LOTUS ELISE – PART 3
Sorting the job out!
OWNER: Jeremy Walton
CAR: 1999 Lotus Elise 135 Sport
Front and back suspension resets to manufacturer specs have benefitted road ride quality and track manners remain exploitable
The first 1000 miles had proved adventurous in my rare Elise 135 Sport, but they paled beside the next 1000. The ascent to a total 56,497 miles was financially wounding as failures multiplied. However, I got the car I wanted at the price I wanted – and the driving experience still shades anything affordable that I have experienced, so far… However, next week I drive a brace of McLarens!
Some sensational motoring was enjoyed on the as-purchased lo-rider suspension before a pothole brutally curtailed play. Also Elise would regularly not start: it was not quite so simple as a flat battery, although uncovering the true reasons takes a third specialist resource and us into 2016.
Initially, and with either a film crew’s assistance or that of the AA, hitching up to an auxiliary battery would (eventually) get it to fire up. The battery I bought Elise with cried enough in the winter and was replaced. Working with an AA man into the night, we man-up through scraped knuckles, wriggling the forward mounted Renault Clio/Fiesta battery out from beneath screen washer bottle and front radiator surround, which was easier to remove to get batteries in and out. Keep that battery/starting issue in mind over four recurrences, while I tell the tale of the mechanical hardware alterations. Intermittent non-starts persisted, even with that new battery fitted.
Pothole damage needed sorting first, plus a ride height so low that it scraped on any suburban garage slope. It looked track-ready, but you could hear the punishment Elise took along our rumpled public byways. I could see leaking at the rear dampers, and three wheels were twisted, a rear severely enough to require straightening, and all wheels had to be re-balanced.
A bill for over £1000 from a specialist saw the suspension and springs sorted back to production specifications on pre-used Konis. The ride height was raised over 20mm at the front and corrected at the rear to reach production tolerances. The result was a proper Lotus with most of the expected ride quality.
The post-pothole vibration was remedied with compression repair of the 16 x 8-inch rear that had taken the major shock comparatively mild work overcame slimmer 15-inch diameter front grumbles.
Overall a big gain, along with smaller wins on gear change quality, old oil changed and the linkage inspected without significant result. Grubby suspension arms received a clean and waxoyl, removing surface rust. Brakes were bled and callipers removed, pistons scourged to get over binding issues.
A Lotus A-service was paid for, but subsequent inspection and replacement revealed obvious deficiencies in the work done which is why I am not revealing that specialist’s name for publication. Shame, because some aspects were excellent – the suspension work was outstanding and cheap by contemporary standards. Sadly some service and inspection tasks were not performed either efficiently or at all. These allowed some major motor problems, implanted by previous ownership bodging to subsequently develop.
The following month some obvious rectification for service items omitted previously was forced on me by a repeat of the non-start issue, this time when Elise was still warm. A £200 bill from my local electrical specialists at Auto Services saw distributor cap damage requiring replacement and rotor arm with visible wear, plus scruffy spark plugs replaced. A heavy cam cover leak had filled two spark plug wells and corrosion of number 1 HT lead was evident. All corrected with new parts as required and an HT lead connector clean up.
As I breached 56,000 miles, the yellow AA van became a regular visitor to our driveway. First off there was a battery test failure and night fitting session of a conventional Yuasa item. I had thought Lotus would have some trick lightweight job, but it’s a regular small hatchback Clio/Fiesta item carried on AA vans routinely. Bill was just £76.49, AA membership covered labour.
That was winter 2015, but February 2016 and less than 400 miles later, the AA were back as the new battery was totally drained. They could not diagnose the fault, as no lethal drainage points were indicated and the alternator checked out. Yet the total discharge had occurred in 12 days since last healthy outburst.
All kinds of suspects were nominated, but even I could see that the fuse box was open to water spray, subject to chafing because it was not properly secured. MGF friends muttered about crankshaft sensors, faulty alarm immobilisers and ECU defects. Later, much later, a fault was found in the ECU but that problem is associated with warm-up Lambda probe feedback and emission action when hot, not start-up.
A short fun-packed interlude of regular use lulled me into trusting Elise again, especially as I had my ex-BMW 635 CTEK on board charging system substituted for the previous owner’s low output, home-made, plug-in system. Regular charging was now effective and the engine was cranking vigorously, but erratically failing to fire. Using brutal tactics – battery pack and prolonged use of engine bay hand throttle alongside prolonged cranking – a third AA visit got it going.
I had researched Esprit Engineering for more specialist work on Elise, so we just got it going and I drove down to Downton for the first of some heavy work that I will detail in our next episode.