Elise Diary Page Three, Ownership

Elise and Highway 1

This is my story. I am going to document my purchase, ownership, and feelings about my Lotus Elise. I started with a throttle pedal, a manual, and models of the Series 1 and 2. I finally got the car!

Pickup and Trip

September 2, 2004

Trip Pictures

My Elise was ready for pick up at Desert European in Palm Springs, California.  I live in Northern California and so I arranged to fly down and was greeted by 110 F weather.  Hot!  A quick shuttle ride to the dealer and I saw my car sitting in front of the dealership with Austin and another fellow looking it over.

I had asked that no work be done on the car.  I did not want it washed or any stickers removed.  I wanted copies of all the papers associated with the car.  Austin was very careful and did what I asked.  As a result of my request, the car had a bit of dirt here and there.

We completed all the paperwork, I handed over the funds, and the car was mine!  I kept thinking about a seven-year wait and was amazed that it was finally over.   I asked Austin if I could take a picture of him in the car and he graciously agreed.  He was wonderful to deal with and tried very hard to make the experience a good one.  I thanked him yet one more time.  I got in, backed it into a parking spot that was shaded, and proceeded to familiarize myself with the car. 

I still could not figure out how to get in and out.  I tried a couple of different strategies.  None of them worked.  No matter how hard I tried, my shoes brushed up against something or I looked totally uncoordinated.

I tried to start it again and could not.  I put it in neutral, no go.  I pushed in the clutch, no go.  I tried the key in multiple positions and kept hitting the starter and it would not start.  I kept noticing the blinking red light in front and wondered how to turn that off.  Finally I looked at the key fob and realized the immobilizer was still on.  A quick push of the button and it started. 

Elise in front of Ojai reservoir

I planned on staying with a friend but I do not remember much about the trip to his house, as it was uneventful.  Good company, a nice meal, and I retired late to study the operator’s manual.

The next morning I took some pictures in front of his home as the sun came up.  Soon I was on my way, headed for Santa Barbara, about 120 miles and the Pacific Coast.  I started noticing things about the car.  The tachometer is not linear, with 1, 2, and 3 being tightly spaced.   Brake travel was not as bad as I had heard.  (I have not heeled and toed yet.)  There is significant power between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm.  (Break in limits RPM to below 6,000 rpm.)  Vision out the back is not bad once you learn where to look.  The radio faceplate keeps coming off.  (I cannot find the off button and am hitting the removal button.  The faceplate spends the rest of the trip in the boot and I enjoy listening to the exhaust.)  Not much room for the passenger. 

Elise in front of pool

Very soon I experienced one of the worst portions of the trip as I traveled Highway10W.  I remember hearing the Federal Elise was modified to handle the terrible roads in California, especially the concrete roads with the joints.  The ride was among the worst I have ever experienced, even worse than the Seven I used to own.  It was so bad I tried going at different speeds and in different portions of the roadway.  My car has the LSS Sport Pack option and the resulting ride is extremely bumpy.  Do not order this option if you plan on driving these kinds of roads, even occasionally.  I cannot emphasize this enough. 

I stopped to get water at a store and parked far away from all the other cars.  As I walked towards the store, a mother and her young son were finishing loading their groceries.  The son, about 12, stopped, pointed, and said, “Look Mom, a Lotus!”  I smiled, and the Mom noticed.  She asked if it was my car and I said yes and that it was great that her son recognized it.

I managed to sneak by Los Angeles and was soon headed up the coast on Highway 101N.  Just before Santa Barbara, I hit another stretch of concrete roadway.  Rather than continue, I took off on 33, towards Ojai and then back to the coast road on 150.  This is the first time I was able to experience the Elise on a twisty road with little traffic.  Heaven!  Amazing how you can go from something so terrible to something so wonderful.

I entered Santa Barbara and experienced my first road incident.  I was getting used to people hiding in my blind spot as I was driving, as they examined the car.  I was careful making lane changes.  On this occasion, traffic was medium to heavy, with all three lanes filled to capacity and all the cars spaced a safe distance from each other.  I saw a Honda Prelude weaving up through traffic behind me and paced me to my right, as I was in the center lane.  He revved his engine and kept accelerating and slowing, keeping pace with me.  Suddenly he took off very quickly, cut in front of me and accelerated up my lane.  I was terrified he was going to rear end the car in front of me but at the last minute he veered into the left lane.  He missed the car in my lane by inches.  The car he veered in front of slammed on their brakes and almost got rear-ended.  The speeder kept going!  Weaving in and out at over 100 mph on a crowded freeway.  I have never seen anything like it and I was shaken.  Being challenged to a race on the racetrack is one thing, but a challenge on a crowded freeway is something else.

I finally got to Santa Maria and decided to spend the night in the area.  I wanted to get an early start.  I wanted to drive Highway 1 before the tourists got up in the morning.

Elise in front of light house

I started Highway 1 North at 5:00 am.  Suddenly the perfect car was on the perfect road at the perfect time of day.  (I was frustrated about not being able to rev above 6,000 rpm because of break in considerations, but the run was fun anyway.  Besides, now I have to do it again soon, after the car is broken in.)  There were no other cars and I was having fun.  The sun was coming up and I looked for photo opportunities.  I would stop, take a picture, and sprint on.  Still no cars!  I was having so much fun!  After 70 miles I was starting to encounter other people on the road and slowed to a safe pace, and I soon arrived in Carmel.

I continued north and stopped in Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world.  I purchased some giant artichokes for my wife and the sales person wondered where I was going to put them.  I continued on to Santa Cruz and then up over Highway17 to Silicon Valley. 

I drove 690 miles in a day and a half and wanted more.  I almost did not go home and thought about continuing up the coast but I knew the wife and kids were excited about seeing the car.  I also still needed to see if the car would fit in the garage!

My wife heard the roar of the exhaust as I arrived and the family tumbled out of the house.  I finally got the car in the garage but I kept going down to see if it was really there.  Hard to believe.

Later that day, my wife asked if she could take it for a spin.  I explained the break in procedures and she was off.  She was gone a long time.  Upon her return I asked how she liked it.  (She autocrosses her BMW M3, so she knows a bit about driving.)  She related the experience and at one point she mentions she had it up to 100 mph once and 110 mph another.  I stared!  She got the car over 100 mph!  I have not driven it that fast yet!  I was waiting for a drive with her before hitting the cams and going above 6,000 rpm.  She laughed.  Men and their toys!

Elise in front of oil rig

all photos by the author

My First Autocross in the Elise

September 19, 2004

My first Elise autocross, in the rain! Perhaps we should call it a drift competition?

I was looking forward to my first autocross in the Elise. I wanted to find out what the limits were and how the car handled. My goal was to drive my four runs and to spin it at least once. I kept hearing how you could press and press and the Elise would reward you. I wanted to find the(!) limit.

wet autocross with Lotus Elise

We set up the course in rain showers! I love to autox in the rain because it feels like you have 1000hp! Smooth driving is rewarded and you have to be smooth with the throttle. The course was really wet. Worse, as always in California where it does not rain much in the summer, the first rain brings up all the accumulated oil. The puddles had a brown cast to them because of the oil on the surface! Of course the rain stopped just as I started to make my runs but the course was showing rivers of water.

Kiyoshi was being kind when describing my first corner in my first autocross... I was excited. I added throttle as I crossed start/finish and the first corner was right near a drain. I did not(!) save it but ended up with a spin and the car came to a stop more than 90 degrees past direction of travel. Worse, I did not put all pedals in and killed it! Boy, was I out of practice! I did not realize what happened it was so quick!

first spin in autocross in the wet with Lotus Elise

The Elise was great however. The LSS setup communicates all kinds of things to you. Probably most impressive was the communication with the tires. Top speed on the longest straight was about 50 mph with a puddle at the end, and an offset. I did not feel any aquaplaning and did not expect to at that speed. I got an inside front to lock once that I know of so the ABS must either be very subtle or I was not driving it hard enough. Still having fun....

Even better was the communication of over turning the steering. I could definitely tell when I put in too much lock as the tires would judder and the vibration was communicated to the hands. Unwinding got me back to a better slip angle and I was immediately rewarded with a sudden turn in. It was like the car was yelling at me, no wispering or having to figure out what it wanted.

There were some interesting parts to the experience. I could not see the cones on the left turns! I am 5' 10", mostly in legs. I have another inch headroom under the hardtop with my helmet on. I am definitely sitting low. I found myself being blocked by the left mirror in certain situations and caught myself peering under the mirror! I am going to raise the seat slightly and hope that helps. I think I am also learning where to look, as vision is must more limiting than the Seven I am used to.

autocross Lotus Elise in the wet

I kept beeping the horn on one corner! My hand position pushes the palm into the inside of the rim where the horn button is located. I burst out laughing the second time. Still having fun...

No shifting, second was sufficient for this tight course, especially since it was wet.

No playing with tire pressures. I was way underinflated but that was less important at the low accelerations due to the wet.

Most of all, I was impressed with the desire of the car to be driven out of the corners. Being out of practice and in a new car, I tended to enter the corners too hot, ending up understeering to scrub off the speed and then, once the slip angle came back, managing the corner. The car wants slow in - fast out. Things went much better if I was slow in and added throttle to steer through and out of the corner. Boy, do I have a lot to learn. Still having fun...

final spin in Lotus Elise

Finally, on my third run, all was going well. I completed the course and was really smooth. A great run! Entering the second to the last corner, there was a right, left combination, before a short braking for the final turn before start/finish. I did the right part, tried to do the left, in a puddle, and ended up in a full 180 spin. Note the faint skid marks between the two right cones. This time I do know what happened. A quick transition, too much speed, and I was already trying to brake for the last corner. Way too much to ask of the rear tire contact patch. Embarassing yet one more time.

I was able to put a good run together for the fourth and final run.

Still having fun...with a big grin!

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