The 340R Story

A legend in the making.



The 34OR’s development is a story in the Porsche Boxster and Audi TT mould: a concept car that generated too much interest to be ignored.  First shown on Autocar's cover in July '98, it appeared at that autumn's British Motor Show.  On the interest shown at the NEC alone, production was deemed feasible.


Autocar takes up the story thus:


Autocar and the 340R


“ It doesn't normally feel like this when we test a car.  There's always keen anticipation, but seldom such a sense of pride.


The 340R feels extra special to Autocar because it's our car.  Not just ours for the day, but ours from day one.  When Lotus boss Chris Knight gave the go-ahead to develop the Elise formula to new extremes, he invited Autocar to help design the sort of car that would appeal to us.  Together with Lotus’s design staff, we conceived a featherweight track-bred car with more power, a better gearbox and an even better chassis than the Elise, a £33,000 price and a name coined by Autocar's Stephen Sutcliffe. Changes have been made on the way, but the spirit of what we set out to achieve has now been realised In a machine that's ready to go on sale.  And if you don't like it, we're as much to blame as anybody. “


Extract from Autocar 8 December 1999


Evo Magazine summed it up like this :


Naked Desire – Lotus has stripped away everything that doesn’t add to the thrill of driving to build possibly the wildest road car ever, the outrageous 340R – Prepare to be seduced


So here it is.  The most extreme Lotus ever.  No roof, no side windows, no doors, and absolutely no compromise.  Faster and leaner than an Elise, more radical than the Renault Spider, it's homologated, road-legal and ready for production barely nine months after being rubber-stamped by Lotus management.  It's an astonishing achievement.  Think back to the 1998 Birmingham Motor Show - the original Elise-based concept prototype that dazzled us looked far too radical to ever make production, despite its Elise underpinnings.  With no weather protection and almost fully exposed mechanicals at the rear end, it looked like a legislator's worst nightmare.  Little did we know that negative customer reaction was the only thing that could prevent the 340R becoming showroom reality.  Compared with last year's show car, the production 340R is remarkably true to the original concept.  If anything it looks even more aggressive.  Changes did have to be made, though, and to secure European type approval many details, both on and under the skin had to be altered.  The most obvious is the adoption of a broader front bib spoiler, which extends either side of the nose to form Formula One-style winglets.  They perform a double function , creating aerodynamic downforce and offering protection for pedestrians who would otherwise be dragged beneath the front Wheels in the event of an accident.


Another obvious difference is the more prominent rear wing.  The prototype had one but it was set at a very low angle of attack, almost flush with the engine cover.  While design head Russell Carr may have preferred the more subtle wing, David Minter, 340R engineering project manager, felt that the more steeply raked wing was vital.  'We always work towards a car with aerodynamic balance, and this wing helps us achieve that.  With the front and rear wings we haven't just cancelled lift but generated some serious downforce.' Sounds good to us.


Other changes were made to improve cooling, reduce noise emissions or improve safety.  The rear end is now encased with a sound-insulated shield to try smother the worst of the noise generated by the engine.  A crash structure has been developed for the front end and the exhaust system has been redesigned and manufactured by Janspeed.  Legislation demands that it runs with a catalyst, but with the 340R being aimed squarely at track days, both the catalyst and sound-shield can be removed.


Naturally the 340R relies heavily on Elise components.  The basic aluminium chassis is pure Elise, while the brakes, suspension and close-ratio gearbox come from the 190 Sport and 135 Elise programmes.  This clever use of existing components not only made the 340R project much more cost-effective but ensures that the car will deliver an exceptional driving experience.  The cross-drilled 282mm steel discs might add some weight but there's no doubting their stopping ability.  Fitted to the (heavier) 190bhp Elise, they deliver magnificent stopping power with sharp, linear bite and tireless retardation.  In the lighter 340R they should guarantee nothing less than sensational braking.


Likewise the lower, stiffer suspension transformed both the 190bhp Elise and the sadly short-lived Elise135.  With a combination of Eibach springs and Koni dampers, the 340R can only build on the earlier tweaked Elises' sharpened responses.  Having experienced both the 135 and 190 Elises, it's clear the 340R will be incredibly agile, with massive bite at the front end but without the sometimes wayward, light-feeling rear end of the standard Elise.


But the real ace up the 340R's sleeve is its tyres.  Measuring 195/50 15 at the front and 225/45 16 at the rear, the unique tyres were developed specifically for the car by Lotus engineers and Yokohama.  Mounted on ultra lightweight magnesium wheels, the super-sticky A038R tyres have the race-bred appearance of a cut slick but are completely street-legal.  Much effort was put into perfecting their construction and compound to enable them to cope with the high-temperature high-stress rigours of circuit work, while at the same time being able to generate useable grip and traction on the road.  If they are anything like the similar concept Avons that Caterham fits to the Superlight-R, they should work reasonably well in the rain too, despite their semi-slick appearance.  Only deep standing water might cause a problem, but as the 340R has virtually zero weather protection you're unlikely to go for a blast in torrential rain.


Perhaps the toughest piece of the 340R jigsaw to put in place was the engine.  The Rover K series engine is notoriously difficult to get through emission regulations if it is highly tuned.  That's one of the main reasons why the 190 Elise never made series production.  To get a clean, reliable, tractable 177bhp and 1261b ft of torque from the 340R’s 1.8-litre engine took an awful lot of work on calibration and drivability.


The results, though, should be more than worth the effort.  Although no figures have been taken, Lotus estimates the standard road-going 340R will be good for 0-60mph in 4.3secs, 100mph in 10.9 and run on until it hits an aerodynamic brick wall at 130mph.

 With only a handful of the 340-unit production run left unsold, the 340R is certain to be one of the rarest as well as one of the most vivid driving experiences ever.  For enthusiasts like us that's very good news indeed.


Extract from EVO October 1999


Inevitably as the production got nearer to commencement, the original nominal selling price of 33,000 UKP became 35,000 UKP.


Only 340 cars were to be built, there was to be no colour choice (all cars were silver and black) and only one factory fitted extra (Thatcham cat 1 alarm).


Whilst the Lotus publicity machine went into overdrive the resultant media hype did result in somewhat exaggerated claims for the car. Chief amongst these was the prediction that the car would achieve a power to weight ratio of 340 PS per tonne. Whilst this may have been part of the original design brief, European Legislation on production vehicles meant that to gain type approval meant that some compromise measures had to be incorporated into the design of the production car including :


1.       Additional front crash protection reinforcement.


2.       Air inlet throttle valve to reduce drive by noise.


3.      Revised engine management mapping to reduce emissions.


4.       Heavily silenced exhaust to comply with noise regulations.


Whilst all these measures resulted in a car which was less than 340 BHP per tonne in its standard road going  format, this was not a drastic concern for owners as the standard 177BHP car (at 272 BHP per tonne) was still very quick and could easily be modified with Lotus accessories to 190BHP and around 300 BHP per tonne.


Lotus did build a ‘Trackpack’ car which with modifications produced 340 BHP per tonne as justification for the hype, but this car was hardly relevant as it was a single seater with no lights, mudguards or windscreen wipers and totally illegal for use on the road.


Nevertheless in standard 177BHP form or in uprated 190BHP form the car is a considerable opponent on the track and is capable of humbling much more expensive and powerful machines.


Finally in early February 2000 (about 3 months later than planned) production of the 340R started at the Hethel factory.


On the 22, 23 and 24 of February, 340R owners who had placed deposits on the cars were invited to Hethel to both see the car being built and drive the car on the Hethel test track. On the production line both right and left hand drive cars could be seen and it became apparent that the left hand drive cars were fitted with oil coolers as standard. After the owners had driven the cars round the track the Lotus test drivers took the owners as passengers on fast lap rides . These fast lap rides provided the first clues as to the staggering cornering abilities of the cars, with many owners (myself included), believing that they were near death as the test drivers showed just what was possible.


Interestingly enough around 100 owners took up the offer of attending these days. Lotus claiming that all the production run of 340 cars had been sold with around 120 cars going to the UK and the rest going to Europe and Japan.


With hindsight at time of writing (October 2000) it is common knowledge that some dealers and speculators over ordered cars in the hope of making a quick profit. However the state of the second hand market was such that these gains were never realised and whilst the cars may well be a future classic, several new (demonstrator/cancelled order) cars were still available at reasonable prices up to late 2000.


Only a handful of the first cars delivered in the UK came fitted with the Technomagnesio light magnesium alloy wheels which were specified in the newsletter issued to UK owners. Production delays at Technomagnesio meant that most cars came fitted with ‘temporary’ Rimstock imitation centrelock wheels. UK owners were later able to swap these for Technomagnesio ones free of charge (and retain the Rimstock wheels for a modest charge if they wished to). European and worldwide owners were not offered the Technomagnesio wheels.


Production difficulties with the mudguards meant that a few early cars were shipped out with carbon fibre mudguards (originally intended as aftermarket accessories) rather than the metallic black painted GRP mudguards which were standard. However later in the year the decision was taken to cancel production of the aftermarket carbon fibre mudguards. At time of writing (October 2000) no carbon fibre mudguards are available and any owners who damage their carbon fibre mudguards are being provided with replacement GRP sets.





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