Lotus Elise Celebrates 25 Years Of Lightweight Awesomeness
Yep, it's been around for that long.by Jay Traugott
Exactly 25 years ago yesterday the Lotus Elise was unveiled for the first time. The date was September 12, 1995. Now nearing the end of its long production life, the Elise roadster has rightly earned icon status. It also embodies the core element of Lotus: simplify, then add lightness. Its fiberglass body shell came bonded to an aluminum chassis and the Series 1 weighed a mere 1,598 pounds. It was and remains a purist driver's sports car.
Lotus has released some vintage photos from the Elise's debut and, in general, doesn't look all that different from the latest version, the overseas-only Elise Sprint. The Elise was discontinued from the North American market in 2011 due to outdated safety requirements. Patrick Peal was head of Lotus communications in 1995 and he recalls that the Elise nameplate was not the original choice.
Initially, it was to be called the Lotus 111, pronounced as One-Eleven, to commemorate the Lotus Eleven of 1956 and the Lotus 23 from 1962. The Elise was considered to be a spiritual success for both. However, then Lotus chairman Romano Artioli suggested the name Elise. His granddaughter Elisa was the inspiration.
"I had even purchased the number plate M111 LCL to be used on one of the disguised prototypes, and already hinted to the media that this was going to be the name of the new car," Peal recalled. "In hindsight, Mr. Artioli was right. Elise was the perfect name for the car, shared with a playful little girl - his granddaughter Elisa - who helped launch the car to the world."
After some wrangling, the decision was made to unveil the car at that year's Frankfurt Motor Show and a very appropriate metallic racing green body-color (with a tan interior) was chosen.
"We needed a background to offset the racing green of the car - the obvious choice would have been a conservative color such as grey, but Lotus doesn't follow convention and we chose a bright mustard yellow" said Peal. Another cool tidbit is that during the debut event itself, Lotus first showed the Elise's bare chassis, followed by the full car.
"We wanted the world to fall in love with the Elise's technology and the engineering as well as with the actual car. Plus, the whole structure would become a talking point and an advertisement for Lotus Engineering."
Next year, an all-new Lotus sports car is expected, though it's uncertain whether it'll have the Elise name. But no matter, the Lotus Elise revolutionized the sports car segment in ways not even the more powerful Lotus Evora, still on sale in the US, has managed to do.