Basket-case blues and project cars - Blackbourn 414

By: Rob Blackbourn

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Rob loves a project and keeps looking lovingly at Lotus Elan despite their pitfalls

While Roy and HG reckoned ‘too much sport is never enough’, for me it’s more like ‘too many projects are never enough’.

What usually escapes me is the keep-it-simple strategy of finding the car you want in the condition you want, and buying it. My inner voice always seems to say: ‘Where’s the satisfaction in handing over the cash and proudly driving your latest toy home? What about the rewarding resto journey you miss out on, with all those creative responses to the many inevitable challenges and for that matter, the sweat-equity bonus?’

It’s as if the bright and shiny, ready-for-the-road examples are always in my blind spot as basket-cases and projects creep out from under their tarps to hunt me down. Over the years it’s happened with houses, cars, 4x4s, caravans, a WWII military truck, a camper van, motor bikes, even oddball stuff like an antique coffee grinder and, wait for it, a rusted-up but technically fascinating 1920s soda-water bottling plant (fortunately that one went through to the keeper because I couldn’t find anywhere to store it).

| Related: 1969 Lotus Europa S2 review

Other circumstances have pulled me back from the project abyss at times. A memorable one in the late-70s involved a complete but neglected Lotus Elan roadster languishing in a garage in Victoria’s rural Healesville. It needed heaps of work but the price negotiations were showing promise. And I loved Elans, as I loved Lotus Sevens (who wouldn’t love a Seven?). Didn’t much like the Elites, though. The styling didn’t quite gel for me and a Coventry Climax motor sounded a bit intimidating – and how could Chapman have gone for rear struts so long that you could see them protruding through the parcel shelf? But the Elans were lovely. For a committed hot rod fan the motor was perfect – a hot-rodded Cortina engine that owed its twin-cam transformation to the legendary Harry Mundy (I was blissfully unaware at the time that Mundy was also the father of the Coventry Climax engine).

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I was bracing myself for dealing with all the scars and crazing on the Elan’s fibreglass body and the likely frame repairs at suspension and drivetrain load points.

Inevitably the lovely twin-cam donk would need work and then demonstrate hard-to-cure oil leaks. And the calipers may well have frozen from sitting there. I also had some reservations about Chapman’s engineering approach. An example is the Rotoflex ‘doughnut’ rubber couplings on the rear half-shafts that eerily reminded me of the horrors of the rubber/fabric front universal joint on my Austin 7 Meteor years earlier. But hey, it was an Elan. Onward and upward…

But suddenly I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from Europe. ‘Sorry mate, I’ll have to let it go. Gotta pack my bag.’

Back in Melbourne some years later curiosity got the better of me. ‘Who knows? All things are possible.’ The reality check came in the form of a bunch of town houses where the original house and garage (and the Lotus Elan) were last seen.

Then at a Melbourne Motor Show at the Exhibition Buildings I recognised that that the Elan episode was a lucky escape when the all-new Mazda MX-5 NA model was unveiled. At first glance it was an Elan – but lovelier than an Elan. And the more I delved into its engineering detail the more my first impression was reinforced (certainly no pesky Rotoflex couplings on this baby). From that moment whenever a sportscar has seemed like a good idea a nice NA model MX-5 has been the only candidate – definitely a non-basket case.

So how on earth did I find myself with eyes glued to an ad for a Lotus Elan S2 project last week?

Phew! Another lucky escape. It had been sold.

 

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