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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Lotus Driving Experience and Tour

This past week, my wife and I went to Hethel to tour the Lotus factory and “experience” the Lotus Driver Training. First comment: Holy [email protected]#T!!

Patricko and SteveK have both posted some detailed comments on their time spent at Lotus :
http://www.elisetalk.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=5370

so I will try my best not to duplicate too much of what they said, and hopefully provide those interested with some information or details they’ve not yet heard.

For those of you planning to do this trip, getting to Lotus is fairly easy. My wife and I flew from Los Angeles to Norwich (pronounced Nor rich, forget the “w”) via a plane change in Amsterdam. 10 hour flight to Amsterdam, 1 hour flight to Norwich. Once you land, you’re just 30 minutes from Lotus!! We rented a car from Avis right at the airport. We had to get a Peugeot 307 so we could pretend we were Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen! I told the guy behind the Avis counter this and he just looked at me with a blank stare, not getting the WRC reference. So we hopped in the 307 and headed out. The 307 is has a manual transmission and this makes for very much needed practice time shifting with the LEFT hand as the cars you drive in the Lotus Driver Training are right hand drive. It is also a bit daunting driving on the left hand side of the road at first, but you quickly become accustomed to it. I highly recommend flying into Norwich as it is a relatively small city and that makes it easier to learn driving on the “other” side and it’s so close to Lotus.
If you go through Norwich like us, when you leave the airport, just turn left onto the A140 toward Ipswich. You drive a few miles then come to a round-a-bout that intersects with the A11 toward Thetford and London (right turn). In a few miles the A11 becomes a highway, after a few minutes you come to Windonham and an exit for B1135. DON’T take it. You want to go one more exit down to Mulbarton. Exit on the left and then stay left following the signs to Lotus cars._ From here you are 5 minutes from Lotus!
These pictures should help:
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
The weather was beautiful and the temperature was in the lower 50’s and very windy.

After a little excitement of actually being at Lotus, we drove around the corner to where we were staying: The Old Thorn Barn
http://www.oldthornbarn.co.uk/
We learned of this place through SteveK’s review. Danny Pickwell really is such a nice gentleman. Breakfast was very nice and the rooms were charming. It’s very clean and quite and I highly recommend it. It runs about $95 USD a night for a double bed. We unpacked our bags and then drove all around Hethel (which is about a mile wide!) Hethel is not a city or a town, but a “hamlet”. So there you go.
Then we just drove aimlessly around the area, getting back to the Old Thorn Barn around 6pm. Danny had said there was a good pub just around the corner called the Bird in Hand. So we headed over to grab a bite to eat. We got into the parking lot and this Caterham-ish looking car pulls in. It’s got a good rumble sound going and I walk up to the guy as he’s getting out and ask him about his car. His name is Andy and the car is a kit car called a DAX. He built the whole thing himself._ It’s got a ford V8. He says it’s got a lot of straight line power, but isn’t the very best handling machine on the road. I take a couple of pics and then find out that Andy is in town for the Lotus Driver Training and he’s staying at the Old Thorn Barn too. So we go inside and sit down. Shortly thereafter, John walks in and sits at a table next to us. Who is John? John is the guy who just pulled up in a racing green Lotus S1 and he’s here for the Lotus Driver Training and is staying at the Old Thorn Barn! We invite him to join us for dinner, and we all get to know each other. John just drove his Elise three and half hours across the countryside and is really looking forward to tomorrow’s experience.
John is 76 years old!
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
After eating, my wife and I walk up to the bar to pay the bill, and while waiting, I notice these two guys wearing these cool black Lotus Sport jackets. I ask them where they got those jackets, because I was in the store earlier that day and all they had were green jackets. They say they work for Lotus, and they can get me a black one like theirs! I introduce myself, and they introduce themselves. Chris Arnold! (co-founder of Lotus Sport and Performance!) and Glen Smith, works with Chris. I ask them if there are any plans for a supercharger and am told not any time soon. What about a limited slip diff? “We’ve already got that!” So there you go Just not for the Fed yet.

The next morning we went back to Lotus. Time for the Factory Tour! They normally hold tours on Wednesday, but we were able to get one on Friday. They just charge you a little more.
We arrived at 8 am for our tour. Everyone that works at Lotus arrives then too. This was cool because we got to see what everyone drives. Lots of different cars, but about 25% to 30% were the Elise. Of those, 90% were Storm Titanium. We couldn’t believe it. ST after ST pulled into the factory. (I later asked what the deal was with that and was told it can really handle the dirt the best).
Before the tour begins, they send you over to the Lotus gift shop to wait (and shop). Upon entering, you are first greeted with two Lotus vehicles in the vestibule. The Lotus Type 119 and the Lotus Type 119C. These are soap box racers! The Type 119C is the current world champion. In 2004 they set a record and blew away second place Bentley by 3.5 seconds. The actual Type 119C can be seen at:
http://www.tenlinks.com/news/PR/delmia/070504_soapbox.htm
and the alternative designs for it can be seen at:
http://www.sandsmuseum.com/cars/elise/thecar/alternatives/lotus119.html

In the main lobby of the shop sits a Federal Elise in what color? ST of course. On the walls are fancy posters of most all of the cars in Lotus’ history all the way up to the Exige. We were sitting on the couch there in the gift shop waiting when this guy quickly walks through the main door, across the lobby and over to the door next to us. He swipes his card through the security box, the door opens and he goes through. My wife and I look at each other: “That was Tony Shute!” We’re sitting in Lotus for less than five minutes and we’ve already seen the Head Project Manager for the Elise! Pretty cool. Our tour guide, Annette Lancaster, comes in and introduces herself. She’s very outgoing, cheerful, and enthusiastic, we can tell this is going to be a great tour. Two other guys joined us for the tour.
Off we all go to the factory. We head back outside to go to the production building. While walking across, we hear a terrifying sound coming from the test track which is 100 yards from us. Some car is being pushed to the limit, big time. Screeching tires give way to a screaming engine. RRRRAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!!!!!! An Arctic Silver Exige appears as a blur coming out of the Factory Straight and then blazes into the Clark and then the Chapman curves going SIDEWAYS at what must be around 100 mph through each turn tires begging/screeching for mercy!
“What the hell was that?” I ask. “Oh they’re just testing something.” Annette says as if cars drifting sideways at 100 mph is an everyday thing. (I guess it is for her!)

Then suddenly, we’re inside the factory. My wife and I couldn’t stop smiling. Here is where they’re all built! WHOO HOO! It is true that there really aren’t any machine sounds, just mostly the sound of music that they have playing while they build the cars. The first thing we see is where they glue the composite panels together. These panels are resin injected into molds in France. That’s right, every Federal Elise body panel is made in France, not Hethel. Once they come out of the molds, they are shipped to the factory at Hethel, and then bonded. Now if you own an Exige, the story is a little different. The Exige has all of it’s side panels made in France, but the front and rear clams are made 10 miles down the road from Lotus. The chassis is also made off site from the extruded aluminum at Hydro in Denmark.
So when the body panels come back, they’re all white and raw. They still have to have the edges cut off of them, and then all the little pieces and parts have to be glued together. The gluing process used to take 25 minutes to bond, but they have recently found a new bond that cures in 18 minutes, shaving 7 minutes off of each bonded component. Just seven minutes saved, but hey, you add up those seven minutes for all those parts and all those cars and that means you and I get our cars sooner! Speaking of which, each and every car takes about 104 man hours to complete, On average it takes about a week to 10 days to make an Elise. The bonding of the body panels takes about 2 and one half man hours to make per car. After the panels are bonded together, they need to be ready for the paint. The molded panels are so smooth that they actually have to be sanded to roughen them up so that the paint will stick to them.
We then walk over to the painting station. It’s a huge area that has various sealed chambers, but on one end it’s open and we can see some painters in their painting suites with all kinds of colors sprayed onto them. On the other side are some people in lab coats applying different waxes to some hard tops. These people are lined up and work in a “hallway” of fluorescent lighting so they can see the details clearly. The actual painting process is completely done by hand, using a water based DuPont paint. This paint is much more environmentally friendly, but a little harder to work with. There are six layers in the painting process. The first two layers are a primer. Each layer of primer gets cooked in the oven for 40 minutes! After those primer layers are done, then comes the actual paint. Again, two layers are used, but this time each layer is sent into the oven for 80 minutes per layer! Next comes the gloss. Two layers of gloss as well, each layer going back into the oven for 40 minutes this time. A huge amount of time is spent painting the cars. In fact, 26 man hours are used for the painting. This equates to almost 1/4 of the cars’ build time! Since this takes so long, they have the panels painted two days ahead of the production line.

From there we moved to another part of the building, the actual “production line”. Which is really two production lines. The two lines are each about 40 yards long. One line is strictly for the Federal Elise, the other line is for the Euro spec Elise, the Exige, and the Vauxhall VX220. For those not in the know, the Vauxhall is built on the Elise chassis and is extremely similar to the Elise, but has been “GM/Opel-ized”. Uggh.
The chassis comes pre-made and ready to go onto the production line. It rides a dolly, gets turned onto one side, and hangs from chains from a pulley above all at various points along the line. We entered the room at the “end” of the line, so to get to the front end of the production line, we walked along the back of the line. This wall is lined up with all the painted body panels for the cars they are building. All the panels needed for one car are shelved on a three layer shelf clustered together by themselves. Then two feet away are all the panels for the next car and so on and so on. There were about 18 “cars/panels” lined up, all extremely shiny new! Not a single Krypton Green, or Aztec Bronze, or Chrome Orange, or Aubergine Purple or Starlight Black, or Racing Green to be seen. Definitely no Lazer Blue either. There were lots of Storm Titanium, and Ardent Reds, a couple of Graphite Greys,one Bordeaux Red and Magnetic Blue, one Nightfall Blue and some Saffron Yellows.
And one other color. That’s right, one OTHER color.
I hate to even bring this up because they said I’m not allowed to talk about it. All I can tell you is that I got to see a “possible” new color that they are trying out. It was beautiful. And that’s all I can say. REALLY sorry about that.
I was all over that color, stopping to closely examine it while Annette was leading the others to the production line. “Stop looking at that color!” I get scolded and continue on to join my wife and the other two on the tour. “Is there a name for that color?” I asked? “No, it’s just –“ and she called it by it’s basic color.

So now we are at the start of the two production lines, and our path will be to walk along between the two of them. In between us and the actual people working along the line are big parts bins that they dive into and grab things from at various points. The production line is divided into five or six sections. Each section has a team of workers that put on and do specific things. A worker comes by and grabs a booklet out of a box on the floor. “What are those?” I ask pointing to the box. Annette explains that those are the actual build orders. Each booklet contains all the info for the car, the options, where it’s going, who’s going to own it, etc. It is at this point I contemplate grabbing the 50 or so booklets remaining in the box and quietly throwing them into the nearby trash bin, thus moving myself up 50 spots on the list. Annette then tells us that each section along the line has its own group of workers, and on the Federal Elise line, they each get 40 minutes to finish their work plus or minus up to 3 minutes. The Euro spec line gets 44 minutes. She explained that the Euro line gets 4 extra minutes because they have to switch between cars as they have three different kinds to build over there.
It was at this point that I noticed a chart printed on an 8 1/2 x 11 standard sheet of paper. The chart was taped onto a support beam right above the box with the order folders. A worker came up and highlighted a line on the paper.
He left, I read. The chart was a list of all the cars being built that day. Each car was listed with it’s VIN, the dealership it was going to, the options, the kind of car, the color, etc. All in chart form. I scanned it over as quickly as I could knowing that I was about to get in trouble, when I saw that in the row of colors, they had listed the different colors we all know, and the one new color (that’s “NOT a new color, but just a trial to see if they like it”) but it does indeed have a name! And it’s on a list saying it’s going to certain dealerships. Then I noticed the codes for the car names on the top. I think many of you know their code names, but for those that don’t:
Croft is the name they use for the Federal Elise (It’s the name of a race track)
Zolder is what they call the Exige
Cyclone is the Euro Elise.
It was at this point that I got yelled at to stop reading the chart.
I then asked her how many cars they are making a week. Funny I should ask that, because it just changed this week. Four days ago, on Monday, October 4, they began a new skeleton crew night shift. They have gone from around 88 cars a week to 120 cars a week. They will now boot out 4000 cars this year, which is up from 2500 total last year. In fact, 2500 will shoot out to just the U.S. this year. I asked her about the new night shift and how many people are on it, and she said that it's only half the number of people that they use for the day shift. She added that they get 80 minutes per section instead of 40, so it all works out.
Walking along the production line, I could see Croft written on a parts bin, but I couldn’t see what was in it. It was at this point I finally noticed that all the people putting together these cars are all young. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that most of these guys are low 30’s and younger. I’m standing next to a bin full of gas tanks. If you’re curious, the gas tanks are long and skinny and rectangular. I saw them putting an engine in and asked Annette why the exhaust comes from below on the 190R and the Fed, and shoots straight out of the others. She said that is was because of where the exhaust comes out of the engine on the Toyata engine. She said that engine comes from the Celica. Which we all know, but I liked the way they pronounce it over there. Sell-EEK-a.
We reached the end of the line, and Annette explained that if they were to put wheels on the car at this point, it would be completely drivable. We turned the corner to the next room. Here the cars really start to look finished. There are a bunch of Exiges in one corner, there are some Vauxhall 220’s too. The Exige really, really looks good in Krypton Green. All those black accents, ooh baby it looks incredible.
HEY! What’s that color? I say pointing to a Vauxhall VX220. “Oh, that’s called Lightening Yellow”. Lightening Yellow is exactly right between Saffron Yellow and Krypton Green. Not available on any Elise/Exige.
So here is where they put the final pieces on, including the wheels. The headlights are put in, and the car is examined closely for any kind of imperfection. If just one thing isn’t right, the car is taken out, and put into a special area where it will be taken care of immediately.
Next is the Dyno room. This used to be where they would take it out on the test track, but that’s no more. Now it sits on the dyno. First the front wheels go on and the roller gets them spinning up to about 80 miles an hour. Then the tech guy “driving” watches this computer monitor that displays a bar along the bottom and he has to put the brakes on at a certain pressure to keep the bar within a certain parameter, as the speed changes, so must the pressure he’s applying to keep it in that parameter. Then the back wheels go on and he drives it through all the gears and checks it all out.
After the dyno, the car then goes into the rain garage where it is pounded with “rain” for 1 and half minutes. Then its off into the wind room for a quick blow dry.
After that, the car goes to the final inspection where it is wheeled down another long “hallway of lights” where all these people in bright white lab coats with clipboards give it a final check. If it passes the tests, then it ready to be shipped. The Euro spec cars go outside and sit in a special parking lot, and the Fed Elise goes into another building (dry storage) and waits inside. Those will get an outdoor beating of their own when they cross the sea.
After that we went over to Lotus Sport where they make the super secret stuff! I saw Glen again, but not Chris. Annette took us up to the second floor where we could over look the circuit for tomorrow’s fun. It had sprinkled a few minutes before, and now a huge full rainbow went all the way from the Windstock turn to the North Hairpin. I couldn’t believe it, and no camera!
Well, that was the tour, and if you’re still reading this, then I’ll share the Driving Experience with you now.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
We started the day at 8:00 am. There were 12 of us. So it’s now 4 students per instructor (I think it used to be two students per instructor). The three instructors were Alistair Mcqueen, who is the head instructor, Dave Minter (Dave Minter was the top ride and handling engineer for the very first Elise and is now the top project manager for a new super car called the Ascari KZ1. Check his car out at http://www.supercars.net/cars/[email protected][email protected]$KZ1x.html) and the third instructor was Hyla Breese, he was our instructor! Hyla is a former Lotus Sport Championship driver and is an absolutely wonderful instructor.
Our three groups were sent out to do different things on the track. The first thing for our group was the skid pad. We headed over (four of us students and Hyla at the wheel of a Proton car) to the circle and got out. Hyla explained that the circle has been wet down, and the rear tires have been changed out to the thinner front tires, so that we can learn a few things about grip. Who’d like to go first? We all agreed ladies first, and since my wife was the only woman in the whole Driving Experience, she went first. The car for this section was a Saffron Yellow 190S.
Hyla takes you around the giant circle with him driving and talks to you about how the car is behaving as he picks up speed. Then he explains what position it’s best to hold your hands on the wheel, and why. At this point, those people who don’t own an Elise yet, (like me) can’t believe that the car hasn’t shot off the track yet. We’re going pretty fast, and it’s wet. Hyla then yanks the wheel hard to the right, the car understeers straight ahead, then he flicks the wheel back and the car is under control. Next is the oversteer. He explains how if the rear wheels are driving the car and its contents forward and the car is aimed in a turn, when you let off the gas, the weight and mass of the engine (no longer being pushed forward) will want to go straight, and not turn. This will kick the back end of the car out, like so….He lifts his foot off the pedal, the back end shoots out, he gives it some gas, countersteers, and viola! The car is back under control. Then he says, you can use the throttle to adjust the angle of the car at any time, like this:
Then he lets off the throttle again, and the back end kicks loose, but this time he hits the throttle again to keep the back wheels spinning, and we do an entire lap around the circle skidding sideways the whole time! “Now you try”.
He stops and I take the driver seat. We do the push/understeer thing, and it’s pretty straightforward. Hyla is constantly talking to you while you drive, giving instruction on what your doing right, and what your doing wrong. Then for the oversteer. The back end flies out, and I correct too quickly, hit the gas and spin it out into the middle of the circle and the grass/dirt. “Just keep going, it’s ok” Hyla says. So I four wheel drive the Elise back onto the track and we go again. This time I spin out and do an entire 360, and come to a stop. We go again, and now I’m getting the hang of it, and I begin to appreciate how communicative the Elise is. No real surprises in what it is doing, or wants to do. After 20 laps around the skid pad circle, Hyla says “Now see if you can kick the back end out and keep it out the whole time going around the circle”.
Yeah, right. I tried. Nope. I made it maybe two car lengths. But I am proud to say I never once stalled it. I think my wife did better than me though, she was able to kick that back end out and get it right back in.

Next up: Slalom. When it’s your turn, Hyla takes you for a slow ride through the slalom. Two cones to go through each time, just like the downhill race in skiing. The “gates” are not set in any kind of pattern, so you can’t get a rhythm going. This lesson is to teach you how you have to be looking waaaaay ahead. You can’t just look at the cones you’re about to drive through, you have to be looking at the third set of cones ahead, so you can establish a perfect line. He takes you through that line at a slow speed, then makes a U-turn and stomps on it. This is the 190R we’re in now. Same exact spec as the Fed. The car leaps forward and he blows through the first set of cones at 60 miles an hour! He points the car at the next set of cones and this time lets off the gas to kick the back end out so that as the car is going through the cones, it’s already pointed at the next set of cones. He does this through the entire course, and he didn’t hit one damn cone. Unbelievable! My turn.
Pow! Bam! I’m not only hitting cones, I’m actually running them over. We make a “cone adjustment” run and get all the cones back onto their spray painted marks, and go again. Much better this time. No cones are hit, and as an added bonus, I have a gigantic smile on my face. FUN!!!!

On to the Braking: In this exercise, we get the car up to 60 mph and then as the front of the car passes a marked cone, you stomp on the brakes and swerve around a wall of cones and come to a stop. No ABS on these Euro spec cars. My wife does this first, and flawlessly. So good was she, that when she was done, Hyla got out of the car and said “It’s gripping to well today, let’s fix that.” And with that he grabbed the wall of cones and moved them more left, narrowing the gap for the car to swerve through. “Let’s take it up to 65 mph too”.
So there I am, 65, 66 there’s the cone. Slam brakes, fly past wall of cones, run over innocent cones located beyond wall of cones. Not too bad for that speed. We go again, and again, each time it’s feeling pretty good. Every time you do the wall of cones thing, you turn around and get back up to 60 the other way, then you approach “Grandma” cone and have to stop as close as you can at full brakes without hitting her. My first time I shot well past Grandma and had she been real, she would have had her dentures knocked clean out by me. The second time was the opposite, I stopped 20 feet short of Grandma. The third time was perfect though. Right up to her, within inches. She would mostly have died anyway, from a heart attack.

That was the first part of the day. We went back up to the 2nd floor of Lotus Sport and ate some lunch and talked a bit. We then went over a chart of the circuit, and how to take the correct lines, and what gear you were going to be in as you were at certain points. Then it was time for some real serious fun. You go drive like crazy on the circuit at Hethel, in a Lotus Elise 190R! With your instructor in the passenger seat helping you out. It was so much fun. One person from each of the three groups goes out at the same time, so there are three cars on the track at all times. There were two 190R’s and one 190S. I’m grateful Hyla had our group in the 190R. I think I did pretty good, though I had some problems shifting a few times, that darn left handed shifting! I was third car out when my group went. There’s about 10 seconds or so between cars. I passed both cars!
You get a ten minute run, then it’s the next person and so on. Then you get another ten minute run, hopefully improving upon your first run. I did alright the second time, passing both cars again, but the chicane at the end of main straight is made of three walls of tires; each wall is stacked four tires high, and I was cutting it close each time going through. I would enter the chicane at around 85 or 90 and come out of it at around 100. Hyla suggesting that I hit the gas and accelerate through it. First time through I come really close to the passenger side tires and hear a Pong. Hyla casually lowers his window as I’m heading into the North hairpin and re-adjusts his mirror I just knocked back. Second time through, I come too close to the tire wall in the chicane again, this time it’s not so much a Pong as it is a POW. Hyla doesn’t bother adjusting the mirror this time, because it’s gone. Oops. “That’s alright, Bill, that’s what it’s there for”. He laughs.
I felt soooo bad for causing a flesh wound on an Elise.

After our driving, everyone’s feeling really good, and excited and like they really are a pretty good driver…..then it’s time for Instructors Revenge._ This is where Hyla takes us for a ride. I wasn’t the first to go, so I was able to clearly see (after watching us students drive the track) that something was wrong. Very wrong. Somehow, they must have quickly switched out the engines of the cars we were just driving and replaced them with 1000 horse power twin turbo V10’s. These cars were suddenly rockets. Alistair was the first to go off with a student and when he went through the first chicane, every single one of us just said “Whoa….” All at the same time!
Hyla took me out “Ready Bill? Here we go!” This has been one long thread I’ve written (sorry about that) but this is where I’m at a loss for words. The two laps with Hyla were insane. Insane I tell you. I looked at the speed-o as we went through the second chicane coming into the north hairpin….130.
And he’s talking through a lot of it and looking at me. I couldn’t believe how fast the car could go through the corners. And none of these cars had the LSS!
If you are even the slightest bit interested in going to the Lotus Driving Experience, do whatever you can to go. It is the greatest time!
So with that, I leave you and I’m sorry I wrote way too much.

Bill
 

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No way you wrote too much Bill. I wouldn't have had the patience and memory to re-tell all those parts. Awesome write up! You got me really excited again about the Elise. The only thing I have to comment on is that if I had to drive a RHD car on the left side of the street WITH a stickshift...I would have ran that thing into the first road sign I saw.
 

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Wow! I'll second the awesome write up comment. Thanks for all the detail on "everything"!
 

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Great write up Bill. Now you've gone and got me all worked up. I'm going back to UK in December and I definitely want to do this. Where can I get details ?? - thanks
 

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Don't apologize! What a captivating recount of your visit and driving experience, and such a gift to those of us who'll never make that trip. OBTW, the Ascari KZ1 is featured in the November Sports Car Int'l.
 

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:crazyeyes :drool: Wow!

That was an awesome report -- excellent memory too. THANKS!

I do have one question.. did you happen to remember any production VIN (or range) while you were there? I'm very curious to know what number they're up to . Have they passed 700?
 

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Bill, what a terrific report. Sounds like you had a great time. Wished I could make you spill the beans on the new color.
 
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