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Hagerty Employee

Prepping for that first drive is an annual rite of spring | Hagerty Media

Last week, I talked about clocking through a few spring sort-out projects. One of them was dealing with fluid leaks in my '74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special. The car was leaking coolant out the heater control valve and dripping oil down the back of the head.
Advanced Driver

This past fall, I completed a total front end rebuild, and power front disc brake conversion on my '70 Charger. The brakes are working perfectly, except for an occasional "thunk" upon first application, of which I've yet to track down the cause. Driving down the road, however, I've noticed that the formerly somewhat loose steering feel is now quite responsive, almost to the point of being twitchy. I guess I'll just have to readjust and get used to this new feeling, LOL!! I've already put more miles on it in the past couple of months though, than I did in ALL of last year! 🙂

A fun read as always Rob - but my first drive each Spring seems the opposite of yours: pulling out of the driveway = heart pounding anxiety. First hundred yards = relieved to be still under power. Arrival at nearby station for fresh fuel = thankful to have remembered to carry a charged cell phone. Engine fires again after fueling = confidence building. Short jaunt around town = genuine pleasure. Pulling back into driveway = bliss achieved at last!
Intermediate Driver

An old girlfriend of mine had a Lotus Europa that actually was her fathers car, but, it was what it was... She used to love driving it and on occasion, I was allowed to drive it also. I loved the way it handled but it didn't quite have the power I had expected it to have. It was a fun car to drive though. Her dad was constantly "tinkering" with it because that was his "Dad Thing", and I found out later on, it was my "thing" also, except mine was on a 1957 Corvette that in 1965, I purchased for a mere 350 bucks. But back in 1965, it was a princely sum for a 17 year old kid to spend. I ended up working on that thing all the time, especially with that wonderful, ( cough, cough ), Rochester fuel injection that used a manometer and a lot of Mercury to get set and running right, on just about every weekend. And yes, back then we used Mercury for a lot of things and it was available at just about every hardware, auto store or pharmacy at the time, and we used our bare hands to gather up any that spilled on the garage floor. Anyhow, I digress. That Lotus was a fun, no, great car to drive, but in the end, I favored my more powerful cars and a different girlfriend. Ah well, such is life.

Rob, I feel your pain. 20 Years ago when I resurrected my 71 Elan Plus 2 I put in brand new Metalastic Rotoflex couplings in the half shafts, at the time I couldn't afford the $1600 CV jointed half shaft upgrades. Well, this spring during the annual servicing of the fun car fleet I was met with a leaky heater core on my 30 year old 5.0 convertible, a leaky heater core and a bad rear suspension fulcrum bearing on my 91 Series III XJ 12, and, you guessed it, a broken Rotoflex coupler on my Elan Plus 2. I guess some spring services are more involved than others.

Now, being near retirement age I could finally afford the $1600 CV half shafts, I rang up my friend Ken at Dave Bean Engineering and the new shafts arrived days later. Last weekend I set about installing the new shafts, and in true Lotus fashion the first one went in with about 3 hours of work, the second one in about an hour. Now it was off to the test drive to see how much springiness would be removed from the drive line under acceleration and deceleration. They worked great.

However, I've always had a sticky rear caliper on the left side and it's something I've known about for 20 years, no effect on braking so it's not been an issue, until I removed the rubber dampener (the Rotoflex) from the drive shaft. Now when cornering I get a harmonic noise from the dragging brake pad that used to be isolated with the Rotoflex, now it sounds like someone swirling their finger on a giant wine glass in the back seat, I guess I'm going to have to rebuild the rear calipers in the fall, I'll bear with the noise for the summer.

Now off to the Heater core races, YUK

I never worry about any new spring drive, even here is cold MN, our Model A keeps going all winter long, as long as the roads are clear of salt slush and dry, we make use of the manifold heater, try out never-traveled roads and see new places, new snow. An idle car is the devil's workshop.

Good job Rob! I find these stories of yours quite humorous, simply because this is exactly the kind of thing I do. For various reasons (finances mostly in my case) I will go to great lengths to do things myself rather than paying somebody else. Not 100% because I can't afford it, but also because I love learning & also because there is a certain satisfaction knowing you did it yourself. Keep up the great work & stories!
Pit Crew

Rob, I love seeing your vehicles, and reading your articles! You have real, drivable vehicles with "character", not trailer queens, or Concours winners. Stuff I can relate too! I always do a basic maintenance check on my toys in the Spring before taking them out for a real drive. I check all fluids, and do a basic hose and fitting check, along with wiring check, not that I have ever had rodent issues... That first drive is always gentle, with the radio off so I can listen for odd noises. I breathe a sigh of relief when the drive is over without issue!
But I completely agree with you, I love the feel and smell of my older rides. Reminds me of why I keep them, and enjoy them. Then the reality of 30+ year old sealing technology sets in with the normal wind noise, and classis NVH of an older vehicle. But, in all reality, 95% of the time I prefer that to modern cookie-cutter cars without a soul... If I'm going for a long drive, I would still rather take my '89 Dodge Daytona T-top, than my Dodge Journey.... Now, my wife would argue that, but that's a whole different conversation... 🙂

I feel kind of lucky that I live in a part of the country that has year round driving. Memphis has winters for sure, but they are quick and not too cold. Most days are just right for a nice drive. So because of the good weather, I don't have to park my convertible for months on end.

Gated Ferrari 360 Spider in Azzurro California / CremaGated Ferrari 360 Spider in Azzurro California / Crema

Intermediate Driver

Always enjoy Rob’s writings. Don’t have that first “spring drive” here in sunny California. It’s currently raining!

I rarely have that moment of disappointment at "old car rattles" and such; I guess I just expect such things. My vehicle friends are old and a bit arthritic, and perhaps so am I.
Intermediate Driver

Thanks for the article, Rob. Keep ‘em coming. My ‘74 Spitfire was bucking when I put it into winter storage. First nice spring day I replaced a leaking fuel pump gasket. Engine is smooth now. Hopped in the BMW e30 for the first spring drive and thought “that diff. sure is loud”. Changed the fluid and yeah, e30 diffs are loud. At least mine has always been. After not hearing it through a long winter it surprised me. A few drives in it and I don’t even notice it now though. At least not over the noise of my way too loud muffler.

Rob, just wanted to compliment you on your many talents including mechanic, musician, writer and all-round car enthusiast. God Bless and may you have many more years of spring time first-drives!

Ah, the issue of "what-have-I-done-already?". I remember that vividly from my earliest motorcycling years in Ottawa and Toronto, because my CB360T had to be stored and resurrected each year, and from 22+ years in frozen Edmonton, Alberta. Retirement and a move to balmy Victoria on the west coast mean that my spring routine amounts to changing the oil on machines that have seen only sunny-day runs over the rainy season (November through February). One bike had clocked only 800 km since its last oil change in April 2020, but there were still other issues to set right. My 1983 (Lincoln) Continental Mark VI needed to have a door handle tightened, and door panel clips replaced, but also needed its carb tuned -- it was getting maybe 10 mpg (US), or using 24 litres per 100 km, as we reckon it. A very organized local independent garage, Searles, has some older mechanics who still understand carbs (yes, there's a 2150 Motorcraft on that baby, Canadian spec, long after the US Panther-body Lincolns had gone to fuel injection). I paid for their expertise and was rewarded with 16 mpg (15 l/100 km) in mixed driving. I also had them replace the leaky, no doubt original valve cover gaskets while they were under the hood. Result? A car I did not much want to drive has suddenly taken on many more tasks! With the windows down and the sunroof open, it is a grand cruiser. Ah, springtime!
Pit Crew

I've had an S2 from new. The handling is indeed sensitive to rear wheel alignment, which can be set sensibly only using a lift, as you did. My rear toe-in is set to 1/16th of an inch on each side, 1/8th inch total. With too much or too little it's unstable on the highway. Get it right and it's a dream. I have adjustable shocks front and rear with both ends set to full soft. These cars are so light they don't need a lot of damping. Besides rattling your teeth, firm shocks will degrade the handling.
New Driver

Another good story, you have a knack for bringing to light the trials and tribulations of owning the vehicles we have made part of our lives. When I was reading about the first ride I had to chuckle.
I encountered almost the same situation. I Have slowly been turning my 66 E coupe vintage racer back to a street car. Last year I added horns and a quieter exhaust as well as a few other items to attempt to make her street legal so I can register and insure my companion of 45 years. Last week I rolled the car out of the storage garage and after checking the important stuff fired her up and proceeded to bring her to my shop at home.
Just like you, I surely did not remember the sounds I heard as I rolled along the back roads from
one town over to my home garage ( I also live in Massachusetts). Once home I had to search for that rattle. Surprisingly it was one of the new horns I had install last fall it had some how moved and was rattling against the bulkhead. A slight twist and a bend and that was the end of that. A quick spin around the block confirmed that particular noise was gone. My task at hand is to finish adding back the creature comforts I removed over the years while racing it.
What caught my eye was your Europa as I to have a 72 that came in boxes. I have owned it for over 25 years. I have slowly been reassembling all of the bits and pieces. There is a bit of a twist to the reassemble process. We have made a number of changes, including reinforcing the frame and adding a small block Chevy with a Porsche trans axle. It's on the back burner once again as I have had to retire it to the storage unit for the time being but hope to continue on with my "Cheuropa" soon
I ordered your Lotus book to day and I am sure I will enjoy reading it. Thanks for the stories!

Other than engine location and size - there is a remarkable amount of similarity between your lotus and my similar vintage vette
I had it out the other day and noted that the front end had a remarkable amount of wobble to it... I thought I had a wheel coming off. Then I remembered that my leaky power steering will grow a remarkable amount of play when the level is low. It doesn't whine to warn you that it's low either. Panic #2 was that I overfilled the tank and it pushed gas out the vent - I thought I had a broken fuel line a little too far from home to limp it back
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Any time I've lifted a vehicle for repairs on suspension and steering, as a rule of thumb, I roll the vehicle back and forth a few feet after lowering onto the ground. Doing this brings the cambers back into the load adjustment. Unloading the suspension causes the cambers to go positive and they stay that way when loaded back until you roll the vehicle back and forth to settle things. Then I drive the vehicle up onto the ramps and do the toe adjustments.
New Driver

I was a pleasure reading your article, especially because it reminded me why I will most likely NEVER own a vintage Lotus--I just can't commit to another pastime. I'd have to give up something I already do, like cycling, woodworking, taking care of my house/gardening, kayaking (I build those too). I bought a '17 Miata because I wanted to fun of a sports car for weekends with a modest time investment and it's worked out pretty well.

That said, I have nothing but admiration for anyone who takes the time to sort a wonderful old car and then uses it as intended. The closest I come to that is my '04 Volvo XC70, which looks about as clean as 16 yr-old daily drivers get, inside and out and even under the hood. No fewer than three people (including my mechanic) has offered to buy it. I do a few maintenance things to it but more on the Miata, like oil changes, changing to winter wheels and back, etc. A friend of mine has a '93 Volvo wagon and every time we see each other, we end up spending at least 15 minutes talking about our Volvos.
Pit Crew

“ (and no I didn’t write it down because shut up)”

This is why I love reading Siegel. That and he’s an honest, good guy.

It is such a breath of fresh air to read an article from a guy who obviously worked toward the goal of creating a useable device to get around in and not a trailered toy. The fun of this hobby is working out the bugs and making steady improvements sometimes by trial and error.
I am so sick and tired of seeing immaculate machines with ads like “starts on the first crank” or “doesn’t leak”, this on an add for a Bugeye Sprite of which I own one. When I see a spotless undercarriage on a Bugeye that is reputed to be original, knowing the front timing seal is a piece of felt and the crankcase vent is a piece of tubing running to the ground I am suspicious that A) the car has no oil in it, B) it has never driven, or C) it has 0 oil pressure.
Unfortunately used car salesmen earned a well deserved reputation throughout time preying on everyone’s optimism.