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Lotus Elise S1 (1996 - 2001)

Last updated 26 November 2014


Buying Guide


  • K-Series engine can be fragile, but once sorted delivers plenty of power, and is simple  to service.
  • Despite poor reputation, the transmission is strong, and thanks to the car’s low weight there’s no reason for a high-mileage car to be suffering significant problems if it’s been driven with any skill.
  • Nothing handles or steers as well for the money.


  • Not enough power in standard 118 bhp form for the track, but BBR (01280 702389) did an Interceptor 2000 for better mid-range grunt. 'Sport' version's 190 bhp almost too much for the road. Minimal weather protection. Not a 'girlie townie' fashion accessory.
  • Not for wimps.
  • Expect roof to leak.
  • Snap oversteer in the wet hard to predict and catch on first acquaintance, especially on slicks in the wet.
  • 2001 facelift not nearly as attractive as original car.
  • The Elise was designed on a non repairable aluminium chassis. But this has steel suspension components. Electrolytic corrosion between these and the aluminium suspension mounting points can occur. All dealers use a coating compound where steel is in contact with aluminium. This crrodes the chassis where exposed, which is the edge of the suspension mounting bush.
  • S and T platers 17th from bottom in 2001 Top Gear / J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Survey.


  • Typical track day 'off' damage underneath, bent suspension, crunched ends.
  • Cat damage from misfiring off rev-limiter. Won't pass advanced emissions test at first MoT if cat has been removed.
  • Head gasket failure common because very low coolant capacity of engine means small leaks rapidly lead to overheating. Weakest point is Rover K Series engine's water heated inlet manifold gasket failing leading to head gasket failures. Bore liners can also drop. Website link
  • The suspension mounting points are susceptible to this as not only are they exposed, but are the first place to get wet and the last place to dry out and even in the summer will suffer from condensation
  • The chassis is non repairable and when this happens the car is scrap as it costs several times the cars value to replace the chassis and rebuild the  car. So inspect these areas carefully when buying/maintaining one of these cars.
  • Make sure the clutch isn’t slipping, by accelerating hard through the gears and seeing if the engine revs increase while the 
road speed doesn’t.
  • Suspension ball-joints are service items, and wear out after 35,000 miles.
  • Shock absorbers will usually last just 20,000 miles or so.
  • Steering racks wear out at around 35,000 miles, so check for play in the system to see if a new one is needed.
  • Once the Elise’s frame has been distorted in any way the whole thing has to be replaced. If it isn’t, not only is the car’s structure adversely affected, but it’ll never handle as well as it ought to. Building a car round a new chassis is major money; don’t pick up a ‘bargain’ then find you’ve been duped.
  • Make sure that the steel subframe which carries the engine hasn’t corroded. It’s the only significant piece of steel used in the car, and it has been known to rust. It is replaceable, but the part on its own is £500.
  • Make sure the glassfibre has been repaired properly if damagwd - if not, there will be sunken paint, possibly microblistering and perhaps even cracks in the panels.
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