There is a great movie called “A Brilliant Mind” in which Russell Crowe plays a genius who goes a little wacko but still comes up with an award winning mathematical equation while he was in a bar chasing women. The equation had to do with his odds of getting a woman increased as the males in the bar left or made total fools of themselves, thus making more women available to him. Well the same kind of equation applies with a Lotus restoration when it comes to figuring out where parts and things go. It has nothing to do with us getting lucky with women. Certainly the odds of that happening decrease BECAUSE we spend so much time with our weird car hobby.
Taking apart a car is relatively easy and fun. The challenge is figuring out where all those parts in all those boxes go back on the car. Just like a puzzle, you start with the easy stuff around the edges and work your way to the tougher items and in doing so, you have less choices as to where those parts will go.
In the game of chess, you always need to think and plan several moves ahead. As I worked on this Europa project, like any other restoration, I was always thinking several moves ahead. I would have several things in mind that I had to work on and get done in preparation to dropping the body onto the chassis. But now that the body was on, I was out of moves! I really hadn’t thought of what my next steps would be. So I got out some contemplation fluid, went up into the garage attic and dragged down a couple boxes of parts. Time to plan my next moves!
I started out by cleaning up the tail lights, polishing them and putting them on the car. Done – easy! Then I scrubbed down the side markers and put them on. Done – easy! Piece by piece, the parts began to disappear out of the various boxes. Choices among the various bolts and screws narrowed down too as the good ones went back on the car. I reused most of the bolts, replacing the rusty or stripped ones and used all new nyloc lock nuts and pretty shiny washers.
I started cleaning up the wiring harness. It was in pretty good shape. Not much grease, corrosion and muck but I still got out my can of lacquer thinner and a rag and started wiping it all down. I always keep a gallon can of automotive lacquer thinner on the work bench for cleaning up stuff. I have separate good quality lacquer thinner on the shelf for when I paint stuff. You don’t want the backwash from a dirty rag contaminating the lacquer thinner that you will be using to prime a part or a car. So anyway, I had picked up this particular can of paint thinner at a swap meet over the summer. It was a huge swap meet up in Wisconsin and the thinner was only $7 a gallon. I usually pay about $14 at AutoZone for weak Dupli-color cleaning thinner and about $18 for the good stuff at my paint supplier. With the weak Dupli-color stuff, you can slop a bunch on the rag and clean things with your bare hands. Your hands dry out but it’s not real bad. With the good stuff, if you get it on your hands it will tell you immediately if you have any open cuts! It will also turn your skin white and burn after a while. Good stuff! So as I opened this cheap-o can I found out one of the reasons it was so cheap. O-o-o-o-o-h that smell; it filled the garage and stayed there for days. Beware of the bargain!
As I cleaned off the wiring, I noted a long red wire that had been intertwined with the harness. I didn’t remember what it was hooked up to but I figured I would figure it out when I placed the harness back in the car. The wires usually aim themselves at the components they want to hook up with and as you hook up some wires you cut down on the possible places where the remaining wires can connect to. This long, long red wire was just a bare wire at one end with no connector, and it got cleaned from one end of the harness to the other and when I finally did get to the tail end what did I find? An alligator clip! Obviously not a permanent thing, at least I hope not. I was cleaning the last part of the harness, a black, rubber sheathed set of three heavy wires when Paul stopped in to chat. He looked at the wire and asked: why are you cleaning up an extension cord? Sure enough, between the fumes and the cleaning beverages, I wasn’t paying attention and I was cleaning an extension cord that was somehow now a part of the wiring harness. A previous owner had needed some wire to patch around something I guess. I guess I’ll have to figure out what that was used for as well. Hope it was not meant to be permanent either.
Christmas vacation week, 2007… Time to spend a whole week in the garage in between family get-togethers. I decided I wanted to re-veneer the dashboard and found that I had enough wood veneer left up in the attic from the last dashboard project. I stripped off the flaky polyurethane coated wood veneer and power sanded down the old wood dash. I trimmed the new wood veneer to a little bit bigger than the dash, pulled off the backing
and glued it in place. Now since winter was upon us, I needed to find a nice flat warm surface that I could place the dash on overnight with some large weights to compress the dash and the veneer together. Since Sue was not home at the time, I found this large, fiat, warm surface being the folding table in the laundry room. Sue was in a good mood when she came home later. (It’s amazing how a new pair of shoes can make a woman so happy, at least temporarily.) She didn’t blow up real bad when she found that I had borrowed a part of “her” laundry room.
The next day I quickly removed the dash from “her” laundry room and trimmed out all the openings and edges of the dash; turned out pretty good. It had a little lump where the wood veneer had a twist while it was stored in the garage attic for 20 years. I then started the process of applying multiple coats of clear polyurethane on the dash. I would apply a coat, let it dry in the garage all day and then sneak it into the computer room in the house to dry over night. The next morning I’d take it back out to the garage, block sand it down with 400-grit and apply another coat and repeat. The wood veneer was a little lumpy because of age so I put about 5 coats on before I cut out the little vinyl lettering that original Europa dashboards have so you know which switch does what. This is much nicer than the original Lotus Elans where you flipped a switch and had to listen and look around to figure out what it did. If in flipping the switch you heard noise than you narrowed it down to either the heater fan, the radiator fan or the windshield wipers. For that last one you did have another clue in that two tiny little wiper blades would usually begin floppingaround on the windshield. If the switch flipping didn’t invoke any noise it could be headlights or interior lights you just attempted to wake up. If any of the switch flipping caused smoke to appear then you knew that was the excitement switch!
I scoured the usual Lotus parts supplier in the USA but could not find a new crash-pad anywhere. A crash-pad is the vinyl covered pad that sits on top of the dash. The original one that came in this car was toast. Actually, toast would have been an improvement of what was left of the original crash-pad. There was a bit of very brittle dried up vinyl but it was mostly the orange crinkly foam that I had pulled out a couple years ago. In doing research on the net, I found a company in England called Banks Europa that supposedly made a real nice crash pad kit. A phone call later had one their kits on the way across the pond. Unfortunately the exchange rate was at an all time high and the only way to ship this thing was UPS. Ended up to be 95£ just for shipping! So the crash pad kit and a headliner cost me $450 – yow.
The crash-pad arrived and initially looked pretty good. Nice solid fiberglass shell in a perfect shape to fit over the dash. Nice double stitched, sewn rolled edge along the front to follow the front curve across from end to end. Unfortunately as I trimmed the fiberglass to fit perfectly I found that the vent openings were 1/2-inch off from where they needed to be. I measured things over and over and it appeared that my car, vents were in the right place, equidistant from center, but the crash-pad vent opening were offset to one side. So I had to spend a couple hours with the grinder, some fiberglass and Bondo to move the holes to where they needed to be. I then took the crash-pad and vinyl over to my upholstery guy to do the gluing. I wanted it done right and the compound curves caused visions of glue gone awry in my head. A man’s got to know his limitations!
Back to figuring out where all the parts go, I again went back to the method learned from the movie A Brilliant Mind in that I continued with the easy stuff, whittling down what was left to figure out. Often I would refer to the service manual or parts book for a clue. Once in a while I would have to consult an on-line repository of Europa knowledge called Europa Knowledge base. I do a lot of staring at the parts. Some things are easy; some take a lot to figure out. Sometimes I wish the parts would just fly on the car from me staring at them. Where is Samantha from “Bewitched” when you need her?