As we cross into 2022, the good news is that my E39 has not misbehaved any further. But other than that, I feel like much of my time has been spent in a bit of automotive limbo. Once again, I’ve been distracted from my stated winter project of pulling the head off Louie, my ’72 2002tii, even though I’d put the car in the garage’s left rear parking spot, the Dead Project spot that neither occupies the Live Project location on the lift nor blocks other cars.
But then, in an odd echo of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I was visited by three Lotuses.
Two of them appeared together on Craigslist. A guy in nearby Andover was selling a drivetrain-less ’73 Elan +2 as well as a V8-swapped ’76 Eclat, both off the road for decades and stored together in a rented one-car garage via an ingenious homemade lift arrangement that stacked them. Unfortunately, the house where the garage is had been sold, and the cars’ days there were numbered.
The Eclat is a 1970s wedge car, the fastback version of the Gremlin-like and truly bizarre-looking Type 75 Elite hatchback. The fact that it was cheap, had a Rover 3500 V8 in it, and ran made me curious enough to go look at it.
But it was the other car that really piqued my interest.
The Elan +2 is sort of a stretched wider Lotus Elan with a hardtop and a back seat, but it has its own lines and is a serious lust car for me. The +2 shares the Lotus-Ford twin-cam engine with both the Elan roadster and my Lotus Europa, but unfortunately, the drivetrain was out of the car—and the engine was in pieces. Having bought my Europa with a seized engine, I know all too well the time and expense needed to rebuild it. At least the engine in mine was complete.
I drove to Andover twice to look at both cars. The first time, the Elan was still hanging from the ceiling of the little garage, but the Eclat was in the driveway. It started, and sort of ran, but it was in need of a brake-bleeding to make it drivable. The Eclat has an unusual inboard rear-drum brake configuration that makes it difficult to reach the bleed valves without raising the back of the car, and that can be challenging on a fiberglass-bodied car.
A week later, the owner told me that he’d lowered the Elan to the garage floor, and with it down, I could safely poke and prod it. So I went back a second time with ramps and bleeding tools and helped him bleed the Eclat. He was extremely grateful. I wouldn’t say that it was an excuse to go see the Elan again—I would’ve helped him with the Eclat anyway—but the Elan was whispering “save me” in a voice that was difficult to ignore.
There was no pretending that the little Elan +2 wouldn’t need everything. It made no sense, but I wanted it, and I did think that it was “space-worthy.” The problem was the fact (well, I should say “among the many problems was the fact”) that this would be a capital-D capital-P capital-C Dead Project Car, one that most certainly should be put in the left rear Dead Project spot, as it would likely be there for years. If I began tearing the head off the 2002tii, my ability to pull it out of the Dead Project space, get the Elan back there, and the tii back in the garage would be severely challenged.
I began clearing out the fourth space in my garage—the one where the tii should go if I wind up with the Elan. The one in front of the Dead Project spot. The one that I have to slide a car sideways on wheel dollies to use. The one that is usually occupied by the welder, project-related flotsam and jetsam, and boxes of just plain junk.
Unfortunately, right in the middle of all this, I learned that I’m losing my garage spaces in Fitchburg.
This didn’t strictly make acquiring the Elan impossible, but it did put it squarely in you-should-have-your-head-examined territory. So I did what I so often do: I tried to keep my options open. I vultured on the Elan +2, letting the seller know that if the guillotine comes down on his rented garage space, I can show up with a day’s notice, load the Elan on a trailer, put some cash in his hands, and make the car go away. It’s probably not going to happen, but until I know for certain, I’m hesitant to rip Louie’s head off and make it immobile in the dead project spot in the garage.
The visitation of the third Lotus was actually a re-visitation. It’s the one I already own—the ’74 Europa Twin Cam Special. This is the car that sat in the Dead Project spot for six years, from when I bought it in 2013 until I finally got the engine rebuilt, the drivetrain back in the car, and the thing running in the spring of 2019. I have a number of things to do to it over the winter, so it is competing with the E9 for the hallowed Live Project spot on the mid-rise lift. For the moment, the Europa has won.
Shortly before New Year’s Day, I began a project to pull the transaxle in order to correct something I’d gotten wrong when I’d reinstalled it. There are large finned nuts on the sides of the transaxle with seals in the middle; they’re notorious for leaking. I’d replaced one of them without fully understanding how the finned nuts pre-load the bearings that the output shafts run on, and had introduced a large amount of lateral play in the transaxle’s output shafts. After a lot of reading, I came to understand that in order to adjust the play, I needed to pull the transaxle, remove the bell housing, and take a direct measurement of both the play on the crown gear and the force required to spin the differential carrier. I’m in the middle of all this as we speak.
Unfortunately, as we all know, things explode in size when you take them apart, so the open floor space in the garage is now occupied by a partially disassembled Lotus transaxle.
In this weird and strained analogy, I guess that the Eclat is the ghost of Lotus Past (as in “I passed on it”), the Europa is the ghost of Lotus Present, and I’m still hoping that the Elan +2 is the ghost of Lotus Future.
But hey, at least there’s no evidence that the E39 is still leaking coolant. So limbo notwithstanding, I guess that the year is off to a good start.—Rob Siegel