A recent trip to Dad's hometown meant stopping to see one of his oldest friends. A grown man with more toys than a 4 year old. Not just more, better. How many four-year-olds have a ski boat?
"Do you think Bart will let me drive the Elise?" was the first question I asked when planning the trip. That lead to "here are the keys, take it for the day". It's not so often you get the chance to take one of your all-time favorite, most coveted cars out for a day. Yes, I admit the Lotus Elise may be a humble example of a dream car. The engine from a Toyota Celica doesn't easily lend itself street-cred in the supercar world. But there is just something about it. It's different. A less obvious choice than a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. It ignores the conventional wisdom of more horespower=faster=better. Its near attainability, in the sense that you could pick one up for about the same price as a decent 3-series BMW. Why go for the obvious choice and look like a semi-successful accountant? Sure, the BMW would have heated seats, navigation... windows that seal out rain, carpeting, and all kinds of other non-essential features, but where is the fun in that? These are the things, or more so these are the lack of things that make the Elise cool.
Sure, it's possible one might look a little ridiculous squeezing in to the tiny seat, especially when one is six foot four, and the Elise in question has been outfitted with a racing bucket and 4 point harness. And sadly, your girlfriend is not going to be impressed. It may look "cute", but loud, harsh, and cramped are descriptors that will come up far more often. This is not the car to intimidate your enemies and impress your friends. This is the car I love. This is cool to me.
What do I do when I have access to this dream car for a day? Sheer dumb luck led me to the most perfect stretch of road. An ambitious housing development put on hold when the economy went bad for sure. Perfectly paved roads winding through the hills outside of Boise, Idaho. This is where the Elise is in its prime. The limits of cornering and amount of grip in an Elise seem practically beyond human comprehension. Or at least beyond my abilities. You think there is no possible way that I can take a turn this fast, and the car acts like it is thoroughly unimpressed. Not even a hint of screeching from the tires. I find my self thankful for the gigantic side bolsters holding me in. The same ones that made me look like a complete idiot when trying to step in to the car earlier. Without them, I would certainly be launched a hundred yards off the side of the road.
The straight line acceleration is not nearly as impressive as the handling, but the variable valve timing on the Toyota engine gives you an awesome burst of power around 5 or 6k. It's completely unexpected and barely gives you time to push the clutch in and get to the next gear. Then you just have to slow down and do it all over again. Bicyclists who thought they had the road to themselves and girlfriend sufficiently terrified, we headed back in to town.
This is where practicality becomes a topic. Suffice it to say, you don't buy an Elise for its ability to hold groceries. Speed bumps - not fun. Cracks in the road - painful. Blaring afternoon sun - I should have thought to ask for the canvas top that comes with this. Probably better off without it though. There is no possible way I could maneuver in to the seat while keeping my head under the roofline. Even with all that said, this car can make a trip to Walmart exhilarating, which just happened to be our next stop.
Now I am always a bit picky when it comes to choosing a parking spot (OK a lot picky), but when it's someone else's fancy car, the stakes are even higher. Park too far out and you lose the protection of crowd visibility. Park too close and you get near people coming and going all the time. That means more time for doors to be opened and closed, and more potential for one of those doors to meet with yours. You have to find the perfect spot in between. Near the front, but to the side a bit, preferably near a nice car. Not just any nice car, but one you can tell the owner cares about. Once you pick an acceptable parking mate, you have to choose whether to go next to the driver's side or the passenger's side of the other car. The driver's side door is definitely going to be opened. The passenger's door may or may not be opened, but if it is, you can bet they won't be as careful as the driver. It's a personal decision, and a bit of a gamble, but I usually go for the driver's side.
Parking spot located, and errands successfully completed. Time to drive back across town to the the grandparents and spend some time with the family. "Who wants to go for a ride?" This is a perfect way to catch up with relatives. "Yes grandma I'd like to start a family one day." "How many kids do I want to have?" BWAAAAAAAAAAAA... BWAAAAAAAAA... "What was that? Yes, I see the speed limit is 35".
Would I recommend a Lotus Elise to a friend looking for a new car? Not a chance, but boy do I want one.
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