more planted in high-speed corners and it's lost some of it's nervousness. Ultimately it grips better but I could do without the understeer. Bigger front tyres or a suspension upgrade would sort this out but as most of that is brand new I'll have to leave it for now. I think I'll revisit this once the warranty runs out.

12th April 2000

Went on the 6th Fish & Chip Run to the Cotswolds on Saturday. Had a terriffic day and more info to follow but for now I've put up the photos here.

LC Liam Crilly
© 12-Apr-2000