…on living with a Lotus.

Today I sold my beloved Lotus Elise 111S (lovely Bell & Colvill who supplied it from new and serviced it for me ever since were kind enough to make me a good offer for it).  This is the first time for 11 years that I have not had a Lotus (prior to having the yellow 111S series 2 I had the blue Lotus Elise series 1), and the first time in 27 years that I’ve not had a car; it’s going to take some getting used to!

Why did I get rid?  Main reason is I was just not using the car much these days.  I had it for 6.5 years and in that time did 30,000 miles (30,319 to be precise), and since I left my job I’ve been doing about 7 miles every second week; before then I was only using it to get to work and back, a round trip of about 7 miles a day.  So it made sense to let the car go (besides, do you have any idea how awkward it is turning up to sign on each fortnight in a Lotus?! 😉 ).  Doing so saves around £800 per year on tax & insurance, plus around £1,000 per year on servicing.  That’s a lot of bus and train (and even taxi) fares right there.  Actually, given the extra work which would be needed come the next service (new steering rack and new exhaust system), that’s probably an extra £2,000 of servicing costs I’d have encountered next year, so selling now is even more beneficial.

So what’s it been like having a Lotus for 11 years?  And how did I end up with one in the first place?

Well, back when I was at university in the mid 1980s, I decided that I was going to own a Lamborghini by the year 2000.  Don’t ask, it’s just one of those mad impossible dreams.

Fast forward many years, and I decided that as I was single again and had no financial commitments other than a mortgage, I was going to get rid of my ordinary car (a Nissan Primera saloon as I recall) and I would buy a Toyota MR2 while I was still young enough to be able to enjoy it (being 34 at the time).  My housemate Rich, however, was really into some weird Lotus called an Elise (the only Lotus I really knew about and liked was, of course, the Esprit) and suggested I should look at those instead.  So, partly just to shut him up, we went to the local Lotus dealer for a look and a test drive.  As we approached there were several Elises parked outside; they didn’t particularly appeal but never mind.  And so came the test drive.  The deal was the salesman would drive us out and I would drive back.  Fair enough.  So, into the topless car we get, and off he drives, naturally choosing some twisty open country lanes.  We’re approaching a 90 degree corner (open fields so there is plenty of visibility).  He shows no signs of slowing down – we are in a 60 mph area and he’s sticking to the speed limit.  “He’s leaving it a bit late to brake?  Shouldn’t he be slowing down now? Umm, brake.  BRAKE!  BRAKE BRAKE BR… OhMyGodThatWasAwesome!” were my thoughts as we approached and flew round the bend as if we were on rails.  It’s pretty safe to say I was sold on the car there and then.  Of course, I wasn’t going to let the salesman know and I remained non-committal, saying I would have to think about it (I have a policy of never EVER making a large purchase there-and-then, I always take at least one night to think it over).  I thought I was doing a good job of appearing non-committal; Rich told me that the huge grin on my face as I came back to the garage from the test-drive said otherwise.

Either way, the decision was made and a few weeks later in December 2000 I collected my brand new blue Lotus Elise.  Just in time for my then annual trip home to see Mum for Christmas.  The car needed to be run-in for 1,000 miles.  No problem the round trip home is 1,200 miles, so I collected the car and booked the 1,500 mile service at the same time, to the slight bemusement of the dealer.  I get up to Mum’s, and no sooner does she see the car than she christens it “The Toy Car”, a name which stuck for both of them over the years.  I have to say, Mum never particularly liked cars (she was a horse person through and through), but even she was rather taken with the Elise 🙂  As were my old school friends who I met up with over that Christmas who all approved and cautioned me against the possibility that it would attract lots of women but to beware of the potential gold-diggers; I have to say that the only attention either of the cars ever really attracted was from adolescent males and elderly retired ladies, neither of whom fitted my dating criteria (nor I theirs) so all was well on that front.

So, not quite the dreamed-of Lamborghini by 2000, but I reckon a Lotus for 2000 was a pretty damned good result.

I got on quite well with the car for several years, although the servicing cost were rather higher than the salesman had lead me to believe, it did seem to get through tires and steering racks and brakes and goodness knows what rather quickly, but I suppose it was all part of the fun.  And I was doing quite a few miles (for about 18 months I was seeing someone who lived in Birmingham so that as an extra 250 miles a week just to see them; it all adds up!).

The car, although a 2 seater, is ideal for one person with the passenger seat coming in very handy for luggage space (there is a boot, but it’s not exactly cavernous).  You can fit two people in the car, but it could start to get a little cramped for long journeys.

There was a close call one Christmas, driving up to Mum’s, I encountered quite a bit of snow falling at Huntly, making the roads rather interesting at that point – fresh fine powdery snow falling on frozen roads makes for a great ice-rink but not so great driving.  And in those conditions, you really don’t want to be in a rear-wheel drive car.  Which I was.  It did pirouette very gracefully at about 10 miles an hour coming out of a roundabout, I have to say; very serene if it were not for the lamp post towards which the car was slowly but surely sliding.  Sideways.  “Oh no you bloody don’t!” I remembered thinking, “I’ve only just got this thing through its MOT!”.  Fortunately the car did stop before meeting the lamp post.  A few slides and turns later (all the other cars were doing the same) and we came down to slightly lower and less snowy safer ground and the rest of the journey ran smoothly.  Thankfully.  That was the scariest driving I think I’ve ever done!

All went pretty much without incident (apart from the bloke who drove into the back of me while I was stationary waiting to join a roundabout; he swore blind he didn’t see me, I have good reason to believe he was using a mobile at the time he was driving, but he gave me all of his insurance detail and it was al resolved very amicably with the car fully repaired by the dealer).

Until one fateful day in February 2005 when I was driving slowly through Crowthorne (I had just gone past the 20 mph signs so I know I was doing less than 20 at the time) when I saw a car sitting at a junction on the right.  And as I was almost level they pulled out, accelerating turning right.

Of course, the inevitable happened, they ploughed straight into the side of my poor car (just behind the driver’s door).  Ouch!  Nobody was hurt, thankfully, and the lady driving admitted that she hadn’t seen me because she simply hadn’t looked left and had pulled out.  Again we swapped full details, and my car was taken away by Bell & Colvill for assessment (the original dealer I’d bought from having now lost their Lotus dealership accreditation).

Coupe of days later I get the call from the insurance company – the car was declared a right-off!

A right-off after a 20 mph collision!

Turned out that there had been a lot of hidden damage – twisted chassis, badly damaged rear wheel assembly, lots of stuff which would have cost over £12,000 to repair, so they declared the car a write-off.  Which was a bit of a blow!

So it was time to decide what car to get instead – fortunately I had the use of a loan car from the other person’s insurance company for a month while this was going on, a rather nice Mercedes SLK!  I’d never really given Mercs much thought before, but having driven that for a month I can really understand why people like them, it was a lovely car indeed.

So, what car to buy next?  I had a good look around and considered a few options, including the SLK, a new style MR2, briefly considered trying to go for the Noble M12 which I’d tried at an earlier motorshow.  But none of them were right.  Either too pricy to justify or not good looking enough or just lacking that certain something.  Which is why I ended up at Bell & Colvill test-driving the Series 2 Elise and there & then putting down a deposit for a 111S variant.  I chose yellow because I could still hear both people who’d crashed into my old car saying they hadn’t seen it.  “Ha!  Nobody will be able to say they didn’t see THIS one!” I reassured myself as I collected it on 5th March 2005, a nice birthday present to myself.  Yellow with gorgeous black alloy wheels and black Alcantara trim interior.  Impossible to not see on the road.

Well, for 5 days, anyway, for on the 6th I was driving in Crowthorne again, when a car pulled out from the left this time and clipped the back of the Elise.  And yes, the first thing the other drier said was “Sorry, I didn’t see you”…  I did ask how could they not see it but they declined to answer.  So, just 6 days old the car goes back to the garage for some repairs, and I get loaned (via insurance) a lovely green Elise 111R, an even more insanely swift version of my car – yikes!  As luck would have it I was off to Cambridge and Alton Towers for a few days at that time, so the car came in very handy I have to say.

The series 2 Elise had a few refinements and improvements over the original.  It was readily apparent that Lotus had a bit of money this time, the build quality was much higher and the components were better quality (especially in the cabin) – a result of Lotus having the contract to build the Vauxhall VX220 (effectively an Elise with a different body shell and a Vauxhall badge).  The car was easier to get in and out, too, with a larger door opening thanks to lower sills.  And the soft top roof was MUCH easier to fit and remove, possible to do in under a minute if the incentive (e.g. heavy rain) was there, unlike the fiddly roof of the old version.  And when it came to servicing, the costs were much more manageable with less work being required.  All in all the series 2 was indeed an improvement on the series 1.

An absolute pleasure to drive as ever.

And only hit once more, but a lady who drove into the back of my as I was coming out of a junction a T junction, she was behind me and just wasn’t paying attention…).

Yes, my poor Elises were each hit twice by other drivers.  I became used to the insurance claim process by the end…

The only real downside was the rear wheel drive in the snow – in late 2010 when we had a sudden unannounced early snow storm, the 3 mile drive home from work which normally takes about 10 – 20 minutes took 5 hours, with much sliding around and loads of not moving.  I was absolutely convinced quickly that it was not going to be a case of hitting / being hit by a car, but more a case of how many collisions there would be.  Having mentally prepared myself for the inevitable and decided that I could cover the Excess, the journey became rather less stressful (much of it undertaken with the roof off, to the delight of one passer by who commented about Good Old British Spirit) and it was rather a relief to get home with the car unscathed and intact!  Although I did not park in the garage that night – having spent 5 hours getting safely home, I was not about to risk losing control and sliding into the wall or fence.

The 90,000 miles I did in those two Elises over 11 years covered much of the country, including visits to North East Scotland, the Midlands, Cornwall, Wales and many other parts. Some great journeys, some fantastic memories, and some photos in picturesque locations (including the southen-most car park in the country).

But all good things must come to an end, and my needs these days are not really met by an Elise which sits in the garage for the majority of its time; it’s a shame to have a car and almost never use it, and it doesn’t do much for the battery either. So the car is off to the dealer for some tlc and then off to find a new owner.  I hope they look after the car and get as much fun as I did out of it. Meanwhile I am now all set to become far more acquainted with Public Transport than I ever thought I would.

Public Transport.  Proudly taking you from not quite where you are to not quite where you want to go, not quite when you want to go there.

I’m sure it’ll be fun in its own way, and probably cheaper. I might even get another bicycle (I used to have one, but I only used it to go to work and back, I would not ride it anywhere else because I was scared to leave it chained up in town in case it got stolen.  So, naturally, it got stolen from my own garage) which will help my green credentials and might even make me a little fitter as a result.

Although having seen what Lotus have planned for the next few years, I would not be too surprised to find myself owning another Lotus in years to come!