The Lotus Elise for sale is one of those unique vehicles that can only be spotted and named by a true car enthusiast. Even the casual observer can identify a 911 or Corvette, but an Elise isn’t ordinary. A “What’s that?” query is the most likely remark from the uninitiated.
The truth is, a Lotus is a rare sight, with only about 6,000 examples gracing our shores during seven years of official U.S. sales. That’s only about 17 percent of the total 35,000-unit production run across two-and-a-half decades (1996-2021).
The Elise first rolled out of Lotus’ Hethel, UK, factory in 1996, but sales in America didn’t begin until the 2005 model year. And, thanks to stricter federal safety requirements, 2011 was the last year for a street-legal version here. In 2016, Lotus made the track-only Elise Race 250 available to enthusiasts, but these can’t be registered for street use.
That said, we’ll look at U.S.-legal Elises from 2005 to 2011. Although based on the Elise, the more potent Exige is a separate model and worthy of its own story at another time.
Lotus Elise 111R
As the new millennium rolled around, Lotus had already reworked the Elise into the Series 2. It’s powered by a 1.8-liter Toyota engine making 189 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. The powerplant came from the Celica GT-S but was re-tuned by Lotus. A six-speed manual gearbox was also sourced from Toyota.
These numbers may not seem impressive, but remember that the whole point of the Lotus is its modest weight. We’re talking less than 2,000 pounds. It adds up to a pocket rocket that can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.8 seconds and hit a 124 mph top speed.
4,851 units of this Lotus were sold from 2005 to 2010, with the bulk of sales (about 4,400) bought during the first two years. If you’re shopping for a used Elise, chances are these are the cars you’ll encounter. Prices will vary depending on mileage and condition, but one of these “ordinary” Elises will run from $40,000 to $60,000.
Lotus Elise Sports Racer (2005)
Only 50 examples made their way to the states, but you’ll spot the rare Elise Sports Racer by a red or blue exterior with a prominent white racing stripe running down the middle. The car incorporates numerous track-centric components like Eibach springs, Bilstein shocks, and a switchable traction control system.
Lotus Elise 72D (2007)
The company built just 50 copies of this 35th Anniversary Commemorative Edition to recognize Emerson Fittipaldi’s legendary Formula 1 performance in 1972. If you’re lucky to come across a 72D, see if it’s still accompanied by Lotus’s signed and numbered verification document.
Lotus Elise California Special (2008)
While the mechanicals remained unchanged for the California Special, a reworked body gave the car a more muscular look. You can also easily spot this Lotus by its unique egg-crate grille.
Lotus Elise SC (2008-2011)
When all else fails, add a supercharger. That was Lotus’ thinking when it upgraded the trusty 1.8-liter engine with extra oxygen intake. Output ratcheted up to 218 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. Time for a 0-60 romp dropped to 4.5 seconds. About 250 Elise SC units came to the U.S., so there’s a possibility you might find one for sale. There’s also a 60th Anniversary Edition of the Elise SC (39 examples in the U.S.).
Other Lotus Elise Special Editions
A few other noteworthy special editions also were sold in America.
- Lotus Elise Jim Clarke Type 25 Edition (2009, 15 units)
- Lotus Elise Purist Edition (2009, 33)
- Lotus Elise Roger Becker Edition (2011, 2 units)
- Lotus Elise SC Final Edition (2011, 12 units)