Back From the Brink

By Dan Wardman
From the Chapman Report - August 1991

In September of 1980 that person most Lotus owners come to distrust, The Previous Owner (TPO), made a small error in installing a replacement alternator in my 1971 Europa S2. By crimping the hot lead in the pivot bolt, he shorted the lead to ground. When he hooked up the battery, the charging circuit wires fried all the way to the ammeter and back. At least that is the way I have reconstructed the problem in my mind.

I came into the picture 9 years later. This Europa, a garish "Pistachio Green" model stood in TPO's driveway the entire interceding time. I had seen the car several times over the past years, hearing about it from a guy at work in about 1985. I had made several trips by the house and observed the car slowly deteriorating. It was after returning from a two year stint in the UK, having sold my Plus 2 there and being frustrated in trying to find another back in the bay area, that I decided to look at the Europa more carefully.

In November 1989 I checked the thing out. It was sitting on TPO's inclined driveway. The interior was so fogged up and the windows so dirty that it was difficult to see inside. The tires, huge radial TAs from the BR GR days were flat and stiff. The doors were locked if not hermetically sealed. I decided I really didn't need this project but would knock on the door anyway. As it turned out TPO was home. I convinced him he really wasn't going to get this poor Lotus back on the road and that he should sell it to me for a suitably low price. He confirmed my expectations by telling me the engine transmission; brakes, clutch and all locks were frozen. That the car hadn't moved in 9 years and that no apertures had been opened for 5. What a deal! I'll take it!

The next weekend I rented a trailer, appropriately also fluorescent green and Joel Farber and I went to get the thing. WD40 and judicious use of keys got the doors opened. I was able to inflate three of the four tires. I was not surprised, however, when the car refused to move, even though it was headed downhill. A floorjack placed under the rear cross member got us rolling and it turned out that only one of the rear wheels was really locked. When the car leveled out in the street in front of TPO's house though, water, which had created a rainforest atmosphere in the compact interior poured out of the bottom of the car. The smell was exquisite!

Getting the car on the trailer proved to be the next challenge. As one rear wheel was locked, the car didn't roll, so we had to roll the front wheels on and jack the rear end of the car on to the very end of the trailer. Fortunately the drive back to my place was only 5 miles. We made our slow and judicious way home and unloaded the car without incident.

Sharon, my wife, has never really liked Europas. Something about the shape, entry and egress, etc. On first seeing my faded green example and knowing about its heritage, she named it roadkill, as in dead frog, that is a flat green smelly car with a French engine.

After the initial euphoria of having gotten the car home without incident had worn off, I started to investigate all the frozen components. Freeing the brakes proved easy. One of the drums was stuck but by backing the adjuster off and hitting it with a hammer I got it free. To my surprise I then found that the brakes worked, as did the handbrake. By lubricating the cylinders through the plugholes and pushing the car in fourth gear I found that the engine was free as well. Messing about with the clutch cable and lever got the clutch operational. Roadkill was starting to look better, but the smell was still there. I set about removing the interior. Everything had to come out and all needed to be replaced. The seats, which had cloth inserts with lotus blossoms embroidered on them, were soaked and ruined. After I sawed off the bolts and removed them, I found that the seat frames and runners were solidly oxidized together. Not salvageable. The carpets and padding had to be removed and discarded immediately. The crash pad was fried, the headliner moldy, the dashboard cooked and delaminated and the instruments rusty. Time to take stock and lay out a plan.

I decided to tackle the engine first. Having had a twin cam with low oil pressure that was a result of the car having the bearings eaten by oil acids during storage, I decided that I would bite the bullet. I pulled the engine and gearbox so that I could inspect the engine. This adventure turned out far better than I could have possibly expected. Apparently the oil had just been changed prior to the car being laid up. When I pulled the sump and checked the bearings they were perfect. The head appeared to have just been renewed. New head, valves, springs, and everything. The cylinders and waterways were corrosion free.

About this time as well I came across an R17 Gordini engine and 5 speed box. The opportunities for future horsepower were too great so these components now lie in wait for some future when I have time and money to build the killer Gordini.

Prior to putting the engine back in I cleaned and painted the chassis and the suspension. I also painted the fiberglass on the inside of the engine compartment. I used a paint called Plastic Enamel, available at Orchard Supply Hardware. I cannot recommend this stuff highly enough. I have used it as an engine enamel (not on the Renault aluminum castings) on suspension parts and in wheel arches as well. It flows well and forms a smooth oil-resistant finish that is easy to clean and handles heat well. Having admired the polished firewall on several Europas, I also added a thick aluminum plate over the insulation in front of the engine.

Reinstalling the powerplant was easy enough. A new water pump was required and I was very surprised to be able to but one from the local Kragen for 60 bucks. Another pleasant surprise was that the alternator, which ostensibly was the cause of the ten years of inactivity this car had suffered, was fine. New hoses, a boiled out pressure tank and radiator and new belts got everything back to normal.

My next task was the wiring. The heavy gauge wires that ran from the engine compartment to the ammeter were badly melted. By carefully cutting them away from the main loom, I was able to reserve the remainder of the wiring and except for a few sections under the dash, these heavy wires were all I had to replace. I encounter the challenge familiar to most series 2 owners, that is, no wiring diagram. Using the early S2 diagram and the twin cam one solved most (but not all as I found out later) of the mysteries.

At this point I became a bit disheartened. I had completed the renovation of the engine, everything was back and ready to go, but I couldn't really start and run the engine till I sorted out the other end of the wiring, the dashboard. I was extremely fortunate in being able to get a second dashboard along with instruments from a wrecked S2 that Barry Spencer had. Sorting out the wiring was another matter though. I started trying to work from inside the car. It became quickly apparent that approach was going to kill me. I resolved to remove the windshield in spite of warnings that they always crack coming out. I was relieved when hours careful work with a piano wire freed the glass from the butyl strip and I was able to remove it unharmed. Working on the wiring from above through the resultant hole was far easier.

After many hours of fiddling, finding bad grounds, loose connectors and corroded contacts, I got most everything working, except of course the lights. Like many of my fellow Europa owners, I puzzled over the logic Chapman had used in eliminating a couple of wires and replacing them with that Bloody Awful 8 terminal relay. Finally I found that both the turn signal and the highbeam switches were bad. By replacing them and cursing a bit more I finally got to full function.

After all this fun with the Prince of Darkness, actually starting the car was anticlimactic. After cranking it with the plugs out and the cylinders lubed to get oil pressure up, I installed the plugs, pumped the gas and it started and ran well. I carried out some detail adjustments to the timing and carb, and it has been running fine ever since. There was that puff of smoke when the miswired voltage regulator blew up, but other than that nothing cataclysmic.

Test Drive
Now that the engine was running, I had no choice but to try it! With a seat dropped in the stripped interior, no windshield, and wires dangling on my legs, I set out on the first round the block trip. It was very hard to evaluate the car however. Though it ran well and shifted without difficulty, the square tires and seized front shocks left something to be desired of the ride. Even with the square tires though I could tell the passenger side rear bearings were rumbling. Phase two of the rebuild, that of the suspension and brakes was about to begin.

Facing one rear bearing job, I decided to do both. While at it I thought I would replace the U-joints, ball joints, tie-rod ends and all the bushings. With all that pressing ahead I decided to purchase a 12-ton shop press to make the job easier. It turned out to be a real good investment.

As I took the front suspension apart I was really pleased to find that all the components were straight and undamaged. Rebuilding the front suspension was simply a matter of cleaning and painting wishbones, pressing in bushings and reassembling. I replaced the frozen Koni's with SPAX shocks as well.

The rear suspension, as any Europa owner who has done the job will tell you, was a bit more complex. In my case, pulling the hub and extracting the bearings on the passenger's side was tough. The hub required a very robust puller and a good deal of heat to loosen the pint or so of Loctite that appeared to be on the spline. I used my new press and a rube goldberg set up to hold the trailing link, drive shaft and bearing housing in place while I pressed the stub axle out. When I finally got the bearings out I found that somewhere along the way, the bearings had been replaced but the mechanic had neglected to replace the spacer. Cleanup and painting was followed by an easier removal of the bearings on the other side. I replaced the inner and outer spacers with hardened ones, replaced the bearings and seals, the U-joints and lower links and reassembled. Adjustable lower links gave me the option of adjustable camber.

The brakes on my car were miraculously still working after 10 years of inactivity. I decided to be safe and rebuilt them any way. I replaced all the flex hoses with Aeroquip, rebuilt the master and calipers, and replaced the wheel cylinders, shoes and pads. Silicon fluid completed the work and I was rewarded with a firm pedal and quite good brakes.

Wheels and tires were next. The car came with Cosmic alloys that were in need of polishing and paint. I found a reasonable wheel shop to do the work and had them mount a set of Bridgestone RE71R tires, 185/60 front and 205/60 rear. The wheel work took longer than I hoped but while the wheels were gone I took the opportunity to fiberglas the back wall of the interior and reinforce the floor and tunnel with additional glass and resin.

On the Road
Wheels back and looking good I did some more local road testing without windshield or backlight and again found it hard to judge what I really had. I made the arrangements to have the interior done next. I took the car to Theca upholstery in Mountain View. There they made and installed new rugs and insulation, a headliner, and window trim. I refit the crash pad I had previously obtained along with the dashboard from Barry Spencer bolted in seats (also from Barry) and with the windshield taped in started to drive the car and work the bugs out. I was quite please. The car had some problems to solve but in general went and performed well. After driving it for a couple weeks I felt confident I had worked out the electrical gremlins and decided to glue windshield in and install the back window. The former I had done by a glass shop. In place of the original trim (which was long gone) the shop filled the gap between the glass and the body work with black RTV. The result looks good, doesn't leak and is holding up well. I installed the back window myself with the help of an appropriate special tool and two neighbors. A more cantankerous window I have yet to find.

I have been driving the car regularly now for over six months. I have had more fun with things like a shorted ammeter that blew like a fuse, a loose brake caliper that had to be repaired on a trip by the side of the road, a cracked exhaust manifold that I had to saw off to separate from the intake but was able to replace with a horsepower enhancing tubular system, the replacement of the passenger's door hinge, and most recently a clogged air cleaner that proved hard as hell to diagnose but very simple to fix. My Europa is slowly becoming semi-reliable occasional transportation (how's that for optimistic). Now if I can just get it to run for a month without a major maintenance crisis I can get to work on the ugly green paint.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Joel Farber, Barry Spencer, Kiyoshi, and Rich Kamp for help, parts, advice and moral support. Let's get more of those Lotus derelicts on the road!