As most of you know, my hobby is restoring old Lotus Elans. I usually find a cheap basket case that needs everything, drag it and all the boxes of parts home and then spend a couple thousand hours and tens of thousands of dollars restoring them back to a very nice stock condition. I try to make the restored Elan close to the way it came out of the factory. But I also put in a few tasteful upgrades here and there to make it run a little better, look a little better and be a little more reliable. I don’t scrimp on anything but I try not to be wasteful. I have no problem dropping $1500 to Dave Bean for a beautiful set of AVO shocks with upgraded springs and a rear coil over kit. Money well spent. A new big bore stainless steel muffler from RD Enterprises for $550 and a header for $285? Let’s do it. You’ve got my Visa card number on file. And JAE makes a real nice Elephant Hyde original style rubber carpet set for $450. I do try to spend some money at all our great Lotus Suppliers.
So this latest Elan project that I am working on (Elan restoration #9) is a bit of a challenge – even for me. It’s a basket case that I bought out of Columbus Ohio. I went and picked it up last year with Jeff Nack. We bolted the chassis down to some plywood on my trailer and strapped the bare body down on top of that. Every-thing else we piled into the back of Paul Quiniff’s Chevy Astro van. The basics were there: engine, trans, rear end, suspension and a lot of bits. But a lot of bits were either missing or pretty much useless.
This particular Elan had burned to the ground in 1978 and the guy in Columbus bought it and kept it in his garage since the fire. Over the years, he pulled a lot of things apart and acquired some used parts including another body. So this car has a matching numbers engine and chassis but not a matching numbers body. And this body is very tired and was off a right hand drive car. And this body is missing doors, hood, trunk lid, windshield frame and headlight pods. No wonder everything except the body and chassis fit in Paul’s van without any trouble. No worries. I have many spares at home and many new parts are available and I got the project at a fair price. It will just take time and patience and money. A good chunk of money and time and patience. Luckily, the overall prices for good Elans have crept up a bit recently. And the price of my Elan restorations have also crept up a bit. To the point where I actually make a little money on my restorations. Not enough to retire on but hey, I’m already retired!
So this Elan is quite a challenge. But don’t get me wrong; I know what to do and I’m going to make it right. It’s just that many things don’t fit quite right and take a LOT of fiddling to make all the things right. So I’m spending money and time and doing a lot of fiddling and for the most part things are going well. But there have been a few things on this car that have frustrated me because it was like throwing money out of the window. Or out of the convertible top. Here are a couple of the issues I have had…
Cost overrun #1 – Radiator. The stock radiator was not with this pile of parts that I bought. Luckily, I had a stock Elan radiator up in the garage attic. It needed a new core but that is no big deal. I just took it over to Mobile Services in Addison and they did a real nice job of putting in a new 4 row copper core. Had it done over the summer. Looked great. I stuck it back in the garage attic until I needed it. In the late fall I pulled the new radiator down and fitted it into the front of the Elan which was now ready. Chassis all done (powder coated) all new suspension, engine, trans and rear end all rebuilt and installed. And the Medici blue body was in place. Looking good! Or so I thought. I installed the radiator and had a good look. Hmmmmmm, better get the hood out and check the clearance Clarence. Sure enough, the radiator was ½” too tall. The Victor vector angle of the hood was hitting it at the corners. Now if this was a race car or a beater, I would have taken a little ball peen hammer to the corners of the upper radiator tank to make clearance Clarence and it would be over Oveur. But because I try to keep everything nice a pretty, it was not hammer time.
So I called up Mobile Services (No, his name was not Roger) to see what they could do about this. But hang on now, my super sensitive telephone ears (40 years with Illinois Bell, Ameritech, SBC and AT&T) detected a little call forwarding action going on with the phone call when I dialed Mobile Services in Addison. My phone call ended up at a radiator shop on Elston avenue in Chicago. Hmmmmmm. Apparently the owner of Mobile Services in Addison had passed away. His wife and one worker had tried to keep things going but they gave up and shut things down a month after I had my radiator done over the summer. I took my too tall radiator out to the shop on Elston in Chicago. They couldn’t just chop off ½ out of the core and they wanted a lot of money for a new, new core so I ended up at Rex Radiator in Bensenville. They replaced the too tall core with a slightly shorter new core. So in the end, the radiator cost me about $600. Not the end of the world but still twice the price that I should have had to pay. Oh well…
Cost overrun #2 – Windshield. I had picked up a good used windshield frame, fixed it up, painted it and installed it. (Here is a little side story. Next time you are looking at an Elan convertible, check out the wire that runs vertically up and down the middle of the windshield. The fiberglass windshield frame is some-what flimsy by itself. To the point that if you put the convertible top on and run the car at high speeds, it can literally pull off the top of the windshield frame which would make the windshield fall in on the driver and possibly decapitate him or her or both – not a pretty thought. So Colin Chapman in his wisdom wanted to fix this situation with the simplest and lightest possible manner. The wire that holds the top of the windshield frame to the bottom is actually a bicycle spoke. I’m not kidding! Check it out.) We now join our regular Lotus Notus article already in progress….
So this Elan project came with a used windshield wrapped up in cardboard and a blanket. When I finally got to the point where it was time to install the windshield, I pulled it down from the garage attic and gave it a good lookee see and a good scrubbing. Nope, this won’t do. A bit of yellowing and delamination around the edges. This won’t do for a pristine restoration. But not to worry (I’m thinking). I’ll just bring back the spare new windshield I have stored up the lake house. My next trip up north I slide the big box with 10,000 packing peanuts into the back of my Venza and bring it back to Des Plaines. Unfortunately… after removing 5,000 packing peanuts from the inside of the Venza and opening the box, I discover that not only is this windshield not new, it’s broken! A good break with about 5 inches from the passenger side hanging in the breeze. I still had my ebay receipt from my purchase 3 years ago. $185 for the windshield and $150 for shipping. I thought it was a good deal at the time for a new windshield. I went and looked up the place I got it from – no longer on ebay… oh well.
After some phone calls and internet searches I got a real nice new tinted windshield from Pilkington Auto Glass for about $260 delivered to a local distributor. Not bad. But still the overall cost to get a piece of glass cost me almost $600.
Cost overrun #3. The car came with the wrong gear shifter. (Did I tell you I got the project at a good price?) I knew I had a spare. Up in the attic I went. This spare was a shifter off my own S1 Elan that I had broken in two during a rally a long time ago with my very young son John. We ended up driving home 50 miles stuck in second gear. (No carbon on those pistons!) So I had previously had the shifter welded back together. It looked like a good weld but it was a bit rough so I had it chromed. Unfortunately, when I installed the freshly chromed shifter and was trying out the gears… it broke in two again – argh! A few phone calls and emails later I got a good used shifter from Greg Zelazek for $150 – Thanks Greg! Fair price. But still, I wasted $80 getting the original shifter chrome plated. Oh well… the car will be excellent when I am done. I’m just not sure if I’m going to make any money on this one. Maybe just some beer money. I guess I better stick with Miller Lite when it’s on sale.