Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day

Postby EM One Hundred » Thu 06.06.2019, 00:00

This is the saga of our trip in the 1972 Elan Plus 2 that we drove to the West Coast Lotus Meet via a circuitous route through Colorado. The first leg, with about 15 cars from LOCO,(That's Lotus Colorado and more apt than you'd expect) included overnights in Pagosa Springs, CO, and Moab, UT as we toured through southern and western Colorado’s generally spectacular scenery as well as dodging spring snow storms. On the third day as most of the group headed back to the front range, five of us went west through Capital Reef, Escalante and Bryce national parks to our overnight in Beaver, UT. That is a part of Utah I had not experienced. I found it amazing that the topography, vegetation and geology seemed to change completely every 50 miles or so. From red rock arches to canyons; from hoodoos to buff sandstone cliffs; from alpine forest to sagebrush, and all the while climbing and descending hills, riding on top of the ridge or looking up at monoliths on all sides. It was mind boggling!

On we went to the Great Basin National park and the Lehman caves. This park, just inside the state line of Nevada, has a spectacular natural cavern which we toured as a break from the road trip. It was the perfect blend of original and accessible. The Park service has done a wonderful job of blending the “leave it as it was when Ab Lehman found it” philosophy with the “make it as accessible as Disney” version. It was a true highlight of the trip.

After an uneventful drive out over five days and 1,550 miles I was feeling pretty cocky that this would actually be a routine, almost boring, trip with no car problems. Well, I jinxed it didn’t I? After two days of hooning around the hills of California where I had flogged the car mercilessly to keep up with the modern Lotus offerings with their turbos and superchargers, Ann and I were simply cruising back to the hotel from the BBQ at Carmichael when I smelled burning rubber and saw the temp gauge go up while the charging gauge went down. I thought right away that it was the belt for the water pump and alternator that had broken so I looked for the closest exit off the freeway. It was 2 ½ miles away. Fixated on the gauges I made it to the Hazel Avenue exit and called back to some folks who were still at the BBQ. After two calls went directly to voice mail, I finally reached Dave Green on the third call. He relayed a message to others and soon I had Dan Crow and Dave Simkin arrive and we all agreed that a tow was needed. While Dan and Dave, with Ann accompanying them, went back to get the trailer I waited with the disabled car. Discouraged!

Shortly after they left, some Colorado friends showed up and they kept me company until Dan arrived back with the trailer and Dave but no Ann. She had the right idea to wait in the hotel bar! We got the car back to the hotel and left it until morning. Then, Dan and I went to O’Reilly auto parts where we found a belt by measuring the old twisted broken one and estimating the length we would need. The closest one we could find was about an inch bigger, but we thought that would be an improvement actually as the old one had almost no slack to get over the pulleys. Then Dan had to pay for it as I had left my wallet back in the hotel room. Of course, he said it was all part of my plan. While we were shopping Dave was back removing the bolts and loosening the brackets. Upon our return, he worked the new belt on with some difficulty since the clearance was so tight around the crankshaft pulley. After everything was buttoned up, I started the car and smelled the same burning rubber smell and saw smoke that confirmed it. Dave crawled underneath and saw a broken motor mount. Dejected!

But this was a Lotus meet and Lotus owners are resourceful aren’t they? One of the Golden Gate guys came along and after I explained my dilemma, he said that Ken Gray might still be at Dave Bean Engineering, our old reliable Lotus parts supplier, and was headed up to the hotel. He called Ken who had left the shop but had not headed up yet. Ken agreed to go back to the shop and get the motor mounts we needed. In the meantime we towed the car to Mike Tatro’s shop where he had volunteered his lift which would make installation easier than on our backs in the hotel parking lot. Dave and I went to the NAPA store for another belt. They had two so I bought them both, just in case. Hopeful!

When Ken arrived, the usual suspects who I had counted on to help (I am pretty useless with this sort of repair…the kind that takes tools more sophisticated that a funnel or a screwdriver) were all reportedly cleaning up for the banquet later that evening. I believe they were napping. So we said we would hit it Sunday morning. Delayed!

After a great banquet and a good night’s sleep, I dressed and went down to the lobby to meet up with my chief mechanic Dave Simkin who was not there or in the breakfast area. Looking out to the west end of the parking lot, to find a major void where Dan’s red truck and trailer had been. Departed!

At this point it had become clear that we were not going to have this done in time to leave Sunday so I added a day to the hotel and planned to leave Monday…for sure! I was trying to figure out what I might do when I saw Ken Gray. When I updated him, he volunteered to come help, leaving his wife Rebecca in the car in the parking lot while he came to the rescue of a hapless Plus 2 owner. We drove out to Mike’s shop and went to work. Ken had told Rebecca that this was an hour job plus travel time so he would be back in an hour and a half. Getting the old mount off was a lot harder than he thought because of the limited access for wrenches as well as the mount itself. After 2 hours, he begged for a bit longer from Rebecca saying we almost had it. When we hit three hours, I pulled the plug on his time as the new mount was in place and just needed bolting in tightly. Rebecca had been patient enough for three repairs. Thank you Ken for your help and expertise and Rebecca for waiting your day away. Heartened!

In the time I was gone, Mike had taken it upon himself to complete the installation of the motor mount. We tried the second new belt only to find it was way too long. Despite being in a sleeve with the same number as the other two belts, it was clearly much longer. We opened the third belt and it was perfect. We started the car and everything seemed good until I backed it out of the shop and drove it about 100 feet to the place where we had parked the M100 that Mike had let us use as a loaner to get back and forth to the hotel. When I stopped the belt started smoking again and while it was not as damaged as it was before, it was getting chewed up pretty badly. Defeated!

I now doubted our ability to use the Plus 2 to get home within a reasonable time period, so I agreed with Mike that he would make arrangements for a “real” mechanic, called Scott, that he knew to effect the repairs. This was officially serious. I had mentioned to Mike that the lovely yellow M100 was a great car and he suggested that it might be for sale. So, after agreeing to leave the Plus 2 to be repaired, we negotiated our purchase of the M100. As Mel Boss said “…such a creative solution to a ‘broken Lotus’ problem - buy an M100.” Excited!

Early Monday morning I called Spyder Engineering in England for advice and Andy said they had seen this before so we should change the other motor mount as well even though the one in there didn’t look bad. Meanwhile, I needed to make wiring and insurance arrangements for our “new” car and while I was doing this Mike texted and said he thought he had it figured out. A remark I had made about the rough roads we had been on and how the suspension had hit the bump stops several times, along with the gravel and wet roads got him thinking. He got a bore scope and looked at the gap between the frame and the lower pulley and found granite chunks almost welded on with the heat. They were acting just like a grinding wheel in reverse with the belt on the wheel taking the beating. It took him a lot of time to get the debris out of there, but it seemed like that would explain why replacing the one motor mount had not solved the problem. Encouraged!

We went back to Mike’s shop where he had fitted the second motor mount in the time we’d been packing the car. I helped get the last bolts in and the last new belt on and we fired it up. We hoped to be able to leave with both cars…I’d drive the Plus 2 and Ann the M100. It was smooth and quiet for a while but then we had the same smell and smoke as before. Crushed!

Our new concern was the weather. On Sunday it had snowed in the Sierras with nearly a foot on Donner Pass. Another storm was forecast for Tuesday with more snow, but it looked as if there was a gap between storms for a traverse over the pass and beyond. Discouraged, and with the weather on Tuesday looking grim again, we decided to make a run for home in the window we had and solve the Plus 2 problem later, perhaps much later. If you looked down from a satellite, there would appear to be a hole in the huge cloud bands just over Folsom and moving eastward. So, while Peter had gone early morning on the northern route using I-80 all the way and Cindy Hoest took the southern route after Tahoe through southern Nevada, realizing now, at mid-day on Monday, that we had a very small window of opportunity, we decided to head east on the middle track –US 50 all the way to Colorado. Ann and I packed all the stuff from the Plus 2 boot and back seat into the boot of the M100…it fit! We had good weather all the way over Echo pass and across Nevada on “The Loneliest Road in America.” Elated!

Tired and frazzled we chose to stop in Ely, NV for the night and met up with Cindy there. After a good dinner, we agreed that the best bet we had was to chase the weather front ahead of us and outrun the one behind us. It was a great concept spoiled by Mother Nature. As we ate our breakfast a blizzard descended on Ely. By the time we got packed and bought gas, there was three inches of snow on the roads. We thought about staying, but the radar said the storm would run through the next day. So we crawled out of town in the tracks of the one pickup truck that blazed a track eastbound while the westbound lane was pure white. My thought was that even at 45 miles an hour, we would soon outrun the storm that had only arrived 30 minutes before, but Cindy wasn’t doing so well on her wide summer tires. It took a while but the flakes got smaller, the sky lighter and the snow on the road thinner. By the time we got to Utah, about 50 miles, it was pretty smooth sailing and we just kept going. Finally in Green River UT we decided to go all the way home; Cindy on I-70 to Rifle and Ann and me to Colorado Springs on US 50. We waved goodbye at Grand Junction, and drove on dry roads all the way to Gunnison. Our last Go/No Go decision point concerned 11,312 foot Monarch Pass which Trip Advisor says “…should not be approached casually. Those who do so may well be spending their last day of life.” Anxious!

Though it had snowed earlier that day, and we were crossing the Continental Divide, the signs were positive from the folks at McDonald’s we spoke with, so we headed over Monarch at 7:30 PM. It was glorious; Evening sunshine, dry roads and no traffic. Once we cleared the pass we decided to ignore the shorter route Garmin wanted us to take and stay on 50 through Salida and down the Arkansas river canyon as it was lower than US 24 through South Park, and had no passes to cross, just a steady drift downhill. We pulled into our garage at 10:10 PM. Exhausted!

When I got home I looked at a text Mike Tatro had sent about 8:00 which said that he and Scott the professional mechanic had raised the right motor mount about ¼ inch which made the belts clear and that the car was ready for the road. It seems that the slightly longer belt we had chosen, angled just enough further over that it fouled on the notch in the frame for the crank pulley. So, by elongating the holes on the mount and welding some washers to insure no movement of the mount, he had enough clearance. Ecstatic!

Now I had a car to retrieve, so I flew back to Sacramento to pick her up and drive the exact same route we had just done. What did you do for Memorial Day? Leaving Colorado Springs at noon Saturday, I flew into Sacramento, took my first ever Uber to Mike’s shop where Mike's friend opened the door as Mike was away and picked up the Plus 2. The car looked great as it had been detailed and I saw the fine job done by Mike and the Mechanics…hey, they should form a band!! I guess I’m showing my age and taste in music. :D I hopefully began the drive back to Colorado at about 5:30 pm with almost 1,200 miles ahead of me and an untested repair. Within a mile or so the oil pressure went to zero and I pulled off at a gas station, shut the car off and checked the oil. Full and clean. Normal water temperature. Nothing visibly amiss so I started it and got over 60 psi instead of the normal 45. As I let it idle it went to zero again then back to about 30 and finally back to zero. My assessment was a faulty gauge so I gingerly set off watching and listening carefully. By the time I reached the edge of Folsom, I figured what the hell and assumed that I really had oil pressure. I just ignored the gauge. Well some 1,170 uneventful miles later I note that she is still running sweet and getting 30+ MPG at 75 MPH average speed on the freeway. Enchanted!

I got home safely and the car did too. The only “moment” I had was a sudden stop on the hard shoulder in Vail, CO. This unplanned stop was sudden, but the source of the stop was a Vail police cruiser with red lights flashing. Thankfully, I just got a warning ticket as the officer was sympathetic to my offer that “The speedometer was waving between 50 and 80, and 65 is right in the middle, so I thought I was doing 65, sir!” He wrote me for 74 and then paced me so I could use the tach for more accuracy. I think he just wanted to look over the car as he asked a lot of questions and seemed to admire it. Relieved!

I think I am eligible for both the most stupid award and the iron butt award since I have now driven the “Loneliest Road in America” three times in two weeks. There is a line from a Garth Brooks song that captures my feelings perfectly…”I’m much too young to feel this damn old!”

But now I have a wonderful M100 in the garage along with a Plus 2 that runs well. I am indeed a lucky guy! Gob Smacked!
EM One Hundred
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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Re: Groundhog Day

Postby HJ2 » Thu 06.06.2019, 11:21

If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got
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Re: Groundhog Day

Postby LRS7 » Thu 06.06.2019, 23:14

A wonderful story and yes a very Lucky guy :burnout: absolutely wonderful read :D
Range Rover Sport Autobiography
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