From: "Mike Causer"
Subject: A racing car for the road!

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 1996 19:02:09 +0100

Ever driven a racing school car? A none-too-fresh Formula Ford that's done more laps of the circuit than a shopping trolly has of the supermarket. You don't fit, the seat feels as if it was made for someone several sizes larger -- with a flat board at the bottom. You can't get your feet properly onto the pedals and heel-&-toe operations are impossible, but the gear lever flops about too, so perhaps it won't make much difference, gearchanging is hit and miss already.

As you drive out of the pits the steering feels completely dead, light but no feel, although the car certainly turns the moment pressure is applied. The engine seems rather dead too, not quite gutless, but no feeling of "wow" about it.

Then, as you start to pick up speed the steering gets better, there is some feedback. The gearchange stays poor, but simply shoving the lever in the right direction is enough, don't worry about finesse. Even the engine seems to improve -- as long as you're in the right gear all the time there is sufficient power. More would be nice, but there is enough to be going on with.

Go faster. Oh shit, slow traffic, has it seen me behind? Never mind, blitz it in second as soon as we're on the straight. Another, it's staying to the outside of the turn so we go straight by on the inside. This is fun, and it's not slow either, just got to use it right. The steering jiggles, but the car doesn't divert from the course you want, and it talks nicely about what it's doing.

The more commitment you have and the faster you go, the better the car goes. Then as you are really getting keen your time's up: back to the pits to hand over to someone else. Damn, need another fix soon!

That's what the Elise is like -- it IS a racing car for the road. I've driven the early Elites, Sevens and Caterhams which have had that label applied too, but they feel like road cars, good ones, but not the real thing. The Elise drove just like that old Brands Hatch school F.F.

The traction is fantastic, so it should be with such moderate power, but I suspect that it would be very well behaved in the wet too. Grip is great, to the extent that any "sober citizen" would be horrified to see it, and might even use their mobile phone to tell the cops about it. Make sure no-one's watching when you go out to play!

It's not perfect, you can't see the LCD part of the instrument display with the hood off (actually I didn't try with the hood on ;-). This means that things like temperature, oil pressure and fuel remaining have to be taken on trust, or you pull over & stop to peer at the numbers. And the worst feature of all for me was the gearbox. Not only is the linkage vague, but the ratios are much too widely spaced. The power is falling off after 6,500 rpm, which is a bit over 100mph in fourth. However when you stuff it into fifth it feels as if the ignition was switched off, the gap is far too great. What the car needs is a close-ratio 'box and a better linkage to make it easier to be in the right gear all the time.

Who cares if you can't read the instruments, tweaking the pedals won't take more than an evening in the workshop, a heel-bar would be nice too, a bit of aluminium would do the job. Just the sort of tweaking to fit that you have to do with any racer that you buy. Oh, here we are again ;-)

And the $32,000 question is: did I get my chequebook out? Not this time, but if I was forced to have a respectable family car to drive every day, and had no other toys, and of course the $32k, the answer would be yes. The Elise is a blast!

Happy Lotusing,


Mike Causer Cambridge
+44 1223 578100 Animation