The 1967 Lotus Elan S3/SE DHC has become long-term decorative art in our garage, for over 40 years a non-runner. It’s time to get it back on the road, little by little, in small steps. This first action phase is for getting my feet wet. I don’t fully understand what I am doing, so need to be careful, the operative phrase being “do no harm”.
This may all be whistling in the wind. Dave Bean suggest in their catalog that the engine, particularly the bores, rings, bearings, valve gear, and water pump, certainly will be trashed. Hopefully the compression check will prove some of that wrong, but a trashed water pump seems a certainty (although it has taken 40 years of sitting to leak out less than half the original coolant).
The goals of ΦII are:
- get the starter to turn over the engine and do a compression check
- sort and establish working condition of the electricals behind the firewall, such as heater and wiper motors (hopefully the dash will only need to be installed once)
- assess condition of intake-side engine mount (The rear carb occasionally had been contacting the top of the RH footwell. Sometimes a standard Ford mount will be used there mistakenly, or perhaps the Elan-specific mount could be installed upside-down. But my engine rebuilder was a savvy guy, so I suspect the part has simply failed.)
- plan for subsequent phases
- thermostat housing gasket (Fel-Pro 35064 nearly perfect fit, some minor trimming makes it look smart)
- radiator cap (generic, pressure-less)
- brass 1/8″ pipe thread plug for retired oil pan orifice
- some 1/4″ lock washers.
ΦIII and Beyond Parts
- fiberglass repair materials
- intake-side engine mount
- vacuum tee and related coupling sleeves
- coupling sleeve: fuel line to tank
- trunk hinge gaskets
- door handle gasket
- fiber washers for dash mounting bolts
- external side mirror
- Weber mounting O-rings and soft-mount cushions
- bottom radiator hose
The engine must be in a condition to turn over without harm. The carbs are off.
I drained the 40yo oil, which still looks and smells like oil. Its pH appears to be around 7, a good value indicating the oil did not pick up much moisture over the decades. I had saved two new oil filters from the early ’70s, and they still looked fine, so installed one of them.
I drained the radiator and the block and disconnected the lower heater hose to get a few more ounces out. The 40yo coolant still looks and smells like coolant. It is still the original red color. I don’t recall the brand, probably Dupont Telar. It was a pure coolant solution; no water added. It looks good enough to filter and put back in. Just kidding. Its pH appears to be nearly 9, not a great value, but perhaps indicating that fears of extensive corrosion may be overblown.
Replace Engine Oil and Remove External Oil Line Plumbing
My engine rebuilder ca. 1970 plumbed the engine for an external oil cooler/filter. This was a nuisance item for me and I have since discarded it. I finished the job by removing the external pressured and return oil lines and will need a plug to screw into the vacated threaded pan oil return.
I had four quarts of ’60s vintage engine oil, a mix of SAE30/40 weights. (I thought it was cool to replace 40yo used oil with 40+yo new oil. It also helps justify my mindset of never discarding anything I think I might use again.)
This will serve to test the engine state of health and flush out oil passages and pan. It then will be replaced with modern 20-50 before attempting to run the engine.
Inspect Cooling System
The Elan has had a coolant recovery tank installed, and uses a pressure-less radiator cap. My local auto parts store could not supply a generic replacement cap so I keep looking.
I noticed some gel-like solidification around the radiator cap and the thermostat, which I carefully cleared away. From what little I could see, the radiator core looked clean. The top radiator hose was trashed so I removed it and the thermostat as well. The thermostat housings showed some minor corrosion, but when cleaned up were serviceable. The inside of the coolant passage in the head looked normal, so at this early stage I am heartened that the engine has not been trashed from corrosion of coolant passages.
I had a new 60’s vintage thermostat on the shelf, an 87º Wahler (no longer available I suspect). I dropped it in – perfect fit. I also had a new 60’s vintage rubber top hose on the shelf that I pressed into use. Other things to note in these pictures: conversion to electric water temperature sensor; coolant bypass hose installed by my tweak-happy engine builder; after-market tubular headers (my own tweak).
Inspect RH Engine Mount
The intake-side engine mount is the Elan-specific mount and it was installed correctly. But it appears to be in dubious condition, with cracks visible through the rubber. It will need to be replaced later on.
Plug Sump Oil Return Line Oriface (Unused)
Note the oil return line to the sump, added by my engine builder. It is from an oil vapor separator (Alfa part) that exhausts head gasses from the cam cover. Two other sump taps were made. One is for the rear head breather tube (just the edge is shown at the far lower left – the original Elan simply had this breather exhaust to the atmosphere). The currently unused tap was for an oil return line from an external oil filter. I tried to fashion a compression plug for this tap from bits from the local hardware store, but alas, it did not fit; it was not a compression fitting. I went to an auto parts store, and the expert there said it was 1/8″ pipe thread (different taper) and that I should visit a plumbing supply store. Sure enough, I bought a brass plug that fit well enough. (damn PO – oops, that’s me).
Prep Engine for Turning Crank Over
I removed the spark plugs, then loaded up the combustion chambers with aerokroil, basted the valve gear in the stuff also, then let it sit overnight. Anticipating a fight, I put a half inch breaker bar on the crankshaft pulley bolt, accessed just under the radiator, and gave a pull.
No fight in sight; the engine turned easily through 1/6 turn, until the wrench extension contacted the plastic blade of the engine cooling fan. (I forgot to slacken the fan belt.) The cooling fan is a multi-blade plastic fan from a 70s vintage Alfa, replacing the single-bladed OEM metal fan.
Connect Battery and Actuate Solenoid
I’ve had a small gel battery sitting around for 5-6 years, so put it on the charger over night; today it showed 12.8 volts, so I hooked it up. The left taillight glowed brightly, as did the front parking lights. Apparently the wiring in the little car was not tasty to the garage rats. The yellow ghost is exhibiting its first signs of life in over 40 years.
I turned off the headlight switch, then crossed my fingers and pressed the solenoid actuator. The starter motor engaged and the engine turned perhaps a half rev and then stopped. No more juice. The little old battery pumps out hardly any amps. Add a new battery to the list. Perhaps first I will jumper from the VW with which it shares garage space.
I am heartened by the current evidence. The little hulk demonstrates more resistance to the ravages of time than does its neglectful owner.
Proceed to Restoration ΦIII.