I Owned a Lotus Elise For Free, and So Can You!

I often get e-mails from readers, people just like you except with more time on their hands, that ask me questions. “Doug,” they might ask, “Should I buy this ’68 Cougar that’s been sitting in a field since the Hartford Whalers were still a hockey team?” That one comes from a muscle car guy. Or “Doug,” another might say, “When are you going to quit this crap and get a real job?” That one comes from my parents.

Well, today I’ve decided to answer a question that I get asked all the time, namely: What’s it like to drive a Lotus Elise? As you may recall, I drove mine across the United States, which is a distance of roughly 3,000 miles or approximately eleven million incredibly uncomfortable highway expansion joints.

Anyway, my answer to this question is: You can find out for yourself. For free.

Now, before I explain how this is possible, I – as usual – know exactly what you’re thinking. And that is: Did you just make a Hartford Whalers reference? No, that’s not it. What you’re really thinking is: Oh my God, now that he’s charmed us with all these columns, he’s going to try to sell us on some Lotus-related multi-level marketing scheme! But I’m here to tell you that’s grossly inaccurate, because let’s be honest, I haven’t charmed you at all.

Plus, I’m not trying to sell you anything. You really can own a Lotus for free, thanks to two simple Lotus-related truths I’ll describe now. They are:

1. Every single Lotus Elise costs $30,000.

OK, so when I said “for free,” there was a slight catch. And the catch is there might be one or two up-front costs that total, say, thirty thousand dollars. But if you have thirty grand to spend on a car, you can buy a Lotus without any fear of losing a penny. Think of it as a mid-engine, open-roof, Toyota-powered savings account.

The reason for this is that every single Lotus Elise costs $30,000. Yes, I’m aware that some newer models are a bit more, as are some special editions. But the bulk of the used Elise market – 2005 and 2006 models – all cost $30,000, almost completely without regard to petty things like mileage, and color, and the fact that the previous owner autocrossed it every weekend since the Bush presidency.

The crazy thing is the $30,000 price floor isn’t a new phenomenon. The Elise cost $30,000 in 2010. They cost $30,000 when I bought mine in 2011. They cost $30,000 when I sold mine in 2012. And a check of average prices on AutoTrader.com reveals they still cost $30,000 today.

The conclusion here is simple: you don’t need to ask me what it’s like to own an Elise. You can buy one, drive it for as long as you like, and not lose a dime. And that’s especially true when you consider…

2. The Lotus Elise costs practically nothing to own.

Here’s the thing about the Elise: it’s really reliable. This may surprise you, considering it comes from the same country as my Range Rover, which, on occasion, drives from one place to another without an electrical fault.

But you have to remember that the Elise is really just a Toyota under its skin. That’s a Toyota engine, a Toyota transmission, and a bunch of Toyota parts, all screwed together by Japanese people who couldn’t possibly fathom the Lotus automotive assembly strategy of: “Eh. Close enough.”

Sure, there are a few Lotus bits in the car. But who needs the power windows to work? I hope you answered “no one,” because you can pretty much expect they won’t work, and if you shut the door hard enough, they’ll shatter in your face.

Anyway: because of all those Toyota parts, the Elise is pretty cheap to fix and reasonable to work on. The downside, of course, is that people in M3s see you in traffic and yell out “NICE CELICA!”

But back to the bit about owning a Lotus for free. For a real world example, let’s return to my Elise, a 2006 model painted in a shade of bright orange called No, Really I Am Cool! Look at Me! Look at Me! Orange Metallic.

Although I can’t quite remember the exact details, I think I bought it for around $30,000, and sold it six months later, after adding 6,500 miles to the odometer, for $29,500. I probably could’ve eeked out a little more, but I was in a real hurry to buy a Mercedes G-Wagen, apparently because the Elise didn’t make me seem like enough of an asshole on the road.

As for ownership costs, my story is a little different than most. Although my only maintenance expense was an oil change, I bought the car from a seller who failed to tell me that the air conditioning wasn’t working. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until I was sitting in a pool of my own sweat. In the Mojave Desert. In July. The result was a $1,500 repair bill because, as stated by my Lotus mechanic, ”It’s an easy part to change out… once we take off the body.”

So I didn’t technically drive my Elise for free, but you can. Just make sure the air conditioning works before you go driving through the desert. And for God’s sake, don’t spend more than thirty grand. After all, it’s just a nice Celica.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.