From The Driving Seat header
2 Lotus Elise on track


MOT & track time sorted!

Wet Summer outing came via some parade laps at Bristol MC day featuring Lotus. Car was in cracking form, weather not so…

Some 3000 miles covered since my last report and I am happy the Lotus has been running reliably. It even managed to pass my initial experience of an Elise at MOT examination first time.

The big change for the better in my Elise experience was to discover and trust Esprit Engineering boss Geoff Downhill, along with ex-dealer technician David Snook at premises opposite Help for Heroes’ sprawling empire on an estate at Downton, Wiltshire.

Now I have an Elise that is strong enough to enjoy track days and a twice-weekly, 32-mile commute, over inviting Wiltshire roads. At worst it asks for 97 octanes at 33.3 mpg: legal use with light throttle openings will allow 42 mpg. Yes, I have spent serious money, £2,700.37 over three major repair sessions and 21 months ownership; but the failures were not the cliché fault of Lotus or Rover manufacturing.

The culprits were eventually traced to dodgy uprates of previous owners (some major mods were over 11 years old) and alleged specialists’ shoddier work. Careless Elise servicing by one-man concerns, that included leaving the bottom crankshaft pulley bolt spanner hand-  wrenched, not factory-set to a torque setting. Failing to register this earlier error became a major problem.

Factually, torqueing the bottom pulley bolt was at the bottom of recurring start troubles, but an additional problem was that peg drive to secure the inner drives had also been butchered and blanked off. These negligent moves triggered repair bills of £1661.38 – but I was fortunate in that it was not the end of the precious 135 Sport motor.

The cam timing slipped significantly against that slackened pulley-drive. Peripheral cylinder head and combustion chamber damage included compression readings of 120 psi on both 1 and 4 cylinders, around 80 psi on 3 and 2: a healthy readout would be 180 psi. So that required another skim: the third in its life according to paperwork.

Thanks to locating an ex-Janspeed employee, my original head with correct 135 Sport numbering was saved. The Salisbury concern hand-modified the heads for Lotus as they did for the MG-F one-make race series and many more BMC to Rover products from the 1960s into the Millennium.

So what cost the major money to put the Elise back to proper performance, with reliable starts and outstanding traffic manners as a bonus?

An initial improvement came from a new header tank and cap to control the outlandish standstill temperatures that beset Elise attending events like Silverstone Classic or mundane traffic holdups. Another welcome step forward was to replace a collapsed gearshift pin, enabling repeatable first gear selections with an overall improvement in shift quality. That is a backhanded compliment, for it is still dangerously easy to miss a shift, especially 4-5 and reverse is still hit and miss, especially when cold. Elise lacked a cam belt cover, but a secondhand one was found for £15.

The next visit saw speedometer spasms overcome with a £29.44 sensor rather than trying to locate the unique and now extinct Stack instrument pack that featured on S1 Elise and which I last saw priced around two thousand pounds! More routine was a new throttle cable in an effort to overcome the stiff throttle action that seems endemic with the uprated (52mm) throttle body, probably part of period mods.

Sadly I inflated the bill by £164 as I had ordered shiny new wheel nuts and locking counterparts to replace gnarled items, before discovering the expensive cause of erratic starting. More fundamentally, replacement bottom and cam belt pulleys were fitted, along with the lower cover.

The Elise was ready for collection. But neither Esprit Engineering nor I were satisfied that all the problems were solved in the light of those compression readings. Esprit investigated further, beginning work that would account for over half the £2,700 I mentioned previously. When the head was removed, they sent a digital picture over and you could see some worrying grooves along with uneven burn patterns in the chambers.

Another head skim was a possible answer, but it was a gamble given the history of previous repairs and two recorded skims. Long story short, the ex-Janspeed head specialist saved us. A  £60 gamble paid off, but associated labour and parts hit hard. Items that needed replacement included big ends; piston rings, head and cam cover gaskets, plus more gaskets for inlet, exhaust and cam seals. Valve seals, 16 of them, and a new oil pressure switch were also required, along with a cam belt kit with primary tensioner.

By contrast the MoT pass was a £102 bargain, because it demanded more than the basic fee of £36. Esprit Engineering felt challenged to score a first time pass, a feat the Lotus had rarely managed in previous ownerships

The passenger side seat belt clasp and release mechanism had loosened the plastic covers: it could trap a passenger, offering no release action. No hardship with some of the ladies brave enough to master getting in and out of those wide side beams, but potentially dangerous for track day passengers. (Too right! – PO) Dave Snook went all out on this one: the passenger seat came out swiftly, another elusive stray bolt was discovered and the safety belt returned to reliable release action.

The single wiper was not clearing some 30% of the top screen, so that was legalised for the test with some adept pressure loads. It still struggles to clear more than a lower screen arc.

At 57,226 miles our Elise panted through the first MoT in my care. It still suffered bad breath, but not bad enough to fail as the ex-Rover 420i catalytic convertor remained functional. No, this Elise is not one that runs 11 months of the year with no Cat, although it sounds so sharp, it is not surprising this was suspected before we double-checked.

Jeremy Walton


Click HERE for Part 5



Unit 221 Parkers Close, Downton Business Centre, Downton Wilts SP5 3RB.
Tel: 01725 54449 Mob: 07973 404930.



The publishers of Lotus Elise: the official story and Lotus Elise: the Official story continues, both by JW. Both listed as sold out/special order in Europe — available in the USA at $75 and $95 respectively.