This article, originally published October 3rd, 2018, has been updated with new information from the previous owner regarding repair costs.
The Lotus Elise is great because it's a fun, good-looking sports car that can be reliably bought in good condition for around $30,000. But there are some downsides to Elise ownership—the main one being that if you damage the car's clamshell even slightly, the car will be totaled out by your insurance company. It happened to this car.
The owner of purchased it with a salvage title—not because it had been in a major accident or flooding, but because the previous owner damaged the right side of the front bumper near the headlight. For most cars, the damage would've been a quick, cheap fix. Maybe a bumper replacement at most. But because the Elise's clamshell is one giant piece, repairing that piece can be a hugely expensive endeavor.
We spoke to Philip Kingston, the previous owner, to see whether it was this damage alone that totaled out the car, and he confirmed that yes, it was. His body shop came back with a $19,000 repair estimate, so his insurance ended up buying the car from him for more than $33,000. New clamshells can cost more than $5000, and that's before labor to install it, which is notoriously expensive. That rare bronze paint was also an issue. Remember, an entirely new clamshell had to be painted, so a lot of material was needed.
"I can't emphasize enough how much the paint costs," Kingston told me via . "It was shocking. Over $6000 without labor." As you can see, it starts to add up fast.
Otherwise, the car looks to be in great condition. The current seller says it's just been through a major service, which included new fluids, brake rotors, pads, and air filters. Upgraded toe links, carbon fiber door cards, a clear bra, and aftermarket forged lightweight wheels have been added. The seller estimates only five to six Elises painted in this bronze color were brought to the US.
Though the damage is minimal, that rebuilt title means a major drop in value versus any other 2005 Elise. The car, which shows 68,406 miles on the odometer, is currently listed for sale on eBay —around $6000 less than market value. If you're looking for a cheap Elise in good condition and don't have a problem with it having a branded title, this could be the car for you. Just make sure you know what you're getting into.