Elan+2 Overview

By Paul Haney
Chapman Report - July 1984

The following letter is a copy of a response written by Paul Haney to fellow GGLC member David Bohner concerning David's Elan+2

Dear David,

I was delighted to get your post card requesting information about your newly purchased Elan+2 S130 Elan. Congratulations on your choice of car. I think a lot of Lotus cars, particularly the Elans. I bought a +2 because of the extra room as my feet are two wide to fit on one pedal at a time in the regular Elans. It I had all the money I want to spend on cars, I don't think I could find a car I like better than the +2. So I will continue to maintain and enjoy mine.

You ask for suggestions regarding wide wheels and tires. I am using stock wheels with 175/70x13 tires. There are no wide wheels readily available for knock-off hubs. I am aware, however, of someone who has had 6x13 rims welded to his stock wheels centers and mounted 205/60x13 tires. I'm sure soft compound racing tires make a difference, but do bigger street tires make a difference on a car this light? I've seen 195/70x13 tires on an Elan that was autocrossed regularly. The tires were worn on the outer 2 inches only. I ran my car on Sears Point the first time with 165/70 tires. After switching to the Semperits it took me three events, four hours on the track, to feel the difference it makes when the tires heat up and get stickier. Cosmetically the cars look better with wider than stock wheels and tires, but I would be careful of using big, sticky tires. Corniering and braking loads are fed into the chassis through relatively weak mountings. Elans routinely develop chassis cracks which can result in the necessity to replace the chassis, a costly and time consuming endeavor. If you haven't minutely inspected the frame around the spring and suspension mountings, I would do so soon. Unless you are fortunate enough to have acquired an extremely well maintained car, you are going to have your hands full just keeping it running.

I don't want to sound negative. I've already said I couldn't think of a more desirable car. I am, however, speaking from 30 months experience during which the car was running only half the time. Time, oil, dirt and neglect can really mess up a car. The best advice I can give is to clean the car up and inspect each component. Rebuild or replace anything not fully operational. The shop manual is pretty cryptic but it's better than nothing.

I hope I'm wasting your time with all these dire warnings. I hope you bought a well maintained car and have already spent hundreds of hours inspecting, adjusting, tuning and enjoying the appreciative looks of less fortunate car folk as you motor trouble-free down the highway. But if that is not the case, here's a list of things I wish I had done the first 3 months I had the car.

  1. ANTI-THEFT SWITCH. Get rid of the anti-theft switch in the glove box or at least replace it. I wired around mine and threw it away. It took me a year to trace an intermittent miss/won't start to this component.
  2. BRAKES. Bleed out all the old fluid in both the clutch and brakes systems. Look for leaks. Check the vacuum boosters. They can carp out and leave you with brakes on one end only. They can suck up fluid too. So if you are loosing fluid and don't know where it's going, check the boosters. Both mine filled up at the same time on the road into Yosemite, leaving us without brakes. I blocked the vacuum hoses with sticks and got home on a very hard pedal. I have removed the boosters and replaced the tandem master cylinder with a smaller bore master cylinder. Now I can get to the dipstick. If you have to rebuild either master cylinder, do both, as you have to remove the pedal box anyway. I also recommend adding Oilite bushings to the pedal box where the pivot bar bears. Don't worry about the calipers unless they leak, but when they do be ready to replace the pistons because they will be rusty - $200. Rebuild the clutch slave cylinder just for drill. Why risk a breakdown in the boonies and they only last a couple of years anyway.
  3. CHASSIS. The aforementioned cracks plus make sure the water drain holes in base of the shock towers are open.
  4. ELECTRICS. Lucas takes a bum rap for unreliability because routine maintenance is the key to reliability. I found that a lot of my intermittent electrical problems went away after I separated all the bullet connectors I could find and brightened the metal with fine sandpaper. I also tightened all the screw connectors I could see and made sure every grounding strap was making good contact.
  5. DISTRIBUTOR. Make sure the shaft isn't loose and the mechanical advance works. Clean it all up. See if the vacuum diaphragm leaks. British rubber goods have a higher natural rubber content than our stuff and generally lasts only about 5 years, less if it is exposed to solvents or ultraviolet (sic) light. Check the pigtail wire from the primary connector to the points. It's another potential won't start. It cost me a $40 taxi ride home from San Francisco to Redwwod City the evening of our wedding anniversary.
  6. DRIVETRAIN. Start with the doughnuts. If they're cracked, replace them. Use the right bolts. Check the transmission and differential mounts. A juddering clutch can be the symptom produced by torn or oil softened rubber. A click at the rear under acceleration can be the result of loose doughnut bolts or bad diff mounts.
  7. SUSPENSION. Are the rubber bushings oil soaked and swollen? The roll bar bushes catch a lot of oil from engine leaks. Check the front uprights. Is the ball joint loose? Is the trunion (bottom pivot) loose? The lower shock bolt commonly elongates its hole in the control arms. If you can move anything around when the car jacked up you may have trouble. If you are getting some bottoming, the chocks may be worn. They are adjustable for wear but you have to get them out first. The rears are easy but the fronts need the springs removed by someone who knows what they are doing.
  8. STEERING. The tie rod ends and steering rack ends are obvious components to check. Less obvious is the steering column itself. Is it tight? Straight? Is it clear of wiring and steel brake lines?
  9. ENGINE OIL LEAKS. The cam cover can be made oil tight fairly easily. A new gasket stuck to the cover with whatever happens to be your favorite brand of gorilla grunt is a good start. New rubber half moon's at the cam cover/head joint can be sealed with RTV used sparingly. RTV and some plain washers do as good a job as those fragile little rubberized washers that are standard for the cam cover nuts. Don't overtighten the cam cover nuts and the gasket can be reused. The fuel pump boss and pan gaskets are two other places where careful application of RTV on CLEAN surfaces and new gasket can do wonders. (Ed comment: Rather than use RTV which swells and breaks down over time when exposed to oil, consider using Hylomar)
  10. ENGINE GENERAL. If you have an engine miss and oily plugs, the valve guides are probably worn out. That means a valve job. It's a good time to upgrade to larger valves and bronze guides. Replace the timing chain too unless you're sure it's seen less than 25kmiles. Also, do not overtighten the alternator belt. This can result in accelerated water pump failure and you know how much trouble it is to replace the pump.
  11. VALVE ADJUSTMENT. This should be checked on any car newly acquired. Wear on seats and cam followers means the clearances decrease with time. Eventually, the valve does not seal tightly, allowing the escaping hot gases to erode the valve and/or seat. While the cover is off check the timing chain tension. A half inch total vertical movement is spec. Or, if the cover is on, tighten the chain adjustment screw until a whine is heard and then back off until it goes away. But be careful of overtightening the chain as you put more force on the cam bearings.
  12. CARBURETORS. It's not that big a deal to replace the gaskets and install new needle valves. The latter will cure a "hunting idle". If you're ambitious, switch to Jaguar slides and the adjustable European spec needles. This allows you to adjust the idle mixture and eliminates lean surge at freeway speeds. Vacuum leaks are common and just take some time to find and fix.