The Sagging Door Saga
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And now for a few words about the saga of the Elan S3 doors.
I'm open to be criticized at this point but from my research it appears that most, if not all S3-S4 Elan Coupe and Drophead doors were fitted incorrectly. Just have a flick through a number of the Lotus books and look for a second glance at either the right or left hand doors on either a S3 or S4. On the S1 and 2's the doors appear to fit more or less as they should. On the later models either the exterior body panel are warped or the hinge bobbins are slightly incorrectly placed. I have a sneaking feeling it is a bit of both. The problem occurs when you come to a restoration. "Is it correct to restore the car back to its original poor state of door fit or correct the problem so the doors will open and close as they should?" I have had many an hour of discussion over this point. Originality is paramount but in the end I have decided to correct what needs to be corrected.
The first thing that was done was to remove the doors and their hinges. Each hinge is meticulously cleaned, checked and greased. By then both the outside and inside panels of the doors have had all panels cleaned of the old paint. This takes at least four hours...per side! The electric door lifts are removed and the chrome surround is also removed. It is surprising at this point to realise how light the door structure has become. Place the cleaned hinge back into the door and finger tighten the four bolts that retain the units. Slowly reposition the door so as both the top and bottom neoprene hinge units are fitted into the hinge bobbins. I would suggest that before this point has been reached each hinge bobbin (and its neoprene male 'bit'), is checked for ovality and wear. If you find the slightest amount of wear, the bobbin units must be replaced. Remember if you wish the doors not to wobble when they are opened check the hinges very carefully.
Next position both the top and bottom hinge into place and tighten just beyond finger tight. Close the door and view its closure from the outside of the car. The front of the door can usually be aligned with some ease. The back usually makes an effort to come in at the top rear but goes walkabout to the bottom rear. My doors come out about a centimetre at the bottom rear. Now I could attack the bobbins and place them in another position to improve the realignment. Its one hell of a job and unfortunately after a little experiment it would not solve the overall basic problem....the doors are warped.
Kiwi ingenuity kicks into place at this point. The first thing I did was to place the door in its best position of alignment and torque up all the bolts. Open and shut it a dozen times just to check the position. Then make a cross on the door with a pencil to mark the centre of the vertical and horizontal positions of the major structure of the door. About 6" out from the centre and cross over point of the pencil marks drill two holes in the door skin on the horizontal plain. Not large but enough to take a couple small bolts. These bolts will protrude outwards about 1 cm when their nuts have been tightened and act as repositioning beacons (technical eh!). Now you are wondering what the hell happens next aren't you? Well it is now to take the door from the vehicle and place the door's inner skin down upon a Black and Decker workmate (thank's Ron) base. With the bolts protruding upwards towards you place two layers of release wax over the exterior skin of the door. Make sure you cover the bolts with a couple of layers of the wax. Work it well into the surface. Then make up a quantity of polyester resin and combine with a couple of layers of 1.5oz chopped strand glass fibre. Apply over the area that you have waxed. Then place two lengths of approx. 5cm x 2cm x 150cm wood horizontally along the length of the door panel and place within the recently laid glassfibre. Place another two layers of chopped strand matt over the wooded reinforcement formers. Let the unit dry over night and release in the morning. You have now a perfect rendition of the outside of a large area of your door. Before you release it from its base, mark clearly the top that corresponds with the top of the door (nearest where the glass is placed). Then release the unit from the door. There should be a crack and the unit will release itself with the two bolt holes clearly visible in the mould you have made.
With the door panel still in place on your bench, take an angle grinder and cut into the section of the door that supports the locking arrangement. Follow the line of the door around from where the locking catch was placed all away around the back end of the door and follow the inside of the bottom to within 25cm of the front of the door panel. Cut as close to the outside skin as possible without disturbing the line of the skin. Now go back along the cut and make the gap more prominent to the rear/ bottom of the door. I made my gap for the passengers door just over 1cm at this point. The gap tappers off progressively as you head along the bottom and to the top of the door. The door skin will become less ridged at this stage.
Take the door and position the hinges in place. Finger tight, then position and finally check and double check to obtain as close to a perfect fit that is possible with the original skin. Place the fibreglass mould you have made into its correct positions upon the marker bolts on the outside of the door panel. Depress the outside of the mould and observe if the door panel now forms back to its new and correct position. If this is successful drill two new holes through the mould and outside panel plus the fibreglass of the inside panel (the outside of the panel will start to resemble a slice of swiss cheese at this stage....holes). Place two long threaded steel rods through the mould/ outside and inside panels and bolt, with large washers, at both ends. Re-check the hanging position of the door again. Have a cup of coffee and check it again. Then slowly, very slowly torque the outside panel into its new position using the outside bolts. Very carefully screw them in and low and behold the outside panel will glide into its new (and correct) position. Check, Re-check and even check again. Leave overnight, a day, even a weekend. Check shut lines to be even and gaps to be the same. The new position should look good at all angles. Place masking tape around the outside of the door where the cut line/gap is apparent. The interior of the door should have been cleaned prior to the next procedure. Then place a thin layer of chop strand and polyester around the gap inside the door. Leave, wait and let cure. After about a day or so, very slowly release the two outside nuts that hold the rods in place and take off the mould. The panel will be in its correct position and a last check is required before the door is again taken off. Very carefully place another couple of layers of polyester and chop strand (or webbing if you have it) within the inside of the door to hide the gap with the door. Lastly take off the outside masking tape and either polyester or fill the small gaps that may be apparent.
And why don't they do this on most restoration I hear you ask. Cost is the answer. If you are paying an expert to attack the body the reforming of the door skins can add quite a few more pounds or dollars to a restoration. A great deal of love and patience is required to get it just right.
Oh by the way I haven't mentioned the door rubbers. They are very very important. If the type you have fitted are to wide, then the door moves even further out and if they are too thin.....water gets in! I was told that the original rubbers have long since gone off this earth. Not so I say! I managed to find 3 metres of the correct type a few months ago. It was hidden at the back of one of the original upholsterers in Auckland, New Zealand. We looked and looked for another three meters but nothing was found. On leaving I asked if he knew where he had seen this particular type. MG 1100 was the reply. And sure enough the next morning I found a MG 1100 in very smart condition just about to go to its maker-crusher. The door rubber is the same! You will find that the passenger door surround is the best. Most owners of MG 1100's never carried rear passengers (the rubbers become flat) and the drivers door becomes over used. I can't remember if the bowling hat in the rear shelve went into the crusher as well!