Lotus Elan

Plus 2 newbie needs advice from old hands!

PostPost by: Jonners » Tue Jun 07, 2011 8:23 pm

From reading some of the posts on here I gather this is frequented by the best of the best in terms of elan knowledge and experience! I finally took the plunge and bought a +2 (s130/4 1973) on Friday. Hasn't seen much action in last 10 - 20 years, so seems to be original(ish) and was expecting few teething problems. I decided the old girl needed to stretch her legs so took her to Gloucestershire from London for the weekend. Needless to say I am already smitten, but she didn't make it back through the rain on Sunday. There are a few items that I would be very grateful for some expert insight, if anyone has the patience for a very inexperienced (but very keen) Lotus owner / mechanic! I went for the elan as it seemed to tick all the boxes of looks and engineering pedigree, but simple enough for me to cut my teeth under the bonnet... and the rest of the car!

1. Firstly, she didn't make it home as began to misfire, increasingly so, once the rain started coming down (only 25 miles from home! Having owned an old mini in a previous life it felt very similar to the age old problem of water ingress into the distributor, however I understand this isn't common on the +2? Does anyone have a view why the ignition system may have thrown in the towel? (She is stored away from home so haven't yet been able to start her in the dry)
2. Almost at my destination on Friday when the entire electrical system went down. Engine still ran fine, but all lights - in and out - went out. Interesting on a pitch black country road! I braked, and half a minute later everything came back on. Any ideas? Loose connection? Bad earth(s)?
3. Internal heater isn't blowing hot air - fan works fine but no heat. I can probably figure this out with the workshop manual but if anyone can save me some time that would be great.
4. Exhaust fumes in the cab - not excessive but definite tinge of exhaust aroma to my clothes when I woke up the next day. I have read a post on here about this before so I am assuming it is down to sealing the boot properly?
5. noise at the rear - once over 20 mph there is a constant noise coming from the back seat area. It sounds like a toilet cistern filling under pressure, as in more of a scchhhhh, than a whine, but I am guessing it might be the dif? It isn't very loud and does not seem to change pitch with speed. Is this normal?
6. Vibration at 60 mph - It has a 4 speed gear box so was expecting noise at higher but there is a definite shuddering vibration (steering wheel especially) at around 60 mph. It lessens again at higher speeds. Could this be a wheel balancing issue? Or is this just normal? (first time I have driven a plus 2 over 40mph!
7. Above 60mph she continues to accelerate but the handling gets even lighter and almost skips sideways a little as the speed increases, or when you come off the power. Again, is this normal? It isn't too bad, and easy to adjust but after all I have ready about the Elan's handling I wondered if this is a fault. Shocks? They seem ok but are old and as I say have not seen much road time in a while!

Sorry if these are inane questions. I am thrilled to be an elan owner and looking forward to understanding her foibles! If you have any comments on any of the above, that would be most welcome. I have ingested Gordon Lund's restoration guide and much of the workshop manual but need to learn a lot!


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PostPost by: Jason1 » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:03 pm

Hi Jonathan and welcome. :D

You say you have had Minis so the +2 is pretty much the same. So as with a Mini it is most weekends fixing something. :lol:

One of the first jobs I did to my +2 was to bin the points and swap for Lumenition, buy a new coil, starter and solenoid. Next is new plugs, leads and air filter.

Once you have done all these you will realise that there is probably an air leak on the servo or the front light pods and this was causing the misfire. Once you have sorted that problem check and clean all the earth wires; these cars are known for poor earth.

The exhaust fumes could be fuse vapour from the tank; I would say this is normal as it fuel spilling out of the filler cap if you fill the tank more than half.

Check the rear drive donuts to make sure they are not broken as if they left go they make a big mess of your boot floor.

I drove mine for a couple of years to iron out all the little problems and then started on the big jobs.

Good luck, let us know how you get on.

50/0951 1968 Wedgewood blue +2, 1990 Mini Cooper RSP
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PostPost by: Jonners » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:18 pm

Thanks Jason!
I am well aware I am about to embark on a never ending labour of love! I will think about the Lumenition option, it is appealing. Is it relatively easy to fit?
The donuts will need replacing soon ish, and will probably go for the CV drive shafts - sensible idea?

Any tips on how the car should feel at 60 mph and above?

Thanks again.
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PostPost by: JJDraper » Tue Jun 07, 2011 10:02 pm

Congrats on taking on taking on an interesting car! If the car hasn't seen much action there are likely to be lots of issues, and based on my long term ownership I will tackle your list:

1, Probably distributor based - a good idea to set aside the old dizzy cap and get a good modern replacement - Magnecor blue or red leads. Electronic ignition is great, but will not overcome lost sparks from the leads - and a new cap and leads are cheaper! Move onto electronic ignition later, it isn't a cure all.
2, Bad earth, bad earth, bad earth..... check the connections to the chassis, especially the ones in the engine bay - bolted onto the front uprights.
3, Likely to be an air lock. Get the car onto some ramps so that the nose is upwards. Take rad cap off carefully (not with a hot engine..) and top up the rad. If it needs coolant, and the heater now works, you had an air lock. If it still doesn't work, could be a cable pinged off the heater flap operating arm (left side footwell - behind trim).
4, Exhaust fumes? Are your cheeks rosy? If so, don't drive the car until you've checked the exhaust! More likely to be petrol fumes from the tank breathers which exit into the rear wheel arches and can give petrol smells when driving with the windows open.
5, Check the gearbox/diff oil level. The car has lots of odd noises related to diff, driveshafts, gearbox, discs etc as the sound-proofing is minimal. Normal sounds are the ones you get used to - you will find yourself listening for abnormal noises and thinking "I've never heard it make that noise.. It must the the thrunge grommet breaking up..."
6, Sounds like wheel balancing. These cars are light and wheel balancing is very important. So is the wheel running true - steel wheels can be knocked out of true with heavy kerbing. Try balancing them first...
7, Was it windy when you were driving? The cars are susceptible to crosswinds - but, your symptoms also sound like damping/tyre pressure issues. Also check the steering geometry, trackrod ends, trunnions, wheel bearings etc. All can contribute to 'nervous' handling.

If that list hasn't frightened you off, I invite you to check out this website and the host of other potential areas to fret about, but above all, welcome to Lotus ownership!

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PostPost by: Jonners » Tue Jun 07, 2011 10:18 pm

Many thanks. Great advice, thanks for going through all the points. I will let you know how I get on!
I am sure there will be many more jobs that come to light!
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PostPost by: Jonners » Tue Jun 07, 2011 10:20 pm

Jeremy - forgot to ask something about the wheel balancing. The car has lotus alloys.... if I want them balanced do I need to go to a specialist?

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PostPost by: stugilmour » Wed Jun 08, 2011 12:41 am

Welcome Jonathan.

On the heater issue, good advice regarding possible air lock as first issue to check.

To add to this, if you haven't noticed, the Plus 2 does not have a control valve to shut off coolant circulation thru the heater core, rather it relies on a closure flap to cover the core inside the base of the heater box. Can be a bit confusing as the two seater Elan uses a valve on the thermostat housing. Therefore, air lock or plugging somehow likely cause of heater issue. Note the eyeball vents stay cool though, even with heater working.

Most of us initially complain about it being too hot on a mild day due to failure of the foam seals on the two heater box control flaps. Easy to check quickly if the control knobs are moving both flaps; remove panel from left side of dash tunnel and you can see the levers on the outside of the heater box. Fixing the foam requires dash removal and disassembly of heater box, which is likely well down your list!

Really enjoy the car; they are a ton of fun! Handling can feel a bit 'nervous' at first; grip wheel very lightly. :) Cross wind issues seem to be normal, but as mentioned above the cars are so light & sensitive, even minor alignment, wear, balance etc. can be noticed & upset things. However, ride should be pretty smooth and it shouldn't really jump around due to power on & off. My two bits would be to get the running & electrical sorted, and take a comprehensive assessment of all the suspension bits with careful examination of the car. Perhaps down the road one of the guys is close by and could offer an appraisal by driving your car; I know what it is like to have nothing concrete to compare to. :)
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PostPost by: peterako » Wed Jun 08, 2011 7:14 am

Welcome Justin!

My t'pence...:)

The Headlights, in standard configuration, have a heat switch.
This is basically a switch that TURNS OFF your lights (and for me turned off every light) when the wires/switch gets hot with the headlights on.
This happend to me in the pitch dark, near home after a 120km journery...on teh twistiest part of a dark country road :shock: ...which I luckly I knew like teh back of my hand.
The next day i changed out the wiring for all the lights for relayed circuits.

Also, sometimes there is an airlock or dirt lock in the heater water system. You can clear this by disconnecting the higher (at Thermostat) pipe and pumping/sucking the coolant through this circuit.
When the heater works it's great....but often its cold in the winter and hot in the summer :)

Often due to the Kamm tail on the car. Beautifful....but with side effects.
Basically...the exhaust pipe is situated such that the fumes are pulled into the boot.
Make sure that your boot seal is good.
Also, some have suggested lengthening the tail pipe to get the exhaust fumes out of the Kamm flow.
5 years on and I'm still trying to sort mine out!

Check the Diff and Gearbox oil.

Probably wheels. Possibly tyres or pressur (I use 22 psi all round), Possible, but unlikely, unbalanced propshaft.
The car is light so any small imballence will be felt.
The car is very smooth/should be very smooth at speed.

Handling. feel, does become lighter as you increase speeds. But it should not jump.
Check tyres, shocks, tracking, ride height.
Any toe out will make the car very jittery at speeds.

The Steering is, and should be, VERY responsive.

When I first got my car I thoughjt that it was.

But there was some slop in the rack so I changed it out.

NOW it's responsive!! ANY movement in the steering wheel results in a change of direction.
It meant that I had to relearn how to drive. I now just 'rest' my hands on the steering wheel rather than 'hold' it as a few mm of movement have me weaving all around the place :)

With the car set up nicely the wind effects my Elan less than it does the family Zafira :)
And we get serious winds here!....all the time :(

The Elan +2 is really a joy when it's going well!!!
There are very few cars that can handle a 'B road' as well as the Elan +2 and driving it is really driving :)

I is an Inginear....please excuse my speeling!
'73 +2S 130/5
Opel Zafira, Some bicycles, Wife, Kids, Cats, Dogs....chickens....cluck cluck...goldfish...ducks flew away!
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PostPost by: Spyder fan » Wed Jun 08, 2011 10:53 am

With the steering vibration you describe, the normal answer is balancing and checking that the wheels are running true; however on a classic that has seen little use in the last 10 years or so you should really be looking at the age of the tyres. Tyre rubber has a shelf life and if your car has hardly turned a wheel until recently they may well be out of shape ... literally. for best grip and peace of mind, consider changing the tyres soon. Maybe look at other safety related items such as the brakes as well!

Good luck with all the other items on your list, they all appear to be normal age related problems with our cars or just plain 1960's quaint standards of components and build quality.

Kindest regards

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PostPost by: Jason1 » Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:59 pm

Hi Jonathan

Where are you in London? Sometimes its easier to pop the kettle on and get someone who has the same car to have a quick look and point you in the right direction. It is good if you can find a like minded person nearby to lend a hand (or tools).

Have a look on: http://www.elanregistry.org/stats.php for a friendly neighbour. If you register you can send anyone on there an email.

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PostPost by: steve.thomas » Wed Jun 08, 2011 4:06 pm

Hi Jonathan,
Re point no.5, I had a similar noise on my plus 2 that turned out to be a wheel bearing. I believe they can start being noisy before any play becomes noticeable. If you are going to upgrade to CV joints I would advise replacing the wheel bearings at the same time, while you have most of the rear disassembled.
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PostPost by: Jonners » Wed Jun 08, 2011 4:13 pm

Thanks guys! All very useful advice, was more than I hoped for and really appreciate the time.
Heater - plenty of things for me to check here, and it may even work if it doesn't heat air out of the side vents.
Vibration - after comments here I have look at other threads and it definitely sounds like a balancing issue. The car hasn't been used much but not been standing untouched, has new ish front tires but I accept they need a good inspection. I think the balancing needs doing. Does anyone have a view if his should be done on the car?

Exhaust - I will start with the boot. I think that is where a small amount is getting in. I don't think it is petrol fumes. But could be wrong!

Handling - I think the best thing as advised would be to get someone who knows the plus 2 to drive it and give me an opinion. I live in London but the car is kept in Surrey (brick lane not ideal!). I have joined club lotus and was thinking about going along to Surrey meet to get opinions. But now will also check for local owners.

Cheers guys!

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PostPost by: Robbie693 » Thu Jun 09, 2011 3:13 pm

Hi Jonathan,

The problem with the lights going off is, as Peter mentions, probably the thermal cutouts for the light circuit. They are screwed to the back of the dash near the light knob. To prove they were the problem with my car I bypassed them with a fused link. Then, having found the culprit I did as many have done and installed relays in the headlight circuit. This sorted the cutting out (even after re-connecting the thermal cutouts) and gave the added benefit of making the lights brighter!

The heater is probably an airlock as everyone says, the cooling system is difficult to fill completely without getting air in there. Best to re-fill with the nose in the air and maybe the front offside corner highest so that the filler neck is the highest point in the system.

Exhaust fumes could be the boot seal or the rubber boot around the gearlever, there is one under the outer gaiter - check to see if it's not split by removing the centre console.

The noise at the rear could be the diff contacting the chassis. This happens if the mounts are shot/loose.

As Alan says, the vibration could be the tyres. Maybe they have flat spotted if the car has been standing for a while. The wheels are difficult to balance because, being centre lock, quite often the wheel isn't completely central on the balance machine. Definitely worth doing on the car if that's possible. I believe there is a place near Silverstone that does this.

Welcome to Elan ownership

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PostPost by: pauljones » Sat Jun 11, 2011 10:15 pm


I think the ignition will benifit from an upgrade,mine now has an Aldon Ignitor 2 with Flame Thrower coil.I also run 8mm ignition leads and Bosche super 4's.You will not get a bigger spark and its good in bad weather too.A straight swap,simple.For Q2,I can only suggest to change the origonal fuse box,if thats what you have,to the newer blade fuse box.Much better reliability.I had similar problems,and that cured it.
Enjoy the experience.

Kick the tyres and light them fires...!!!!!!!
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PostPost by: johns » Sun Jun 12, 2011 12:13 pm


Welcome to Elan ownership. Whilst I would certainly not discount the airlock as the cause of the heater problem I suspect you may have a blockage, especially given the ligh usage the car has had recently. The heater in my +2S progressively got less and less effective until it finally stopped working altogether. The garage that I use for servicing/MOT etc tried to flush it out with little success, eventually as a final measure before deciding a re-core of the heater matrix was going to be required they left a dose of caustic soda in it over the weekend. This plus a reasonably high pressure hose did the trick although what came out defies description. I do now have a heater that does its job!

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