Right from the start, we determined a primary goal would be to keep the car looking completely original. It was an original sample, nothing non-original had ever been done to it and of that we could be sure. I was the only owner (nearly since new) and had supervised all prior repairs. I had retained and still had every invoice for all work ever done to the car and still do. The biggest question was to “restore” or to “rebuild.” Lotus Elan owners have one of the most active and knowledgeable owners groups in the world. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands of rebuilds and restorations have been done and learnings in key areas well documented. This provided a rich source of material which we could examine and learn from. At the end of the day, like Jay Leno, we decided to forego attempting to bring the car to the exact condition it was in when it left the factory but to in fact, make it better.
Our Goals: While keeping the car original, we would carefully consider all well-known and clearly documented improvements that can be made to the Elan. To us, improvements meant making it safer and more reliable while addressing weaknesses inherent due to age, areas of Lotus taking shortcuts or where modern technology has created better options. We took that approach, with the following guiding principles:
- 1) Use only original parts, wherever possible. Do nothing to change the essential look, feel or handling of the car. The implications of this were considerable and costly as times. (A couple of examples: We replaced the windshield with an original made in the UK, where shipping cost as much as the new windshield; we retained all the existing gauges when the cost of replacements would have been a fraction of what we paid to have them all completely rebuilt.)
- 2) When original parts have been surpassed with something clearly superior and better quality, use them, but use only the very best, highest-quality option available. (A few examples: electronic vs. old mechanical fuel pump, 5 lbs. alternator producing 60 amps vs. old 19 lbs. 20 amp generator, replaced frequently failing rubber donuts with a CV driveshaft conversion, larger high capacity radiator to keep the engine cool even on the hottest Arizona day.) A key decision was the chassis. Many undertaking a project like this replace the original chassis with a excellent replacement called the Spyder chassis. While it offers some advantages, in the end I concluded that my car was designed with the platform that came with it. The suspension and steering were tuned to the given torsional rigidity for the desired balance between handling, comfort and feel of the car and that changing it would compromise one of the original design criteria. Perhaps if my chassis had not been in such excellent shape, I may have changed my mind. But it had never been in a wreck and was remarkably free from any rust. So, we kept the original chassis and had a top fabricator apply the 26R enhancements to my existing chassis.
- 3) Have the best, most experienced person complete the portion of the job to which they are best suited. This meant the engine rebuild tasks would go to Brian Duffee of Duffee Motorsports, one of the premier engine builders in the country. Jim Unsworth would flow the head and rebuild the carburetors on his flow bench. Junior Rios would make the 26R chassis tweaks. Ken Gray at Dave Bean Engineering, owning the same year and model of car, would be deeply involved at every step. The bodywork went to an award winning fiberglass sculptor and painter whose prior vehicles adorned the covers of a variety of magazines. In short, nothing but the best. And of course, guiding the entire process would be Brian Buckland, the ultimate arbiter of what was most precisely the correct and right thing to do.
Common wisdom dictates that a task like this should be undertaken only if one has an ample amount of time, money and space. Circumstances had occurred so that I was fortunate enough to have all three.