My First Year with Elite #1144

Written by Tony Herbert.

Elite 1144 on mainland Classic tour with Mt. Cook in background

First published in Club Elite Newsletter Issue #2 (Jan 14, 2006)

My first year of Elite ownership has just passed and we’re just back from a trouble free 2200 mile, 10 day tour through the South Island of New Zealand, where some of the world’s best driving roads exist. If only the fulfilling of one of life’s little ambitions had been as easy as the tour.

 By way of background, I should explain that we live in New   Zealand. Regular readers did not read about my car chassis #1144 in Ray Edwards piece on NZ Elites in his first Club Elite magazine as the car was still on it’s way. Me? I’m a Lotus nut from way back and run Elans, both as road cars and track ‘n tarmac rally cars. As I write this, there are 4 Elans in various states at home. I’m a great believer in using old sports cars, none were, I believe, designed or built to be put in museums, locked in garages etc. This viewpoint has kept my desire to acquire an Elite in check for many years. Often one reads “superb but fragile, great bold concept, pity about the flawed execution” etc., together with the more practical, fact that only 3 exist in NZ and they had not been for sale! Of the cars in NZ, two are in extended restoration and the third rarely used, though I did have the privilege of driving it many years ago at a local race track (the ex Clark/Whitmore Le Mans car).

 Through a series of circumstances that I still do not fully understand, late last year the urge to own an Elite resurfaced. I didn’t need another restoration project (see Elans above). To acquire one would mean importing from overseas, this in turn would mean buying without being able to physically see the car prior to purchase, but e-mail, internet and digital photography are great advances and add a basic belief in the good of mankind in the form of car enthusiasts, and we were in business!

 Through the help of Mike Ostrov (does he figure in every elite story?) we came across #1144, an S1, which had in recent years been prepared for historic racing but had never actually done any. My sort of spec ,Stage III with Webers, ZF box, couple of sets of wheels, new race tires, and of course RHD, ideal for NZ. The photos looked great, a little over the top to my taste in some areas but nothing that couldn’t be fixed over time.

 A deal was struck and in spite of the best efforts of the US banking system (don’t ask, but I’m selling the film rights to the story) which took but would not deliver my money, the car was on its way. It arrived early November 2003 and looked every bit as good as I’d hoped, just a few things to complete and we’d be up and running.

 At this point, I must say that everything I thought to ask about was as described but the devil was, as ever, in the details.  New Zealand has a fairly strict procedure and compliance check before cars can be registered for the road, and being involved with the automotive industry, I had a reasonable understanding of things and did not expect too much in the way of surprises. So I started to check and prepare the car for the compliance check. First the handbrake had not been refitted to the car during the rebuild, most of the parts were in the spares that came with the car, but the fitting of the mechanism is not possible without removing engine, gearbox diff etc. NOT so simple a job and of course much more time consuming. At the same time the Aeroquip brake hosing had to be replaced as it is not allowed for road use in NZ. So back to steel pipes and certified flexible hoses!


While all this was out, I was able to check all sorts of things and, other than replacing a rear wheel bearing which was probably more to do with incorrect shimming than wear, all seemed ready. The compliancing process was straightforward and after parting with the required dollars, the car was registered for the road and it was time to have fun, or so I thought.

 The engine was reputed to have done few miles since being rebuilt and, while it started easily, there was little in the way of go and a lot of oil smoke, not quite the free revving unit I was expecting. At this point I was beginning to wonder what I’d let myself in for, though I hadn’t expected the Elite to have the same performance as my 145bhp road Elan, but I did expect something that would worry a Nissan Micra.

 Added to this lack of go was a terribly hard ride, not at all Lotus! This, though, was the easiest to identify and then fix. Brand new Konis had been fitted to the front but they were S2 ones not S1 and just as the invaluable Elite Extracts book tells you, they were too long and the spears were bent. New Spax shocks and at least the ride was restored!

 The performance was a little trickier. All the usual checks didn’t add up. Timing was way advanced, carb jetting not as per guidelines in Elite Extracts, too much centrifugal advance, and worst of all, changing things made little discernible difference. The more we played the worse the oil smoke got, way beyond things not bedding in properly.

 The engine was removed and stripped, checks showed the cam timing to be over 20 deg out, the jack shaft was two teeth out, and the whilst all the goodies quoted were fitted, the valve guides were worse than shot, most were so worn that I pushed them out of the head casting with my thumbs.

 Putting the head right was a wee bit tricky as it involved machining the head casting to accept oversize OD valve guides. The wear was so great that establishing the valve centre lines took a bit of time. At the same time, we fitted new seats suitable for unleaded petrol. We decided to hone the bores and fit new rings as the excess oil had stopped the bedding process.

 The only other thing replaced was the oil relief valve spring. Oil pressure would zoom up to 45 psi and abruptly stop and never rise, however hot, or whatever the revs. We now have 75 psi and need to be careful with the revs when cold.

 Add a rebuilt dizzy and re-jetting the Webers and the car was transformed into something like I had expected.

 The car now gives enormous pleasure in the manner that I envisaged. While I was aware that some things were unfinished when I bought the car, it was disappointing to find the engine in such poor order when obviously much money had been spent on it’s rebuild.

 Given all of the above, I’m still more than happy with my purchase even if I‘d known all that I know now when I was buying the car. I think that I still would have done the deal, may have haggled more, but still would have done the deal.

We have had a few low key visits to the race track, as much to enjoy the performance as the trip there!

PS: New machine nuts and hardened washers for the cylinder head studs provide a good solid click from the torque wrench and do wonders for one’s confidence.

Tony Herbert, New Zealand

Copyright © 2006 Tony Herbert  All rights reserved.