The Lotus Elise S1 is one of the all-time great lightweight sports cars. One of the first bonded aluminium cars, it changed the game for Lotus and breathed new life into the segment. Such an incredible machine deserves an equally impressive documentary, and luckily, such a film exists. It's called Lotus Elise - The Inside Story, and it's currently streaming for free on YouTube. 

This isn't a documentary made after the car was a huge success. The over two-hour film was recorded throughout the development process, before anyone knew that the Elise would spawn three celebrated generations. As such, it records the real-time decision-making involved in developing an automobile; everything from design and engineering to more underrated aspects like production and purchasing.

At times it's pretty stressful. No one had made a mass-produced bonded aluminium car before the Elise. Although the Lotus team had faith in the process, they were definitely taking a big risk. It's interesting to see that, at the time, the head of the now defunct Rover's powertrain group seemingly thought little of the team attempting to be at the cutting edge of the sports car world, noting at point that "Lotus is much more on the edge. On the edge of technology, on the edge of failure." And then Rover took far fewer risks and went under anyway.

The film has many colourful characters, some of whom we interact with on a regular basis, like the car's chassis designer Richard Rackham—who is still with the company—as well as Julian Thompson, the car's designer who is currently the design director at General Motors Advanced Design Europe, located in the UK. Others, like senior buyer Dave Smith, only appear briefly, but nonetheless leave a strong impression.

Watching the entire documentary not only gives you a sense of just how specialised the automotive industry is, but also how fun it can be; at least at a company like Lotus. Most of the senior staff in the film seemed to genuinely love cars. To get the first prototype out the door the team worked relentlessly on Christmas Eve. The unsightly prototype was driven out of the factory to the company's ice-covered test track before Christmas day arrived, and if not for the documentary film crew's presence, the only record would've been factory security footage. 

Perhaps it's a coincidence that I stumbled across this admittedly well-viewed film online just around the time of the holidays when the Lotus team first tested the car, but it's a fitting time to see the movie. Sometimes its easy to forget at any job why you're doing something, and to see how difficult, exciting, frustrating, and gratifying developing the Elise was offers a lot of perspective.