A car as pure in its concept and execution as the Elise suggests that it was the work of a few with vision rather than a committee backed up by market research. So it proves to be. Chief stylist Julian Thomson was one of a core of five people involved in the concept of the car. Here he outlines the thinking behind it.
“There was absolutely no argument between us on what sort of car this would be. It was never going to be anything other than something which represented Lotus’ core values. It was going to be light, innovative, affordable, yet with the ultimate in driver satisfaction.”
The low weight and innovation ideals were to be met almost at a stroke by the car being fashioned in extruded aluminium. This came about as a result of Rover asking Lotus to look at new types of construction. In this research it came into contact with Hydro Aluminium Structures. A joint investment programme between the two parties resulted in the extruded aluminium spaceframe tub which forms the basis of the car. Weighing just 70 kg it exceeds all required safety legislation and offers excellent torsional rigidity.
“This fitted in perfectly,” asserts Thomson, “not only for the concept of the Elise itself but in giving us the sort of high-tech solution which acts as a perfect shop front for Lotus’ engineering consultancy capabilities.”
But it wasn’t going to be cleverness without direction or discipline. The financial straits of the company and the fingers so recently burned by the front-drive Elan project saw to that: “What we expressly did not want to do was make the same mistake as with the Elan ie produce a specialist sports car with mainstream mass production values. With that car the detailing and everything had to be to the same standard as a Corsa, which just wasn’t financially feasible.”
The team’s solution took its cue from the specialist Italian motorbike manufacturers: “Over half the team ride ‘bikes. The Elise has some parallels in how pure an experience it is, but where we got a vital part of our inspiration was in how the Italians had stopped trying to compete with the mainstream and made a no-compromise machine instead. We spent, like they have, lots on the tactile bits, the bits we considered important, and took money out of the things that we considered less important in a sports car, things which we could not have compromised on had we adopted the philosophy of the Elan.
“The result is a car which we think benefits enormously. It’s a real thrill. It’s the sort of car you might take out for a blast just for the hell of it, like you would a fast bike. I don’t think you could say that of something like the MGF.
“Another problem with the Elan is that it was very tightly packaged around the Isuzu engine. In contrast the Elise’s concept is much more modular, so a whole variety of engines could be used.” Just like its spiritual predecessor, the Lotus 7, in fact.