Lotus Elan

New Plus 2, to me at least

PostPost by: Ross Robbins » Thu Mar 10, 2016 2:46 pm

I've just returned home with a Plus 2 to join my S2 and M100 Elans, so now I have one of each. After picking the car up in New York I had a bit of adventure in getting home to Colorado. Here's the story:

It seemed so simple…pick up the Elan Plus 2 I had bought and drive her home. In March. What could possibly go wrong? Well as it turns out, several things. Some were disclosed by the seller, some not; some just a small irritation, some far more critical. Here’s what happened.

When I picked up the car, I knew that there were several electrical things that weren’t working all the time as the car had sat and many of the grounds were probably corroded. But the big stuff - headlights, turn signals, windows, tail and brake lights - that was all working. And the seller had told me that the brakes had a long pedal travel but then stopped really well. So I figured I would only drive during daylight, leave plenty of room in front of me, and hope for the best.

I was picked up at the White Plains airport by the seller in the Plus2 and after stuffing my gear in the back seat area, proceeded to put on my seat belt. Problem 1: The passenger seat belt wouldn’t pull out of the retractor. Oh well, I was only going about five miles and then there would be no passenger until I got her home and could address that. After handling the sale paperwork at the seller’s house, getting a tour of same and loading all the spare parts and accessories into the boot, I got my first drive in my new Plus 2. It was dark, I was to back her out of the garage between a car parked in the drive and a huge tree, and I was unfamiliar with all the controls. I felt like a kid without a license trying to drive a stick shift for the first time…too many revs, too much clutch slipping, turning too much one way then the other. It was not pretty. But, I did get her backed onto the street and waited to follow the seller to my motel for the night, another six miles away. He drove as if I were incapable, a perception no doubt picked up by watching my reversing act, but by doing so he made it impossible to find a rhythm of the controls. Problem 2: One thing became apparent right away though, the brakes were not at all right. We made it to the motel and I parked the car to wait until daylight to see what the issue might be. We went to dinner and had a lovely discussion and great chicken parmesan, then he took me back to the motel and I, totally knackered, went straight to sleep. The Plus 2 waited.

When I awoke and went down to the car, I found about two inches of snow covering everything. Of course I had no snow brush so I asked the front desk for one and they came through. Snow was still falling so I wanted to get moving as soon as possible. Problem 3: The car would not start, cranking slowly and never catching. After what seemed like an eternity, it finally coughed once so I tried again and got two sputters, then a few tries later three and a hint of ignition. At long last, it fired and ran quite roughly. I warmed it as best I could until it finally smoothed a bit and backed out of the parking spot that faced downhill. I should have known better! With all my old Lotus cars, I try to leave a way to bump start, just in case. Now I had but 1,800 miles to go with snow falling, unfamiliar roads and grabbing brakes.

You already know I made it or I wouldn’t be writing this, so don’t worry and enjoy the story.

My plan was to drive to my sister’s home in Pennsylvania, but I was really concerned about the brakes so I drove to a shop where a friend works, Ragtops & Roadsters where I hoped a wiser and well equipped person might assist. Indeed, Dave had a couple of his guys see if they could eliminate the vacuum brake boosters from the circuit since I suspected that the pedal travel took too long to build boost and then it came on all at once. They disconnected the vacuum line to the boosters, leaving the hydraulic part alone, and I gave the car a try. Much better! While it took more leg pressure to actuate the brakes, it was very proportional, that is, light pressure gave light braking while more pressure added braking in a very linear fashion. Problem 3 solved…at least temporarily. Then I replaced the shift knob with a proper Lotus piece obtained from Ray at RD instead of the crummy Nissan Sentra looking rubber thing that was on the car at pick up. Problem number 4 solved. Things were definitely looking up.

On I went to the reception at the Lotus PALS event at Kyle Kaulback’s Lotus Barn. I followed Ray over in his Lotus Cortina and noticed I was doing a lot more steering than he seemed to be doing. Nonetheless I was able to keep up so I put that on the “watch” list. After someone pointed out that one of the fog lights was loose, procuring three of Kyle’s valuable washers and tightening everything up, I had solved problem number 5. After a lovely visit with all the PALS on to my sister’s house I went.

Starting out the next morning, I found the left rear tire down on pressure as I had been warned by the seller that is seemed to lose air a bit each day. I aired it up and filled the tank and hit the PA Turnpike. Two things became clear over the next couple of hundred miles…the tires needed balancing and Pennsylvania, despite usurious toll fees, ($26.75! Yikes) doesn’t spend enough on its road maintenance. The roughness of the road was part of the problem but the tires were also part. Since it was Sunday, I soldiered on to Indianapolis where I spent the night, then presented myself at Discount Tire before they even opened Monday morning. When they did open, the guy in charge told me they could not balance my tires because the manufacturing code said that three were made in 2004 and the left rear that was soft was made in 1996. I am sure the seller never knew this but I was stuck with problem 6, which I solved with a new set of tires. I was on my way about 9 AM so the delay was not too painful. The new tires were better, but not as much as I had expected. It turns out that they had 32 pounds of pressure in them so were too hard by half as the recommended pressure is 22 fronts, 26 rears.

Fighting a crosswind all morning I was worn by 10:30 so I stopped for a walkabout and a Coke. After my break I went to back the Elan out of the parking space, pulled up on the shift lever to bypass the reverse lockout as usual and the lever came right off in my hand! Problem 7. I managed to solve it by prying up the console and putting the lever collar back on the bolt that it was supposed to be on with a retaining nut that was missing. While I was now able to shift, I could not pull up on the lever so I would not have reverse for the rest of the trip. Sigh.

Onward I pressed and as the weather worsened to heavy rain squalls, I was gatoring all over the road, tracking left when the wind lessened then back to the right when a gust hit. After a while the rain lessened but the car kept ricocheting back and forth seemingly unwilling to track straight. Well the new tires weren’t enough to fix the problem, so I began to think of alignment as the answer to problem 6 continued or was this problem 8? Passing through St. Louis, I took a likely exit where there were a number of car dealers, thin king that one might have an alignment bay, but first, lunch. Pulling into a fast food parking lot, I noticed a place called Auto World, a NAPA Auto Care center and tire dealer. I thought I’d check with them before getting food so it was then I met Barry. Barry turned out to be my Guardian Angel, but at first he was just a guy at the tire shop. It turns out that Barry is the owner of Auto World and a real car guy. He had sent both his alignment guys to lunch, but took pity on my plight of wanting to get westward and took on the job himself. Lucky for me! I drove the car on the rack and went to get lunch. About a half hour later, upon my return Barry told me how lucky I was to have stopped when I did. Upon inspecting the front end, he found the real problem 8…all the tie rod end jam nuts were loose and the right one was about three threads from coming apart! Who knows what would have happened if it had, but the wheels would not have been pointing the same way.

Having no specifications for a 45 year old Lotus, Barry suggested using early Miata specs, as it is a front engine rear wheel drive car of about the same size and weight. It sounded good to me so that is what he did. Oh, and the alignment was corrected from its previous 1.25 degrees of total toe in, to a proper 0.25 degrees total toe in. It had been set with about five times as much toe in as it should have…no wonder it was gatoring! From that point on, all the way to my night’s destination of Manhattan, KS, AKA the “Little Apple” I was finally at peace with the car and my purchase. From there to Colorado Springs was a simple cruise…as if I were in an ordinary and modern car.

All this story does is remind me that the purchase of any old car is only the beginning of the adventure, regardless of how well cared for it seems, and that the old saw about LOTUS standing for Lots Of Trouble - Usually Serious, is simply wrong. It really stands for something much more romantic…Lots Of Travail, Usually Solvable. Thanks to fine folks like Barry.
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PostPost by: lotusgagne » Thu Mar 10, 2016 6:33 pm

Nice addition not only to your collection, but also to your book 'Road Trips' which I enjoyed so much. Looking forward to your next purchase and story!

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PostPost by: vincereynard » Thu Mar 10, 2016 6:49 pm

1800 miles in an old, unknown Lotus, starting in a blizzard. Respect indeed, I am in awe of you Sir!

I had my doubts about 200 miles. Well done you.

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PostPost by: Matt Elan » Thu Mar 10, 2016 8:22 pm

Wow - II reckon you've got a good car there; it got you home safe and sound and gave you a great story on the way.
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PostPost by: The Veg » Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:05 pm

Very cool Ross!
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PostPost by: gus » Fri Mar 11, 2016 12:49 am

Good for you

As I read, I knew what the end would be, a Plus 2 should be a comfortable highway cruiser, requiring a bit of attention but not affected by wind rain etc. the front end being amiss was obvious

Glad all ended well
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PostPost by: Stevie-Heathie » Fri Mar 11, 2016 8:53 am

Wow, quite a story. Congratulations on the new acquisition!

Steve
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PostPost by: trw99 » Fri Mar 11, 2016 12:52 pm

Nice story Ross, thanks for taking the time to post it.

Tim
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PostPost by: Ross Robbins » Sat Mar 12, 2016 1:39 pm

Thanks for all the kind comments. As Claude notes, this is normal behavior for me when I find another Lotus. It is my 11th trip home in a newly acquired car, six in old Lotuses. What this means Vince, is that I am genetically doomed to look at 1,800 miles in an old Lotus as no big deal. It was far less formidable than facing 1,350 from Snohomish WA in a right hand drive Seven with no top :D
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PostPost by: billwill » Sat Mar 12, 2016 2:15 pm

Is it this poorer modern rubber that has led to short lifetimes (in years) of modern tyres?

I don't recall any hint of a lifetime as anything other than insufficient-tread-left in the early days of Elans.
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PostPost by: The Veg » Sat Mar 12, 2016 4:07 pm

Is modern rubber really worse, or have our expectations crept up over time with the evolution and improvement of just about every product we use? I'm inclined to think the latter.
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PostPost by: Ross Robbins » Sat Mar 12, 2016 10:16 pm

Bill,

This should probably be moved to a tires or TYRES thread, but the reason a shop won't repair or even balance older tires ( I think anything over 10 years but am not certain) is liability and nothing more. :roll: The quality of rubber compounds is probably better due to rubber/chemical technology.

I offered to sign a waiver but even that wouldn't suffice. It is our USA cultural shift from Caveat Emptor over to a Merchant is always responsible stance that makes merchants wary of lawsuits, I think. Tis a shame too since a lot of tires that have sat in cool dry storage are fine and lumping them all under a blanket policy that requires discarding them all without inspection after a given time is quite wasteful. Rant over.
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