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#iamlotuselise – Elisa Artioli opens up about her connection with the Lotus Elise

There is something remarkable about family ties. The mere fact that a number of people are connected in their heritage and their common characteristics, gives the group a sense of identity and a shared vision for the future.  It is not uncommon for creative individuals to find inspiration and an everlasting source of strength in their endeavours, among family members and the best way to celebrate achievement, is by naming it after a family member.

Lotus Elise

This is the case for Lotus Elise, one of the most iconic sports cars ever produced.

In the early 1990’s and after over a decade of financial turmoil, Lotus Cars, like many exclusive car manufacturers, was struggling for survival. Thankfully, Romano Artioli, an emblematic entrepreneur and passionate automotive enthusiast breathed some life into the outfit from Norfolk, when it was needed the most.

1994-Bugatti-EB110-GT_6

But his life-long dream had been associated four decades earlier with another automotive icon; Bugatti.             -Pic courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

At a time when Lotus was being formed in North London, in the early 1950’s, Bugatti would enter a state of hibernation.  Romano Artioli was 20 years old and he had just set up his first garage in Bolzano, providing car assistance. It was called “Garage 1000 Miglia”. It was the exact same year that Bugatti had ceased operations permanently. The young Romano promised that no one would beat him to the race he had set for himself. The trophy was the rebirth of Bugatti, the greatest automotive brand in the world, certainly not for the quantity of cars produced, but for the quality, combined with exclusivity, the class and the artistic component that characterized all the constructions of Ettore Bugatti.

After four decades of very intense work and achievement in the exclusive car sales niche, the time had come for Artioli to realize his dream, starting by acquiring the brand from the French government.

Then, in 1991, the EB 110 came, the fastest production car at the time, in order to commemorate 110 years from Ettorio Bugatti’s birth. – Pic courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Two years later, Romano Artioli acquires Lotus Cars and immediately orders the development of a new sports car, designed in accordance to the Lotus heritage. It was the Lotus Elise, named after the newest member of the Artioli family, his granddaughter Elisa.

Elisa became the most recognizable “automotive toddler” due to the ingenious photographic concept of her sitting among cars and unfinished assemblies, in the Lotus Elise production facilities.

Black: Elisa, it’s been a long time since I first saw those pictures of you at the site in Hethel and although we had never met, it feels like I have known you personally for years. Is this something you’ve heard before?

EA: Yes, indeed! Since I started with the first “Iamlotuselise” post in 2015, I got the opportunity to interact with many Lotus Owners online and hear their stories. Over a very short period of time, I ended up with many new “virtual” friends around the world. In the years that followed and having attended several Lotus meetings, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of them also in person. Like you said, it felt like we had known each other for years and I have received a lot of affection and warm welcoming from them.

Black: Is it just your personality and name or are there also other reasons for these expressions?

EA: The Elise has earned a universal appreciation as a sports car symbol and this of course has to do with the qualities of the car. This brand, however, was linked to a person’s name 20 years ago and now there is a solid mental link between the two, which is really quite unique. So, Elise owners feel somehow “related” to me. I also think it is because we all share the same passion for Lotus.

Besides this incredible “Iamlotuselise” legacy, I am also a proud Lotus owner and enthusiast, like everybody else and I share the same driving thrill and overall experience with thousands of other owners; and this is what makes me feel at home, whenever I attend a Lotus meeting.

Black: So, how did it all start with #iamlotuselise? Is it something that had always been at the back of your mind?

EA: To be perfectly honest, I never thought of posting something about the Elise or myself, until some friends told me I should really do it, because people were starting to wonder what had happened to that little girl. So I did, but didn’t expect so much enthusiasm! Day by day, I was getting more followers, but the most important thing is that most of them have become friends, who I always look forward to meeting and catching up with.

Black: So, naming the 1996 Lotus “Elise” was an act of brilliance after all, wasn’t it?

EA: I think that naming the Elise after a little girl and to present the car with the girl inside it, wearing a matching “I am Elise” T-shirt was something fantastic, something novel, which impressed a lot of people at the time and added even more personality to this amazing car that we all love and admire.

Of course, I may be a little biased because I was that lucky little girl standing inside the car, proud as ever.

Black: I understand you are the owner of an Elise yourself. Can you feel this same emotional connection with the car and to what extent is this related to driving pleasure?

EA: My Elise was a gift from my grandfather and I have it since I was 4 years old. It is like a family member more or less. This definitely created an emotional bond between Elisa and the Elise, which is part of my life forever. But heritage aside, the Lotus Elise is a remarkable sports car, created for fun, preferably on a racing track.

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Still, I find it is also the perfect car to enjoy a nice drive on country roads or even take a road trip. It has enough trunk space to quickly pack all the essentials inside and depart.

What I love about the Elise is that it is so pure, so “sincere”, but nevertheless so complete.

Black: It seems to me you are making good use of grandad’s gift. What is it that you enjoy most, both in how the car behaves and the overall experience?

The Elise  is a very light car; it reacts really fast, handles phenomenally well and gives you the ultimate driving thrill.  Driving it is really straightforward. You just point where you want to go and the Elise will do it at an amazing pace.

 

When the weather conditions allow it, I prefer to take the roof off and enjoy the wind, the sun, the engine sound and the surrounding nature. This way you can appreciate the beauty of how the landscape unravels and capture unique memories.

But the Elise is also such a beautiful car and looking at it alone is such a pleasurable experience! It is safe to say that Julian Thomson [current Advanced Design Director at Jaguar] did a fantastic job designing the much admired smiling face of the Elise. On top of that, her attractive curves make her an elegant sports car and a timeless beauty.

Black: You mentioned performance. Some of the best automotive visual content includes the Lotus Elise on a racing track. Have you tried that yourself?

EA: To be honest I would love to do it; first to improve my driving skills, but mostly because I know the Elise is a lot of fun on the track. However, I haven’t been on the race track with my Elise for a very specific reason; its history and this special bond I have with the silver S1 that makes my heart beat every time I see her. This doesn’t mean I keep the car in a bell jar, quite the opposite. I enjoy driving the Elise and do it as much as possible. At the same time I try to be extra careful, since I can never replace that little beast.

Elise-Cup-250-R-Rear-Static

An option I am considering is buying a track-oriented Elise.

Black: Any mishaps during your driving adventures? What’s the overall condition of your S1?

EA: Besides the fact that my car is always the dirtiest one in every meeting, I am happy to say that I haven’t had any mishaps, apart from one during my road trip in Spain. I just couldn’t change gears anymore…  [long pause]

Black: Please, do go on…

EA: I started the road trip together with my partner in crime in the north of Spain, heading to Santiago de Compostela. From there we had to reach Sevilla, which was 936 km away. On the way south the temperature was increasing dramatically and was affecting us badly. We were completely dehydrated and had to stop for water whenever it was possible. But the heat was also making my Elise suffer the long drive. I still had the old red clutch pipe installed and therefore the gearbox was beginning to malfunction, until it became absolutely impossible to change gear. This made the drive look endless, but luckily there wasn’t too much traffic and we reached our destination, after the epic torment. Meanwhile, thanks to my Spanish Lotus friends, I found out what the problem was and I immediately called Marcassus Sports (because we had a meet and greet planned) and ordered the new clutch pipe. When I got to Toulouse we immediately solved the problem.

Black: But France was still quite a long way out…

It wasn’t easy to arrive in France, but we started early in the morning, when the temperature was still low and the gearbox was working well.

Black: A display of solidarity among Lotus owners then…

EA: Absolutely! The members of the Lotus community are always so helpful and active in the forums and if somebody has questions or problems, they can find unparalleled real-time support globally. This is because there are a lot of people out there, who are real experts and can offer great advice. Their input has been so important for me that I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for everything.

Black: That’s very kind. But, what did they say about the clutch pipe?

EA: There was a recall to change the clutch pipe for all early Lotus Elise models, which I – of course – missed, since I was probably around 5 years old when that happened! But thanks to my friends, we worked out what it was, had it fixed and got home happy and safe!

Black: Over the last 22 years we have witnessed a transformation of the Lotus Elise, both visually and technically. How did it feel after you saw that the Elise had started changing?

EA: It is natural for the Elise to change with the times, as technology is improving. Design-wise I think the Elise S1 is an everlasting beauty and I like mine as it is.

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Later models exhibit the dynamic design cues that recently became fashionable in the automotive industry.

I can understand the importance of styling differentiation and even more so that of applying new technologies, as long as we can remain true to the principles that define Lotus, as the manufacturer of the world’s purest sports cars.

A characteristic example, which is still a favourite topic during “Lotus discussions”, is the necessity of air-conditioning. Many believe it is totally unnecessary and that a sports car is better off without it.  Although “less is better” in terms of simplicity, weight saving and performance, air-conditioning is a comfort we have become used to, even in cooler climates. I adore the pure character of my car and love the way it connects me to a specific period in time, but I would lie if I said that I have never wished for a breath of fresh air, when I’m stuck in traffic jams.

Black: Funny you should say that, because I always felt that Romano Artioli aimed at encapsulating the racing spirit of the mid-1990’s in the Lotus Elise. How is grandad these days?

EA: My grandad is a superhero. This is the only way I can describe him. I wish I had as much energy as he does. He is always thinking of how he can improve the world and he never gives up. This is what I like most about him.

Black: And how does he spend his days?

He is leading CRMT in Lyon, delivering new technologies to the automotive industry. They undertake R&D in converting petrol and diesel engines to natural gas, in order to reduce the carbon footprint in the cities and also provide hybrid/electric solutions.

Black: What is your personal opinion on the legacy he is leaving behind?

EA:  Both Bugatti and Lotus are really special brands.  Although they are quite different, they are also very much alike, in that each brand is representative of its exclusive car niche.  Grandad dedicated himself fully for the preservation of Lotus and the resurrection of Bugatti and throughout that period, creativity was an on-going process.

The presentation of the Elise at the time was important, in order to save the brand. Over the years it has become an iconic sports car. [Romano Artioli and granddaughter Elisa left and same Lotus Elise in both pictures]

With the Bugatti EB110, he created one of the most modern and mind-blowing cars of that era [the dawn of hypercars], against some stiff competition and most importantly he managed to bring the Bugatti name back on everyone’s lips. Currently, Bugatti is one of the best known premium brands globally, while back in those days, only few classic car enthusiasts reminisced of the Ettore Bugatti times and achievements.

So, my grandfather’s incredible accomplishment was not only in creating the Elise and the EB 110 as automotive monuments, but in delivering the iconic brands, alive and vibrant, to future generations.

Black: And how do you see yourself involved with the Lotus legacy in the future?

EA: Although some people think that my blog was an idea of the Lotus marketing department, it is actually my hobby, because I like to share my enthusiasm for Lotus cars and my experiences with other people.

I strongly admire the global community of Lotus enthusiasts and their loyalty to the brand, enjoy participating at local events and any involvement with Lotus is both exciting and rewarding.

Professionally, I am dedicated to architecture and my future aspirations involve designing beautiful constructions. However, the memories and the personal connection with Lotus is an inseparable part of me and I will always feel linked to Lotus, become inspired by its past, savour its present and look forward to its great future.

As these lines were written, a member of the Lotus family, Hazel Chapman, widow of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, was inspecting the 100,000th Lotus.

It is a unique, red, Jim Clark special edition Evora GT410 Sport, commemorating the great Lotus GP legend and it is commissioned to support the Jim Clark Foundation. This milestone in the iconic British company’s history wouldn’t be possible, without the contribution of the Lotus Elise over the last two decades. Economics aside and during a long transient period for Hethel, it has been the undiluted sport character of the Elise, which was fundamental in preserving loyalty among those passionate, hard-core Lotus enthusiasts, members of the same family as Colin, Jim, Hazel, Romano and Elisa.

To catch up with Elisa’s latest automotive adventures you can visit

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Many thanks to Mr. Romano Artioli for his involvement to personally ensure the validity of historical information.

 

 

 

 

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