The old ‘Lots of trouble, usually serious’ stereotype looms over any Lotus, but is perhaps a little unfair to the Elise. True, its purist engineering does throw up some well-documented quirks and potential costs, but the same could be said of any 25-year-old car.
Most notorious is the weak head gasket issue that afflicted the K-Series engine in all its applications, though the usual warning signs of ‘mayonnaise’ on the oil filler and suchlike are easy enough to spot, and any scrupulous owner will likely have addressed this with an uprated part at some point in the car’s life. This, and evidence of regular services and cambelt changes (more frequent on the tuned versions), should give you confidence the car has been looked after properly.
Sloppy gearshifts can be tightened up and an uprated aluminium radiator is a sensible precaution if it’s not already been done. It’s also worth making sure bushings and geometry are all checked to make sure it drives as it should. In terms of corrosion, rust obviously isn’t an issue for the aluminium chassis and fibreglass panels, but can afflict suspension components and subframes.
The biggest worry is crash damage, which can easily write-off an Elise with even a fairly minor prang due to the cost of repairs and scarcity of parts. The front clams are vulnerable, and big impacts can damage the aluminium tub so make sure both are tip-top. More generally, the minimalism of the Elise’s build obviously means it’s not the most refined or weatherproof, though it’s a lot more civilised than a Caterham or anything of that ilk.