Lotus Elan

Hello (part 3, if you have a good memory)

PostPost by: JC33supreme » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:06 pm

Explanatory note : in 2011, I joined the forum and posted a couple of messages detailing my early-life Elan adventures. Since then I?ve been out of the country for long periods, although I have been ?lurking? a lot in that time. Since I need to re-introduce myself, I may as well complete my Elan history, and eventually talk about the present day. I?m sorry to bore you with history, but when you get to my age ?the good old days? seem to be just that!

So, I need to pick up my story from December 1977, when I had decided to forego the expense of furnishing my flat and instead purchase a December 1971 pistachio/white convertible Sprint.
Previously, I had tried various car buying techniques. I had bought from a friend of my mother?s (a rust-ridden Austin A40), a friend of my own (the Elan S4 which the friend forgot to tell me had no front brake pads worth mentioning) so this time I tried the get-over-excited-and-buy-the-first-one-you-see method.

You know, it wasn?t too disastrous. As with all used cars, the Sprint had its good points and its bad points.

BAD : the bodywork was a bit tatty, the stripes were peeling off, the paint was dull, and where two wing mirrors had once been were two holes covered by those hideous thick metal foil stickers of the 70?s. Also, the interior was tatty ? example: I asked about the missing driver?s sun visor to which he replied he had taken it to Italy to see a friend, and when it fell off the friend threw the visor out of the window. The carpets were rotten too.

GOOD : the seller was a journalist on a motoring part work called ?On Four Wheels? and he had tracked it (maybe this should be in the ?bad? section) so the rear wheel arches had been extended, the same profile as standard but wider. It had been in an accident and had been fitted with a new chassis, and the engine had just been rebuilt, and a very sweet engine it was. The car did feature in the magazine on three occasions, presumably when they were stuck for content, and was even once on the cover. A new hood had been fitted, and the other good point was the ghastly metal foil stickers covering the wing mirror holes were Clay Reggazoni fan club stickers, and what a true hard charger he was.

The Sprint provided great reliable fun for about a year, and then I moved to the USA. Two years later, I was back, and the Elan adventures became more, er ............. adventurous.......... immediately.

The engine started fine, but I couldn?t disengage the clutch, no matter what I tried; the result of being stored for so long, I suppose. So, I thought I would treat the car (and me) to some really good maintenance at a well known West London Lotus dealer. You may remember, the one with the really knowledgeable and helpful Australian in the spares department. I drove the (clutchless) car to the garage in the middle of the night, and a few days later they called me to say they had found an oil leak, the carbs needed work and a new clutch ? estimated cost ?450 (a lot in 1979) but I told them to do it.

A week later I went to collect my rejuvenated Sprint, and they presented me a bill for ?900 ? NINE hundred b****y quids. Of course I argued, but they denied ever quoting ?450, and said the carb rebuild alone would cost more than that. I had no choice but to eventually capitulate and coughed up. Then things got worse! They brought the car roundand it had a bashed in driver?s door and some sort of clear overspray on the back of the hood and rear window. After consulting their check-in documents, they conceded they must have damaged to door, but refused to admit responsibility for the overspray on the hood. I left the car there for the door to be fixed.

I told you things got worse, so please be patient. I collected it a week later, to find an appallingly sprayed driver?s door, with green overspray on the ?Sprint? stripe which they had badly masked. I complained, and they gave me a portion of a Sprint stripe for me to fix it with, and basically told me to get out!

Now for the highlight. I drove off, 100 yards to the lights with the engine purring smoothly, and I glanced at the dials to see oil pressure of 10, which as I looked at it rapidly headed further south. I stopped the engine, got out to find a pool of oil under the car. I had to hoof it back to the garage, who were d-e-l-i-g-h-t-e-d to see me. A week later, I collected the car (yet again) to be told I had to pay for fixing the oil leak. I was apoplectic, and they called a copper, who calmed everything down (incl. me). Honestly, it took me months of anguish to get over those hateful people.

This next bit: I will tell the true story, but please do not think I?m trying to glamourise it. I was an idiot, I know it, and I don?t do this sort of thing now (and never did then, really, this was a one off).

I had changed job and got my first company car (Renault 18), so the Elan was only ever used for pleasure and never in the rain. I was now working for an American firm, who were fabulous, but they did expect long hours. I finished work very late one Friday night and I had no idea where my friends might have gone (no cell phones back then). Feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would go home and treat myself to a drive in the Sprint up to the club where I played squash. On arriving at the club, it was nearly empty so, yes, I had a few beers and left feeling very cheesed off. At least the Elan was going sweetly, and I was itching to use it, and (wouldn?t you just know it) a car with only one headlamp working came up behind me quickly. And I was off.

In case you know it, the main London road heading north out of Bromley towards Catford. I didn?t know what the one-eyed car was, but I wasn?t losing it. I changed into fourth because I hit the rev limiter in third, at which point a car pulled out from the right and, seeing me charging up behind him, he pulled into the kerb and stopped. Unfortunately, another car had also pulled out right behind him, and because the first car had stopped he also had to stop, right across the road. The state I was in, I'm not sure I remember everything, but I think I span full circle, weaved my way around the stopped car and smashed into a Renault 16 coming the other way at, thankfully, at greatly reduced speed. Whilst all this was happening, I recalled seeing a motorbike whizz by ? my one-eyed car!!!
Chapman always said fibreglass has good impact absorbing qualities and I am extremely grateful he was right. Damage to the Elan was just a broken wing, headlamp bowl and bumper. The Renault didn?t fare so well ? the bonnet was up and wouldn?t shut, the front wing was crumpled, the driver?s door was shut and wouldn?t open, the rear door was open and wouldn?t shut, and the same with the rear tailgate.
The driver was unhappy !!! Even more so, considering he couldn?t open the door and was hammering on the window to be let out. Once I let him out, was he grateful? Not at all; he burst out saying ?Do you know who(m) you have hit?? ?oh no, a copper? I thought, but no, it was worse than that; he told me that he was ?the acting, under, assistant, deputy, sub-area manager of the Metropolitan Water Board?. Phew, a really big PHEW. His humour did not improve when I drove him to my nearby flat in my not so badly damaged Elan, and then drove him to his house in my brand new Renault 18. He demanded that I loan the car to him as he was on call all weekend; even allowing for the fact that he was fully justified in being upset, he was one of most obnoxious big heads I?ve ever met.
I loved him ? he didn?t call the police.

After that, I couldn?t even bring myself to look at the Elan for many months, but eventually I got it repaired. I took it to a firm in Bromley that was quite famous at the time, since the owner had installed a Merlin V12 in a fibreglass replica RR body, and he hit the newspapers for exceeding 200 mph on a German Autobahn. I saw the beast (car not owner) ? quite marvellous and absolutely terrifying. They did a good job on the repair and luckily the chassis was undamaged. In fact they did too good a job, since the front of the car now looked considerably better than the back, which had faded and thin paintwork.

So, a little while later, I decided to paint the back of the car so it would match the front. It had always annoyed me that the door shuts hadn?t been painted to match the outside bodywork, and of course there was the bodged paintwork on the driver?s door carried out by that ghastly London garage. I did a good job; I removed the doors, lights, windscreen and all fittings ? I didn?t want any nasty lines around the equipment. I dug out and resined the few small cracks, and rubbed down, primed, rubbed down, painted and rubbed down until my biceps looked as though on steroids. I was determined to get a good, tough finish so I decided to leave the paint a long time to harden.
However, I did make one mistake. Having finished the paintwork and tidied the garage, and replaced all the paint tin and thinner lids, I treated myself to a satisfying Rothmans King Size (I had all the vices in those days) and contemplated what I should do next. In a flash ..................

yes, you guessed it ? I decided that my girlfriend and I should live together, and we all know that relationships and restoring old cars don?t go together. The Elan was relegated from the top spot of my free time priorities, and, worse still, marriage followed, a further nail in the Elan?s coffin. The final straw was when we prepared to move house; far from being a priority, the Elan and its many pieces was (according to my wife) ?a problem ?.

Well, problems have to be resolved, so it had to go. All those adventures, those lucky scrapes, the good restoration intentions ......... and it all ended with the carcass and bits strapped to a trailer and disappearing from view at the end of the road.
It was a fantastically good drive, though.

So that is the end of my latest chapter of Lotus adventures. But it?s not the last ? I?ll finish off soon (i.e. sooner than three years).

When I posted three years ago I did promise some pictures, but I haven?t learnt how to upload yet. Next time, I promise (really).


If something is worth doing well.................................................... it's well worth undoing
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PostPost by: richardcox_lotus » Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:00 pm

Great stories John. Seems you are not too far away from me - used to live off that Bromley road - Never owned a Renault though !!!

Keep the tales coming.
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PostPost by: Elanconvert » Thu Jan 08, 2015 9:02 am

good story john..........similar tale relating to my g15........about the same time as you, unfortunately, my marriage ended in divorce,,,,,
but guess what? a year or so afterwards i bought the ginetta back, and still have it!
now, I wouldn't claim that relationships with cars can be stronger than with spouses........... :lol: since i remarried in 1984 [no,not to the ex], it has been all sweetness and light, with my present wife actively encouraging my trips to the garage!

:D fred :D
'Never give up!....unless it's hopeless.....'

1970 S4 dhc big valve
1973 Ginetta G15
1967 Ginetta G4 [sadly now sold]
1959 lotus elite type 14
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PostPost by: trw99 » Thu Jan 08, 2015 10:53 am

Well told story, John and thank you for taking the time to do so.

No doubt you are a fully signed up member of the Pistachio Appreciation Society, along with Phil and Alan.

Do you have details of your Sprint? If so drop me a message and I'll let you know if I have it on my register.

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PostPost by: Europatc » Thu Jan 08, 2015 9:16 pm

Welcome (again) John
all the best
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