By Giles Cooper.
From 2000 – 2003 I lived in Aberdeen Scotland.
I had purchased my Lotus Elise in 1999 (after an 18 month wait list in those days!) from Bell & Colvill in Surrey, and thus got to enjoy the car on the wonderful Highland roads which are just perfect for such a car. The Elise was relatively rare on the roads in those days, and clubs were few and far between.
After a year, I met a fellow Elise owner in a gas station in Cults, and he put me in touch with Scottish Elises (a local “on-line” social site), which I joined immediately, and started enjoying social runs with other members in the Highlands, as well as track days at Knockhill. The only real variations between the cars in those early Elise days was the colour – Mechanically they were all basically standard K series engines.
In 2000, Scottish Elises did a trip to the Nurburgring, and about 15 cars drove down to Newcastle, from where we overnighted on the ferry to Ijmuiden, and then drove down to the ‘Ring in convoy, usually flat out on the Autobahns. Grin inducing, to put it mildly. Elises from all over Europe would join us at the ‘Ring for the weekend. We repeated the trip in 2001, and it was on that trip that I met Kyle, who at that time was living and working in The Netherlands.
The big Scottish Elises social event of the year was always Tut Towers, held in May. Although small in stature, Elise owner Tut was larger than life in every other way, and after an interesting life flying helicopters around the world, he then lived in a small village just outside Aberdeen. Tut Towers would attract over 60 Elises, with people coming from The Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe as well as from England – it was a weekend not to be missed, starting with a Track Day at Knockhill (outside Edinburgh), followed the next day by a 3 hour drive across the winding roads of the Sottish ski fields at Glenshee, up to Tut’s house.
His house was in fact an old school, with enormous (ex-class) rooms, a massive garden and driveway in which we could easily fit 60 Elises, plus an enormous bathroom with 4 separate doors which always proved fun later on in the evenings after the beer started flowing. A long drive through Glencoe was the norm on the Saturday, followed by a pig roast on a spit in the evening, and then most of the 100 or so attendees would sleep on the floor around the enormous house! It was always a fantastic weekend, and for some reason we always enjoyed perfect blue-sky weather.
It was at one of these events that I met Ashton, while Kyle was also present, and looking back through old photos I was amazed to find a photo of us all at Tut Towers! As we got to know each other, we realised we were all heading back to Australia (with our Elises) at about the same time, and at a Knockhill track day, Ashton and I did consider sharing a container, but although it didn’t work out, we remained in touch.
In 2003, I returned to Perth, Kyle to Brisbane, and Ashton to Sydney, and once we had our cars on the road, we remained in touch and started looking for local Elise clubs similar to Scottish Elises. There was nothing – it was almost as if the Elise didn’t exist in Australia, which is understandable because there were only about 200 in the country. We approached the local Lotus Clubs in our respective states, and found very little welcome.
In WA I was in fact told that the Lotus Club there was dead, and no one was interested in resurrecting it because they were a dying marque! Ashton and Kyle had better success in the east, but there was still no real forum for Elises, so with their technical IT abilities, they put together a user group on Yahoo, called “Aussie Elises”, named after “Scottish Elises”. Our original logo of the kangaroo superimposed over the outline of the Elise was based on the Scottish version, where they had an Elise outline superimposed over the Scottish Saltire. Kyle put the new AE logo together.
In the early days, we were flagging down other Elises and passing out Aussie Elise contact information in order to get more owners to join us and as we located more Elises around Australia, soon had a thriving on-line chat room, together with regional get-togethers and social drives. While Elise owners did get together socially on the East Coast during 2004, the first “official” Aussie Elises dinner was in March at the 2004 Melbourne F1 GP, when a number of us got together for a social run down through Gippsland, followed by a dinner in the evening.
By the time I left Perth in 2005, we had built an active Elise group in WA, competing regularly in Autokhanas, and meeting socially for group runs and drinks. There was still minimal interest from the Lotus Clubs, but Aussie Elises was thriving regionally. On the drive from Perth to Queensland, I stopped in Adelaide and went for a run in the hills with the SA group, and then met up with the NSW Elises near Wiseman’s Ferry for breakfast and a drive. On arrival in Queensland, I met up with early Qld members Geoff Noble and Rob Stevens and we went on a few runs in the Hinterland, and started competing in the Morgan Park Sprints together in 2006.
The rest, as they say, is history. Due to Insurance and other club legal requirements, Aussie Elisers join their regional CAMS affiliated Lotus Clubs, and have become very active members. The Presidents of several of the regional Lotus Clubs are now Elige owners, and there is a strong emphasis on youth within the Lotus Club, both of cars and members. In turn the love of the history and all things Lotus has also been actively embraced by “new” Lotus owners. The importance of this can be seen when compared to many MG or Austin Healey or other “classic” car clubs – Their cars are all older, and often expensive, and the young of today are rarely interested in buying such cars, so the long term future of such clubs is uncertain. In contrast, the Lotus Clubs are thriving, largely because of the incredible Lotus Elise.
Aussie Elises is an integral part of this. Over the years, and with the help and guidance of Ashton, Kyle, Dave, Phill, Zed and many others, the Yahoo Groups was soon changed to an improved forum similar to the current one, and then, after a few hiccups, its current format was built and opened to general membership on October 9th 2009. It provides a forum to specifically meet other Elise / Exige (and now Europa / Evora) owners, to discuss technical issues, and to share our stories. But more than that, for many of us it has become a group of close friends, based around the incredible Lotus Elise, yet forming strong personal bonds over the years. AE currently has over 2400 members, including some from Asia, Europe, North America and even a couple from North Africa.
Although we are an integral part of the regional Lotus Clubs, we also occasionally enjoy separate social and track day gatherings, and receive great support from Simply Sports Cars and other regional dealers. Aussie Elises operates under the banner of the regional Lotus clubs, particularly in regard to insurances and competition licences where the CAMS affiliation provides coverage. In this regard, Aussie Elises is purely an online social and technical advice club. Now almost 18 years of age, it continues to grow and to provide its members with camaraderie and friendships that are rarely found elsewhere. Long may it continue!