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You Buy an Elite (#1073) with “Race History”

Written by Roger Morgan.


The 1960 Melbourne Motor Show Car …. a likely fact when you make the decision to purchase.

Discoveries come thick and fast (for an Elite owner!)…over the five years, since an emotional purchase one discovers:  It was the first Elite demonstrator and the first Elite to race in Australia. The first Elite to circulate at the legendary Bathurst circuit – albeit as the course car at the Easter meeting in 1960. The first Elite to make its way across to Western Australia to participate in a 6 hour race,  and  the first Elite to have a race “incident” in Queensland, Australia

Over 5 years you identify, confirm and communicate with 11 of the 12 previous owners, across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia – and the first owner now living as far away as Nelson, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Discovered are over one hundred photographs of the car from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, many of the car on various race tracks around Australia.   Find “Others” who drove the car  “in earnest”  in South Australia and Western Australia,  before it was purchased by the first owner as a “New Car”,  and confirm details of the major and minor skirmishes in which your pride and joy has previously been involved….It’s an Elite with “Race History”….after all….

All this adds to the mystique…You are the guardian of an “Elite with Race History”.

Then the time arrives to restore her to her former glory….

A strip down is relatively easy, I am told, aided by the fact there are so many missing bits it can’t take long, can it? Then you get to the immovable, seized nuts and bolts, many of which were obviously welded together when she was built. The perfectly rounded nut and bolt heads, the door without hinge bobbins, the seats marginally held in by the carpets, the electrical harness featuring at least two additional joins in its length, and with several changing  sets of wiring colours about her .

The Series 2 Royalite panels in an early Series 1 Car, and a few missing fiberglass “items”, gave a clue to the availability of Lotus parts in the Antipodes in the 1960s. Cars were available – parts were not.

When I purchased the car I was advised by others and persuaded myself the good news was that the owner before me had #1073 running well, true and straight, and the engine “was really strong”. All looked well on the surface, although the passenger front wing, which was involved in two “minor incidents” in Adelaide, South Australia during the late 1970s just didn’t look quite right…

November 26th  2010 was my first working day, I worked four days a week until end year,  stripping the car totally, almost 3 days of which was taken up removing the 8 inboard diff/rotor/ drive shaft bolts and painstakingly trying to remove the 2 bolts holding in the bonnet hinges…..the bobbins rotating freely in the fiberglass adding mightily to the time. I almost got to the point of wrenching the things out of the body………I lost 3 weeks of January 2011 waiting for the sodablaster, who then removed all traces of the four colours she had been painted (this was helpful in confirming at least one previous owner) although it did remove and expose most of everything else which required work, during which time I was generously given access to a bead blaster to clean up all the mechanical bits ready for a new finish.  

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Ownership - Day 20 – After strip-down

I should give credit and thanks early and often to Bruce Mansell, Elite connoisseur and restorer  who has restored a number of Elites to a very high standard – he has given me space, time, advice and support as I have made my way through months three and four …….

I set myself a now optimistic target of 7 months to get the car stripped, repaired, painted, reupholstered and fettled, and I not once gave up on my unrealistic target…Greg Paris said the target was “ambitious”, David Haydon, a close friend and owner of 1141, advised “4 weeks to strip and 20 years to rebuild” – but, I am still full of enthusiasm, still working four days a week and itching like blazes from the fiberglass blades and shards which permeate my exterior being. On the inside, aside from the fiberglass dust, I am more committed than ever to getting my Elite in the best possible condition, considering my start point with a well abused and now well loved car.

When “We” got our first look at her after the paint, filler and fiberglass plasters came off at the end of month two, various comments were made as to the most appropriate way forward, including “Get yourself a New Body” – but then it wouldn’t be a Car with History…would it?

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After soda-blasting

The 1961 rollover at Lakeside I knew about…..Roy Compton the driver had told me he was surprised he walked away from the crash…… Rather he was carried away unconscious….He told me the car was repaired very well, and in fairness they did do a pretty good job – new drivers side front wing and side repair done well, ripped off bonnet rather less so, new drivers door appeared well made, but the sharp bits of fiberglass left to penetrate or grab me under the dashboard and in the trunk were not appreciated.

The join down the front bonnet was done well, but the bonnet release mechanism went into a “box of bits” which thankfully made it way via 10 further owners to me…..

Other required bits which separated from #1073 in that rollover did not find their way down the years to me, and over the past five years I have put together most of the missing pieces, which means other Elite owners are missing bits for their Car, or more likely a donor car has finally departed the Elite register.  As with all early Lotuses, only the exact number of components for the production run made its way to Hornsey or Cheshunt. Thankfully most parts can now be sourced, but there are a few missing treasures – like the interior light, or door courtesy handles which are either made of unobtanium, or require a bank loan to advance a purchase. Thankfully one can now buy the original interior light “in ounces of gold”, my car having only rusty wires hanging down from the roof when originally purchased.

The 1970s incidents in Adelaide which were variously attributed and described by 3 past owners were not so well repaired…..One mechanic who worked on the Car at the time advised me that ”She’s only a race car mate…..i was told to fix her up, and get her going”.

The one inch thick fiberglass addition to most of the passenger wing came off eventually, the gaping hole left originally looking to be an easy repair, until we got the car onto a rotisserie and found the layers of fiberglass matting,  and pounds of resin rammed behind the headlamp ……..it’s like uncovering the entrance to “King Tuts tomb” and then discovering the 50 tons of sand, silt and unexploded grenades only the pharaohs could leave behind……….”Cut that bit off” says Bruce, after I had spent days delicately peeling back the layers……”We’re almost at the point when it’s worth taking out the Ski”….says Bruce……The under Ski panel  had a beautiful piece of artistry in filler across the surface, possibly initiated by the car being jacked up centrally on this most delicate of areas, or more likely from a” whack” on something hard on the underside of the car, a high kerb or rock , again possibly related to the Lakeside rollover which also likely modified the ski geometry.

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Passenger wing after patch removal, taking cast, final result after weeks of work.

The Ski comes out, rust free thankfully, but the driver’s side wishbone mounts point drastically in different directions, how the previous owner got her to steer in a straight line has me beat, although it explains the various non original bushes on that side of the car…….

Without Bruce’s help I would be “funuggered”………The Ski is straightened, I take it for hot zinc coating and it comes back with skew on the bush locations again…….probably due to the heat of the coating process, or being thrown across the shop……

My intention was to undertake all  the work except paint and upholstery  myself…..that’s important to me, and having access to molds or other Elite bodies has made my life easy, if extremely itchy…

I  cast new fiberglass sections, including a new inner rear wing, an across car front under bumper section, the under ski area, a front  inner guard, an inner vertical headlamp area, and other smaller missing casts, repaired damage to a sideways hit on the rear passenger side where copious layers of glass had been added to the outside of the moldings, rather than correctly laminating single or double layers to the interior and exterior……and I have repaired all other damage, or oversize original  holes on the underside of the CBU and to the interior of the car and  cosmetically improved the underdash area…by removing sharp hanging cured fiberglass matting, designed to shred fingers and penetrate any nearby body part.

I added a single layer of glass to the driver’s side front bulkhead, previously when braking hard it was possible to gain considerable movement in this area, and added a single layer to the previously paper thin area behind the spare wheel well... where the footman’s loop should be mounted………water passed freely through this molding which clearly lacked adequate resin in various locations.

The Ski went back in mid April. The front of #1073 was then as complete as it ever could be, only sanding and cosmetic stuff remained. I can now rotate the car in the rotisserie and get on with external body work (after tidying up the internal floor) and three more months of my original seven month target remain.

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Ski after straightening, zinc-coating ski into the CBU.

At this point I also committed to my gorgeous wife that I will find her an Elite which  will have an easier start point to a full restoration.

A car without Race History preferred…and Bruce advised me Series 2 cars are “much better”…

August 18th and 19th were auspiciously days after 7 weeks at the body shop during which 13 days  work were completed the car is in paint. Ibis Weiss for the informed, Lamborghini/Audi Ibis White for the non German speakers.

My seven month target is long gone, I am now at 9 months this week, and I am optimistic (who am I fooling?)  that another 2 months could see the car restored to her former glory. My wife wants the car to have a name – I favour “Flat Bottomed Girl” a la Queen whilst Tess favours Ellie. Or maybe Melba (the Melba...motor show car) but as yet we don’t have an agreement.

So why am I late, Bruce and my “paint shop” (they would be offended to hear them described this simply) instilled in me that the final paint quality will be down to how well I can get the body in shape using fibreglass before its primed, filled, blocked and all pin holes are fixed. So 364 fibreglass repairs in total, both front and passenger wings  had  flat top surfaces, careful additions of thin glass mat and gel then sanding and sculpting led me to the correct shape.

54 small fibreglass patches on the roof  to fix flat spots left when the car was power planed in preparation in the 80’s to get quick coats of red acrylic on her for racing.....Having a nice, well shaped body unit in glass was clearly not a priority.

The passenger wing took most of May to repair, achieving the correct lip on the guard, and matching the driver’s side shape took endless days.  I have to say I am most proud of the work done in this area. I wanted the car to measure up and look as it did in 1959, when it was first built, and without adding unnecessary weight.

Then I got sick and lost nearly a couple of weeks. The water channels surrounding the boot and bonnet were next and took me too many hours, partly as a result of the bonnet leaving the car at speed in the 1961 Lakeside episode, and my fingers were sore – the only downside to glass fibre work is the dust and the pain from the glass shards, but ultimately this work paid off.

Did I mention the doors - The driver’s door was repaired after being badly damaged after “the Lakeside incident” in 1961, the passenger door had no mounting bobbins for the hinge bolts – at least it explained why the door sagged....Most of June went on the doors, the boot lid and the striker plates which cover the hinges in the front door wells, which were handed down to me in the late 70’s BRG paint colour, damaged of course.

By July 2011, I had all these fibreglass components in good order, 30 or so repairs on the doors, replacing filler with glass, fibreglassing non standard speaker holes, which were not in a common location each side.  All these items ended up looking pretty good.

A new bonnet with NACA duct was made in Bruce’s shop. The “original bonnet” weighed more than 15 kilos – the new one, maybe 2.  A trial fit for a rebuilt Coventry Climax 1460cc  engine and 5 speed gearbox was undertaken in early August,  since I am putting the original engine and non synchro Magnette based four speed box aside.

I could go on about the fibre glass work, how the seats were held in by the carpets, or the repairs in the boot. Let’s just say the car has now been lovingly restored to the satisfaction of Bruce and Nick Mansell........and I need to move on, and return the shed space to Bruce.

And then there is the rest of the car.....New front shocks, new bushes, nuts and bolts all round, new rear two piece outer drive shafts with sealed bearings to replace the original shafts held in with Fiat Conical bearings which don’t hold grease......This is a mod developed by Peter Joy in the UK who successfully rallies an Elite – better him than me.....

All the mechanicals have been bead blasted, painted and are ready for re-assembly, during the time the car was “resting”  at the painters.

When Bruce and I trailered the body unit to the body shop on 9th July 2011 we both believed she was in excellent shape. It was clear that wasn’t the view “from the paint shop management”, although 4 weeks later there was an acknowledgement from those who worked on her that in hindsight the shape had actually been very good.....it just didn’t look that good, because of the various tints that displayed themselves across the CBU. Lotus sticking the original fibreglass laminations together with resin and slate dust gives the car a weird look that can hide its true shape.

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Heading to the paint shop.

One day of two pack priming, and “Nikki” left the car looking different and better, but then pressure of work in the shop had her sitting for four weeks with no advance. Things changed mid August and a solid 10 days of body prep work by 2 of us brought her to the paint booth.

3 coats of Glasurit paint over a thin coat of poly primer brought out what had been achieved over the painful days of fibreglass work and sanding at the shop,   which had left me with stubs from my previously manicured nails – I’m kidding about the manicures, but I did have good nails, now worn down on the sanding blocks and sheets.

You may not appreciate the magnitude of achievement from the photos, but those who have seen her appreciate the enormity of the difference.

22nd August brought the CBU back to my workshop – I took a week’s rest to organise stuff that still needed to be achieved before the rebuild, and then on to the fettling of the new gearbox and rebuild of a “new” 1460cc ex Firepump Coventry Climax engine, again with help, support and shed space from Bruce Mansell.

Bruce makes many new Coventry Climax tuning bits – variable cam pulleys, water pump assemblies, the Peter Joy rear hub conversions and full sump block strengthening kits, with additional centre main cap in steel to stop the 3 bearing crank twisting itself out of the block. We are lucky in Australia to have Bruce, his knowledge, helpful attitude and tuning bits and occasional finds of ex Aussie MOD Coventry Climax Firepump engines, many of which have Car cylinder heads and cranks. This allows one to effectively put a new engine in the car at an affordable, if not cheap price.

I suspect that nowhere else in the world has Climax engines known and yet to be discovered as in Australia

Whilst the crank, rods, flywheel and clutch stuff had been away being balanced I got on with sourcing modern thin soundproofing material for #1073......Dynamat Xtreme, the chosen material is barely 2 mm thick, but it substantially reduces resonance, and sound levels although its almost as expensive per kilo as the “stuff” my young wife smooths on her well appreciated appendages.

Friday 9th September 2010 had the engine completed, running on the floor of Bruce’s workshop and the car soundproofed ready for assembly.

Monday 11th September I have other pressures from my manageress, but come Tuesday 12th September I will start to rebuild her. 10 months have passed by, i am much the wiser, understand my Elite much more intimately and look forward to her completion.

The second and final part of my journey  will be published in  a future CEN taking you through the final rebuild experience with me.....Enjoy your Elite  driving or ownership in the meantime...

Roger Morgan, #1073 Guardian, NSW, Australia
Copyright © 2012 Roger Morgan  All rights reserved.