"The words ‘Lotus’ and ‘estate’ don’t really have any business being together in a headline. Lotus’s famous recipe of ‘simplify and add lightness’ doesn’t exactly fit with the idea of an estate body which encapsulates my own "
Elisa Artioli returns to the birthplace of the Lotus Elise
Whatever happened to Elisa Artioli?
In the mid-’90s Lotus launched a car that turned the company around.
A modestly-powered K-series sat behind the driver’s seat in a sub-tonne sports car, with a manual ‘box and rear wheel drive, all supported by a sublime aluminium chassis and a lightweight, curvaceous fibreglass suit, the Lotus type 111 gave the expectant Frankfurt crowds what they were hoping for. A true Lotus.
The name? Elise.
Of course, there were two stars of that launch in September 1995 – the second star was the excited girl sat in the driver’s seat, Elisa Artioli.
“I can’t remember much from those days,” she admits now, “but I’m told I was quite happy under that cover at the Frankfurt show – and I didn’t want to get out of the car afterwards!”
Granddaughter to Romano Artioli, the owner of both Lotus and Bugatti at the time of the Elise’s birth, Elisa Artioli was a big part of the Elise launch process. After the launch of the Frankfurt car, decked of course in British Racing Green, came more press shots involving a red Elise – and this one actually worked rather than just being a show pony, with Elisa herself continuing to be an active part of the story.
At the time, the Artioli family was based near the Lotus factory in Norfolk, before moving back to their hometown of Bolzano in Italy in 1997.
“I remember having an electric toy car in the garden you could drive – my grandfather always liked to talk about cars and was really passionate,” she said, “he used to talk to me about cars every day.
“He then moved away and I was there with my mum who didn’t talk much about cars – but we always had an Elise in the family, the silver car I still own now.
“I remember, as I grew older I was aware of my heritage but didn’t think anyone would care! I knew I felt a deep passion for Lotus, though. One day I was driving my Elise through Bolzano when I saw an Esprit (very rare in Italy) and could not contain my excitement. The driver of that car must have thought I was mad as I was getting so animated about seeing him!”
Just over two decades on from moving away from Norfolk, Elisa Artioli is now realising how well-regarded she is in the Lotus fanbase, and is rightly very proud of her unique claim to fame. She is actively part of the Lotus culture and still drives that series 1 Elise as an everyday car around her hometown of Berlin, where she works for an architecture business.
“The Lotus community is so nice and friendly, and really kind. I’m proud of my heritage but not trying to make money out of it or anything, just happy to share my story – I’m just surprised anyone else cares!”
Whilst searching for a series 1 Elise for an upcoming project for Influx, I chatted to Elisa about perhaps using her silver car. Being based in Germany, it was a tricky thing for her to arrange. However, the lure of a trip back to Norfolk was enticing enough for her to suggest an alternative. An acquaintance of hers owns a very rare (one of three) carbon-fibre bodied Elise Sport 190, within the vicinity of the location required.
In a heartbeat, she’d arranged with the owner to borrow that incredible car and join us in Norwich, Norfolk. (You’ll need to wait and see what we used that car for…)
Keen to make sure her trip to the UK (and in particular, Norfolk) was worthwhile, I spoke with the Elan PR team responsible for the brilliant Lotus Driving Academy (LDA) which is based at the Lotus test track in Hethel, Norfolk.
Sensing a great chance to show Elisa just how far the cars bearing her name had come over the years, Elan and LDA arranged for her to try out a pair of new Lotus cars (both left-hand drive to make sure she comfortable) an Evora 410 GT and an Exige 410 Sport – a stunningly quick car on track, and one still bearing a refined version of the type 111 chassis upon which the Elise was first based.
Whilst at Hethel, of course, it seemed apt for Lotus Cars to welcome Elisa back too. She had lived nearby when she was much younger but had very little memory of the place, although a lot of the Lotus team present knew her family very well. They reminisced about the famous overhead shot of the Lotus logo, pointing out where they were stood in that great human collage, sat behind the iconic red Elise which Elisa herself had often posed with in the early days.
As the memories came flooding in, and whilst surrounded by the tasty new cars used in the Driving Academy, Lotus stalwart Dave Minter appeared, driving the very same red Elise used in those iconic images. Minter himself owns the car now.
Elisa was, understandably, slightly taken aback at the sight of that very vehicle, and delighted in sitting behind the wheel once more, the wheel of a car that now had over 120k miles (approaching 200k km) on the odometer.
Finally, it was time to take to the Hethel track for the first time in her life in that pair of new LDA cars. On a hot dry Norfolk Day conditions were perfect for Elisa to really explore the cars’ limits.
After having a chance to drive around the track with no other vehicles on the hallowed tarmac, the Lotus driving instructors then gave Elisa a true thrill ride too, showing her what these two 410-spec Lotuses could really do. Lots of noise, smoke and smiles followed, and left Elisa with a truly amazing day to remember.
If there’s a better way to treat a homecoming icon, I’d be surprised.
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