How many cars can you spin off of one platform? Just ask Lotus, and they'll help you turn the Elise into your own sportscar.
There's little question that the Lotus Elise is one sweet-handling car. It's such a nimble platform that Lotus itself has spun it off into a variety of other vehicles: the Exige, 2-Eleven, 340R, Europa…. But so have other automakers. Since Lotus is as much an engineering consultancy as it is an automaker, it has provided the Elise platform to a variety of paying customers which have transformed the car into products of their own. Here are five of our favorites.
Arguably the most prominent of the Lotus-based sportscars is the Hennessey Venom GT. Based on the Exige and retaining much of its styling, the Venom is one of the fastest cars on the road. It holds the Guinness record for the fastest 0-300 km/h acceleration run, and recently recorded a top speed of 265.7 mph. Hennessey stretched the chassis to make room for a twin-turbo 7.0-liter V8 cranking out 1,244 horsepower. That's a lot of power in a package that tips the scales at 2,685 lbs. – which may be a good 600 lbs. more than the Exige, but still packs one of the highest power-to-weight ratios in the game.
Just as comprehensive as the Hennessey's transformation is that which Tesla undertook to turn the Elise into its electric Roadster. In place of the 1.8-liter four, Tesla installed an all-electric powertrain with as much as 288 hp, fueled by a lithium-ion battery. The result may be heavier than the Elise, but when it emerged in 2008, it stood as the fastest electric car on the road, reaching 60 in just 3.7 seconds. Tesla has since followed up with the Model S sedan, has a Model X crossover in development and plans a follow-up Roadster, but the original will stand the test of time as the game-changer that put Tesla on the map.
Tesla wasn't the only company to turn a Lotus into an electric sportscar. Zytek undertook a similar process with the Elise, and Lotus itself did the same with the Evora, but so did Chrysler. Unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in 2008, the Dodge Circuit EV concept packed a lithium-ion battery and a 200-kilowatt electric motor to crank out 268 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of instantly-available torque. It also had some signature Dodge styling elements that made it look like something of a junior Viper, but while it was earmarked for production, development was ultimately canceled as Chrysler's EV program was shut down.
When a German team sought to revive the Melkus brand, it chose the Elise platform as its starting point. From there it developed the RS 2000, a gullwinged sportscar with a German engine (souced from either Volkswagen or Opel) that packed 270 horsepower, plus fiberglass bodywork, a more luxurious cabin space than Lotus itself ever installed and a unique suspension set-up. With all these modifications, the price topped over 100,000 euros, and Melkus found few buyers. So it came as little surprise when the company shut down last August, consigning the Melkus name once again to the dustbin of history.
The Melkus wasn't the only German take on the Elise, though. Opel used the same platform for its Speedster. The GM division didn't just use Lotus for the underpinnings, though: it had Lotus build it for them, including a Vauxhall version for the UK and a Daewoo for Asia. Instead of a Rover or Toyota engine, the GM version used GM engines: either a 2.2-liter four with 145 horsepower or a turbocharged 2.0 with a more prodigious 197 hp. Production ran from 2000 until 2005 when GM shut down the program. But we have a feeling these won't be the last cars to use the Elise platform and wear a different badge.