Archives for posts with tag: auto sport

They’re not completely OUR cars. Well, in the tax and title sense of the word they are, but lotus cars are kind of claimed by a number of folks who help keep them in service. It’s actually kind of cool.

When I had my Exige, for example, I got the feeling that the tech who serviced it, T.J. Waszak (of the now defunct Fox Valley Motorcars) sort of thought of it as one of his babies. I didn’t have a problem with that because he knows more about the 111 cars than anyone but the factory guys, and he has been a great friend for many, many years.

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My level of trust in him was such that from time to time he would take it to a friends EPIC Indy 500 party for the weekend, and I could still sleep. On some level, I think, he loved that car more than I did, and I can say that I hung on to it a few years longer than I should have so as not to disappoint him.

I think T.J. is a pretty good example of the kind of guy Lotus wants at a dealership with their sign over the door. Not only can the guy turn a wrench, but during his down time he is a ferocious brand ambassador for the marque as well as whatever dealership he is working with at the time. He has also taken the time to become a known and valuable part of the Lotus community, which doesn’t hurt.

I’m not going to go into how I first met him, except to say that my stories of a much younger T.J. and his adventures at the brickyard will remain a closely held secret unless he try’s to run for public office. I will say that he has matured fabulously into a fantastic husband and father, and someone that can be count on to do the right thing.

Anyway, when you pick your car up from a trip to a tech like him, he usually admonishes you for something. Crap tires, letting it get dirty, or in my case, not driving it nearly enough. He was right about that, and ultimately drove my decision to go back to an Esprit. As much as I bitch and moan about the “lack of use abuse” I inherited, I was becoming guilty of the same.

T.J. has left the Chicago area for a fantastic opportunity in Indianapolis, and I think he will be missed. We still keep in close touch, but I would have prefer having him 20 minutes away, not 3 hours. I suppose it’s rather less of a issue now that I am back in an Esprit, but it is what happened. He always kind of thought of Esprits as stepchildren anyway.

I have a feeling he will be back at some point.

There are a lot of Esprits that spend time on Ebay. Some seem to be listed for ages. They seem to have one of only a few story lines. First is the car that is such a basket case that the owner actually has to be honest and describe it thus. Second is the owner that had the car for a few years on the tail end of a replacement cycle, worked on it more than drove it, and has become exhausted (I was THAT guy once). Third is the nitwit that puts fancy-pants wheels, or huge stereos’, or Lamborghini wings or other things on it and declares it “improved” (about as dumb as thinking that Kate Upton need a boob job…). Fourth is the dealer that either thought they got a deal at an auction, did a favor for a good customer and took the car in on trade, or stopped reading the DuPont registry in 2002 and believes their car is worth $8-12,000 MORE than the market and gets offended when you suggest otherwise. Fifth is the guy that bout a wreck or a salvage and did his best to sort it out for a flip. Finally there is the owner that has driven and serviced his car properly and is either moving on to a new project, or really needs the money. Those, are the ones to look for.

The funny thing about the Esprit community is that at this point, almost all of the cars are known, and after a little looking you can find out their histories. The they ALL seem to have them. For instance, there is a V-8 listed now that sat at a dealership for almost a year because they couldn’t get the thing running and didn’t want to spend the money to make it right. It went to auction and now is represented by a few glorious glamor shots and a testimonial that is best considered brilliant fiction. Lift the deck lid and the poor car goes from Penelope Cruz to Cunègonde in the Transylvanian kitchen instantly. Putting the car right will cost the new (no experienced Esprit owner would EVER buy the poor car) Lotus guy thousands and probably turn him off to the marque forever.

Sometimes I like to call those dealers and talk to them about their cars. They start out all self assured, telling me that no expense was spared in keeping them commissioned. The talk gets somber when we get to timing belts. They always phone that bit in. They HAVE to. The tools alone for the job are prohibitively expensive, and the number of people actually qualified by Lotus to do the job are fewer than winning lottery tickets. If they can’t name proper names, and express serious regret at the cost of the service bills they incurred they are lying. When I tell them that, the call usually ends.

My current car never made it to eBay. I found it on autotrader. The pictures were stunning, and I knew based on the miles that the car would ned some attention in spite of the previous owner telling me he spared nothing… … Sparing “nothing” and leaving 13 year old tires on a car with the capability to go 175 miles an hour are sort of mutually exclusive. However, the car was fairly priced, and I do not regret pulling the trigger.

The only real issue I have with my car is the constant Anzio-like shelling I endure from my wife when it won’t run, but I believe in my heart after the last trip to Stan than my “spring offensive” has finally begun. Spiritually, she is the Lotus equivalent of a CIA interrogator in a camp no longer on published maps, but she means well. She doesn’t save it for me either. In fact, if she could get her hands on Colin Chapman himself she wouldn’t miss a beat. She can’t understand why I would willingly give up an Exige which had impeccable reliability, for an Esprit, which hasn’t (but will when I am done with it). Sometimes I don’t understand it myself.

On the front end, you are probably better off buying a car from a well known enthusiast that can provide the pedigree a car requires. It’s more expensive to do that, but several standard deviations less aggravating.

One of these days that’s how I intend to do it…

I had a chat with the Field Engineer of Lotus Cars USA yesterday. We were discussing evap code errors. Somewhere in between him telling me to check the gas cap, and some vacuum lines it occurred to me that there is literally NO other auto manufacturer where you can have such a deep relationship with the factory. Not even Ferrari or Lamborghini.

I’m pretty sure he made his way to the states as a part of the crew that had wild success with the X-180 Esprits in the World Challenge years ago. He has been the field engineer as long as I have been involved with the brand and it would be harder to imagine someone doing a better job.

I’ve known him(Dave) for many years now, since the early days of my first Esprit where he went out of his way to protect me from unnecessary and expensive work that a now-defunct dealership advocated, and I am humbled that when he comes through the Midwest, he makes time for the occasional dinner.

Throughout the years, Lotus has become legendary for its customer service. They seem to know each and every car they have produced, and in my case, they have occasionally twisted their own warranties beyond all reasonable shape to help me keep my cars on the road. If you are reasonable with Lotus Cars USA, you can never end up disappointed by the folks who work there. It’s because of people like Dave, not something written in a procedural manual, and I selfishly hope he never retires (for the sake of my Esprit…)

Its not always easy sledding. There are people that push him a little too hard, or for things that really aren’t all that important, or timely, and Dave was blessed with a wicked sense of humor, exclusively reserved for owners that do make unreasonable demands, like the time an Elise owner was so obsessed with a minor rattle to the point that he summoned poor Dave half way across the country to look at it. On the road during their test drive, the owner continued bellyaching, and unable to take it anymore, Dave pointed to the right knob on the radio. “See that?” he asked. “Yes” responded the driver. “Turn it all the way to the left”. The driver did, and the music started blasting. “Can you hear the rattle now?” And the lesson the taught…

Dave has also talked me through technical issues at hours usually reserved for business that get people thrown in jail, never complaining, and never making me feel like an idiot (or any more than I deserved).

He is, however, scared to death of my wife, and he should be. As far as Lotus cars goes, she is a “bottom line” kind of participant, and the early returns on the new Esprit have been less than amazing. The opinion she lays on him about his marque is as unfiltered as whiskey taken straight from the still, and the back and forth they enjoy is usually hilarious. If anyone can find a way to get the car back in her grace, it’s him.

I’ve known him to show up at some of the national Lotus club events on his own dime too. That’s pretty cool.

The company knows when one of their cars is out of sorts. A warranty manager equally as effective and twice as funny as Dave once told me that he had begun to look at my old Esprit as his “own personal Vietnam” and was willing to sell his house and everything in it to help sort the poor car. You would never live to speak to a warranty manager at a typical car company unless it was in a court of law.

Even though my Esprit is years out of warranty, I am pretty sure Dave will keep me on a short leash until its fully recommissioned. He takes an unusual amount of pride in his cars and won’t accept anything but the best for them. I have a feeling he would be like that no matter what company he worked for, but we are lucky to have him at LCU.

I doubt it would be possible for me to take another brand seriously at this point.

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Esprits are usually in A garage. It’s better if they are in the owners garage, because that means that they are in rude health, but it isn’t taken for granted, is it?

As the story goes, mine is in my garage again, and the garage has that “Esprit smell” to it. You know, a little oil, a little coolant, and car polish… …it’s nice.

We went to get it Saturday. I confess to a growing sense of excitement. It’s a cool car and I very much want to put some miles on it.

As the story goes, we turned up at SCC Auto (Stan the Lotus whisperers garage) at about noon. A fellow was picking up his Chevrolet Chevelle and he asked me if I wished I had his engine in my car. I told him I liked my chances against his car with the engine I had. In the next bay over I found the Lotus purring away, (I had asked Stan to fire it up so I had some engine temp when I left), and the second I stepped out of the Volkswagen to greet the car, the idle went haywire, the check engine light went on, and it died. Stan gave me this suspicious look, and muttered “it’s you… …this car was running perfectly until you got here…” (Thank god Chevy guy was gone) It was priceless.

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Moments later my cell phone rang. It was my wife who was in the VW, six feet away. She was aware of the crisis, and due to a prior relationship with my 98, has a level of trust with Esprits, that rivals the relationship between the North and South Koreas. Sadly, it’s earned. I told her to hold on, she replied that she was giving odds it was staying right where it was for the time being.

Stan plugged the scan tool in and we pulled the codes. Mat sensors and evap. Both minor. Both emissions related. We cleared them and it was fine. Off we went. Good temp, good idle, no leaks. All systems go.

We got the car in the garage and on a battery tender and I hoped to drive it later that day when my chores were done.

When I finally got around to driving it again the next morning, I fired it up and let it idle for a few minutes before I took off. As I sat down I noticed the “check engine” light on again. Unfortunately, Nancy was next to me and gave me that “look” again. She said, “you ain’t going nowhere, are you”, and I feared she was right.

It was exhibiting a p0442 code which is a minor emissions leak. I phoned Stan who told me to check the connection on the solenoid on the firewall. I pushed on it and it clicked. I cleared the codes and fired the car. It SEEMED fine, so off I went as my wife rolled her eyes.

At this point it’s pretty obvious to me that I need new tires. As in, I think the set of Dunlop’s it is on at the moment are original equipment. I hope there are some viable choices left.

The good news is that it feels mechanically strong. The better news is that ignitiongate is over.

There is never a dull moment.

The Esprit comes back tomorrow. I’d like to say I’m excited, but I am not. I am apprehensive. The thing that is getting me is the worry that we are not done with its issues yet. That circle of trust that normal people have with their cars, (you know, the ones that start every time…) isn’t quite there yet, and while I embrace the idea of Esprits as driveway art, I still kind of want to drive the fucking thing from time to time.

I know it’s kind of like complaining about the taste of grape Flavor-ade AFTER Reverend Jones makes you hero chug a cup, but what’s a fellow to do.

The starter is a plenum-off job. Since Stan was in there, common sense dictated that the spark plugs, plug wires, and coil packs had to go. We took advantage of the down time to replace the water pump as well, and while the coolant was drained, changed the coolant hoses. The oil leak at the turbo was a loose fitting, and the axle seals I’ll ignore until the gearbox comes out.

Thank god the weather has been mostly crap.

The way I see it, if we have indeed, finally and forever, iced the ignition issue, I am a radiator, some catalytic converters, a chin spoiler (my fault) a timing belt service and some tires away from being recommissioned. The tires will be an issue as the factory recommended rubber has been out of production for some time, and ever since the day my pal Dave Minter once growled at a group of Esprit owners when one of us (thank god not me…) haplessly suggested that they had IMPROVED on a Lotus suspension, I have been more than a little OCD about keeping as close to stock specification as humanly possible. Especially with regard to the tires and suspension. You know, if its good enough for Alister McQueen, it’s good enough for me…

In other news, on the recommendation of my buddy Beck, I bought a very fancy-pants fuse tester with the kinky sounding name “Power Probe”. I imagine it adding several years to my life as it tests fuses without having to pull them. In an English car, that’s material.

I hope the next couple of posts are about road trips, but with an Esprit, you never really know what is going to happen next.

The unemployment rate is 27% in Spain. There is an entire generation there who will end up lost in this depression. As bad as things are here in the states, they are several standard deviations worse overseas. I mention this because, as diehard a Lotus Formula One fan as I am, I was cheered to see Fernando Alonso lay waste to the field in Barcelona yesterday. Those folks need all the good news they can get at the moment, and anyway, Kimi took points off the gap to Vettel (whom I hate worse than math homework).

I thought Kimi drove a good race, while never looking particularly racy, somehow ending up on the second step of the podium, and while he is taking a page out of the “win the title with a hunting lodge full of seconds and thirds like Bobby Rahal” book, he is only something like 4 points adrift. The lad from Espoo is pretty consistent too, so I hope he will be in the fight this autumn. I hope anyone besides Vettel and Red Bull win.

If you like Formula One, and you don’t have a soft spot for Ferrari, there is something wrong with you. Of course my mast flies British Racing Green and Yellow, but the sheer joy the Tifosi have at every single good thing that the Scudaria does for the, is completely charming. While I admit they were hard to watch while Spoon-face Schumacher was dominating at the expense of everything else, up to and including both his team mate and the integrity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Fernando is a worthy leader. Firm, but fair, and driving at a level most of the rest of us could only imagine. I do wish, they would remainder his annoying sidekick Massa, but not at he expense of taking Kimi from us.

Even though there is only the thinnest tie between Lotus the F1 team, and Lotus the auto manufacturer, I like it. There are a lot of similarities to them as well. Both are underfunded. Both make cars that handle ( see Kimi’s three stop to the rest of the leaders four stop strategy), both are resilient, and both enjoy killing giants when they can.

At any rate, if it shapes up,that there is a fight between Lotus and Ferrari for the title, between two of the best drivers alive, that would be a good thing.

The Tifosi will still cheer Fernando when he ends up in second place.

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