Lotus Elan

Eurotouring mishaps

PostPost by: 69S4 » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:40 pm

Does familiarity really breed contempt? Last year I took my S4 out of the UK for the first time to do a trip to the Alps. We have a flat there which is rented out for the winter ski season and needs everything checking / repairing / cleaning at this time of year before handing it over to the rental agency. A 40 yr old Euro virgin (the car, not me!), I filled the boot with just about every spare part I could think of / could afford (plus a whole load of DIY equipment - it was technically a business trip) and set off. By the time I got to Dover I had a fuel leak (easily fixed with a zip-tie), I panicked my way through rush hour Reims with a misfire and overheating and got annoyed by various rattles and vibrations, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. A year later it was time to do it all over again. Should I risk the Elan or would my wife's Mini be the better bet? Trying to fit everything into the Mini boot settled the question - I'll take the Elan.

This time everything was done on a shoestring and at the last minute. The ferry was booked the day before, money consisted of whatever I could find in the bottom of the office drawer where I throw odd coins and leftover currency (plus a credit card) and breakdown cover consisted of a vague recollection that it was chucked in for free with my insurance. Prep consisted of changing diff and gearbox oil and finding a litre or so of engine oil in a can that I could take along just in case. I also redid the rubber exhaust mounts. This had the miracle effect of finally fixing the turning right rattle I've had since April and have posted about here. That had to be a good omen.

A 5.00am start avoided the M25 busy period, Norfolkline recognised my reservation and a quick calculation at the fuel station came up with 37mpg. That's more like it - last year, with the fuel leak and knackered carbs, the only way I could better 30mpg was to push it. Thank you Mr Stromberg, replacing all your internals is not only saving me money but the car actually starts from hot now. Last year I was pacing up and down in the ferry queue worrying whether the car would start when loading time came. This year I spent the time reading a book. Much better for my blood pressure.

When loading time came I set off full of confidence. I knew from the previous year that I had enough ground clearance, what could go wrong? This time though there was a loud "clang" as I went down the ramp, followed shortly by the familiar rattle. That fix didn't last long! On the return trip one of the deckhands told me that the ramp angles vary depending on the state of the tide - next time you're booking a ferry remember to check whether it's high or low water. The rattle got worse and worse over the next few days to the point where sawing the pipes off level with the chassis was given serious consideration. Even turning the radio up didn't fix it.

The trip was about 750 miles each way - 600 of which were in France and I was about half way as darkness fell. Last year I went in the warmth of early Sept and camped overnight but in mid Oct this year the hotel option looked much more attractive. Ice on the car the following morning suggested that was a good choice. A quick "kick the tyres" style check under the bonnet - not used any oil, no mess from anything leaking, engine still there - looking good. It's used a bit of water though. Hmm, that's the first time I've had to add water in 18 months. Not much though so let's not panic yet.

Later in the day it was time to panic. I pulled into a garage near Lyon to get some fuel and the temperature gauge went up so fast that I could watch the needle move. An increase that would normally take an hour in a traffic jam was taking around 10 secs. A quick wiggle of the water pump confirmed the worse - the bearing was shot. Further investigation came up with some good news though. It only leaked when the engine was off. Topping it up got me the last 50 miles without further loss and with the temperature needle reading normal. A few days later and I had to face the big decision - what should I do about the return trip? Risk the pump or invoke the recovery option?

Weighing up the options - recovery would mean leaving the car to the unknown mercies of various anonymous agents accountable only to the insurance company and eager to get the job done as cheaply as possible. Many people report vehicles arriving home with various bits missing, damaged or bent. On the other hand BillWill's posts about the consequences of overheating did weigh heavily. I wasn't bothered about the head gasket going - it would be replaced when the head came off to repair the pump anyway but I didn't want to damage the head. In the end I decided to see how far I could get. The leak wasn't too bad and I could always call out the recovery truck if it failed completely en route. So I put a couple of 5 litre plastic containers of de-ionised water (1.5? each from the local supermarket) in the boot and set off.

50 miles and no problem with water. 100 miles - water still ok. 150 miles - going slowly crazy from the exhaust rattle, water level down and noticing that a lot of garages are either out of fuel or have huge queues - les gr?ves sur le sujet de l'?ge de la retraite. This is starting to get difficult and I've still got 600 miles to go. I eventually found a country garage and filled up with 25L of fuel (38mpg!) and over 1L of water (not good). Next stop 200 miles later and I hit a trip high of just over 40mpg petrol and a trip low of over 1.5L water. The engine compartment was starting to get plastered in rusty coloured stripes. Still, it wasn't that far to Dunkirk and I had plenty of water left. As I got closer I started to think I might make it. 50 miles to go, 20 miles to go and a run in with a wedding party blocking the motorway but still ok, 5 miles to go, 2 miles to go...

Just as I left the motorway, about a mile from the port, there was a loud squeal and the temp gauge shot up. I pulled over and had a look - the pump had seized and the squeal was the fan belt being pulled round the stationary pump. Now what am I going to do? I'm almost close enough to push it, or I could just wait a while until it cools off and that would give me some thinking time. On the other hand I'm stuck on a fast road with no pull off area, just round a bend and it's pitch black. Not a good place to stay for any length of time. Eventually, with a bit of working back and forth I managed to get the pump to turn again. Top up with water and after admire for a few moments the pretty patterns made by the water spraying out of the pump in the light of my head torch I was trying to cover the last mile. It lasted until I approached at Norfolkline's booking in kiosk when the squeal returned and the temperature shot up. Made it!

It was 8.30pm. The lady in the kiosk said "you've just missed the last ferry tonight. The next one is 6.00am. I'd go back to one of those hotels a mile back if I were you" So that's what those places just off the motorway were. I'd been looking at them when I was trying to free up the pump. This time however there was no going back. The pump wasn't going anywhere and neither was I. I managed to get the car into the waiting area and find a vending machine selling coffee. It was going to be a long night.

In fact it was a very long night. Have you ever tried sleeping in an Elan? The only thing worse would have been trying to sleep outside with the wind strong enough to scour the paint from the car park markings. By the time the port came back to life at 5.00am I was seriously wondering whether pushing it into the harbour and claiming brake failure would be the way to go. Driving it onto the ferry I was keeping a close eye on the temperature and cursing at every hold-up in front. One of the people directing traffic on the boat noticed me coming down the ramp, checked the minimal ground clearance and directed me away from the bigger bumps. Just a pity his counterpart on the outward leg didn't do the same. A side effect was that I was the first car off in Dover so managed to get out of the port before the engine warmed up. An hour or so later and the Elan was being loaded onto an AA flatbed truck for the last 130 mile leg. I did wonder about asking the driver to unload around the corner so I could drive it back to the house, thus convincing my wife that I'd made the right choice of car for the trip but in the end decided to go for the sympathy vote.

So far I've not done much to set about repairs and I'll probably make some sort of start next week. A pity really as the rest of the engine was going as well as it's ever done during my ownership and I wasn't planning to tear it down otherwise. It'll be the third pump I've replaced in nearly 30 yrs and well over 100,000 miles but the first that's failed on the road. The others were done when the engine was in bits for other reasons. This one has been there for about 15yrs but less than 10,000 miles and, like others, I suspect the seal doesn't take kindly to sitting there stationary for years on end.
Stuart Holding
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PostPost by: summerinmaine » Wed Oct 20, 2010 4:32 pm

Brilliant read, Stuart!

Thanks
Jim

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PostPost by: alaric » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:00 pm

Thanks. I really enjoyed reading that. Glad you got back ok. I've wondered before if there's room on the forum for a roadtrip section. I had a similar just making it back to the ferry experience in my old 1400 mini. The radiator was on its last legs on the return trip from the south of france, and on parking up at the terminal to check in steam came pouring from the bonnet with lots of hissing - very entertaining for the others in the queue - if there'd been a branch to hand I'd have given it a good thrashing...

Regards.

Sean.
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PostPost by: gino1 » Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:44 am

Great story Stuart !!
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PostPost by: billwill » Thu Oct 21, 2010 5:40 pm

I find it odd that water pump bearings collapse, that hasn't happened to me since the very first one many many moons ago.

I my cases of pump failure since then it has always been the seal that packed up and created evidence of a trickle of coolant out through the little drain hole on the bottom edge of the pump bearing boss.

I have several, possibly as many as five, pump shafts with perfect bearings in my junk boxes from pump replacements, just to prove it.

So either:
(a) your seal failed AND the drain hole was blocked so you didn't notice it and that let water through to the back of the bearing and that wriggled through the rubber seal & rusted the balls/rollers to collapse point
or
(b) your bearing failed for purely mechanical reasons, the only one of which I can think is that your drive band for pump & dynamo/alternator is far too tight
or
(c)
rain water got into the FRONT of the water-pump bearing (a very unlikely situation).
Bill Williams

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PostPost by: billwill » Fri Oct 22, 2010 12:49 am

Ah, just had a thought, perhaps still using metal fan blades on the water-pump pulley could be a factor on water-pump bearing failure.

It is so long ago that I took my mechanical blades off that I had forgotten they used to be on there.

:oops:
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PostPost by: 69S4 » Fri Oct 22, 2010 8:14 am

billwill wrote:I find it odd that water pump bearings collapse, that hasn't happened to me since the very first one many many moons ago.

I my cases of pump failure since then it has always been the seal that packed up and created evidence of a trickle of coolant out through the little drain hole on the bottom edge of the pump bearing boss.

I have several, possibly as many as five, pump shafts with perfect bearings in my junk boxes from pump replacements, just to prove it.

So either:
(a) your seal failed AND the drain hole was blocked so you didn't notice it and that let water through to the back of the bearing and that wriggled through the rubber seal & rusted the balls/rollers to collapse point
or
(b) your bearing failed for purely mechanical reasons, the only one of which I can think is that your drive band for pump & dynamo/alternator is far too tight
or
(c)
rain water got into the FRONT of the water-pump bearing (a very unlikely situation).


Hi Bill

Well you're right, it wasn't (c)!

(b) is a possibility but I've been around Elans long enough to be well aware of the drive belt tension issue and tend to run it on the slack side. The old style of solid V profile drive belt that's normal for the dynamo would slip and squeal at the tension I use but since changing to an alternator and using the serrated type of belt it's been ok at the same tension. It's difficult to give tension figures but it would involve several inches of free movement on the longest run of the belt. It's never had fan blades on the pulley since I bought the car and that was many pumps ago.

My money's on (a) as the most likely failure route. Others have posted about the seal being prone to damage if the car is unused for significant lengths of time and mine was laid up for a number of years with the current pump in place. Last summer's (that's 09) maintainance schedule did have the drain hole poked and prodded and I have kept an eye on that area to see if there has been any water leakage but nothing has been apparent. You're right though, if the seal had failed and water was getting through to the bearing I would have expected to see it coming out of the drain hole. However it hadn't used any water since I flushed the whole system out in spring 09 and refilled it (first time ever since I've owned the car that I've not had to constantly top it up).

Who knows what was going on behind the scenes inside the pump though. Maybe the drain hole was blocked further up than my prodding could reach? I would have thought / expected that if the bearing was rusted to the point of breakup it would have been noisy and I would have heard something or felt some movement in the pulley before I set off but I had neither of these. Either way, it's something I'll keep an analytical eye on when I strip it down. At the moment I'm pondering whether to go for a std rebuild or to sell one of the kids and go for the removable capsule options.
Stuart Holding
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