When most of us prattle on about the Supercars we will probably never own, we usually only name drop our favourites out of Stuttgart, Maranello or Sant’Agata Bolognese. But there is one vehicle that does fall into that elite class, the class that tugs at our heart strings and sets our loins on fire, straight out of Norfolk, UK. And that is the Lotus Exige.
Now, while some of you may scoff and drop your monocles, everything about the Exige rivals any vehicle that reigns supreme over the automotive world – except the price tag. Lotus was bordering bankruptcy for what would have been close to the millionth time, and needed something a bit ballsier than the Elise that would attract new customers. What rolled off the production floor in the year 2000 and is still being produced today, is one of the most remarkably insane roadsters ever built.
While most supercars’ main focus is what powers them, the Lotus is slightly different. Whilst its figures of 0-100kmph in mid-four seconds makes it no slouch, the powerplant behind the drivers seat is actually a Toyota Celica motor (1.8L 2ZZ-GE) that Lotus sprinkled some fairy dust over. While many may scoff and scorn at such a piddly motor, the fact that the Exige is the size of a skateboard means this bit of gear really boogies.
With a power-to-weight ratio that rivals BMW M3s and the Porsche 997 Carrera, you begin to see the picture and argument that is unfurling before you. And once you start understanding that, you will realise that it isn’t just the Exige’s light weight and potent motor that is the drawing card. It is the fact that this wasp on steroids corners like an absolute demon; a real-life cup car with two number plates slapped on and really nothing else.
Then you get die-hard Lotus fans such as Evan, who grab the dial and twist it to a numeral past ten.
“This 2005 Exige is actually my fifth Lotus,” begins Evan, whose previous car ownership list partially resembles Jay Leno’s. “The first time I saw one on the road, I was driving with my wife who was expecting a baby, and I just said “damn, I really wish I could own something like that.” She gave me the all clear, and a few days later, I was driving around in a Lotus Elise.”
After buying, building, driving and selling the previous four, Evan was given a hot tip from a friend that there may be an Exige up for sale at the right price. “The previous owner had stuck this in his shed and it sat there for nearly 18 months before it saw the light of day again,” Evan explains. “Everything was in tatters; the interior was ripped up, the front end smashed, tyres slashed. It was very run down, but I negotiated and soon after it moved from his shed and into my own.”
Evan started by pulling out the interior which was looking much like a giant hairball, and we all know how one job can just snowball into a major overhaul. Not long after, Evan was replacing absolutely every nut, bolt, washer, bush – you name it, it copped the bin treatment.
Happily putting around town and making a few people haemorrhage out on the track for a while, the monkey on Evan’s back screaming for more of everything got louder and louder. “An opportunity arose to whack on a supercharger. There are a limited run of Exiges with a supercharger from factory, but this would be a bit more potent,” Evan explains.
Within only a few months of being put back together again, the Exige was again scattered every which way across the garage floor and the 2ZZ put in the capable hands of Lotus specialist Automotion. An Eaton MP62 blower off of the limited edition Exige Cup240 was the poison of choice, a Cup 240 intake manifold installed and the fuel system upgraded. “It now has five injectors, the fifth coming in high up in the rev range to squeeze every ounce of power we can get out of this set up.”
Once back in Evan’s possession, he began ordering in all the peripherals to get the Lotus driving again. Really Light Stuff (RLS) came through with providing the intercooler and intercooler piping, and heat shields make sure there is no heat soak happening with the addition of forced induction. Evan also cut in the RLS roof scoop to make sure the 2ZZ is fed only the freshest of breezes, while a Vision Function exhaust system expels the waste gasses out the rear.
As with any manufacturer, there is always a company that strives to improve on a car maker’s product. Lotus is no different, and being one of the best handling vehicles on the market, Nitron thought they could go one better. Nitron developed aftermarket suspension components for the Exige, and Evan jumped right on board and fitted a set of their Track-Day Pro coilovers at all corners. BOE toe links and a set of Elise Parts steering arms for more front camber adjustment were thrown into the mix, and it was all geometrically set up by Williams Race Services.
“It is an absolute barrel of laughs out on the track now,” Evan tells. “While it may not be a rocketship in a straight line, it will still do low-to-flat four-second sprints to triple figures, but just the way it handles out on the track; it really is second to none, especially for the money!”
For those playing at home, this Exige is now partying with a dyno-proven 244rwhp and a combined weight of around 900kg with Evan sitting inside. That translates to a power-to-weight of roughly 355bhp per ton – Ferarri F430 (342bhp/ton) and Murciélago (352bhp/ton) territory.
To help keep the Lotus glued to the tarmac, Evan revised the aero kit with an RLS carbon rear wing, carbon fibre front splitter, Reverie carbon front canards, Reverie carbon three-element rear diffuser and a Simply Sports Cars rear panel eliminator. Combined with the Exige’s Chrome Orange paintwork and Exige Cup wheels wrapped in semi-slicks, you have an extremely pissed off wasp, ready to throw its weight around with any contender.
Unlike those car manufacturers who state that their vehicle is a track-orientated car, but still has things such as sufficient luggage space, basic luxuries and room for a kid or three, the Exige is far from that. Evan does have the touring pack upgrade, which really only includes electric windows and better looking Alcantara door trims. Things such as air-conditioning, radio/CD player, carpets – are all dealer options. Only the bare necessities are here, featuring Composite Worx carbon driver’s seat, carbon fibre entry sills, centre console, dash, gear shifter and a fire extinguisher. Schroth ASM harnesses keep Evan and his scared-to-death passengers firmly planted when battling extreme G forces.
“I have done about fifteen events at least in the Exige, which includes track days at various Queensland motorsport parks, motorkhanas, gymkhanas, etc, and many people are surprised at how cheap this is to maintain,” Evan states. “I still have the original clutch from when the motor was naturally aspirated, consumables such as brake pads, rotors, fluids, are all pretty reasonably priced. It definitely bucks the stereotype of these sort of cars breaking the bank each time you head out for a few laps.”
Yes, while the Lotus may not have the same appeal to everyone that a Fezza might, the Exige can still hold its own well above its weight division. True performance cars are not good at one thing; they are good at everything. And the Exige ticks all the boxes and makes all the right moves.
WRITTEN BY: TODD MILHAM
SOURCE: DOWNSHIFT AUS