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On October 18th I had the pleasure of participating in a Lotus Sport "Scare Yourself Sensible" day. It included a tour of the factory, 20 minutes on the track driving an Elise and two laps around the track being driven by one of their instructors. I am attaching my synopsis of the morning. I highly recommend this experience to anyone who will be going to England. This was the last one for this year, but Lisa Hartgrove ([email protected]) can get you all the information that you need.
 

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Here is the full report

I rented a car at Stansted Airport two days prior so that I was comfortable with a right hand drive car before I got to Hethel. I went to the dealer in Long Stratton (Norwich) the day prior and had the chance to look at and sit in several Elises with the top off, soft top on and hard top on. It was not difficult to get in or out in any configuration and with practice I think it will be quite easy. The seat is quite comfortable, although I will probably not keep my wallet (or anything else) in my back pockets while driving. I did have to slide the seat quite a ways forward, although I am 5’11”, I have short legs and a fairly long torso. I didn’t have a problem seeing out the front, but I did notice that the sun visor in the 111s I looked at was a bit distracting, so I may have to remove that when I get my Elise. It is basically just a sliver of material that folds forward to stow.

How can I describe my visit to Lotus’ factory at Hethel for a Scare Yourself Sensible day? I arrived about 15 minutes early and got to sit in the car outside the gate until 8:15, when the security guard relieved me of my camera and then let me through. I pulled on into the parking area, next to the old control tower from Hethel’s days as a B-24 base in WWII. The tower is the staging area for the Lotus experience. We met there, had coffee, waited for our turns to drive and bought our Lotus Sport items there.

The ladies in charge, Lisa Hartgrove and Annette Lancaster, were very friendly and got us divided into two groups. I was in the group that had the factory tour first. One of the factory foremen, Colin Moy, took us through the factory and explained each step of the process. The factory is well lit, in the form of a four sectioned warehouse and has the smell of fiberglass bodywork in the background. The chasses, engines and body panels all arrive at the factory prepared elsewhere, although the body panels still require fitting and painting. The collection of jigs used to align all the parts, and hold them together during bonding really let me see how precisely assembled a hand made car can be. The dedication to quality and attention to detail of Lotus is reinforced by the complete logs that are kept of each cars assembly and the QA checks every four or five stations of production. At this time they were producing UK/European Elises, Vauxhall/Opel VX220/Speedsters and a few pre-production Federal Elises. The VX220 line is tapering off now and will be replaced by the Federal Elise early next year. I saw several Toyota engined Elises in various states of completion, but they didn’t have the US dash setup nor airbags. I asked about this and was informed that the photos of the dash in Road and Track were of the design model, and not in a production car yet. Overall, the tour was very good and our guide was quite happy to entertain all questions. He didn’t avoid any of our questions so he was either very open about it all or we just didn’t ask the right (wrong) questions.

After the tour, we went back to the control tower to wait for our turns on the track. We had three instructors; Alastair McQueen, Hyla Breese and Tony Parramint. While I was waiting for my turn, I talked to Annette about the US car. She is very excited about the Elise in general, and was particularly enthusiastic about the Federal version. She also stressed the point that now was the time to be talking to LCU about getting the Heritage versions over here, or at least getting stripes as an option (I told her about my passion for the Type 25).

I was one of the last ones to go around the track and had the good fortune of Alastair McQueen’s tuition. Our car was a standard 120 bhp Elise while the other two were 156 bhp models, but that did not hinder us on the track. I drove very conservatively, being my first time on a track in a real sports car, but still managed to have fun even though I never broke 100 mph. On the strait that used to be the main runway, I did feel the urge to pull back on the wheel, but the aerodynamics weren’t right to get airborne (which is probably a good thing). I had a very good feel for the track through the steering wheel, but the suspension kept the ride very smooth. Since I plan to use my Elise for a daily commuter in the summer, I think the stock suspension will be perfect for me.

Alastair was very encouraging and instructive on the track and reassured me that technical correctness was more important that speed, so I got a lot of pointers about keeping the radius of my turn as large as possible and driving from apex to apex in the curves. A lot of which I understood academically before, but found somewhat more difficult to apply when also trying to make my feet, hands and brain all work in concert to get me around the hairpin. After about four or five laps, the Union Flag was flying and it was time to go back in. I loved the feel of the car and the feedback it gave. After experiencing the 120 bhp model on the track, I can’t wait to drive the 190 bhp version. I sincerely believe Clyde’s assertion that we will be getting the best Elise yet.

Then came our turns to sit in the passenger seat for two laps with our instructors driving. Once again, I was waiting impatiently for my turn on the track. Nor was I disappointed when it came. While I had striven for technical correctness at any speed, Alastair McQueen was demonstrating technical correctness at Ludicrous Speed, not even slowing for the chicane that had me downshifting. There were several times that I felt for sure we had hit a cone, but we never did. Hyla Breese did bump a few just ahead of us though. In Alastair’s capable hands the basic Elise had no problems keeping up with her more powerful sisters. It is amazing how big the passenger seat feels when you are flying around the track at over 100mph and there is nothing to hold on to except the edge of your seat. Another comfort that was noticeably missing in the Elise was an “Oh S%&t” handle for the passenger.

After I got out and sent the next victim off with Alastair, he demonstrated to all of us watching what happens when you hit a cone clean on at over 100mph. The cone flew about 150 feet and the Elise came off rather worse for the wear with a broken grille, missing turn signal fixture and cracked front clamshell. He managed to find all of the pieces, but a definite lesson in what to avoid with your own car. The rough estimate I heard was about 1200 Pounds Sterling to fix it. That bit certainly filled the bill of Scaring Me Sensible.

At the end of our morning at Hethel, Lisa took pictures for those who wanted them, and we all parted with smiles on our faces and dreams of getting back on the track in our own Elises. And there are those who will be doing that next week, but I must wait more impatiently than ever. Looking wistfully at the array of cars as I left, I picked up my camera from security and headed off to find a pub lunch in my rented Peugeot 206 which felt like a minivan after the Elise and the accelerator was like stepping on an overripe tomato.
 

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Here is a picture of me with Alastair McQueen at the end of the morning. Alastair's car is not in the picture because he was off picking up the pieces from the track when Lisa starting taking pictures.

Another thing I forgot to mention in the full report was the beauty of a parking lot full of Elises with the odd VX220 and Speedster mixed in. A trip to Hethel should be on anyones itinerary when going to Britain.
 

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I was there in July. Great facility.

Did you get to see the Espirit line? I thought it was awesome that so few people were involved with the production of the Espirit.

Don't let the insurance companies see that hitting a cone caused $2500 damage!!
 

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Notice that he hit the cone at over 100 mph! It does make me think, as the freeways in So Cal are littered with debris and it's almost inevitable that you will hit or be hit by some object sooner or later. Just have to hope for the best, I guess.
 

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We didn't get to see the Esprit line since it was in the process of winding down, I think they had less than 40 left to do. But he did mention that there were only about 10 people who worked on the Esprit line and that they would all be kept busy building Federal Elises once they finished with the Esprit. There were several Esprit getting their finishing touches at the end of the Elise line though.

And as to the damage caused by the cone. Both the cars in the photo I posted have the corners broken off their lisence plates, so they had hit things on the track with out breaking the clamshell. It is also Lotus' intent that replacing the clamshell won't be any more expensive that replacing a fender on your average car. So that estimate might be a bit high.
 

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Too bad you didn't get to see the Esprit line. The funniest thing was how small the area was, like 6-8 cars in a U shape and that was it. That freaked me out. You could have fit the production in a large garage...

Cool place to snoop around yeah? When I went it was just my girlfriend and I. The tour guide let us pretty much wander all over the production lines check everything out. Really cool experience.

Glad you had fun!
 

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Re: Here is the full report

Lumn8r said:
[...]
Another comfort that was noticeably missing in the Elise was an “Oh S%&t” handle for the passenger.
[...]
I failed to notice that during my test drive. I guess my mom will never be a passenger in my Elise.

Sounds like you had a lot of fun. I'll be in Germany in February; maybe I can squeeze in some time to go to Hethel...

Thanks for the write-up.
 

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Those look like Lotus Motorsport jackets.

When I was at the factory they wouldn't let us near the Motorsport facility and they wouldn't answer any questions on the Fed car. I assume all the Fed Elise and new Exige work were going on in there since there was nothing of them in the factory.
 

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zvezdah1 said:
Exc. writeup Lumn8r,
BTW> Are those Lotus jackets you and Alastair are wearing?
Chris
Yes, I couldn't resist the Lotus Sport jacket, and I got a Lotus ball cap to wear under my headset while flying.:)
 

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LUmn8r,
So they have a shop where you can buy goodies. Boy has it changed since I toured in 93, had a friend that worked there and I was allowed to take a camera, normally never allowed. Saw the Esprits being built.
Great fun.
Chris
 

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Chris,
They had a closet with merchandise for sale, up in the lounge area of the old control tower. They laid it out on the table for the day.
Andy
 

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I don't think the estimate for those repairs sounds at all high. They say no more expensive than replacing a bumper on a similar performance vehicle... (friend just had his porker 993 bumper replaced for 1500 pounds so similar I guess).

Bet that cone didn't have any sand in its base otherwise car would probably be mashed ;)
 

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DanH said:
I don't think the estimate for those repairs sounds at all high. They say no more expensive than replacing a bumper on a similar performance vehicle... (friend just had his porker 993 bumper replaced for 1500 pounds so similar I guess).

Bet that cone didn't have any sand in its base otherwise car would probably be mashed ;)
Yea, and Modern Wedgie did say that she saw the car there too, and it needs the front clamshell replaced.

From my observation post in the tower, I can say for sure that the cone didn't have any sand in it, it could never have flown like that if it did.
 

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zvezdah1-

Actually, they did have a shop to buy things. It was in the original factory building, where all the admin and engineers are and where the esprit is built.

Lumn8r and I got two very different tours. I guess he never went into the building I'm referring too, otherwise he would have seen a load of things to buy. I wanted a motorsport jacket too, but they didnt have any small enough for me that I liked.
 
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