Four days and 1200 miles in a Lotus Elise ... while raising money for sending diabetic kids to camp.
Probably the most raw, Spartan, and mechanical street-legal car on sale today in the States is the glorious Lotus Elise. It resembles an insect from Gotham City, it drives like an extension of your soul, and its unruly and frantic sounds alone make your heart pound with excitement. We may give Lotus a disproportionate amount of ink, but that's because their cars are just so freakin' cool. Last weekend, my wife and I drove this red Elise 1200 miles through four states over the course of four days as we participated—along with thirty-some other British cars—in the fourth annual British Reliability Run. Every car in the group completed the 700-mile rally of twisty, hilly, wonderful roads in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. (The event participants have already raised more than $22,000 for Camp Ho Mita Koda, the youth camp for diabetic children that's operated by the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland. If you want to donate some cash, go to www.abrr.org and click "Donate Now" in the upper right-hand corner.)
Oh yeah, please allow myself to introduce ... myself. I'm a copy editor here at Automobile, which means that I'm charged with checking that our writers' facts are actually factual (they're not always). I also do my best to make sure that we don't severely offend the Grammar Police. On occasion, Mopar-infused daydreams about owning Dodge Rampages, Plymouth Barracudas, Jensen Interceptors, and Jeep Comanches cause me to erroneously delete an independent-clause-separating comma. I once shared an office with Erik Johnson, but I've stayed away from that room since Sam Smith arrived and began flooding it with his incessant flibber-flabber.
But who cares about me? The Elise kicks asss! It's megafun to drive at any speed, the faster the better, around any corner. (However, it does get a bit scary to drive the short, 2000 pounder in traffic filled with towering SUVs—especially considering that your eyes are level with most of your roadmates' lugnuts.) The Lotus-tuned Toyota four-banger's vee-techy, turbolike cam-profile change smacks you in the face at about 6200 rpm, yet it still permitted about 28 mpg for our trip.
The Elise fundamentally looks weird and out-of-place. Many people mistook our red Lotus for a Ferrari. It's definitely the most exotic-looking new car you can buy for less than $50K. For instance, we stopped at a gas station near Massillon, Ohio, and an overalls-wearing Mr. Midwest approached while I sat in the driver's seat. Quoth he (with no enunciation whatsoever): "You wouldn't wanna park that thing too close to a henhouse. Suck all the eggs outta the henhouse." How profound. Living with the Elise is a challenging adventure. Climbing into the cabin over its wide sills is tricky; climbing out is worse. The amazingly thin seats, which don't recline, offer surprising cushioning, but after several hours in the chair, my bum became numb. Packing four days of luggage into the car's dinky trunk brought into question the stability of my marriage. Luckily, the tiny, tiny, tiny Lotus is the most ergonomic car in the world for holding your partner's hand.
In these ways, the Elise is much like its predecessors that also made the trip, including a phalanx of supercool Triumphs, Austin-Healeys, and MGs. Some of the coolest cars on the Run included Wayne Larose's 1981 Mini Clubman wagon, a right-hand-drive wonder with upsized thirteen-inch wheels, and Richard and Carol Kress's RHD 1952 Bentley R Type, which wasn't cosmetically perfect but was mechanically strong and still gorgeous. The thirty cars ranged from pristine to very rough, but, in the true enthusiast's spirit, all were truly loved. And despite our slightly sore backs, the Blackwells loved our long weekend's Elise.