1996 Lotus Elise

SI Roadster 1.8 L

Vehicle values by condition

Condition 4
#4 cars are daily drivers, with flaws visible to the naked eye. The chrome might have pitting or scratches, the windshield might be chipped.
Condition 3
#3 cars could possess some, but not all of the issues of a #4 car, but they will be balanced by other factors such as a fresh paint job or a new, correct interior.
Condition 2
#2 cars could win a local or regional show. They can be former #1 cars that have been driven or have aged. Seasoned observers will have to look closely for flaws.
Condition 1
#1 vehicles are the best in the world. The visual image is of the best car, unmodified, in the right colours, driving onto the lawn at the finest concours.
Insurance premium for a
1996 Lotus Elise SI Roadster 1796
valued at £15,100
£368.46 / year*

History of the 1996 - 2001 Lotus Elise

1996 - 2001 Lotus Elise
1996 - 2001 Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise S1 (Roadster), 1996-2001

The Lotus Elise S1 was in production from 1996 until 2001. Styled in house by Julian Thomson, it is a front-engine, rear wheel drive sportscar seating two adults.

The Elise was the brainchild of Lotus owner Romano Artioli – and named after his granddaughter Elise, who is one of the S1 Elise’s greatest promoters as a classic. It used a 1.8 litre variant of the Rover K series, initially in the same state of tue as the MGF but subsequently also in VVC form in the Elise 111S. The Elise was developed as Type 111 – continuing the Lotus tradition of type numbers as well as names. The idea was to increase Lotus profits by producing a back to basics sportscar to be sold at a low price with high profit, alongside the Esprit which was bringing in less and less for the company coffers. Having just been rescued by Artioli, Lotus would have to pay its own way. The Elise’s spaceframe chassis was all new for Lotus, a company more used to steel backbones – but it helped bring the overall weight down to below 700kg, and the 0-60 to 5.5 seconds even with the standard 118bhp engine.

The press loved the Elise when it was first launched. It was felt to be a very different proposition to the outgoing M100 Elan – a heavier, front wheel drive roadster, which appealed to the hot hatch generation but also didn’t make the sort of profit Artioli needed. It was felt to be a very taut shape, handsome and simple, and while Spartan inside this meant it was light. Lotus developed the theme with the hardcore Exige of 2000, but this is a separate car and should be discussed another time. Lotus replaced the S1 Elise in 2001 – with a new Elise, initially with the K series but later fitted with a Toyota engine.

The weight and responsiveness of the steering is pleasing – the car always goes where you want it, and poor road surfaces aren’t transmitted through it as aggressively as through the seats. Access might be difficult and the cabin sparsely equipped, but none of this matters when you’re on a good B road. Grip is good, aided by the nose and rear diffuser which both aid downforce. Even the cable operated gearchange feels slick, and the brakes are reassuringly sharp.

Check for cracks, crazing or trapped water damage to the glassfibre panels, as repair is a specialist job. Headlamp units aren’t available new but can be refurbished, while it’s possible to find electrolytic corrosion between the front suspension and the spaceframe chassis. Check the engine for signs of oil and water mixing, though Lotus tended to fit uprated head gaskets and in any case the K series is under minimal stress in this application. Check the chassis as thoroughly as you can for signs of bodges and repairs – ideally a tubular spaceframe shouldn’t have been patched, but if it has be certain the work was carried out by an Elise specialist who knew what he was doing.

Most desirable and thus most valuable are special edition, primarily the 111S, but also models such as the Sport 135, Sport 160 and Sport 190. Standard Elises have less power, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 118bhp of a standard Elise is enough given its weight, and no amount of extra power improves the Elise’s already phenomenal handling and balance. For driving enthusiasts who don’t care about the value of their Elise as an appreciating asset, the standard model is the best value of the lot.

While the MGF and Toyota MR2 both offer mid engined thrills and share the engines of the Elise (The Toyota shares with the later MK2 Elise), both are softer overall prospects. A Vauxhall VX220 would be a close rival, but then it’s based on Elise architecture. A Caterham Seven provides the same raw thrills, might may well be too raw for many to contemplate. Given that Lotus owners tend to be a hardy bunch, this is arguably the closest rival you could find.

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