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Elise Pre-Ownership Diary

Last updated 19-Oct-1999

30th July 1999

Having spoken to Haydon Daytune of Cambridge a few days earlier, I ring up this Saturday morning to arrange a test drive. London Lotus Centre in St Albans is technically closer to my home but I work in Cambridge which will make the most sense for quick visits during the week and servicing etc.

Everyone is very helpful and the owner shows us around before taking me out in a very tired Sport 135 for a test drive. This is the first time I've been closer than braking distance away from the car and as I experience the 20 metre sprint to the car park exit my mind is already made up. The sports exhaust on this car is not in good health and keeps popping on overrun and otherwise being indiscreet. There's also the roof rails behind the seats that clang from side to side as we turn.

As I take the wheel the first thing that grabs me is the steering feel and accuracy. I thought the MR2 was good but this is another league or two above. The performance is OK but I don't want to wring it's neck to the rev-limiter as this is the Sport 135 and I'll only spoil myself for the standard car. I know that I won't be able to experice the full extent of the handling, especially as it's a sunny Saturday and it seems that the whole of Cambridgeshire is getting married. There are processions of wedding cars in town and out.

Towards the end of my drive I decide to get a feel for the grip. At a reasonably sized roundabout I go round a couple of times at some speed. Second time around we start to understeer and without thinking I lift off slightly to bring the nose in. Instead, the rear wheels squirm and I'm all set to snatch opposite lock before the car straightens up and we slingshot away from the corner - wow! I'm going to have to be careful with my right foot in this one, the MR2 is much more benign in these circumstances.

Sports Exhaust Back at the showroom we talk about the specifiation and options. I'm also shown around the workshop where a car is being fitted with a sports exhaust. I'm told that they're running a promotion in July where that for every Elise ordered, Haydon will supply and fit a sports exhaust free of charge. However, I'm not prepared to leave a deposit immediately so I leave it. The exhaust unit looks very neat, it's stainless steel with a slightly smaller silencer and far less piping. It's a unit commissioned by Haydon themselves so I don't know the manufacturer's name.

I'm going to go for all the factory options, thats:

  • Metallic paint (don't know which yet colour yet)
  • Leather seats (worthwhile for a roadster I think)
  • Hard top (expensive but necessary for every day driving)
  • Radio fitting kit
  • Driving lamps
  • Cobra alarm
This lot adds almost £3500 to the basic price (eek!). Delivery times are for October (this year!) which is a pleasant surprise but I'm a little concernced about future residual values - has demand really dropped off this much?

2nd August 1999

I've done a lot of thinking over the weekend - mostly about the colour. I want to go back for a test drive in a new standard car so I take an early lunch from work (with my cheque book) for another drive. Frustratingly, they don't have any standard demonstrators so I have to take a 111S. The car feels much better bolted together than the 3-year old Sport 135 I drove before and I keep the engine below the VVC range to keep my perception of the performance closer to that of the standard car.

Running along a country A-road at about 90, I decide to try the brakes in anger. I warn the salesman and hit the anchors... nothing much happens. The salesman reminds me that there's no servo assistance so I build some more speed up and then really apply some pressure - oh, OK, the brakes are fine! Just as I come off the brake pedal, a police traffic car comes round the corner in the opposite direction and here's me cruising at 55mph - marvellous, this has to be a good omen!

We turn off the main road just in case he decides to follow us and I'm having real problems with heel-and-toe downshifts. I can't seem to find the accelerator while on the brake - I guess this will come with practice, I find the MR2's pedals are in just the right place.

On our return to the showroom I do the deal. Haydon will extend their sports exhaust promotion for me as I test-drove in July which is a nice surprise. While I was at the showroom, one of the cars that had just been fitted with the unit was fired-up and it sounded very nice indeed. There was one more thing I wanted from the deal and that was the hard-top bag. I suggested that as I was going for every option on the list that the least they could do was throw in the £200 accessory. After a little discussion they agreed and I left my deposit. I still hadn't decided on colour but this wasn't a problem as I could specify it at a later date.

4th August 1999

Haydon Daytune rang me yesterday to say that the factory could do with knowing the colour as soon as possible so I made up my mind last night. I'm going to go with New Aluminium (light silver) with the blue hood and Viking Blue leather seats (both dark blue). I really wanted to have matching seats and hood which contrasted with the body colour. However, having had a good look around the second hand cars in the showroom, the lighter colour leather seats show signs of wear more noticably than the darker colours. This meant a light body colour and what swung it was that the primer is grey so silver ought to hide stone chips better than other colours (top tip from Robert Collingridge's site).

6th September 1999

Spoke to Haydon Daytune today and they seemed quite confident that they would have a chassis number for me this week. This means that I can then book a factory visit as Lotus will be able to tell me when the car will be on the production line so I can see it being built. I'm trying to wait paitently but after a month it's getting difficult - I don't know how I would have coped with a 12-month waiting list.

8th September 1999

Went to Club Lotus, Hertfordshire this evening. Everyone was very friendly and made me feel welcome. I even got talking to Vivian Meazza about how the Toyota MR2 MkI is a Lotus design and probably the M90 (more info here). The next meeting is on the 13th October and I'm really hoping that I've got my car by then.

13th September 1999

I called Haydon Daytune about the chassis number. They checked but my order hadn't come through. I was told that they get a batch of numbers every Tuesday so it's back to the waiting game.

15th September 1999

Well, Lotus revealed the M250 concept car at the Frankfurt motor show yesterday. No news on their web site yet, but there's info at MotorMag and the Lotus News Site. I'd love to leave a deposit to get in early but I'm still scraping money together for the Elise.

20th September 1999

A friend of mine is in the process of buying a Lotus Esprit GT3 this week. It's in Titanium which looks really good on a car the size of the Esprit, there are some photos here.

24th September 1999

As I've still no word on a delivery date, I went back to Haydon Daytune today for another test drive. I managed to get in a standard car this time, having previously driven a Sport 135 and 111S. It was an 'R'-reg, so a couple of years old but it still felt very taught although it did show signs of a little bump-steer. I also got shown a proper twisty road by the salesman (one drawback of not being a Cambridge local). The roads were dry but after the heavy downpoars we've been having recently there was a lot of dust on the road washed off from the banks.

I got caught on the go-pedal a little early on one corner, requiring some corrective lock. After hearing so much about the "handling problem", self-preservation instinct had me lift from the throttle which brought the car quickly into line. Had I kept my foot in, I'm sure we would have just drifted nicely across the road. I'm beginning to be a little sceptical of the oversteer scaremongering but perhaps it's a different story in the wet. The lack of torque in the MR2 means that you can floor the throttle from very early through a corner and the back-end will just squirm deliciously - there's not enough grunt to break traction.

I also got a good feel for the K-Series engine. On previous occasions, driving the more powerful cars, I had stayed below 5000rpm to keep in-line with the performance of the standard 1.8 unit. It really has got bags of torque and is delightful to drive round town. Around 4500rpm things pick up and you think you're about to be thrown up to the rev-limiter, but... at 6000rpm the engine gives up and it's not a pleasant experience to go all the way to 7000.

Whilst in the showroom, I had a goot look at a couple of cars with Armourfend stone-chip protection film fitted. It's basically sticky-backed-plastic that protects your paintwork from road debris. You can pretty much cover all of the exposed paintwork (even the inside of the doors) if you have the money and inclanation. The full kit installed will cost you in excess of £1100. I think it's worth spending a couple of hundred to cater for 80% of the risk. I think I'll go for the lower bonnet, front spoiler, front wheel arches and the lower-half of the front of the rear wheel arches. This lot comes to £211 before fitting which I think I'll do myself.

29th September 1999

I've sent Pete Rowe a cheque for his driving light covers and joined the Official Lotus Club.

Also, It looks like Christopher Neil sell the same sports exhaust as Haydon Daytune for £290 (+VAT I think).

30th September 1999

I've just rung Haydon to chase them up on a part-ex price for my MR2 only to be told that they have a chassis number and delivery date! My car will have serial number 8005 for estimated delivery of 13th October.

Looks like I just might be able to make the next Club Lotus Hertfordshire meeting in my very own Lotus...

4th October 1999

Have just got everything sorted; insurance, finance etc. My insurance company has stictched me up something wrotten. They won't touch the Elise and I've only got another five weeks until renewal, which would get me four years NCD. There's nothing I can do but take up the best quote on three years NCD. Fortunately my broker (Taylor Price) can get me 4 years' worth of discount under Norwich Union which works out at a terribly reasonable £960!

I've also been in touch with the factory today to arrange for a visit. I'll be able to see my car on the production line and I hear that the owner of chassis 8006 will also be there. I'm taking along my Esprit-owning friend so I can arrive in style!

8th October 1999

Saw my car today! Well, I saw the painted front clamshell - the rest of the body was in the oven. Our tour was quite a rush-job. We had been squeezed in so that we could see our cars in production but it was a real eye-opener as to how much thought and design has gone into the car. You start to get a feel for where your money goes. Judging by the serial numbers rolling off assembly line, mine ought to be finshed for Tuesday before testing.

One bonus of the tour is that we got to see the Lotus M250 in the flesh. The showcar clay model was in one of the offices and we got a chance to get right up close for a look around. To my eyes, the car is a little too efficient in its design. All the components are functional, neat and tidy but there's no flair. There just isn't the wow-factor that accompanies the Esprit or the muscular, ready-to-pounce attitude of the Elise.

13th October 1999

The car should arrive at Haydon today. I call to discover that the current batch is due in tomorrow but they can't confirm if my car is on that delivery.

14th October 1999

I call Haydon again. My car isn't on today's delivery. I'm told that there are three cars left to be delivered and that mine is one of those three. Two of the three remaining cars are to be delivered tomorrow but again, they don't know the chassis numbers of those cars.

15th October 1999

Again, I call Haydon and find out that my car still hasn't arrived but should be coming on Monday or Tuesday. This is getting annoying...

18th October 1999

I call Haydon who promptly call the Factory and get back to me straight away. The car will definately be delivered tomorrow afternoon. This gives Haydon two clear days to prepare the car - I've also got a sports exhaust and audio head unit to be fitted - so I can collect on Friday. To make sure they're not bluffing, I arrange a time mid-morning for collection. I've also got the day off work so I can get cracking on the run-in period.

19th October 1999

I'm out of the UK at the moment and on checking my mobile phone answerphone this evening, I had a message from Haydon. My car has arrived! It exists and it's in Cambridge, apparently even with all the right bits and pieces. Everything is still on for a Friday collection. I was also told that there are two passes for the Lotus stand at the motor show in my file. I've also got a pair of free tickets for the event by renewing my Autocar subscription.

All this good news has really cheered me up and restored my faith in Haydon Daytune. It's somehow different to know that the car is real, I own it and I'll be driving it this week!

LC Liam Crilly
© 19-Oct-1999