As alluded to in a previous post, I was on my way to see a man about a car out in Santa Barbara, CA... but a quick recap first:
Shortly after selling the Exocet, I started to keep a close eye on the market for Elises (among a few other cars), but didn't have any immediate plans to move on one. I had until September to count the Exocet's proceeds against another car's sales tax and was hoping to wait for a few things to firm up a bit more at work first. An exception could be made, but only for a local-ish screaming deal of a car, or something that could tick all these boxes:
- Touring Package
- No major modifications
- Low-ish mileage
- Green >>> uncommon colors (blue, orange, purple) > not black
- Mid-$40k price limit
... so of course, someone had to go and list just exactly that.
I messaged the seller almost immediately and gathered what details I could over the following week. All my questions were answered in a satisfactory manner and the car didn't appear to have any issues (with a recent inspection report from a Lotus dealer to back it up), except for the tires. Date codes of 2010 with 1/32" to 4/32" tread remaining was a big bag of nope for my prospects of driving it home.
While discussing that matter, I learned that the seller happened to have a set of LSS (sport package option) wheels in storage, which add an extra inch of width up front and save over 15 lbs total compared to the base set. We eventually worked something out to have my deposit help cover some new (Conti ECS) rubber and bump the tentative purchase price a small amount to have the LSS wheels tag along as well.
With due diligence done and the tire business sorted out, I jumped on to the next available flight to go see it in person. Some unusually high winds in Denver unfortunately turned my original one hour layover into over four hours, but I still made it later that night. Pro tip: DEN's new outdoor patio areas are a pretty awesome place to kill some time if the weather is nice. There was one in B Terminal, but it sounds like there might be others throughout (or soon will be).
Credit: stuckattheairport.com, because the picture I took wasn't nearly as nice.
After roughly 12 hours of travel activity, I collapsed into an Airbnb near the seller's location for the night and headed their way the next morning. Thankfully, the car checked out exactly as it was represented beforehand. It had a few minor cosmetic flaws, like lip scrapes, aging PPF, a scarce few rock chips, headlight discoloration, and a hardtop liner that was starting to sag, but that was about it. It drove great, it looked great, and my memory of renting one in 2015 did not betray me with regards to how well I fit inside.
I failed to find anything really wrong with it, so the sale was a go. I wound up paying very near to the original asking price of $46k, since it was begrudgingly appropriate for the current (read: insane) market and I had no doubt there were other interested parties not far behind me. Funds were exchanged, a "one trip" permit was obtained from the local DMV, a supply run was made for fluids, tools, phone cables, etc., and I was on my way.
The trip home from Santa Barbara to Kansas City was about 1700 miles in total, or about 27 hours of driving. In the interest of my own well-being and avoiding the need to rely on the Elise's subpar headlights, I divided it up into four days of 6-7 hour drives with some brief stops every 100-150 miles. Comfort was a bit questionable going in, but it wound up better than expected.
The seats fit me reasonably well at 6'2" and ~170 lbs. They barely have any padding, but the contours and adjustable lumbar support (via rudimentary hand pump) are practically spot-on for my body type. The A/C in these cars tends to range from completely awful to slightly below average, so I was pleased to find out that this particular example is more towards the later... as long as car is moving. It kept me just cool enough to make it through the 90F+ temperatures of Arizona and New Mexico without breaking a sweat. I brought earplugs just in case, but didn't need them and was able to enjoy some audio books along the way. The only real issue was the lack of cruise control, which was positively brutal on my right heel.
As for how the trip itself went, I don't have much to report, which is very much a good thing. The car didn't miss a beat, the oil and coolant levels remained stable, and it didn't mind cruising along at 75 MPH for several hours at a time. It only has a 10.6 gallon fuel tank, but returned around 26-29 MPG the whole trip. The weather cooperated as well, so the less-than-perfect water resistance of the top didn't become a concern. Pretty smooth sailing, really.
That said, I got a little curious about how leaky it might actually be and also wanted to clear off some accumulated bug splatter along the way, so I gave it a very gentle test at a self-service wash bay. There was a small amount of water ingress where the windows meet the top, but nowhere near enough that a small microfiber towel couldn't handle it. In any case, some window adjustments are available to try and mitigate it further later on.
In terms of how the Elise drove, it was exactly as I remembered, which is to say every bit as small, tight, and responsive as you'd expect from a 2000 lb., mid-engine car. Steering is unassisted and about as direct as it gets, but also surprisingly light, which my ailing left shoulder was immensely thankful for. The physical throttle linkage is snappy and remarkably linear, to the point of feeling like a breath of fresh air from the STI's over-aggressive throttle mapping. The shifter has a small amount of slop and longer throws to it, but gear engagements are satisfying and the light flywheel rewards quick, decisive shifts. Running up through the 6200 RPM cam change then all the way to the limiter at 8500 is nothing short of joyous. So... yeah, no regrets here.
Since the car is already in pretty good shape, there really isn't much between how it sits now and me being able to enjoy it. The only real near-ish-term TODOs are to preemptively address the Elise's most common and significant failure points:
- All-aluminum radiator to get out ahead of the OEM unit's notoriously fragile plastic end tanks.
- Rear toe links, because they're known to fail catastrophically under repeated autox/track loads.
- Smaller AGM battery + bracket improvements, for more lightness and peace of mind, since it just sits in the trunk and the OEM clamps aren't as good at resisting fore/aft movement as I'd like.
- Baffled oil pan to prevent starvation under heavy sustained cornering loads.
- Assess the state of the cams and replace if there are signs of wiping.
Thankfully, a major Lotus aftermarket supplier, BOE Fabrication, happens to be in the KC metro area, so they'll be getting a visit from me before too long . Once I get all that sorted, I should be able to autocross it a few times to get more familiar with driving it in anger, and hopefully not long after that, finally get my ass out to a track.