Lotus Exige S1 -- Video Test on the road
There’s a very few things more visceral than an early Lotus Exige. Easy to say why: it is stiff, it is tight and it is literally built with aluminium and glue. The driver, me in this case, will be pushed to accelerate over and over again without thinking too much about what is actually going on under him. The extruded aluminium chassis is so light you may believe it is trembling, creaking because of the body panels noises, especially on slower humps in normal human roads. It is not, it is rigid as a stone, believe it or not. This means you can drive this road car as a racer prototype, that’s the sensation. Some kind of a race car before it is finished, something still developing, with all this superlight components around who drives, it seems to be temporary. It is not again. Every single part of the Exige is perfectly designed to lightness. Door handles and window cranks, steering wheel, gear knob, or shall we talk about seats? Race, stop. No padding at all. Useless weight. The pedals! They are machined from billet, with no filters between feet and car. That’s way my right foot is hurting so much after the first day.
This Exige I’m lucky to drive in northern Italy today is fitted with a straight pipe exhaust system with no cat, so it is loud as hell. The Rover K-series engine is not famous for being the best unit speaking about durability and reliability but with some easy works it becomes a good sounding little mule. Quaife gearbox to close the circle and ok, I love this car. Sir Colin Chapman would have been so proud of the Exige’s steering and wheels attitude on the road. Something about pureness of mechanical parts directly linked to the road and driver at the same time, with no interferences. I think I could recognize a chestnut or a pebble just feeling it under the tire and through the steering wheel.
I got my mind blew when I watch at the body shell with all those visible nuts and bolts, that’s racing stuff and it is so sensual to me. I can even forget it has only a small 4-cylinder Rover engine behind the seats, which would be a joke on a normal modern car maybe.. On this one it makes you feel some sort of a hero. Lotus does.
I’m happy the seat has not padding, if I were to lose even one gram of Exige’s essence it would be a real shame. I don’t want anything more, nothing, any accessory would be superfluous and I feel lucky to be thin. The sensation to drive an old Barchetta like they were ‘60s Abarths, the 1000 SP for instance, is given by petrol scent inside the cockpit, very hard and direct steering, screaming four guys behind my back, little wheels, and smiley face with round old school headlights. I tend to think it’s not such a recent car, built from 2000 onwards. It makes a billion different noises, and this not because it is a 16 years old car, it was the same even as new. The very first thing which impressed me has been I could not feel when my hands ended and the steering wheel began. Behind the wheel of this Lotus I tend to become rigid as the car, I feel every muscle getting harder while accelerating strongly. My body tenses, pulled away.
I can tell you that a broke back at the end of the day is a minimum price to pay for such a unique driving experience. There is no way to match a lotus from that period, with all their adorable flaws no comparisons and no alternatives. I think they designed it so nice because after a few hours of driving you need to recompose yourself.. Perfect opportunity to stop and look, wipe the sweat, rest elbows and knees, before feeling the urgent need to drive again. And again.