Life with a modern classic - the Lotus diary, Part 7

Lotus Elise

Alastair finally has good news to report - apart from a few minor niggles, the Elise is running sweetly and lit up a recent trackday at Donington. Literally...

First things first: I. Love. This. Car. Damn, I really love this car! I’m fully aware that committing those comments to print significantly raises the prospect of the car returning to the garage for something or other. However, I’m taking the risk as it’s currently very much in my good books after an outing on track at Donington in February.

It feels like I’ve barely driven it, nor made any changes to it since the last update at the end of last year. However, now I’m sat here writing it down I realise there’s a few worthy updates.

Firstly, I softened the suspension all round. I knocked it back 3 clicks on every damper, meaning they are now 13 from hardest up front and 15 from hardest at the rear. I’ll discuss a bit more on how it drives later on.

Secondly, the intermittently failing headlight is no longer failing intermittently. Hurrah! In typical Lotus fashion, though, it’s now failed completely. It could be a bulb so I’ll check that out once it stops snowing, but it’s also showing signs of some sort of green corrosion on the terminals so this could also be part of the issue.

Finally, it appears that the nearside passenger window has suffered the same problem as the driver’s side did last year. When taking a passenger out a month or so back, my passenger reached for the winder only for it to click, crunch and then do absolutely nothing.

If it’s the same problem as befell the driver’s side, it’s a relatively cheap fix to fit a new mechanism, since the old Rover Metro part (yes, really!) is getting past its best now. It’s currently pretty securely stuck in the 'up' position so until the weather changes I’ll leave it as is.

All things considered though, the niggles I’ve just mentioned play second fiddle to how the car drives at the moment. Softening off the dampers turned out to be a revelation. While I’ve not driven it in the biblically wet conditions I did prior to Christmas, it hasn’t all been Sahara motoring either. However, all the driving I’ve done on the road since the damper settings change has revealed the car to be beautifully neutral where it was previously spiky and hard to control. The changes have been even more noticeable on track, too.

As you may recall, I didn’t initially book the Elise onto the Circuit Days Donington track day my Dad was attending in our track E30 because of noise level worries. However, when the day came I took the approach of asking the organisers whether I could take it out for a few laps just to see how noisy it was, before committing to pay for the day.

After a few laps of steadily getting quicker, I thought I may as well give it some beans since it might be the only opportunity I was going to get. Miraculously, I didn’t get a black flag and in fact it barely registered on the noise meter at a paltry 92dB! Oddly, or perhaps not (you decide once you’ve watched the video below), later in the day I did trip the meter on a number of occasions at 98-100dB on the drive-by, but because I’d been a proactive good boy, they let me off and I moderated my driving accordingly from then on by backing off when I got close to the noise meters.

This obviously goes to show how frustrating a drive-by noise test can be in terms of how much it's affected by external factors, but frankly, given that I got to go on track I’m not complaining this time.

So, to return to the point, what's the Elise like on track afer all my modifications?  To be honest, I was blown away. As I mentioned above, it’s absolutely perfectly balanced. I left the suspension settings on the aforementioned road spec to get used to it, and I was happily pushing a slick-shod 996.2 GT3 even on my standard(ish) Yokohama AD08 tyres.

I also had probably my favourite 20-30mins on track ever following a friend in his 996.1 GT3. I could even afford to back off on the straight past the noise meter and then catch up with him again by the end of the straight, despite me being two up and him flying solo. The car is really, really quick.

Even better, it’s also just plain fun. Entering a corner too fast sees understeer gradually build but if you back off , this is easily neutralised as the rear tucks in. However, if you’re feeling in the mood you can bring the throttle into play and the rear comes round beautifully.

Of course, you could get the rear to do this when the suspension was stiffer, but it was all just a bit too much for my hands (and nerves) to handle on the road in the wet. As with all things suspension, I think this will be a bit of a journey to find the right set up for each occasion, but right now it feels pretty sorted for both applications.

The icing on the cake came after the event. When I came into the pits, quite a number of people were commenting on how the Lotus was a bit fiery at times. Cool, I thought. It was only after I saw this video that I fully understood what they meant. A 'bit' fiery? That’s like saying it’s a ‘bit’ noisy!