2005 Lotus Elise by Marty Padgett (4/26/2004)
It’s all or nothing for the sprite-sized successor to the Esprit and Elan.
In the vast terrain of the world auto industry, Lotus barely takes up a phone booth’s worth of space. Lotus has only sold 71,084 cars on the planet since 1966. And for the last decade, that number barely sustained the brand: living on a reputation and only the V-8 Esprit to sell in huge markets like the
Just as the arrival of the Elise has changed Lotus fortunes around the world, it’s making the same impact in the
Does Lotus matter anymore?
To get those answers and to get away from our desks one muggy afternoon, we left Lotus’ suburban
North of the city, however, it’s country music, pickup trucks and small-town charm all the way. Waving our last goodbye to the last Benz SL about a half-hour outside of town, way past the exit for Jot-Me-Down Road and fifteen minutes from the nearest Home Depot I shrieked north from the city to the mountain town of Dahlonega as a jumping off point to see if the Elise stirred emotions or opened mouths — or pocketbooks.
Dahlonega has seen gold rushes like the signal-yellow Elise before. In the 1830s, ten years before
Dahlonega’s also home to a military college that, like the Citadel and four other military colleges across the country, called its recruits to muster this week in August — and the cadets were our first goggle-eyed gawkers at the Elise’s wedgy, fantastic shape. Parked in front of the barbershop on the square left us little time to even get settled before the first shaved heads turned in its direction.
The first to ask if they could actually adopt the two-seater for their own were a foursome of recruit parents from
Instead they find us. “I thought it was a kit car!” says Jim Root. Past that backhanded compliment, he tried to figure out where in
Meanwhile, his wife Sandy has already jumped in the passenger seat: “This is one of those cars you get in and gain five pounds,” she says as she tries to clamber out of the Elise. Even with the top rolled up and away, it’s not easy. “It’s not so tough getting in,” she cackles, “It’s the gettin’ out!”
The Roots and Bullocks are typical of the fifty-odd people who stop to take in the Elise’s zippy shape. We’ve hit the right day — the first day of school. The town is ready for them. But it’s also ready in a bittersweet way, as the yellow ribbons fastened to doors on the square are testament to the fact that the town has given a lot of men and women to the war in
The responses to the car aren’t surprising — what is, is that many people know about the Lotus and not necessarily because they’re headquarted 45 miles away. Adam Campbell, a photographer shooting story for Frog Week for the
Still, a more common is the refrain that comes from barber Mike Tankersely, shearing down cadets right behind our parking space. “A whoo-us? What’s that?” he quizzes on a break from the 300 cadets set to show up in front of his shears on that day.
“It’s a little boogerage-lookin’ up front, ain’t it?” Tankersley hesitates. Then he laughs: “They trust you with it?” That’s the second time I’ve been asked that, and the third time soon after that people want to buy the raffle ticket to win one.
He agrees it’s the perfect car to shoot outside of town on Route 19/60 toward
But before we can escape for an hour of high-g cornering outside of town, more Dahlonegans are clambering over the Elise. “It looks like a Matchbox car!” says photographer Cindy Schewbert in awe as she climbs in. “I have to read the instructions for my new car,” she says, flipping through a press pack left for us in the car. “It’s an expensive toy,” she adds, thinking it’s twice the $40,000
On cue, the cadets march into sight — “Hurry UP! Left…FACE!” — and around the corner to the barbershop by Lieut. Josh Preston, an Army National Guard reservist, or as he puts it, a “weekend warrior.” Like a lot of local reservists, he expects to be called up to head to
Preston explains that the cadets are drawn to the school for the military training, but they’re not obliged to join up after they graduate — but if they choose to, they become 2nd lieutenants. He also offers up his cadets as a photo opportunity, but they’re not going to speak with us or even show a hint of pleasure at the Elise. Against orders, you see.
The last lucky visitors to enjoy the Elise are Parker Henderson and Trey Graves, two car-savvy thirteen-year-olds from
I ask Parker how much it is: “$40,000?” — he nails it. He and Trey clamber in and out of the driver’s seat, take in the Elise’s disc brakes and the tiny trunk space, and admire it all around. Trey’s father’s friend has a Ferrari — a newer model, but he can’t remember which one — but he knows it’s a front-engine model, unlike the Elise. “The engine’s under that cover, right?” He knows. Trey also wins points for knowing AutoExpress by name, if not by actual reading.
I give them a short ride around the square before we leave to head back to
If Lotus can strike its own gold in
Even in Dahlonega, an Elise looks like the kind of toy no one wants to share.