The Lotus Elise is a modern-classic in any car enthusiast’s book. The two-seater arrived on the scene in late 1996, flaunted its fancy extruded aluminium tub to impress tech-heads, wowed eager drivers with its alert yet accessible road manners and promptly killed off cars like the Caterham 21 and Renault Sport Spider.
I can remember heading up to the Lotus factory in Hethel, Norfolk, for a guided tour of the lightweight sports car, before it was revealed. It seemed so right – everything you needed, nothing you didn’t, in a package you could drive to Spa and back – and it was unsurprising that the Elise would go on to save Lotus Cars from financial failure. For a while.
It gave rise to modern masterpieces, such the Exige. The original Series 1 model felt like a Group C car in miniature, scaling down the look, wrap-around screen and mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout, as well as the firepower, yet is was no less enthralling for it.
Lotus, a company steeped in motorsport history, raced the Exige as part of the UK’s Exige Championship, in 2000. Based on the VHPD version – Very High Performance Derivative – it even had a central driving position, like a McLaren F1. I took part in one round, at Snetterton, and ended up spinning like a top during qualifying, so started at the back of the grid. After three laps I’d worked my way up to ninth position, but the Exige decided to take a rest from racing, after the gear linkage came apart. The company’s people attributed it to the fact the guest car was often driven by former Formula One racing driver, Martin Donnelly, who showed the little Lotus no mechanical mercy.
Many improvements have been made to the Elise, over the years, most significantly the introduction of Toyota power. And now here come further enhancements, aimed at keeping that link to motorsport alive. Four special versions, known as Elise Classic Heritage Editions, have been introduced.
All are based on the Elise Sport 220, and cost from £46,250. That’s a far cry from the days of the original Elise, which cost less than £20,000 in 1996. But in fairness this version boasts a more substantial 220PS – 217 horsepower – a six-speed gearbox and the ability to power from 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds.
The new twist on Lotus’ classic motorsport liveries starts, fittingly, with one of the company’s earliest: the blue-and-white of the Type 18 of 1960. It was the first Lotus to achieve a Formula 1 pole position and victory, courtesy of the late Sir Stirling Moss at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Then comes red, white and gold, echoing the Lotus Type 49B that Graham Hill raced in 1968. Using everything that its Ford-Cosworth DFV 3.0 V-8 could give, Hill took Team Lotus to the championship with a 12 point lead over Jackie Stewart in a Matra MS10. The colours continue inside the car, with the red and gold vibe splashed across the seats, door trims and instruments.
Next is a black-and-gold car, referencing the livery of the Lotus Type 72D which Emerson Fittipaldi raced to five victories over the course of the 1972 Formula 1 season, beating Jackie Stewart in his the Tyrrell-Ford.
A forgotten livery is blue, red, and silver, originally found across the 1980 Lotus Type 81, driven by Nigel Mansell, Elio de Angelis, and Mario Andretti. It was not exactly Colin Chapman’s finest racing machine, failing to score a single win.