My Esprit lived up to its reputation … by breaking down
“You do know what LOTUS stands for don’t you?” chuckled the old lady as she toddled past.
It’s certainly not the first time I’d heard this. But it was the first time that I’d been genuinely worried it may be true. I stood beside my stricken Lotus Esprit, waiting for a low-loader to arrive.
The Esprit has no front tow eye and is also too low to be hooked up on the dolly that the U.K.’s Automobile Association’s vans carry. So Gary the friendly AA man regaled me with nightmare tales of the S4 Turbo that he’d been trying to fix up for a friend as I paced anxiously up and down, trying to ignore the witty comments of passers-by.
Somewhat ironically, I was driving to a mechanic when disaster struck. I was overtaking a slower car on a short stretch of dual carriageway, pulling around 5000 revs in second and, as I went to grab third, the throttle stuck wide open. This had happened a couple of times before, but I’d been going slower, straighter and been able to hook my toe under the pedal and free it. I’d also always been in gear. This time the needle on the rev counter spun beyond 7,000 rpm, there was a loud bang, and the engine lost power.
I coasted to the side of the road, and tried restart it without success. Gary arrived within half an hour of my call for help and, after I’d described what had happened—and he was almost hit in the face by the oil filler cap when I attempted to start the engine for him—he called for backup.
A couple of hours later I was sitting in the cab of a transporter whose driver Dan was genuinely delighted by my misfortune. He’d never collected an Esprit before, took plenty of photos, and even called his granddad.
I arrived very late for my appointment at The Beaconsfield Workshop, and owners Dave Redrup and Martin Hawes weren’t there, so we pushed the Esprit into a parking spot and I trudged home by train.
For days I waited anxiously to hear the car’s fate. I pictured broken valves and a ruined cylinder head. Would I need a complete engine rebuild?
When I finally plucked up the courage to call Martin, I feared the worst. And yet the trouble was not as serious as I dreaded or the roadside comedian suggested.
“We got it running,” said Martin. “It wanted to start, so we figured it might be the timing. When we took the distributor cap off the rotor arm was off. So we retimed it and it’s all good. Just the carbs to tune.”
A huge sigh of relief was followed by a bout of Covid which delayed my plans to go back to Beaconsfield and discuss what I was originally taking the car there for, but eventually I did make it.
Gathering dust between an awaiting-restoration Rolls-Royce Corniche and a Ferrari was my dear Lotus. It looked a little sorry, but that will be changing soon.
The Beaconsfield Workshop specializes in Rolls-Royce and Bentley servicing and repair, but it is also a Lotus Approved bodyshop, and panel man Leigh Birch has been working with fiberglass since he was 15 years old. I don’t think the car could be in much safer hands.
This won’t be a full restoration, as Martin seemed to think the car was sound enough underneath. Even the leaking crank seal may not be worth fixing as they have a propensity to just keep oozing oil no matter what you do. So, the focus will be the bodywork, which entails scraping it back to bare fiber, fixing any blemishes or cracks, and then reapplying a liquid resin coating before painting begins.
That leaves me with another decision. Should I stick to red, go Bond Bronze or Spy White perhaps? A racing green or black, maybe something that stands out like an orange or yellow?
I’ve got a little time to decide as the strip down and preparation may take a couple of months or more, but in the meantime I’m open to suggestions.