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Why now is the time to buy a used Lotus - evo Market

The second-hand and collector market is waking up to the Elise, Exige and Evora. But which versions should you buy, and why?

There can’t be many evo readers who haven’t contemplated buying a used Lotus at some point. Sure, you may well flinch at barstool tales of mechanical fragility and flaky build, but the lure of a driving experience as pure as the Lotus interpretation has a knack of obliterating such concerns.

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So, steady yourself for some good news: ‘They haven’t really changed their values in two years. I’m selling the same Evoras, Exiges and Elises for identical money, now as then.’ That’s from Jamie Matthews, sales manager at Bell and Colvill (bellandcolvill.co.uk). In these times of rapid financial growth in the classic car market, that statement may seem initially rather underwhelming, but consider this: Jamie is referring to the Lotus models that haven’t appreciated; the Series 1 Elise has started to climb, and the price of an S1 Exige has doubled in the past few years. For most of us, this general stability in Lotus values means that we can buy an Elise today and then hope to move it on after a year or two without losing any money. But which model should you go for?

Well, the Elise market is naturally divided into S1 and S2 models. The S1 market for the standard 118bhp car currently starts at around £8000, according to Guy Munday (see ‘Expert View’ on Page 2). Anything less and there’s usually an issue somewhere, but you’ll need £8000 to £10,000 for tidy, respectable cars with decent history and appealing mileage. The days of the really cheap early Elise are fading, fast.

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Both Munday and Andy Betts (the latter of thelotusforums.com) believe the S1 111S, introduced in 1999, is the car to go for if you can find the extra cash. This was the moment the Elise discovered a more boisterous attitude to life, with a 143bhp VVC K-series Rover engine, a closer-ratio gearbox, wider wheels, headlamp covers and an additional rear wing among the improvements. Expect to pay a £2000 premium. The Sport 135, 160 and 190 models are ‘the icing on the cake’, according to Betts, who adds, ‘Just try finding one.’

The S2 models are emphatically better cars by most objective criteria, but they haven’t quite acquired the ‘modern classic’ gloss that their forebears have. That makes the notion of a tidy, £10,000-13,000 early car – such as the S2 111S – a tantalising prospect.

This 111S may still use a K-series engine but it does pack 156bhp, and the Rover unit is a great powerplant if properly looked after. The 189bhp 111R, with its high-revving 1.8-litre Toyota engine, carries a small premium and its peaky power delivery is an acquired taste.

From 2008 the 111R was available in supercharged, 218bhp form, but these ‘SC’ models were expensive cars in the dark days of the credit crunch and sales were slow. The facelifted Elises, which arrived in 2011, have a different supercharged engine that makes the same power but in a less frenetic way, and don’t forget about the two ‘baby’ S2 Elises: the 134bhp 1.8-litre S and the later 1.6-litre car of the same power. ‘I’d buy a 2008-2010 R with the Probax seats,’ says Munday. ‘History will show that engine to be good fun and you can’t buy them like that any more, and all for under £20,000’.

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What, then, of the Elise’s closed-roof cousin, the Exige? From a low of £15,000 not many years ago, values for the best Series 1s are now into the £30,000 bracket. Finding a good, original car is key, with engine conversions less desirable in the long run. S2s are much more attainable, with the 2004-on Toyota-engined machines available from £18,000. The extra torque of supercharged models (on sale from 2006) makes them appreciably quicker on the road; think upwards of £23,000 for one of these. The best 240bhp cars have passed £30,000, with special editions such as the Cup and Roger Becker particularly sought after. Even so, Munday wonders whether they have much financial headroom left, and advises going after standard but very low mileage cars for the best return.

As for the Evora, after a positive press reception in 2009 the car struggled and residual values sank. Nevertheless, under its incumbent management, Lotus is keeping faith in the model and with maturity the used market has stabilised, too.

‘There was a point where an early Evora, two years in, looked like being cheaper than a comparable Elise,’ says Munday. ‘It had lost 50 per cent of its value in three years.’ That same naturally aspirated Evora is still hovering around the £30,000 mark, as Matthews attests: ‘The values haven’t changed for two years. The NA model is a characterful car and it doesn’t cost a lot to run – fuel, tax and tyres are a lot less than on the supercharged Evora S.’ It’s also worth noting that the 2+2 is more desirable than the two-seater.

With any Lotus, look for a detailed service history by someone reputable. These are sensitive cars that need to be looked after. Be diligent when buying anything with a K-series, but most of all check for accident damage. Repairs done well are fine, but any damage to that aluminium tub and it should be game over.

‘There’s something for everyone, from £6000 to £36,000,’ concludes Munday. Tempting, isn’t it?

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