Duration 1985 – 1992.
By Greg Bray.
By 1985 I had owned my 1967 Lotus Elan S3 SE Coupe for 11 years. I was born and bred in Southern England. My passion from a very young age was always cars. Conveniently I did not live too far away from the Goodwood racetrack, of which I was a regular visitor growing up.
I qualified as a British Leyland motor mechanic in 1971 working on cars ranging from Morris Minors to Jaguars. I was always changing my own cars every 5 minutes, until I came across a Moto Baldet Lotus Elan in 1974 needing some love and mechanical attention already at only 7 years old. At the time I owned a good condition MGB GT which I swapped for the Lotus, plus a bit of cash. Thinking I would sort the car out and sell it on as usual, 47 years on I still own the Elan!
So way back I joined the English Club Lotus and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. My love of all cars Lotus was born. By which time I was running my own car repair business and had a few customers with Lotus cars.
Whilst driving along Southsea seafront one evening I was flagged down by another Lotus Elan S3. The owner jumped out and introduced himself as Jerry Bell, who ended up a very good friend. Jerry happened to run a car body repair business and I with my mechanical business. I did all his mechanical work and he did my paint work. So I was very interested when Jerry rang one day in 1985 to say an advert was in the local paper for a 1965 Lotus Elan S2 in pieces for just £850.00.
The story went that the man selling the car knew nothing about it, as it was left behind in the double garage of the house he had just bought. He wanted the garage space for his boat, so Jerry and I shot around there to have a look. The owner could not tell us why the original owner might have left the Lotus behind, probably because it had been absolutely dismantled some 10 years or so earlier. Not just the engine and gearbox, but also the steering rack, brake calipers, everything just thrown into separate boxes and left to rust in the English climate!
Whilst the phone wouldn’t stop ringing regarding the car, I quickly established everything seemed to be there and it was original and complete.
Jerry and I were supposed to be partners in this rebuild, but I’m afraid Jerry wasn’t good at making quick decisions and he thought we should think it over and come back tomorrow. I knew the car would be gone and the owner was wondering what he really had and perhaps hadn’t asked enough money for these bits and pieces. I insisted to Jerry we give the man a deposit and come back with a big van tomorrow to take it off his hands, which we did. I quickly realised my dithering friend would not make a good partner in this long term rebuild, so luckily I was able to persuade Jerry it would be best I carry out the whole rebuild myself. I would need Jerry later to shape up the car and spray it for me. He agreed to that all ok, as he also liked Minis and I gave him my orange Mini 1000.
The only thing that had been done towards the rebuild was a total waste of time. The front turrets had been plated because of corrosion there and on other places on the chassis and a thick coat of black paint had been applied. I needed to throw away that old chassis and buy a new replacement chassis which was readily available. Then all new suspension and brake parts, differential rebuild with new 3.5 crown wheel and pinion, as 3.9 too low for the UK. Body repairs next, the body of the car was in poor condition. I ended up re-glassing more or less most of the car. Typically “drop heads” in English climate get corrosion. Which in this case had swelled the lower door sills reinforcing metal bars. I had to cut all the corroded metal out, so it could fill out the big gap in the lower sill. This was probably the worst repair I had to do on the whole car!
The body was cracked and crazed all over. I had to grind off a lot of gel coat and do a lot of fibreglass work underneath as well as on top. That was as far as I could go with it, so I passed the body on to my mate Jerry who shaped it and painted it. The car had been Spruce Green (Lotus British Racing Green); I decided to make it a red car in case I decided to sell it. As I would never part with my Lotus Elan S3 SE as it is the all-round better car to own.
Next with the body back and fitted to the new chassis, being a drop head in England the car’s interior had suffered greatly.
Fortunately I was able to service and clean all the switches and gauges, which were all still in good working order. The lacquer on the dash however was cracked all over. I was able to carefully use a heat gun to strip the lacquer off back to the veneer which was in perfect condition. After many coats of yacht varnish and rubbing down I was never going to get a perfect finish. So off to my friend Jerry again who sprayed it in his spray oven and got a perfect finish for me.
The front seat frames lower tubes were all rusted out, so they had to be replaced. I bought various trim parts and seat kits which I fitted myself. I also bought a new steering wheel. Hood and tonneau cover.
The engine and gearbox rebuild was the easy part for me as I did that type of work running my business. As for the engine typically I would usually spend four times as long doing the head than doing the bottom end. Typically being an early Mk 1 engine having no tappet guides in the head. So the tappets run directly in the alloy head having no wear, which I found normal with early heads.
Gearboxes of Series 1 and 2 cars all had close ratio gears. When the 2000E came out with the better Ford ratios, Lotus used those ratios in the Series 3 and 4. I kept the engine and gearbox rebuild original and also rebuilt the carbs as standard.
The car drove extremely well, very smooth and quiet. I was really pleased with the finished rebuild.
Of course it had taken me many hours over 7 years to achieve the rebuild in 1992 and I must pay tribute to my family for putting up with me missing from home. As I often worked on the car after a day’s working on my customer’s cars. I was also there most Saturdays working on the car. My wife Chris and our two boys insisted I spend Sundays with them, usually out walking in the countryside especially the South Downs to get some fresh air.
In 1993 I met a John Williams who came to my garage to buy a new Triumph Dolomite Sprint cylinder head I had for sale. When John realised I was interested in Lotus cars we got talking and I mentioned rebuilding the Lotus Elan S2. John asked would I be interested in him doing an article about the car as he was a writer for the English Classic Cars Magazine. So I was very proud when a six page article with 13 photos of the car was printed in September 1993.
At that time I would never have dreamt that in July 1996 I would be emigrating to Australia. By then I had three Lotus cars. My Lotus Elan S3, Lotus Elan S2 and a Twin Cam Lotus Europa which I had also rebuilt (maybe another article to follow?).
My first Elan, the S3 had to come with me. The Twin Cam Europa went to Japan (I’m sorry I let that one go) and the Elan S2 was sold in May 1996 at the annual Club Lotus weekend at Castle Combe racetrack. I turned up in the car with a For Sale sign on it for £12500. Within half an hour Kent Sports Cars came to look at the car and wrote me a cheque for the asking price without even wanting to hear the engine run. They sent a truck two weeks later to pick up the S2 from my garage. Within a month they were advertised the Elan at £19950, which at the time was the most I had seen a Lotus Elan advertised for!