Today we’re used to seeing completely stripped and caged Ariel Atoms, Exocets and Vette Karts, but it’s still refeshing to see the so-millenial-it-hurts 2000 Lotus 340R, one of the most extreme cars ever put into production.
The 340R was based on the Elise, a car that was already designed to be as light and simple as a road car could get. I encourage you to look at the interior of an Elise if you ever happen to come across one. The seats look like they’re barely above the asphalt. It is bare in there.
And the 340R makes things yet more bare, omitting doors, a roof and wondows to go in them. There are fenders, technically.
What remains is a close-ratio five-speed manual transmission, a Rover K-series engine making 177 horsepower behind you and not a lot else.
Also, the rear of the car was open to the world. It’s kind of like a Lotus buggy.
It might be a pointless car, but it drove better than anything else on the road.
The old boss of EVO, Harry Metcalfe had one, and got the car into the magazine’s top ten driver’s cars comparison back in the day:
If being the greatest drivers’ car meant having the world’s best steering then the Lotus 340R (or any mk1 Elise/Exige) would be standing on the top step. ‘The 340R is like an Elise turned up to 11,’ says unlikely Spinal Tap fan Metcalfe. ‘The chassis composure when really pushed is beyond brilliant; it’s close to unbelievable’. John Simister has the 340R at the top of his list ‘for its speed, purity, transparency and compactness. It provides a huge visceral buzz yet doesn’t assault you with the wrong sort of “noise”.’ ‘Sublime,’ says Barker.
The funny part about the car is that it very much does not make 340 horsepower per tonne. In standard form, it’s about 252 bhp/tonne given a kerb weight of 701 kilos (1542 lbs). That is wonderfully, crazy light, but it makes the name kinda dumb.
Lotus, probably slightly embarrassed, did make a version that got to 340 bhp/tonne, but it came without a passenger seat, a windshield, windshield wipers (duh), mud guards or lights, as enthusiast site 340r.net recalls. That spec wasn’t road legal.
But in normal spec all 340 of the 340Rs were legal for road use, though not exactly everyday usable, if your everyday driving ever includes rain.
Still, I love it, and I will never forget its lunacy.