Step 6: Best Elan Anywhere? 2020 Update

After the Gooding Auction in Scottsdale in January of 2016, I was happy the Elan was to remain in my garage.  It turned out the winning bidder had not checked in with his spouse, and his surprise purchase had not been a good reception. In the classic chagrined line, “Apparently do whatever you want, didn’t mean what he thought it did.” In the July 2016 issue of Automobile Magazine they reported on my Elan crossing the block at $55,000 and reported it as a “Best Buy.” The last line read: “Well bought at this price, as you could not restore a mediocre example to this condition for the money spend.

Over the next several months, I began driving the car again, gradually becoming reacquainted with the many memories it brought back.  My awe at the Elan’s magically precise steering and exhilaration with the torque-y twin cam, are difficult to put into words.  It was no surprise  to hear when Gordon Murray, the creator of the McLaren F1, was asked “It’s your last day on planet earth, what road and what car would you choose?” that he replied without hesitation, “Oh that’s easy, it would be Scottish Highland and a Lotus Elan.”

I was so relieved my car had come back to me after the auction.  But now at 70 years old, my ingress to and egress from the Elan are more of a challenge than in my youth, and the Lotus is being driven less frequently.  When the other two leisure rides are a like-new 2002 Acura NSX and a new McLaren, the impetus to pop into the Elan and go for a spin has serious competition from its garage mates.  The Elan deserves to be driven and more frequently than I’m able.

Wishing to re-engage with the Elan in mid-2020 at the height of the Covid virus outbreak, the idea occurred to me to attempt to figure out what it would take to credibly improve the care even further.  While the car had been voted “Best Elan” at the National Lotus Owners event in August of 2015 in Colorado, I wasn’t absolutely sure why.  I knew the rebuild had spared no expense, was happy the the car was suitably gorgeous and gratified other Lotus aficionados appreciated the choices we’d made. Of course, we were lucky to have had no time or budget pressure and a spacious workshop. We’d also brought in the talents of the top Lotus Elan expert in the world to not only supervise and direct our efforts but lend a hand turning wrenches himself. This, coupled with having people recognized as the very best in their own areas of specialization, had resulted in a pretty spectacular car. Car experts for whom I have very high regard had told me it was the nicest Elan they’d seen. But still, I’d never judged a Concurs Event and I knew judges at these places could be rather picky.

Eventually I asked British car aficionado David Barnett for help.  His Lotus Elite has won just about every British Car event he’s ever entered it in.  It got to the point of embarrassment and he stopped competing with it.  David had also judged several competitions.  When I invited him over to do a full-on “inspection” of my Elan, I expected he’d come up with 4 – 6 things we’d need to address to “improve” my car a wee bit. I wasn’t prepared for two and a half pages of notes.

None of the items he found was anything major or big to fix. I soon realized I had another multi-month project on my hands, given how slowly and meticulously I like to do these things. But there was something else: some of these rather simple, easy, minor, nearly undetectable “issues,” ended up being rather involved to address.  Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Problem: One of the sun visors dips ever so slightly toward the middle. Unnoticeable if both visors are forward, but if pulled up to fully see the windscreen, they don’t precisely quite come together.
    Solution: Remove the material along the top of the windshield surround. Remove the sun visors. Examine the area where they were attached.  Ah, we found the problem.  On Brian Buckland’s recommendation, when the body was off the car, our body expert and fiberglass genius had reinforced the areas surrounding the windshield with additional fiberglass. In Buckland’s experience, sometimes when people get out of the car, they reach up and grab the corner of the windshield and, from the factory, it’s not very strong. So, we made it stronger.  However, in doing so, we now had extra fiberglass that distorted the mounting area of the sun visors. We fixed it by sanding down the area until the visors lined up properly, while retaining the extra reinforcement.
  2. Problem: The choke cable worked, but did not move perfectly smoothly. Solution: The fix required removing the dash to identify, locate, and tighten a loose nut. Although simple to repair, first loosening and pulling the dash back a few inches to allow access behind it, and then reinstalling the dash was time consuming.  However, we did use the opportunity to replace all of the original chrome dash bolts with brand new ones, as some of the originals had a some discoloration at their centers.

Conclusion:  2020-2021 has been working to address several of these cosmetic and minor issues.   In addition, one contributor on the bulleting board, going by the handle “1owner69Elan,” also helped a great deal.  He went through all of my photos and notes on the car and gave me a number of good suggestions.  When its your baby and you know why you did everything the way you did, it is terrific to get someone else’s take, and his was very helpful.  While this is an awesome car in just about every respect, I have learned I”m one of a long line of terrific people who have loved this model of Lotus and have poured time and money into rebuilding them.  Along the way, decisions and trade-offs are made, consistent with a set of values and goals, a vision if you will, for what each owner has in mind for his project and what he or she wants to have when its fully completed.  A panel of judges or even another skilled Elan expert may have different ideas and values and could have made other choices.  I’m totally fine with that. We had a clear set of objectives when we started this project and I am fully confident every decision made on this car was the right one – and consistent for my vision of what I wanted the car to be and in line with the superb advice and support I got from my coterie of experts and helpers. One of the most wonderful and rewarding aspects of a project like this is looking at all of the various options that occur, weighing each one carefully, making a decision and then executing to the highest degree possible.

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