A motoring icon

DSC_0703_4b209bdf44198-lightboxA few months later he took delivery of what was to be the first Elise special edition, the Sport 135. Given that it cost the best part of £30,000, the special edition quicksilver paint and sports exhaust did nothing to convince me that he was anything but completely mad. Then he handed me the keys for a go, and the rest was history.

To say that I had my eyes opened to sports cars was an understatement. At the time I had a decent hot hatch that was pokey enough, but it just didn’t compare to the Elise. Where the hatch was merely quick and competent, the Elise had a tactility that I’d never before encountered, and a sense of drama and excitement. Everything from the open air, the rorty engine behind you, the amazing steering, all came together to bombard your senses. Just looking at the road between the two bulging arches made you imagine you were in a tiny little group C car. For me it redefined how I thought about cars and what made them fun.

This was 10 years ago now and I still remember it vividly. Such was the profound effect that one drive had on me. Yet I never bought one. At the time I couldn’t afford one so I consoled myself with the excellent Mazda MX-5 instead. I then discovered track days and went off on a tangent keeping my road cars and track cars separate. I just never seemed to get around to owning an Elise even though it played such a pivotal role in my automotive development; until now that is.

What prompted me to finally pull the trigger was a comment from a friend. He said that as I wasn’t using my current MX-5 very often, why not take the opportunity to replace it with something that felt special every time that you got into it? I considered many things; TVRs, old 911s, the S2000. But it was upon test driving the Elise that it was sealed, there and then what I’d be buying. It was just a matter of which one.

I test drove the 190hp Elise R and the 130hp Elise S. Both Series 2 Toyota engined cars. Both are remarkably similar below 6500rpm, indeed the only real difference between the cars is what happens when you pass that point in the R. In the S a shift light comes on and you change up. In the R some electro-mechanical magic occurs and with a jolt you suddenly have another 50hp and an extra 2500rpm to play with. It really is massively grin inducing. The engine starts to scream gloriously as it climbs with renewed urgency all the way to the 9000rpm red line. It’s immensely addictive and really very quick. However in the real world, on real roads, I really do doubt you’d stoke the car into its VVT frenzy that often. Indeed I suspect that 95% of the time, the standard Elise S, is a less frantic and more satisfying experience, and that the R doesn’t really justify its additional expense unless you’re going to track it.

So the deal was done, and the rose-tinted glasses came off.

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John Arnold