For sports car buyers seeking a pure driving experience, it’s hard to look past the Lotus Exige.
Through all of its iterations since the year 2000, the British car maintained its same basic configuration: lightweight two-door coupe (and roadster) with a manually-shifted, rear mid-mount engine and rear-wheel drive. It’s been a recipe for a whole lot of fun, something only amplified by the Exige’s ultra-low seating position and low-slung roofline.
For most Exige buyers, the factory specifications offered by Lotus Cars over the various models more than sufficed. There are always exceptions to the rule though, and South Africa’s Dawie Joubert is one of them – his crazy Exige builds are proof of that.
Dawie got his start in motorsport on the drag strip, but before long he transitioned to the circuit. For three seasons from 1992 he contested the Group N class of the South African Production Car Championship, battling it out alongside SA homologation specials like the BMW 325iS and Opel Superboss. He continued racing through the late ’90s, and then in 2001 purchased his first Lotus – a Motorsport Elise no less. Number #23 of just 65 built, it was a special car indeed, but Dawie knew it could be so much more. The answer came in the form of a Honda B18-series engine conversion, with which the Lotus posted a 322.5km/h top speed over the standing kilometre in 2003.
From that point on, the Joubert name become synonymous with fast K-swapped Exiges in South Africa.
In 2008, Dawie started to experiment with the Exige’s engine orientation, going from the standard transverse mounting position to a longitudinal fitment. The main driver for this was a lack of – at the time – aftermarket transverse gearbox options. Ultimately he found what he was looking for, and started building K-powered Exiges in this configuration – yes, there have been a few to date. One of the key aspects of the conversion is making the chassis 150mm longer than standard to accomodate the longitudinal powertrain.
The most evolved of Dawie’s Exiges is his race car, which in its ultimate Honda-engined form was producing over 700hp from its K24 turbo power plant. In that guise the car proved highly competitive at South African circuit and hillclimb events; you can check out a couple of videos of it here and here.
Although the Exige was extremely well sorted at this point, Dawie wasn’t content. He had plans to further develop the car, and this would likely have happened with a Honda engine in place. But in 2020, a Ferrari 488 that had been crashed at Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit changed everything.
A Ferrari 3.9L twin-turbo V8-powered Lotus Exige had a nice ring to it, so Dawie bought the wreck for its undamaged powertrain and sold off what was left.
Fitting the F154 engine into the Exige’s bay required some extra chassis-lengthening work, this time by another 50mm of tube work. That increase necessitated more changes to the exterior, and the custom bodywork the car wears today takes cues from the Hennessey Venom and also the Exige GT3. It’s made mostly out of FRP, but the front splitter, front fender vents, roof scoop and rear wing are in carbon fibre.
The engine itself isn’t stock either. In factory form the 488cc-per-cylinder twin-turbo V8 produces 661hp at 8,000rpm and 760Nm at 3,000rpm, but with some modifications to the IHI twin-scroll ball-bearing turbochargers, a custom intercooler arrangement and MoTeC M142 management, Dawie says his engine is now making 765hp and 900Nm.
A 7-speed dual-clutch Getrag transmission was standard fitment in the 488, but not here. Dawie opted for a paddle-shifted Sadev 6-speed sequential connected to the engine through a custom CNC-machined bell-housing.
Prior to the Ferrari engine swap the Exige already benefitted from the Motorsport Elise’s suspension, but during the latest rebuild the dampers were overhauled. In the rear they’re now used in an inboard configuration. Further to this, every arm and rod that could be swapped out for a rose-jointed equivalent has been, providing wide scope for adjustability. An AP Racing Pro 5000R brake package provides the Lotus with no shortage of stopping power.
The wheels are 18-inch Porsche Cup centre-locks wrapped up in Michelin full slicks – 245-section up front and 335-section in the rear.
Lotus Exige interiors always favoured function over form, but Dawie’s car – having been built purely for motorsport – takes things to a new level of minimalism. There’s a custom cage, a lone Tillett carbon fibre race seat with SCHROTH Racing harness, a carbon dashboard with MoTeC C127 display and PDM, a Sparco steering wheel and not much else. Of course, there doesn’t need to be – any additional weight would only slow the car down, and Dawie doesn’t like going slow.
As a relatively fresh build, it’s going to be awesome to see how the development of this Ferrari-powered Lotus pans out over the next few seasons. It may be finished for now, but Dawie obviously isn’t one to rest on his laurels for too long.
Photos by Stefan Kotzé