Man vs. Machine: The Race for Perfection

Creating the First Lotus Elise: A 2-Hour Journey

The Lotus Elise S1 is undeniably a classic of lightweight sports vehicles. As one of the pioneering generation of bonded aluminum cars, it renovated the expectations for Lotus and revolutionized the market. This remarkable machine warrants a primordial documentary to match, and thankfully, there is one! Titled “Lotus Elise – The Inside Story,” the film can now be experienced free of charge on YouTube.

This isn’t just a documentary of the resulting success story. It features over two hours of footage captured during the creation process, when no one was sure how many generations the Elise would produce. It takes an up-close look at the hard work and judgements that went into constructing an automobile – going much further than design and engineering, exploring production and purchasing in detail as well.

At times, it can be quite nerve-wracking. Before the Lotus Elise, no one had ever created a mass-produced bonded aluminum car. The team at Lotus had faith in the process, but they were definitely taking a huge gamble. It’s interesting to see that the head of the now defunct Rover’s powertrain group didn’t have much faith in the Lotus team’s attempt to be on the cutting edge of the sports car world, noting at one point that “Lotus is much more on the edge. On the edge of technology, on the edge of failure.” Yet, Rover took fewer risks and ended up going bust anyway.

This film offers a variety of vibrant characters, amongst whom we have gotten to know on a daily basis i.e. Richard Rackham–who still holds a role at the enterprise–and Julian Thompson, the car’s designer who is now the head of General Motor Advanced Design Europe in the U.K. Others, such as senior customer Dave Smith, only turn up for a short while, but regardless still remain a powerful memory.

Seeing the complete documentary not just gives you a sense of the specialization in the auto business, but also how entertaining it can be, particularly at a company like Lotus. Most of the professionals displayed in the film seemed to be sincerely enthusiastic about cars. To get the initial prototype out the door, the team labored determinedly on Christmas Eve. The clunky prototype was taken out of the plant to the company’s frosty test track before Christmas Day came, and had it not been for the documentary crew being there, the only proof would have been security video from the factory.

Quite by chance, as the Lotus squad were performing their first assessment of the vehicle, I came upon this heavily praised movie on the internet. It feels like a pertinent moment to be screening it. In any profession, we can become so engrossed in our work that we forget why we are undertaking it; yet, watching this video showed me how complex, thrilling, and satisfying putting together an Elise is – not forgetting how exasperating it can all be!

Lotus Elise - The Inside Story

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