Don's 1969 Lotus Elan S4
Don Butler: Lotus Mechanic and Electrical Engineer
It all started on a quiet day back in the late '50's. I walked outside and stood standing in the middle of the street gaping at a TR3. I couldn't have been more astounded if an UFO had landed. Living in the 'burbs with Fords, Chevys, and Dodges I assumed that that's all there was to cars. Unfortunately, the high school kids across the street didn't pay any attention to us little kids and their friend with the TR didn't return. But the seeds of a lifelong affliction with sports cars were planted.
I started satisfying the disease by working on friends sports cars, Healeys, Triumphs, MGB's and hot rodding what I had at hand. A 1963 Chevy Impala. A stock appearing station wagon with an engine assembled by me with Corvette and Z28 parts, and a transmission from a 396 Chevelle that I reprogrammed for firmer shifts. It was strong enough to destroy three differentials and one drive shaft (the center universal joint snapped in half!). I nearly cried when the 4.56:1 Posi broke.
Eventually, with college behind me and working in the electronics industry, I was able to buy a proper sports car. A three year old Fiat 124 Sport Spyder (Spider if you prefer). Very red and the best convertible top ever made. A few engine mods, some fat tyres, and I was out on the back roads improving my cornering technique to the point that guys with V8 Mustangs couldn't keep-up with me on the twistys.
A change of employer with a satisfying increase in remuneration allowed one to consider candidates for the next object of one's attention. After about a year of AutoWeek/Competition Press (back when it was a proper newspaper with a bazillion ads in the middle and Satch in the AutoWeek section) and a few other magazine articles, I decided on a Lotus Élan. Altogether it took nearly two years of reading ads to find one for sale near where I was living. After looking at it for five minutes and driving it about five miles in the rain, I gave the gentleman a deposit and took delivery the next day. Very brave considering it was the first time I've ever seen an Élan "in person" and the second time I've ever seen a Lotus (an Europa). Fortunately it continued to run without much trouble until I was able to start the rebuilding/restoring process.
Now, 30 years later, nearly everything on the little bugger has been repaired or replaced. Preferably repaired, I prefer the look of well maintained old parts to new. It's back together with reground Camshafts (DB #112), a 1600cc Formula Ford crankshaft and special Dave Bean Engineering pistons giving a total of 1700 cc's. It was fast before so it's "just right" now.
So, to arrive at the point of this meandering, during the last thirty-five years I've "read and did" on an assortment of sports cars and racecars (the racecars, maintaining and driving, is a longer meandering than this one) and acquired the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to perform any maintenance on most any British sports car. It's just a matter of reading the service manual, applying general principles, planning the steps, and carefully discovering the "tricks" - not much different than when I commissioned industrial machines (another meandering that ranges from bed springs to Space Shuttle parts).
Donald Lee Butler
Don and "Apprentice" Brandon repairing the wiring in an Essex Turbo Esprit.
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