Trade the Porsche for a Lotus?

The Elise at Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo

This stuff always seems to happen by accident.

I had just finished driving the 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo to a lunch meeting in Wilsonville, OR – a suburb 19 miles south of SCM World Headquarters.

I hadn’t put many miles on the car recently. My trip log showed the last time I’d filled it with gas was nearly two months and 175 miles ago.

As I drove down the freeway, I was pleasantly reminded of what a competent, easy-to-live-with car it is. Admittedly, the Tiptronic automatic transmission takes some of the “edge” away, but then again, it is arguably just as fast as a 6-speed car. You just put it into Drive and let the 413 ft-lbs of torque and 415 horsepower from the GT3-derived engine take you where you want to go.

After lunch, I decided to make a quick stop at Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo, where I used to work. As I pulled up, I saw former General Manager Art Smith and General Sales Manager Steve Wintermantel. I knew something was up when they said, “We were just thinking about you.”

It turns out that they had just taken a 2005 Lotus Elise in on trade.

I have a soft spot for these little pocket rockets. The yellow one SCM owned was a delight, and I’m still not quite sure why I sold it. It was my daughter Alex’s all-time favorite car, as she reminds me every time the topic comes up.

Wintermantel figured the asking price of the Lotus was around $32,000 and that my Turbo was worth a bit more than that. “You could drive home in the Lotus and make your daughter one happy young woman,” he said.

I texted Alex and asked her if I should do the trade. Her answer was immediate. “Why do we have to choose? Just buy it so we can have both.”

Somehow I’ve failed to impart the notion of logic-driven economic decision-making on her. Perhaps because I’ve never been very good at it myself.

So then I got practical.

I recalled that when I bought our Elise, I specifically looked for a 2006 model, as they had better seat cushions, LED taillights and a drive-by-wire throttle linkage. I also liked the creature comforts of the Touring Package.

This particular Elise was an ’05, and it was basic. No Touring Package, which means less insulation. Wind-up windows instead of electric. No hard top. Cloth seats.

So in a sense, I would be going backwards by purchasing this car. Further, I had to ask myself: just what need would it fill?

The Porsche, for all of its supercar abilities, can still can function as a practical machine. In a pinch, Bradley fits in the backseat. The car is quite safe, with all of the modern airbags and safety aids we’ve come to expect. It has good luggage capacity. In short, it’s not stressful to live with, and it allows me to drive a sports car on a trip with Bradley and bring along whatever gear we need.

SCM already owns five two-seat sports cars: the 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce, the 1967 Duetto, the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce, the 1961 Giulietta Sprint Speciale and the 2000 Dodge Viper GTS ACR. Adding the Lotus to the mix would just mean one more limited-use car that won’t get driven enough.

So here’s where I stand now. I’d like to have another Elise (and Alex would like me to have another one as well). I don’t have the budget to buy one without selling the Turbo. And while the Turbo is no doubt a “gentleman’s cruiser” sports car, it offers something that no other car in the SCM fleet does — modern, safe, high-speed transportation.

So I’m going to pass on the Lotus (today, anyway) and continue to enjoy my daily-driver supercar 911.

Would you do the same?

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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  1. Scenario A: You buy the Elise and one day wish you had kept the 911.

    Scenario 2: You keep the 911 and regret you did not get the Elise.

    I consider Scenario 1 more likely than Scenario 2. MUCH more likely. SO you made the right choice.

  2. By any rational criteria you made the correct choice. As a Lotus owner for more than 30 years, they should be treated simply as toys to be enjoyed as such, with zero practical utility (with the possible exception of the Evora). And that’s why I have a C7 ‘Vette. Not as much fun, but a dead reliable superb GT.

  3. Keep the Porsche, which although I was rude about it is a very competent, practical car (in fact, that’s why I was rude about it…) and instead of the Elise, get something more extreme at around half the price. Are Caterham Sevens legal in the US? I just drove a super pushrod/de Dion car with 175bhp, all-steel, dry-sumped engine, asking just £12,500 Sterling. The motor must have been half of that. Only mild hassle for the road was the super-sharp competition clutch but you could change that.

  4. Look for a modified Exige. I have a 08 S-240 (285hp) 3.7 to 60! Very reliable on and off track.No service issues ever accept one led tail light under warranty. Always makes me happy! Only wish there were more twisty roads here in So. Florida. I did ship it to New England for two fantastic months.

  5. Back in 2006 I had an opportunity to purchase a heavily discounted Elise or a discounted demo BoxsterS… ( I was in between sports cars and awaiting European deliver of my R8)… After driving both, I purchased the Boxster S, traded it for the R8 in July ’07… But I now wish I had purchased and kept the Elise especially since I took such a beating on the Boxster Trade.

  6. A while back I almost traded my Cayman S for an Elise, but decided not to for all the practical reasons. The side-by-side comparison just made the lack of creature comforts in the Lotus too unpalatable.

    Fast forward a couple years: I had sold the Porsche more than a year before and I again found myself looking for a new toy, but this time with fresh eyes unburdened by “creature comforts”. I went with the utterly obvious answer: a 2007 Elise. Within a month I had driven it the entire length of the Pacific Coast Highway, giggling all the way. I can say 100 good things about that Porsche, but I can’t say I was ever as eager, or even downright gitty to drive it as with the Lotus.

    So my suggestion is: imagine yourself selling the Porsche first. After it’s gone, would you rather spend that $35k on another 911 or on that impractical little British car that is guaranteed to put a big smile on your and your daughter’s faces every time you get in it?

  7. First, you correctly recognized this was not the right model Elise for you, pretty as it is. Second, you recognized the importance of the 911
    practicality and even more critical, ablity to include your son!