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Lotus Elise Hardtop

on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 17:00

Lotus Elise Hard Top
It was 6 months into Elise ownership before I decided to take the roof off and get a bit of a tan. I’m joking of course... we were having yet another terrible British summer. It really was 6 months though, so why did I leave the hard top on for so long? Honestly, I just prefer the way it looks. For me the hardtop makes the Elise appear more complete, grown up even, and a little less toy like. There was no question when I was looking at the used car market, a hard top was placed firmly towards the top of my desired spec.

The original Lotus Elise S1 was designed ground up as a soft top roadster and I think the car benefited from this, after all this is what led to its innovative light-weight extruded aluminum tub that forms the basis of the now S2. Initial S1 owners were largely very happy with the soft top but eventually there were calls for something more substantial, particularly for the winter months. There were a few aftermarket hardtops manufactured, which by all accounts had varying degrees of fit and quality, but never an official Lotus item. It wasn’t until several months after the launch of the S2 Elise in early 2002 that an official hardtop became available; but at just over £1,500 it wasn’t a cheap option to tick if you were in two minds.

Lotus Elise Hard Top
The first time I took the roof off, all in, it took around 3 hours of awkward angles, physical strain and intense frustration. I thought nothing more of it though, stuck it on the bedroom floor (we live in a small flat) and headed south for a weekend visiting the family in Brighton. It’s worth noting that you can’t store the hardtop on the car once it’s been removed so you’ll have to leave it behind and plan ahead. Thankfully the soft-top does roll up and fit into the boot. You can read about my experiences with the soft top in the blog entry Lotus Elise Soft Top - in summary I was very impressed.

Removing the hardtop began by taking off the three interior cover panels. It was a simple task, I think they are just aesthetic so the 1 inch log Torx bolts holding them in place weren’t particularly tight. The main roof panel was harder work and held in the four corners by the same style bolts. I got down to the last far-side rear bolt but it just wouldn’t budge. An alan key is provided although I’m not sure it is the best tool for what is quite a fiddly process. Slotting yourself sideways out the car and over the doorsill while your arms steadily lose blood above your head you start asking yourself how badly you really want the roof off at all. Eventually I succeeded but the bolt came of the worse the wear.

Lotus Roof Bolt
It wasn’t until I came to put the hardtop back on that I started to experience a little more trouble. I had scrubbed the heads on half the screws and needed to order new ones. These took a few weeks to arrive from the dealership, by which point having a car roof on the bedroom floor was starting to become quite annoying. Normally my girlfriend loves the little Elise but this was one of the more testing times…

Before I first took the hardtop off there used to be a certain amount of squeaking that came from the rubber seal joins. After I put it back on the squeaking became quite a lot louder, like a horrible cracking noise – aggravated when going over bumps in the road. Thankfully an already planned visit to the dealership soon had is sorted. They took it off, inspected it, lubricated all the joins and then properly tightened it back on. They also offered to look into some further sound insulation but I didn’t really think it was necessary and extra weight wasn’t something I was keen on.

Owner reports on the hardtop being water tight are mixed but I’ve rarely experienced a problem. I have on occasion experienced a very slight leak when the Elise has been left out in truly torrential rain but that might have been preventable by tweaking the alignment.

My experiences of the hardtop were, and have since been, a little mixed but overall I think it is great to have the option. I’ve since taken the roof on and off the Elise several times and I’m happy to say that the time has dropped from 3 hours to around 20 minutes. It just required a little practice, and new bolts...

Lotus Torx Bolt
2012 UPDATE: Torx T40 It didn’t occur to me until recently (5 years into struggling) that I simply had the wrong tool for the job. All this time I have been using the allen key supplied in the Elise’s tool kit to remove the bolts securing the hardtop but what I actually needed was a T40 Torx screwdriver bit. I’ve since ordered one off Amazon and it has made the job significantly easier. Oh well, just goes to show sometimes a workman can blame his tools :-)