© 2020 kertong © 2020 kertong

2005 Lotus Elise

Car #7! This was a special one and a pivotal point in my schizophrenic car hobby. A 2005 Lotus Elise that I owned in 2008 for about 7-8 months. I sold both the C5Z and S2000 for this. 

I say pivotal, because this was my first borderline-exotic. The only reason, imo, that it isn’t a true exotic: 

1) run-of-the mill toyota motor from a celica gts (both a pro and a con) 2) affordable 

However, the experience was a true exotic-ownership experience, which I dreamed of as a teenager, but in reality was really kind of a burden. 

First off – this car gave me everything I wanted. It was raw, it looked great, it was unique, and it was telepathic. I felt every bump on the road. When I ran over roadkill, I muttered an “ewwwww” because you can feel the flesh of the carcass squish through the steering wheel. 

The car also only weighed 1900lbs. It only had 190hp, but that gives it 10 pounds of weight per horse to move; a power-to-weight ratio comparable to a base water-cooled 911 Carrera. For reference/comparison, a modern honda accord weighs ~3400lbs, and has 192hp in base trim for a power-to-weight ratio of 17 pounds per horse to carry. 

The amount of grip this car had on street tires, along with the wheel getting heavy as the lateral load on the car increased; it made you feel like you could do anything. You can take 90 degree turns at 45mph without hitting the brakes, and the car didn’t complain a peep. You knew exactly how much faster you could take it next time due to the weight change in the steering wheel weight itself. At 80+mph, the steering wheel would start squirming a little bit in your hands as the undulations of the road subtly wiggled the front wheels left and right. It was like running your hands directly over the road as you drove on it – as close as you can get to a mind meld of your hands with the front wheels. 

Getting in and out of the car was also a yoga lesson in itself. The car was so tiny (see photo in comments), that driving around, my eye level was about at the top of a toyota camry’s tire. It was fantastic. The best part of it was that the *instant* you moved the steering wheel even a millimeter, it was already changing direction with zero delay. You didn’t point somewhere and tell the car to go there and wait – you mechanically moved the front of the car with your hands. The direction of the wheels, and the angle of your hands, had a direct 1:1 relationship. 

I loved it. It wasn’t just the car that was exotic – it was the ownership experience that was exotic too. I took this car to a PCA autocross, and during a hard cornering maneuver, something flew into my face and hit me right in the eye through my open helmet. Turns out it was a speaker cover. Also scraped a driveway once, and when I came out the headlight was hanging out of the body by its wires. The a/c never really did anything even at full blast, and everything rattled, clunked, and my vision would blur for a split second when hitting a pothole on the road (surprise spinal compression). The inside of the windshield would fog up every week due to the cheap plastics offgassing during the heat (and cleaning it was a huge pain). I always had a towel in the passenger seat because during the rain, water would leak into the car and drip on my arm. Yes – truly an exotic experience. But I soaked it all in and enjoyed every minute of it. It made the car that much more special. 

So, what got to me? Well, due to the light weight of the car, the heaviness of the steering wheel wasn’t as meaty and feedback-y as the NSX. That was ok, as this car was still way more connected and communicative than any other car I had owned at this point. 

The dealbreaker? A few things. 

1) I was pulling into sundance the steakhouse in palo alto (which I don’t recommend eating at either). Pulled up too close to a curb I didn’t see, heard a crunch. When I got out and inspected, the front fiberglass was torn. Turns out, since the front half of the car is one entire piece of molded fiberglass, I was looking at a ~$9000 repair job. Yeah – that did it, and after that I could never take this Elise anywhere with any peace of mind. Speedbumps and driveways terrified me – everytime Kat and I went somewhere and I wanted to take the Elise – I’d mentally imagine the road, the path to get there, and do a driveway/speedbump/parking lot check in my head before jumping in the Elise (and more often than not we’d just take Kat’s car instead) 

2) The engine/exhaust sounded like ass. Had a couple different exhausts on it and just couldn’t get used to it. 4 cylinder problems, I guess. At least it got 28mpg? 

3) The color. I thought I’d grow to love it (it was a beautiful car after all); but the more I owned it, the more I realized it was the color of dirty asphalt. 

4) The gas station questions, people shouting at you at stop lights, people hovering in your blind spot taking video of your car.. it was fun at first and I love my fellow car lovers; but it got tiring pretty quickly. 

Straw on the camel’s back: Whenever I rode with my buddies, our shoulders would be touching. My heterosexual sensibilities were quite uncomfortable with it, haha! “Stop touching me, bro!”. Plus as we hit bumps we’d jiggle up and down and our shoulders would gently rub and caress each other’s soft and glistening skin…. (yeah, the a/c was useless) 

PCA Autocross Event in Santa Rosa, CA
If only you weren’t the same color as this dirty asphalt..