Me & My Car: Living with a track-focused Lotus Elise
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You’re driving a convertible Lotus Elise?
Titanium is the official colour. It’s a slightly metallic, slightly dirty-looking grey. Being a 99 model, it has conventional brakes rather than the aluminium ceramic ones pioneered when the car was released in 1996. She had the optional factory radio, which was one of the few creature comforts available, but no aircon, no electric windows or satnav. I bought her in 2005 from the UK over the internet.
Why a Lotus?
My love of Lotuses was born out of the 70s Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me Bond film, and the black and gold JPS Formula 1 racers. As I got older, being an engineer, I developed an affinity with the innovation that has always been so much a part of the brand.
What do like most about them?
It’s the unwavering focus on the driving experience (to the detriment of many other facets it must be said). But the Elise is, in my mind, a masterpiece. The extruded and bonded aluminium chassis, and fibreglass body means it weighs only 700kg, so there is little on the road that can compete for fun and agility.
It’s low to the ground. How do you get into it?
There’s a knack. Not only is it low but the sill is high and wide, as it forms a significant part of the chassis strength and side impact protection. As my wife, Jacqueline will attest, there is no ladylike way to get in and out (although her 86-year-old grandmother, Pat, made it look like a breeze). It’s all about sticking a leg in, and then threading the rest of your body in. It’s easier without the roof, as you can step in and lower yourself Magnum P.I. style.
Is it your daily drive?
It’s possible to drive a series 1 Elise daily but not recommended, especially given my advance into middle age and that the roof wasn’t designed to be “Auckland” weather-proof.
How does it suit your personality?
I’m not interested by conventional, popular cars. I’m an engineer who likes fixing things, so the less charitable would suggest that’s handy with a Lotus. In general, cars have played a huge role in our family. On a dry day, free from the shackles of traffic, nothing matches taking the Lotus for a drive up the west coast, or to Miranda. Of course, with a one-year-old daughter now, Hethel will be parked up more often than not.
If you were to describe it as a famous person?
Michelle Pfeiffer. Petite, pretty, sophisticated, has aged well, not a big profile but appreciated by the thinking film-goer.
Your number plate is Hethel?
Hethel is where the Lotus factory has been since the 70s, in Norfolk, England.
Anything else in your garage?
The baby carrier is a VW Passat wagon. We also have a 1989 Range Rover as a “do anything” vehicle. We have a handful of projects: a 1971 MGBGT that runs well, that we are slowly tidying up; a 1981 BMW 320, which is a long-term, race-car project; and a BIG project, a 1973 BMW 2002 that we are building up from a bare shell, with the help of friend and BMW 2002 racer Peter Bromley.
How many cars have you owned?
19, I think. The worst was a Vauxhall Belmont. We bought it to use while on holiday in the UK. It needed constant fixing on the roadside and was written off, having been rear-ended by an inadvertent driver in Somerset.
A 1989 Seat Ibiza 1.2. It was my mum’s car originally.and became mine through mum and dad’s generosity. I loved it. No power to speak of, but frankly no one’s first car should.
Who kicked off your interest in cars?
Mum and dad loved their European cars, my uncles raced motorcycles. My brother and I were at racetracks before we were a month old.
The Lotus is close but I’d struggle to choose just one. If money were no object it’d have to be a 1952 Alfa Romeo 1900 Touring Coupe.
Electric and driverless vehicles?
I like the idea of electric vehicles. My ideal car for pootling in and out of work would be a BMW i3 if the budget allowed. As for driverless cars ... I’m less convinced. For me, driving is fun.
Top five driving songs?
Phil Collins’ Hand in Hand; Bob Seger’s Travelin’ Man; Supertramp’s Just Another Nervous Wreck; Deodat’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; The Who’s Baba O’Riley.