Lotus Elise: CCC, date unknown
updated September 2001
(missing parts are due to a poor copy)
CCC catches up with McLairen F1 designer Adrian Newey and goes for a blast in his insane 175mph Elise Turbo - all 320bhp of it.
Euan Sey drives, photography: Paul Harmer
Are we at the right place," I ask snapper Harmer as we leave behind the sleepy village and pull into the Woking industrial estate. This is motorsport HQ, the headquarters of the world's foremost racecar manufacturer, yet the security guard has just casually waved us in without even leaving his chair.
The building looks functional and smart from the outside, but no more so than you'd expect from, say, B&Q's head office. In fact, there's little or no indication of its import other than a modestly sized TAG McLaren logo in one corner. "We've got an appointment to see Mr Newey," I inform the receptionist, idly gazing at the 1998 championship-winning F1 car on display in the waiting room.
We've not come here to fulfil some childhood ambition, though, we're here on business. That business is testing Mr Newey Is latest runaround - a 320bhp turbocharged Lotus Elise capable of topping 175mph and giving a McLaren F1 a run for its money.
So what drives the genius behind Mika Hakkinen's MP4-14 Formula I car to do that to a perfectly good Elise? "When I was at Williams I had an Alpine A61 0, which is a highly underrated car - especially if you play with the boost. I wanted something which would replace that but be a bit smaller and lighter," he told us matter-of-factly.
"TVRs and so on have lots of power but they don't handle very well," he continued. "But when I test-drove the Elise I thought: 'this is what Lotus should have been making for the last twenty years'. It seemed to have everything but the horsepower."
His brief was simple, but ambitious - he wanted his Elise to have a similar power-to-weight ratio to a Ferrari F40 or McLaren F1, which means about 300bhp. To get that kind of power out of a 1800 K-Series engine, you're going to need a turbo. Enter stage left Dave Brodie of BBR-GTi in Brackley. Dave used to tune Adrian's Sierra Cosworth years ago and, in the words of the McLaren man. "builds a very good car," High praise indeed.
Dave andhis partner Ken Brittain’s primary concern was increasing the strength and durability of the 1796cc four-cylinder engine.
to clamp bottom end and cylinder head together, and the gasket has been uprated.
Strapping it all together is a special girdle plate under the block, complete with a series of jets to spray cooling oil onto the underside of the uprated pistons. Inserting thicker liners and a dish in each piston has allowed the compression ratio to be lowered from 10.5:1 to 9.1:1, and the crankshaft has been replaced by a forged steel item.
flowed, and fitted with BBR 2mm oversize valves and camshafts ground to their own spec; by an unnamed Belgian firm.
Years of Cossie tuning told the pair precisely which turbo would give the best response: the Escort Cosworth's Garrett T3. The inadequate cooling system has been ditched in favour of a simple self-bleeding system using a swirl pot, and there’s a larger water-cooler intercooler with its own separate radiator. Cool air is
scoops on the car's flanks. There's also a water-cooled oil cooler and the engine has been dry-sumped for track use.
An uprated fuel injector system feeds into a BBR cast-aluminium intake manifold and plenum chamber and is controlled by a Pectel engine management system. Additional info is supplied to the ECU by a closed-loop lambda system and catalytic converter incorporated
305bhp and 285 lb.ft of torque with the boost set on 1.3bar. Since then, however, the boost has been increased to over 1.6bar - which Ken estimates would push the power figure up to around 320bhp and 300 lb.ft of torque.
That represents a hike from 180bhp per ton in standard trim to a staggering 400bhp per ton. Enough to worry anything on four wheels, or two for that matter. To cope with this,
ultra-long first gear and final drive ratio to produce that eye-watering top speed of 175mph. An LSD has also been thrown in along with an uprated single-plate clutch from Helix Autosport in Coventry.
Actions speak louder...
Like its owner, the car itself is surprisingly lowkey. The only obvious body modifications are
to the one originally designed for the Elise before it was axed by Lotus's styling department. Other than that, only the drop in ride height afforded by the Bell and Colville springs and the Lotus 340R's funky Dunlop radial tyres hint at its supercar-slaying potential.
The cockpit is as similarly plain and functional, with just a smattering of fake carbon-fibre and an additional binnacle for the SPA Design oil, water, fuel, and boost pressure gauges.
She fires up with the Elise's trademark metallic thrum and the engine settles down to idle at 1300rpm. Engage first, increase the revs, slip the clutch. Give it more revs, slip the clutch some more, then some more - first gear is very, very long!
First impressions are that the car feels a little more unwieldy than the standard car. The steering isn't quite as light and crisp, the turnin slightly woolier. Then again, it does weigh 125 kilos more than the factory model, which counts for a lot when you're talking about a starting weight of just 675kg.
Then we hit the long straight and it's time to see what the engine's made of. I plant the throttle and brace myself, but the engine's response is surprisingly sluggish, the car's progress less than fast. Then, at 30OOrpm, the turbo begins to gather momentum and wharm... the front of the car goes light, almost as if it's about to pull a wheelie, and the
At 5500rprn I back off in abject fear - I just wasn't prepared for that kind of acceleration. Why on earth aren't the tyres reduced to molten lumps of rubber? Then I round the corner in first gear - which is what you need for anything remotely resembling a tight bend - to be greeted by another long straight. This time I'm determined not to back off.
Whooshl The hiss builds and the car screams forwards with stupendous force until first gear is finally spent - at no less than 70OOrpm and 70mph second gear proves to be even more of a kick in the gonads. This time the freight train hits you in the back harder still, and holds you at the point of near-blackout until the needle passes 1OOmph and the scenery blends into a bluey-green blur.
Into third and before I know it that huge, expansive runway of a road is almost gone and it's time to get on the brakes for the approaching bend. I've been told that the car is fitted with cross-drilled discs and performance pads, but my immediate reaction after depressing the pedal is that they've been stolen. It's shedding speed, but not nearly fast enough considering the 120mph starting point. There's simply too much momentum involved.
To truly give all the gears a go, you'd need a disused airfield or an empty motorway - 175mph on a road in a lightweight, open-top sportscar is just too much for your senses to cope with. It is possible to cruise around at modest speeds in a high gear, but the engine's low compression means you have to keep the turbo simmering or it gets bogged down by turbo-lag.
Off-boost, the blown K-Series feels somewhat lazy and underpowered. On-boost it's nothing short of supersonic. Get the throttle balanced so that the turbo's spooling up as you exit the bend and you're in for the biggest adrenaline rush of your life. But allow the turbo to reach full-whack in the middle of a tight bend and no amount of opposite lock will help you. Imagine taking a turbocharged F1 car for a spin on a public road and you'll soon get the picture.
Praise must go to Dunlop for the superbly grippy radials, because this car would eat 'normal' tyres faster than you could order them-even with the LSD. The rear spoiler also does an excellent job of keeping the car firmly on the ground at ridiculous speed, but the suspension could be a little softer and less bouncy.
So after 18 months waiting, L26000 on engine development and a load more spent on transmission, chassis and body mods, what's next for his pocket rocket? "Now that I've got the car I'll treat it as a bit of a hobby - you know, do things to it over the winter. The first thing it needs is some decent brakes," he admitted. "The disc diameter and thickness is exactly the same as the carbon discs we use on the F1 car, so maybe we can work something out..."
Gemini are also said to be looking at designing a six-speed gearbox for the car, which would sort out the overly tall gearing without compromising the blistering top-end performance required by Adrian for track days. There's also talk of bringing the weight down to around 600kg. If that happens, I know who I'll be betting on at the next CCC Action Day.