Born from the Lotus Elise family, the open-top 340R began as a concept car in 1998 and was showcased at the UK’s Birmingham Motor Show. Its popularity proved monumental, and enough blank checks were sent to Lotus for them to proceed with the project.
Like its first-generation Elise brethren, the Lotus 340R adopted a 1.8-liter Rover K-series four-cylinder, which in “Very High Performance Derivative” equated to 177 horsepower and 126 lb-ft. of torque. That may not sound like much, even by early 2000’s standards, but it allowed the sub-1,550 pound roadster the ability to dash to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 133 mph. These were pure driving machines, a notion reinforced by the 340R’s body, or lack thereof.
The mix of lightweight body panels draped over an extruded aluminum chassis gave the cars somewhat of an aquatic look, what with the slender lines, open wheels, and big wing, though they’re certainly unmistakable. The rear end with its exposed exhaust and mechanical bits is akin to automotive erotica as well.
What They Said
This car is pure indulgence, an escape from the real world, and if you’re going to have a mad car you may as well have one of the maddest. Park this in the garage next to your everyday motor and two years hence it will still make you smile. With the credibility of a Lotus badge on its nose and only 340 being produced, it should hold its money very well, too — speculators are already making premiums over list.
IF TOM CRUISE IS SEEKING inspiration for Mission Impossible 3, he could do a lot worse than to visit Lotus. Two years ago, it charged its engineers with the seemingly ludicrous task of making its seminal Elise even more of a driver’s car.
So, they invoked the company’s age-old formula of adding power while reducing weight, aiming for the target of 340bhp per tonne. The Elise’s 1.8-litre engine has been tweaked to deliver 177bhp (a 59bhp boost) and 126lb ft of pulling power. To save weight, the 340R’s body is little more than a collection of dramatic swoops and curves on a chassis of bonded aluminium. There’s no hood, windows or boot.
Even this wasn’t enough to reach the magic figure, though the 340R name remains, referring to the number to be built – and which have already been sold. Instead it makes do with 269bhp per tonne, but this is still enough to bait Ferrari, as the 0-60mph sprint time of 4.6 seconds proves. Its banshee wail adds glamour, too.
Straight-line performance is only a minor part of the experience. The steering lets you know exactly what the front wheels are doing and, while its ability to change direction is worthy of a race car, the ride quality is excellent. One word of caution, though, the specially developed Yokohama tyres are brilliant in the dry, but offer only limited grip in the wet.
With its £35,000 price and zero practicality it’s easy to dismiss the 340R as a rich man’s toy, but a mile behind the wheel dispels the doubts. Mission accomplished.
The 340R is the sports car for people who live to drive and want the whole experience as raw and as pure as it comes. Outrageously styled and dynamically outstanding, the 340R is powered by a 1.8-litre VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) K series engine producing 180PS. And in an extremely light car, equipped with a close ratio gearbox, that adds up to explosive performance — 0-60mph in 4.4secs, for instance, and a top speed of 133mph (214km/h).
No other car puts you so closely in touch with the road or track, or is so sharp and eager in its responses. The 340R is already being talked of as one of the all-time greats. As extreme as the 340R is in standard trim, you can take things further still when you use your car for track days.
We’ve developed a full optional Track Pack for the 340R which, among other things, increases the power to an awe-inspiring 195PS (143kW), and lowers the dry vehicle weight to 1257lb (571kg). Because components are available individually, just how extreme you want to go is entirely down to you.
The Elise-based 340R was first shown as a concept car at the 1998 Birmingham International Motor Show at the NEC. This concept put a new spin on the multi-award winning Elise, taking it down an even more extreme path, making it the purest Lotus ever: a no-compromise super-lightweight sports car. It had no doors; no side windows, no roof, and only minimal composite bodywork covering its extruded aluminium chassis. With a powerful version of the Elise’s 1.8-litre K series engine, the 340R concept was aimed at hardcore drivers who wanted a small, responsive, fun machine with supercar performance for weekend blasts in the countryside or track day outings.
The press and public response to the concept was overwhelmingly positive — a niche truly existed for this purist driver’s car. The 340R was approved by Lotus management to become a showroom model. A few short months later, the concept is now a reality.
Modifying a concept car to pass the rigours of the European type approval process (a necessity for all series production cars) often results in a dilution of the original concept. Not so with the 340R. The production version remains true to the concept car — it offers raw, untainted fun and exhilaration, not to mention that 179ps engine. It’s a pure driver’s car, plain and simple.
Some changes have been made to comply with the type approval regulations and as a consequence of development work on the 340R.
Rather than dilute the essence of the car, these changes have made it look even wilder.
340R — the Extreme Elise
The philosophy behind the 340R is explained by Lotus’ Chief of Design, Russell Carr: ‘We decided to develop a road-going racing car which would be even more essential than the Elise, solely directioned and focused for pure driving pleasure.
We wanted a car that would embody the Lotus characteristics of innovation, light weight, elegance and fun to drive — the 340R is all of these.’ What has made the 340R’s striking looks and minimalist bodywork possible, is its light and exceptionally stiff chassis. Made from extruded and bonded aluminium and pioneered on the Elise, the chassis is the central feature of the 340R concept and is the load-bearing structure of the car.
This means that unlike conventional cars, the body panels aren’t an essential part of the 340R’s structural integrity, and can therefore be used only where driver comfort and protection, and aerodynamic considerations make them essential. Motorbikes and single-seater racing cars, two of the inspirations for the 340R, are designed the same way.
High-tech composites are used for the body architecture. These advanced materials lend themselves ideally to Lotus vehicles, being not only strong and lightweight, but also capable of being precisely moulded to design engineers’ or aerodynamicists’ requirements.
The doorless, lightweight advanced composite top shell body is a single-piece unit designed to be completely removable for easy access to major mechanical components, just like on a race car. While this dynamic and modern, yet sensuous, top shell covers the upper surfaces of the 340R, the lower sections of the car are ‘unclothed’, exposing the chassis, engine, and suspension components in all their intricate glory.
The 340R has a dynamic, feline stance on the road or track, in keeping with the Lotus philosophy of combining elegance of style and design with basic scientific principles, and it shows, in dramatic fashion, the inherent flexibility of the Elise chassis.
Made for the road, so you can drive to the track
It’s no coincidence that the Lotus Elise 340R looks so much like a race car dressed up for the road; that was always the intention of Russell Carr, Head of Design at Lotus, and his team. Many Elise owners use their cars for track days and the Lotus Elise 340R is designed to be the ultimate track-day machine.
The Lotus Elise 340R uses adjustable platform suspension so that corner weights can be tuned to the individual driverŸs requirements.
With track work very much in mind, the 340R is provided with some very serious brakes. At the front and rear, cross- drilled and vented discs are 282 mm in diameter, and are gripped by AP Racing opposed piston callipers.
Again, as befits its racing aspirations, the 340R is fitted with super-sticky road/race rubber compound Yokohama AO38R Tyres, with a highly distinctive tread pattern.
For track use it’s possible to remove the engine’s sound-insulated casing and (depending on the track’s noise regulations) take off the exhaust’s catalytic converter. In standard road tune the 340R’s 1.8-litre K series produces 179ps, but with the catalyst and other engine restrictors removed, that output rockets to 195bhp.
Race-spec quick-release steering wheel and five point harness adapter kit are available as part of a ‘track pack’ for the 340R, as is a Stack race rev-counter with shift lamps and lap timing facilities.