Restoring the Elan
In 1985, I sold my immaculate 2002 tii. It went for about 45% more than I’d paid for it, due to German mark rising against the dollar.
My first 2002 came in 1969, so I’d been driving the same basic car for 16 years. I loved them both, but became a bit bored.
(The only difference between them was flipping the wiper and blinker light handles at the steering wheel. For a month or two after getting the tii, whenever I made a turn, the wipers swept across the dry windshield. Hard for me, apparently, to relearn stuff.)
The tii had some modifications and was close to perfect as it wasn’t my daily driver. A guy came to see it from Long Island. He walked into our house, stood in the center hall, saw the large sunken living room and the yard through that.
He said, “Dis is claaass.” I didn’t like him and thought from our conversation he wouldn’t care for the car the way it merited.
I sold the car to a young fellow from MI, for a couple of hundred less. He was a real enthusiast.
The next week my friend Bruce told me a story he’d just heard at work. Seems a guy wouldn’t sell his BMW to a guy who offered more than the other buyer.
“Uh, I know, Bruce. That was me and it was the right thing to do.”
Next, a 1972 Elan Sprint was flat-bedded to my house. It was the color I wanted, sort of refrigerator white, which seemed to have a tint of blue in there.
I got it running, but the Stromberg carbs did not perform well. A chance came up to buy my friend Lee’s twin-cam. Built with Webers by QED in England, it ran beautifully and had about 160 hp. It was quick.
But, I’d also driven Lee’s Spyder chassis/suspension car and it felt much better than mine. Lee had bought a Dave Vader aluminum block, 2-liter engine; 200 hp and 200 tq. This made his Elan faster than the original 289 Cobra he’d bought in college. Forget quick; it was fast!
First drive with the new engine:
I had a partner in the car when I first got the Elan. After I got it running, I offered him the first test drive….after we put the wheels on.
I showed him the “buttons” that had to go into the corresponding holes on the Panasports and instructed him to make very sure each wheel was properly mounted.
When he drove down my driveway with me as the passenger, I yelled for him to STOP!
All four corners were wrong, with the wheels wobbling. I rolled out the floor jack and redid them. Randomly, you’d think he could get a least one right….
Now ready, we drove away. Except, he forgot to release the handbrake.
Our partnership was an unhappy one and a few months later, I ended it.
Those little emergency brake pads are very expensive. I had them relined locally once, much cheaper.
Then, I learned that a spring installed at the parking brake mechanism kept the pads from contacting the rotors and wearing early. Thanks, Lotus Club “ReMarque”.
But, Lee’s car felt so good, so solid that I went to the next stage.
So, I decided to order the Spdyer chassis, suspension components and roll cage. I’d already done their rear axle conversion, leaving only one Rotoflex per side. The CVT version was not yet available, so I used U-joints. The car didn’t do that rubber-propelled surge down the street, which makes it look like one doesn’t know how to drive.
I’d changed the old suspension bushings before I knew a Spyder chassis was in my future. I had no compressor then and didn’t think of an electric cutoff wheel. Instead, I stupidly used a single blade hacksaw handle and cut through the bolts. This took 5 nights of unpleasant work.
I wanted to use the yet-unpurchased Spyder suspension arms, but my friend Bill (race car mechanic) pointed out that if I hit a curb, the Spyder units were so stout that the impact would bend the old sheet metal chassis.
To help with the chassis change, my friend Bill was willing to work for $200/day and had built Lee’s car. I learned a huge amount working with Bill, a good teacher.
It took us one day to remove the body. I had to round up neighbors and a gardener I knew. We picked the body up and put in on the other side of the garage.
Bill could see I was surprised at getting this done on the first day. I was now committed. (As many thought I should be….)
We set the new chassis on jack stands and began pulling all the old parts off the old unit that we’d need. This was pretty much everything but the sheet metal suspension arms. Yes, the ones with the new bushings.
I cleaned and often painted all the old parts. I bought new metal brake lines and I managed to bend them by hand perfectly, each with a straight shot to the connectors to make life easy in future. (Bill was impressed, he claimed…)
We installed the new suspension on the car; it would be helpful when putting the engine in, being able to roll the car forth and back.
I have maintained that the Elan weighed 5 pounds more than it had to. Because every bolt had either Locktite or anti-seize – or both – on it. When it came time to refresh the front suspension bushings, the job was easy and quick.
We began the project in late fall. I had a salamander space heater, which made the temperatures decent and bearable.
I had a wild, pet squirrel “Petey”, who would come when I called her and sit on my lap and eat peanuts (hence the name). She loved coming into the garage and hanging around with us.
Of course, she did. It was warm and peanuts were in stock.
One day, I was under the car, with some heavy part in one hand and a wrench in the other. I always wore coveralls to keep warm and clean.
Petey came in the partly open door and walked over. Then, while I was straining to install the part, she went through all the pockets of my coveralls, looking for peanuts. “Very goal-oriented squirrel”, I thought.