It's the perfect car on which to do this modification: a Lotus Elise. Already light, nimble, fabulous, and fun, coming from a heritage that is all about superior driving dynamics through reductions in weight. So an Elise with a complete carbon fiber body makes a sense so perfect that it (almost) leads one to believe in an ordered universe.
The body comes from Seibon. The car belongs to Seibon. We first saw it at the 2009 SEMA Show in Vegas and had to know more about it. "We got the idea from a Pagani Zonda, which has a completely carbon fiber body. But we wanted to keep the original look," says Seibon's Mikey Lee.
This is a 2005 model, which was originally orange before it became the first carbon-bodied Elise in the United States. There are eight exterior pieces to this kit. Each factory body panel was removed and used to make a mold. Then the carbon fiber counterparts were made at Seibon's factory in China. The only difference in shape is a re-designed front diffuser. Every other piece is a faithful reproduction and the aluminum side impact protection bars have been retained.
Dry carbon fabric is laid into the mold and resin is applied. A roller squeezes out any air pockets, then the piece is cured in a baking process (not in an autoclave, though. That would quadruple the cost). Once it's fully "cooked" it's taken out of the mold and any excess fiber is shaved off, before the surface is finished with wet sanding and five layers of UV-resistant clear coat. The result here is a cool-looking Lotus, completed by a Seibon-made carbon fiber hard top (the inside of which is recessed to accommodate a helmet-clad head) that's secured with Torq bolts.
From the factory, an Elise weighs 1,984 pounds. This one weighs 1,883 pounds. And it isn't just the body that's different. One look will confirm that these are not stock wheels. They come from Rays Engineering/Volk Racing and are forged monoblock Special Edition TE37 Special Edition wheels that Seibon had powder coated black. They weigh around 15 pounds each, which makes them some of the lightest race-ready wheels available. Sizes are 7x16 up front (with a plus-33mm offset) and 8x17 at the rear (with a plus-38mm offset).
The rubber is Hankook Ventus Z214 semi-slicks, 205/50 at the front and 225/45 out back, and they're super-sticky. This wheel/tire combination is a tell-tale sign that this Elise isn't strictly a street-going model. It's set up for the track and even has an adjustable KW Variant 2 suspension. Incidentally, the word "seibon" (pronounced say-bon) means "racing team" in Chinese.
So a pair of carbon fiber bucket seats comes as no surprise. Likewise the CF center console. Notice also that the door mirrors have been superseded by APR Performance Universal Formula GT3 carbon fiber racing mirrors attached to the fenders. They're smaller, therefore they exert less aerodynamic drag.
How much would all this kit drag on the checking account, though? For the body parts, bucket seats and center console, we're looking at $30,000. APR Performance charges $195 for a pair of those mirrors. Then you could make your own choices regarding suspensions (the stock one is still great; it was tuned by a company that other car companies go to for this sort of thing), and wheels and tires-according to whether the project car was destined for street or track use. Lee also recommends a Heatshield Products Reflect-A-Cloth (MSRP $120 for 36x54 inches) for the inside of the engine cover, which seems like a sound idea.
Driving this whole setup can be described in one word: fleet. As if it had metaphorical wings on its metaphorical heels. There are too many inseparable factors-the body, the well-tuned suspension, the grippy tires, the light unsprung weight of the wheels, the fact that an Elise's steering feel is ranked among the wonders of the automotive world-to make a definitive statement on exactly why the nose turns into a bend so sweetly, so eagerly. It just does. Even with an untouched drivetrain, the car delivers on the promise it hinted at while motionless under exhibition hall lights.
Transverse mid engine, rear-wheel drive
1.9-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve
KW Variant 2 coilovers
Wheels & Tires
Volk Racing TE37, 7x16 (f), 8x17 (r)
Hankook Ventus Z214, 205/50 (f), 225/45 (r)
Carbon panels, carbon hardtop by Seibon, APR carbon side mirrors
Carbon accents, sport seats
Smart New Suit
One thing we didn't see at SEMA, but discovered while visiting Seibon's southern California facility, was this Smart Passion. The Smart was originally designed with interchangeable panels, but those plastic items have been replaced with a carbon fiber makeover. This is an 18-piece kit that includes a revised front end, wider fenders and a rear spoiler, with all CF parts fashioned from 2x2 twill weave fabric.
Once again, there's a KW Variant 2 coilover suspension and dangling from it are Rays Engineering/Volks Racing RE30 forged monoblock wheels (sized 7x17); the original four-lug wheel hubs have been adapted to take five. The car rolls on 215/35 Hankook Ventus V4 ES all-season tires.
In this instance, the car isn't any lighter than its stock equivalent, it's an exercise in aesthetics; Seibon has yet to set a price. But as such exercises go, this is a good one. It lends an air of seriousness to a vehicle that sometimes looks like a toy in its usual street guise. -CR