What to look for before handing over the cash.... (6 articles)


I'm on my second Elite. I really like them. I have two kids at home, now 9 and 12- they think the car is great. Quite a lot of room- the rears have a lot more than it looks like. Not much small storage space, but also more than it may first appear. I use mine on a daily basis, and sometimes I have to do work, certainly I need to do regular maintenance. At that time I always look around and see if there is anything else I should attend to. I also don't drive mine very hard, so it has been pretty reliable. That said, I did recently have to replace the clutch, and since I had to pull the engine/trans, I may as well do this too, and this, and this...You know how that goes. I have only even seen one Excel, but would imagine it would be the better choice (not really an option on this side of the pond).

Make sure to check the chassis for damage/rust, that regular maintenance has been done, and if an Elite, see if the rear brakes hoses/brakes have been replaced in the last year or two. The electrics can be a bit fussy, the fusebox they used on the earlier cars (at least) is junk. I'm hoping to replace mine and dump those stupid German fuses. The older heater controls work, but can leak and be a hassle to replace parts (I still could find everything I needed). That vacuum regulator on top of the heater/air box was especially fun. I had to cut a hole in the body to get to it, or remove the entire heater/air assembly!


Three things, history, history and history. And I don't mean smudged stamps in the service book, I mean an owner who can tell you every detail of everything that's been done to it, and has all the bills to prove it. It should look cared for. Maybe dirty, maybe worn, but there is a real difference between care and neglect. Look at lots of cars - don't just buy the first one that you see! There may be a few exceptions to that, but unless you are experienced at looking at Lotuses it's too easy to get sucked in.

A 20 year old Lotus can still have fantastic bodywork while falling to pieces underneath, whereas a steel car will show the ravages of time on the bodywork as well. The Excel is significantly better than the Elite in the transmission dept, but the 2.2 engine is identical, and body/trim quality about the same. You must go for a 2.2, and you need a galvanised chassis, which we fitted in production from about 1980, although some pre-1980 cars will have had galvanised chassis fitted as replacements by now.


It's quite important to work out whether the car has been used AT ALL - i.e - when was it last a runner ? Let's assume 6 years ago.... Get your machanic to be anally retentive about his inspection. 6 years is a long time.

Initial thoughts are : The clutch may have siezed - not a big problem, but it needs freeing up; All oils will have turned to sludge - do not attempt to fire the car up. ALL will need changing; The carbs will have gunge in them and need stripping and re-cleaning; The brake lines MAY be corroding due to water build up in the brake fluid (it's hygroscopioc - takes on water); The chassis may be corroding again; If the car has been kept outside, all the bolts will be stiff and/or rusty. Even if it was in a garage, you may have some problems; Battery will be long since deceased; Ingress of water in to the car if brightwork is not watertight; Most rubber will now be very brittle and useless (including gaiters and tyres); Take a look at my website for the problems I encountered. Have you seen the car yet ? None of the above is expensive if you can do it yourself (but it will take time). If you take it to a Lotus garage, it will cost you an arm and a leg.

These are only initial thoughts - more will come to me I'm sure ! Obviously a test drive is out of the question, which leaves you open as to how the thing actually drives. Really you need to question the previous owners as much as possible about the car's history. Look in Lotus magazines for other car availabilities - these cars are fantastic, but they will bite you if you get the wrong one !


Has the previous/current owner got pictures ? Do the bills seem reasonable ? Do the dates of the bills tie up ? Where was the work done - Bodgit and Reckit Unlimited., or a Lotus mechanic ? Look at the nuts and bolts on the engine - are they new ? Greased ? Burred slightly (poor mechanic skills and/or tools. [All my nuts are burred !]). The engine should be spotless.

When test driving it, hammer the box, engine and brakes. If it breaks, you want it to break BEFORE you buy it ! In particular, put 2nd gear through some strain (5 speed Lotus 'box) - it's the most fragile. Watch for pinging sounds and flying circlips !! It sounds like the car is a 'runner'. If not, are you being seduced by the paint job/marque/unrealistic expectations ? Does the car have a history ? Look at the V5 for previous owner - take down the adress and contact him. What was his history with the car ?


Take with you a couple of shop rags and a strong flashlight, at the minimum. Before buying, you will want to hear it run, get a test drive so the engine is up to temp. at 90 C or just a line above. You shouldn't see any water leaks. Look in the expansion tank for rusty residue, but you should see only clean water/anti-freeze. The radiator fans should both work. Look and listen to the engine for things that wobble, make bad noises or leak.

Check for excessive play at the steering wheel. If there is any, than the steering u-joints and/or the rack could be bad. While out for a drive, listen for any roaring noise from the back, which can be heard better when the windows are closed; rear axle bearings, or the diff. If the drive shaft u-joints are bad, the diff assembly must be removed.

Shifts should be very positive, but don't try to "guide" the stick, just let it find the next gear. Trying to "guide" it, you will go from first to fourth or second to fifth. If the tranny has been abused, then second gear will be bad, which is the weakest point of the 5 speeds.

Does the AC actually work?! Most don't. My engine gets hot in slow traffic, but it's a great open road cruiser. If stuck in traffic, keep a great distance from the car in front and always pre-plan an escape route just in case you must get off the road in a hurry. The stock radiator is not adequate for hot weather in the States, especially with the A/C.

If the brakes are in good shape, then the car should stop very quickly without any pulling. Use the flashlight to look between the brake drums and differential, and any other dark mysterious places. Electrics? Well you already have a Lotus .....


Weak spots:
Chassis can rust at the rear of the car;
the box section that goes across the car over the diff.
Driveshaft UJs.
Diff output bearings.
Diff output oil seals.
Fuel pump.
Electrics generally.
Popup headlamps (vacuum system is erratic, hard to find the fault, some parts are simply not available, others are expensive).
Distributors, if the points type. OK, not really a weak spot but needs servicing every 2500 miles in my opinion, and it's a swine to remove and replace.
Gearboxes ... 2nd gear.
Water leaks; it's very hard to stop water getting into the car.

I'm sure people will come up with other things.

More detail. I assume you are a keen and able DIY mechanic able to do virtually any job yourself? If not ... sorry, then this car is *not* for you.

The chassis, if rusted, is a definite no-no. It can be replaced - but at a *cost*.

Driveshaft UJs fail regularly because they take all the cornering side force. Not expensive, but a fiddly DIY job.

Diff output bearings and/or oil seals: Fairly expensive to fix, say roughly £120 per side for the parts. A tricky job.

Fuel pump: the SU points type can give problems. I gave up and fitted a Facet. I forget the price but allow say £50 ... at the first sign of trouble, replace the SU with a Facet I'd say.

Electrics: you need a meter, lots of spare wire, time and patience. Often it won't cost a lot when you find the problem. Usually it's a poor earth connection; if not, it's often dirty switch contacts or motor commutators, simply failing through lack of use and only needing cleaning/freeing up.

Popup headlamps: No easy fix, in my view. Expect them to work after a fashion, staying up when the engine isn't running but going down soon after it's started and otherwise performing as they should. It's possible to convert to electric operation but I think it's a bit fiddly to do.

Water leaks: check if the car is damp inside. Don't be too surprised if it is; make up your own mind how serious it is.

I have not mentioned the engine, as it deserves a whole section to itself. It's not usually a weak spot *IF* you are aware, and treat it properly. On the other hand, problems are very expensive to fix. A full head job (eg after a cambelt failure) will cost several hundred pounds for the parts and specialist work, even when you do most of the work yourself. If the bottom end is well worn (low compression, burning oil), this is very expensive as pistons cost a fortune. I think it's about £2000 for the parts. So if the engine is OK, if you fit a cam belt *NOW*, change it regularly, and treat the engine as the sensitive delicate but very classy elderly lady it is (don't thrash it to death), you should have no major engine expense for say 20k miles. On the other hand, if you are unlucky it might cost £3k. It's a risk .... decide if you can take it.

My personal buyers checklist:
engine compression test
engine smoke test; decelerate violently in low gear on the overrun and look for smoke when you accelerate again
check for structural rust in the chassis
check that all gears are there OK, especially 2nd

Any of these problems ... avoid that car.
look for signs of oil on or near the rear brake drums
see if the rear wheels rock when you push/pull when jacked up
If you find these, it's a fair bit of work and cost but I'd say knock the price down because of it ... you'll have to do this work sooner or later on any of these cars.

Other things like most suspension joints are not expensive for the parts and not that hard to fix, so I've not listed them as no-no's or major concerns. I assume things like replacing ball joints will be no problem for you.

Tyres are difficult to find (well, good ones are) and fairly expensive, so be careful if it needs tyres all round.

Expect the bodywork to be pretty decent; it usually lasts fairly well. Inside, the headlinings can sag or fall apart, but it's not that expensive or difficult to fix, though you need to take time and care

Expect it to drip a bit of oil from the engine, and to burn a certain amount as well - they all do that, sir!

If the door hinges are excessively stiff, it may be a sign of serious trouble; take care.

Expect it to have a stainless steel exhaust - they most have this. If not, and if it's in poor condition, try to get a bit off the price and fit a s/s one yourself - they are not *that* expensive (about £300 I think).

Is that enough for you? Don't be put off though - they are great cars! You *must* expect a few of these problems with any of these cars; they are fairly elderly now, and most have not had an easy life. Oh, be more concerned about any poor quality non-standard work you find on the car; something worn is usually not too bad to replace; but something messed up needs both un-messing and replacing properly, which is more work and hassle.


First...the book "Illustrated Lotus Buyer's Guide" (2nd ed.) by Graham Arnold - especially chapter 8 on the Elite/Eclat/Sprint series is worth studying. Also look at the appendix bits on restoration, and on the Engines.

Ask an experienced Lotus mechanic to check the car over if possible.

Rear chassis cross-member. Any rust yet? Of course, a new chassis can be fitted. Just see if this one is intact between rear uprights. It can rust away until collapse. SpyderSport have a chassis for the Elite. Vic Moore once demonstrated a Spyder Elite with a Rover V8 that turned in better track times at Castle Coombe than the factory-prepared Esprit (S1/S2?) back then.

Windshield wiper drive assembly. OK? You can get to the motor, but the drive is buried deep in the body behind the dash.

Gearbox - Lotus/Maxi 5-spd with 2.0L, or possibly the BorgWarner 3-spd automatic. The Lotus 5-spd is usually considered a weak link - back off the throttle smartly at speed in each gear. Does it stay in gear? The reverse actuator in earlier models had a tendency to break a rivet. Later ones are welded. Can you get it into reverse and will it keep itself there? Try BACKING UP A STEEP HILL. It had better hold. Spare gear boxes are hard to find, as are the parts. Only way out for the gearbox is thru the engine bay. You gotta pull the "tranny holder" (that's the motor). First couple years had slightly weaker synchros (balking ring cone angle changed later) - but often the problem is just that someone put a real slippery synthetic gear lube in. Be sure to use a "non-slip" rated gear lube (OK for "limited slip" differentials) if you use synthetic rather than "dinosaur juice." By the way, there is *no* spring return across the "H" shift pattern, going from the 1-2 gate to the 3-4. The box is designed that way. The stick easily rests in neutral anywhere across the horizontal until you head for the 5/reverse gate which is sprung.

In the UK, you have a Series 2 and 2.2L. In the USA, you have the Series 1 (2.0L). Early 80's Elites (2.2) had a sturdy Getrag. Mid-80's Excel had Toyota 5 speed trasmission & brakes. Some folks put a Rover 3500 V8 in the Elites. That's a nice way to make it a super "GT" car!

Front suspension - "U" straps holding anti-roll bar bushings (two) should be replaced with heavy duty. Early ones lean over (bend), then crack.

Rear wheel bearings? Sometimes diff output bearings. All the usual bushings, trunnions, upper ball joint, steering knuckles, etc. etc. etc. need to be checked. Trunnions have to be kept topped up, with gear oil.

Check the rear longitudinal bolts (two), pinning inner end of lower links to the diff housing. If these dry up they will generally crack or shear off. Use aircraft grade (will bend before they break). Or use grade 5. Do not put in super-hard bolts - they'll be too brittle.

U-joints in the rear should be checked. NEVER USE "UMB" BRAND U-JOINTS. USE HARDY/DANA-"SPICER" or NEAPCO.

Rear toe? Should be around 1/4" toe in there. No kidding. Only way to change that is to add/remove shim washers at the trailing arm pivot mount (a Mylastic carrier plate/housing). Don't let anyone put lift-pads under trailing arms! I've seen mechanics place them there... OUCH!! Make sure there are no odd marks in trailing arms.

If rear drums (inboard) don't "self-adjust" they might be missing a tiny little 1/4" square "H" piece... that often gets lost during brake service. Try adjusting. Quick test: If brake pedal seems "long" (stroke), pull handbrake up some - not tight, but as much as you can without impeding the car's free-rolling... and then try the brakes again. Are they *much* shorter? Probably need to open up the drums and sort it out. Maybe just time for new linings on the shoes.

One more thing in back... see if you get heavy vibes cruising around 100 to 130 "clicks" (KPH). There have been reports of vibrating drive shafts, hollow with a rubber sleeved press fit on one end. Can be a u-joint... if not sleeve getting off-center. Solutions are fresh rubber insert, or a solid shaft.

Front calipers - 2-pot or 3-pot Girlings? Elites with A/C and PAS should have the 3-pots. Early "base" models (more Eclat than Elite) had steel wheels, only a 4-spd, no A/C, no PAS, and 2-pot calipers.

Steering. Usually not a problem, except that the lower steering shaft u-joint, exposed to road mess, tends to wear more quickly than the upper. Very easy to change out. I did mine. A good steering setup will have NO play at the wheel. None at all. NOTE: Use ATF for PAS fluid - do not use what is labeled as "Power Steering Fluid" - The Auto- Trans Fluid is a better fluid - Lotus specified it.

Front toe is easy to set. Around 1/8" is enough.

Engine. 907 (2.0L) -- water pump OK? Timing belt tension correct? If there is a spring-loaded tensioner on it -- get it replaced with the manual adjuster (idler wheel on an offset center). Fresh belt is probably 20 to 30 bucks (in US dollars). If the belt "sings" (whines a lot) at speed, it may be too tight. If there is any "slop" in it when cold, it may jump off. Correct tension is 99 Hz across top span when stone cold. Don't let it get loose in winter. The motor shrinks (dimensionally) when it is colder. You can add a "snubber" finger over the intake pulley.

Dellortos? Replace the needle&seat (float valve) if there's any sign of flooding. Set floats to 15mm. Used to be 16.5 mm. Most folks use 15 mm now.

Watch out for vacuum leaks in headlight & heater control circuits. A rough idle may be from bleeding extra air into the #1 intake runner. Brake booster is off no.4 runner. "Clicking" noise behind dash may simply be noisy non-return valve in brake booster.

Motor "quiet" -- no knocking, pinging, rattles? Later HC motors used Nikasil (Ni-Si) cyl. liners, and pistons might rattle around while warming up. Pay attention to the oil: 6.3 US QUARTS (not 5). And make sure to use the recommended 20w50.

Lumenition electronic or plain old breaker points? Lumenition was a dealer option, later a standard.

Timing... officially about 34 deg total advance at the crank, at 4000 to 6000 rpm. If you've got the distributor mod (lighter springs) it will be "all in" by 2500 rpm... surely before you get up to 3000. The vacuum thingy is a "retard" at idle (it is *not* a vacuum *advance*). Stop it off. You should be able to pass emissions readings by screwing down the idle jets a bit... just for testing purposes ;-) Engine will idle better with more advance. And it will pick up "off idle" with more torque right away. Timing ultimately depends on compression, plugs, fuel octane, cleanliness/dirtiness of head chambers, very much on carb jetting as well. Be careful there, but the motor likes enough advance to burn the fuel.

If the idle jetting seems too rich, before you change any jets, try this trick setup... If you do, open up the air bleed (idle bypass) screws (usually closed) around 1+ turn, plus or minus a half turn or so, and you may find you can get proper idle without cracking the throttle plates open... if you have more idle advance. That's good, because you aren't "borrowing" from the progression circuits, which then make for a hesitant pickup "off idle" since you've already used progression. Otherwise, you'll have to drive the idle mix screws way down and crack the throttle plates open for good mix.

Hot tip: If both of the bonnet latches don't unlatch easy, and they are lubed, check the cable sheath retaining bracket inside cockpit, above the release pull lever. The OEM is not sturdy enough -- bends and gives way. Just reach up and hold the offending cable sheath back as you pull the release lever again. Should pop open. If not, you can remove the two hinge-pin bolts by just reaching in (snug) above the open headlamp pop-ups.

Any heat? Hot water valve is normally closed, opens with vacuum from flapper box controls.

Radiator fans come on automatically... OK? Do they draw enough air through? If not, get a single SPAL fan (or Fiat 124, or some such) and mount that. Mine will idle for hours and do traffic in hot summers with no sweat. Radiator fan blows my hair as I adjust Dellortos! Temp holds 90-100 C with 74-81 deg T-stat. Make sure it does come up to temp quickly... T-stat sticks open (usually) and hardly warms.

Road manners! 205/60 VR 14 were factory OEM. On 7" wide GKN "dish" wheels - very light wheels. Don't overinflate tyres. About 22 pounds all 'round, give our take a pound. Extra two pounds in back will make it *feel* a bit more sure-footed entering turns, but it won't actually manage as much grip.

Tracking... should feel *very* stable at speed. Just point it down the road and it goes firm & straight not wandering in wind or over small irregularities. Enter a corner, tail "steps out" just a little, *feels* a little loose just going into it, but the chassis is quick to take a "set" and will hold it tenaciously. These cars are amazingly agile in a slalom at 35-45 MPH. You'll be surprised, since it feels like a "heavy" car (I also have an Europa). The Elite is more of a "track" car than a 'crosser. A "practical" daily driver, and good on long trips. Where else can you have such fun with 4 SEATS?

SUMMARY: A nice 4 seater. Typically "undervalued" and available on the cheap -- but requires scrutiny over mechanical condition. Rewarding when sorted. Don't pay too much. Check the auction summaries. I probably paid too much, and still have no regrets!

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