Lotus Elan

To Zetec or not to Zetec

PostPost by: Dave240 » Mon Jun 20, 2016 10:48 pm

I'm finally getting back to my +2 project after having it interrupted by restoring a Volvo Amazon and rallying it across Canada. The next decision I have to make is on what engine to go with. I know it's a decision I have to make and it's my car so I should do want I want, etc etc, but I need to talk it out! That's where you folks come in...

I bought the car as a basketcase. It is complete minus all of the wiring which the previous owner threw out. It has the Big Valve Twin Cam with Strombergs. On one hand, I want to rebuild the TC and pop in back in. I'm a bit of an automotive/motorsports history nerd (currently writing a motorsports history book) so it would make sense to put the proper original engine back in.

On the other hand, I know how much it will cost to rebuild the engine around here, as very few people touch vintage engines near me if they aren't Ford or Chevy V8s. I also know a local guy with a Lotus and he's had so many issues with his TC, it scares me a bit. But logic tells me the owner is a factor in the engine problems. I also rebuilt the Volvo with a bored out engine from a 123GT and it is still slow... it makes me want something a bit quicker.

So I started looking for a 2.0L Zetec just to see what was out there. I found quite a few and most were complete for $200-$250 Canadian. I also found a couple low-mileage (less than 100k KM) long blocks for $100. They are very tempting and very cheap. I know there will be a lot of supporting mods (engine management, etc) I'll need to do which will drive the price up considerably... I am re-using my stock chassis, so whatever engine I use I'll have to mount up to the stock transmission, which I'm OK with.

I guess the problem I am having is with the originality of the car. I know if I put the Zetec in, I could keep the TC on a shelf and always put it back in at a later date...

For those who have put in Zetecs in their +2s, how challenging would it be to go back to the Twin Cam?

If you guys were in my shoes, what would you do?
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PostPost by: Sea Ranch » Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:33 pm

Welcome back, Dave.

I presume you remember Stu Gilmore in Calgary. He's a Lotus guy (Plus 2 and Esprit) who's somewhat close to you.

Good luck with your decision(s). I'm staying completely out of this one. :mrgreen:


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PostPost by: john.p.clegg » Tue Jun 21, 2016 5:27 am

I vote put the zetec in,keep all your original bits on the shelf.
If it was a b**y elan I'd say no as you would devalue it.

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PostPost by: Sea Ranch » Tue Jun 21, 2016 6:12 am

I will say I think Dave is asking the right question (which I have no answer for): what work is involved in swapping to the Zetec and then back to the Twink at a later date.

There are people here who know those answers. I personally suspect it's considerable.

I would say a person would have to ask themselves if they felt the Twink would suffice for them or if they really needed/wanted more power or simpler/reduced maintenance, etc., and decide on the basis of those answers. I don't see the same owner electing to make the switch knowing that they might want to switch back again at a future date. In other words, switching to the Zetec just to "try it out" so to speak.

Okay, I'm out now . . . :oops: :mrgreen:

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PostPost by: jimj » Tue Jun 21, 2016 8:08 am

I doubt your question about re-fitting the proper engine later will have been experienced, so probably won`t get an answer. Which to choose is, of course, your choice but inevitably those who have gone Zetec will say it`s marvellous, and those who haven`t won`t have an opinion. That`s just human nature.
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PostPost by: andyhay » Tue Jun 21, 2016 11:18 am

I'm not really qualified to answer as a very new Elan owner but I have put a lot of thought into the matter. I enjoy driving old cars for their character and the twin cam has bucket loads of character. I also think if plus 2s do go up in value significantly you will need the twin cam to reap the rewards. I vote keep the twin cam.

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PostPost by: rgh0 » Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:15 pm

I think there are a few more options than just Zetec or Twink.

You can build a modern Twink that will run like a Zetec with all the electronics and fuel injection or you can build a Zetec that will run like a Twink with Weber's and you could put points ignition on it if you really wanted :D

Personally I would always build a Twink and if i wanted modern drivability and reliability I would modify it with modern control, ignition and fuel systems. But that is because I have the bits of 5 or 10 twin cams to build it from so why would I buy a Zetec no matter how cheap.

You can certainly buy a good basic Zetec to work from for much less than you can buy or build the equivalent Twink. Putting the Zetec in your car will cost a lot more than bolting in a replacement Twink. In the end I am not sure how much you save in reality with a Zetec.

If you want big horsepower cheap ( say plus 200hp) then a Zetec is certainly going to be a lot cheaper than a Twink ( though you will spend much more on the rest of the drive train to handle the 200 hp than the Zetec cost)
If you want something that looks original under the bonnet then a Twink is your only option.
If you want something else then the decision is not so clear cut.

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PostPost by: gus » Tue Jun 21, 2016 1:02 pm

I would suggest building the twink in the most modest way possible. It is truly pretty close to SBC cheap when you do this. There is nothing tricky about it and a standard machine shop should not be the least bit concerned.

Most machine shops will leave too much clearance in the valve guides, and if it needs valve seats you will want to ask them how they intend to remove them. Anything involving a cold chisel is the wrong answer. If it needs bucket liners[it shouldn't] that is fussy.

build the engine and drive the car. Then you will have enough information to decide if you want more horsepower or if it is too troublesome

Other than a propensity for leaking oil, I have found the twink is not in and or itself troublesome. It was probably designed to last 50k miles or so, and will do that pretty reliably. The strombergs get sloppy round about 100k and you can get throttle shafts and bushings, but eventually the bodies are beat.
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PostPost by: Bill » Tue Jun 21, 2016 5:56 pm


Go with the Zetec.

I am doing the same with a '72 FHC on a Spyder chassis and running gear, I as well will retain the 4 speed transmission both for ease of swap and really no need for a touring gear here on our island (what is a high speed motorway?). I have a spare twink I could use but I prefer to keep it as a spare for my 1600 (S1).

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PostPost by: mbell » Tue Jun 21, 2016 7:32 pm

I think a lot depends on what you want to use the car for. A daily driver or long distance GT that will rack up lots of miles would lean me to a Zetec. A weekend blast, odd trip, show vehicle and something to spanner on I'd lean more to the Twincam.

As has been pointed out if you go to Zetec it's not a drop in replacement. I think you need to mod the chassis at the front cross member, Sort out engine mounts, coolant rail, fueling and ignition systems. These are probably going to add up to a decent amount of money a lot more than just the engine.

Have you actually assessed the condition of the Twincam?
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