We let the Emira work out its story on a section of North Carolina blacktop that has its own legend, as it wrestles with the mythology of its brand.
When a road is named, it takes on a life of its own, if not an air of drama. Neither is necessary for North Carolina Highway 209, also known as the Rattler. across little more than 36 miles of forest, its two-lane highway rips north-south across the mountains close to the Tennessee border. Shooting through little valleys scattered with churches and cornfields is 209’s specialty when it’s not scurrying along precipices or plunging into tight ravines. On clear days, shadows are scarce in certain areas because of the dense tree cover, but in others, you can see the city skyline stretched out before you.
The miles may or may not be well-known. The unofficial starting point of the Rattler is about twelve miles north of the southern terminus of 209, at the crossroads of North Carolina State Route 1334, adjacent to a defunct gas station and general shop. “Ride The Rattler,” the sign reads. This is where it all begins! The next twenty-four miles. 290 Spirals. A snake and a smiling skull are shown in the sign’s central part. The store’s name, “Ferguson Supply,” and the phrases “Rattler Shirts Inside” are smaller and printed at the bottom.
While some prefer their fun roads to be filled with drama, tale, and t-shirts, others prefer theirs to be simple with corners and straights. The narrator, who enjoys both the aforementioned and crude humor, sped away from the intersection while imagining nerdy sports car parodies of movie titles (Two-Lane T-Shirt, Apex through the Gift Shop, etc.) and making a Graham Hill face.
All of this would have likely been well-received by Lotus Cars’ founder, the brilliant engineer and consummate salesman Colin Chapman. Although he has been dead since 1982, Chapman founded his company with an iron fist against the existing quo and an unrelenting commitment to innovation. He was a firm believer that a positive public image might increase sales, regardless of how well it matched reality.
You can’t look at that sign without wondering if the road-name chicken or the T-shirt-shop egg came first, and the Rattler doesn’t really make you think of death or a snake. However, when you are behind the wheel of a mid-engine English bolide and facing around 300 turns, it feels like you have reached a worthwhile destination, so you accelerate out of that crossroads and into next week.
The Emira is the first new sports-car type produced after Lotus was acquired by Geely, a Chinese automaker that also owns Volvo. Although Geely denies it, the Emira is likely a stopgap. Over the years, Geely has invested heavily in Lotus, funding not only this vehicle but also a new automated plant and a forthcoming lineup of mass-market electric vehicles.
Emira, when transliterated from Arabic, means “princess.” Lotus hardware is appropriately regal, having a lengthy history of veneration and a long line of ancestors, but with a relatively small gene pool. The Emira, a 2+2 sports vehicle originally marketed in the US in 2010, will be replacing the outdated Lotus Evora in Europe in 2023. A close relative of the chassis utilized in Lotus’s little Elise, a model that was sold in our country from 2005 to 2011 and had its foundation in the 1990s, the former shares an updated bonded-aluminum spaceframe with the latter.
Body parts include a plethora of influences, including McLaren, Ferrari, seashell, lady hip, eel, manta ray, clam, and Volvo. After getting under an Evora, no sane person could look into the wheel well of an Emira and not see that the two vehicles are inseparable. Both the Aisin six-speed manual transaxle and the 400-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine are basically from the Evora. (Coming soon is a Mercedes-Benz-sourced eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission mated to a turbo four-cylinder engine producing 360 horsepower.)
In contrast, the Evora’s cabin was pleasant but unprofessional. The Emira is virtually identical to its forerunner with regard to wheelbase, but it is marginally longer overall, 167 pounds heavier, and nearly 1.5 inches wider. The cockpit is more spacious and less intimidating due to the low sills. Cool, because your narrator once attempted to fold himself into the back of an Evora for a quick ride to lunch, but all that happened was he got weeks of excruciating back pain. Now there’s just a little storage shelf instead.