Your options are fairly limited if you want to drive around in a car that bears your name. You could start your own company, but that’s expensive and could be problematic for your reputation if the car is a flop. Or you could luck in when a manufacturer gives its car a suitable name – take a bow, Adams and Zoes – but there’s no guarantee you’ll like the car itself.
Elisa Artioli does not have that problem.
In 1995, at the Frankfurt show, Lotus pulled the covers off its new sports car: the Elise. And sitting inside, under the covers, was Elisa – the little girl after which the car was named, thanks to her grandfather and chairman of Lotus at the time, Romano Artioli.
“I was two and a half year old,” says Elisa, “and they trained me to say, ‘I am Elise’! They put me under a cover for some time at home, so I wouldn’t be scared on the day of the presentation. On the day, I didn’t want to get out of the car!”
It’s perhaps little surprise that Elisa owns a series 1 Elise herself, though she didn’t have to wait until driving age to call herself an owner, as the silver sports car has been hers since she was four years old. “I was crazy about it – at kindergarten I’d tell everybody ‘I am Lotus Elise’, and when I went to school I was still talking about it even though nobody understood! At some point I stopped talking about it, but I remember I’d still come home from school and use the garage entrance to the house just so I could see the car – it always put a big smile on my face.
“It never felt like the car was named after me though – it was more like it was a part of the family. I say it’s like a sister – I know it’s just a car, but I feel really linked to it.”
Was there a moment when Elisa realised the significance of the car?
“It was difficult at first because I couldn’t drive it – I loved the design, and its smiling face! Sometimes when I was sad I’d go to the garage just to know the car was waiting for me.
“The real moment I fell in love with the car was when I started driving… even if the first twenty minutes or so were awful! [Laughs] I learned to drive in a Cinquecento, but driving the Elise wasn’t the same at all… it was very difficult to get used to the car at first.”
Now, Elisa has the opposite problem. A life spent driving a car as intimate and responsive as an Elise makes other cars feel very strange, as it turns out. “I live in Bolzano, it’s a small town and I can go anywhere on my Vespa in ten minutes, so I tend to use the Elise on the weekends. But when I need another car and rent one or borrow my mother’s car, I can’t drive them! The brakes are too sensitive, everything’s beeping at me… it’s awful!” she laughs.
If you’re familiar with Elisa today, it’s probably through her entertaining and active Instagram feed, @iamlotuselise.
“When I moved away for university, it was the moment I felt myself again. I got my driving license and started meeting people from the community.
“People were writing on forums things like, ‘where is Elisa?’ but I’d always keep quiet. One day a guy found me and asked why I wasn’t posting, and thought I should become part of it. I was proud of the car, but I didn’t know people would be excited to hear my story – I didn’t design it, I was just lucky, honestly. But this guy said, no, you should post what you do with your car.”
Predictably, it took people a little time to work out that Elisa’s new Instagram account was genuine – something they quickly realised when she began posting pictures from her childhood, with her grandfather.
“My grandpa always talked about cars and still does” Elisa says. “For him the Elise is a big success and therefore it’s a story that he liked to tell. I don’t know who’s more passionate about the Elise though, because we have different passions – I like to drive, but he likes the technical aspect, he started disassembling his father’s cars and so he became more interested in engines.” The family is still close; a recent post on Elisa’s Instagram shows them celebrating Romano’s 88th birthday.
The social presence though has led to bigger and better things, with trips to meet up with Lotus Elise owners around the world as far afield as America and Australia – and a new business, Delightful Driving, inspired by her road trips.
“It’s going well – I have the same passion as all these other drivers, and it’s cool to share that with people. Based here in the Dolomites it’s perfect for sports cars, lightweight cars especially, it’s a lot of fun.”
As one venture begins, another ends, with Lotus confirming that Elise production is now coming to an end. “I’m so sad about it!” she says. “I knew this moment would come, and I understand that it’s time for new products. I’m looking forward to what’s next, although I have no idea – but people inside Lotus tell me that I won’t be disappointed.”
“There was actually a moment I thought, ‘Maybe my life will change now?’” Another laugh. “I always love to share this story, and I’m so proud of the car. And it’ll still always be there in automotive history.” But it’s not all bad news. “The community is small, and everyone knows each other. I have the Instagram community too, we talk a lot, and it’s not too big that I cannot relate to everyone. It’s all friends and family.”
Friends, family, and one of the world’s greatest sports cars with your name on the back.