Lo­tus Seven

A sin­gle poor de­ci­sion de­lays the Seven bitsa build

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - Paul Wakely CON­TRIB­U­TOR

As the past three ed­i­tors of Prac­ti­cal

Clas­sics will at­test, meet­ing dead­lines has never been my strong point. This ex­tends to my projects, in which I will com­bine wildly am­bi­tious plans with a ta­lent for hugely un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the time they will take. When I be­gan build­ing the Lo­tus, the 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions last July seemed an eter­nity away. I was look­ing for­ward to driv­ing to Don­ing­ton in the Seven, be­fore set­ting off on a hol­i­day around France, en­joy­ing the sum­mer air in my racy new sports car… but I ended up at­tend­ing the 60th week­end in a Ford Mon­deo es­tate.

Over-am­bi­tion has been part of the prob­lem, as the early Sev­ens dif­fer more from the later cars than I had ex­pected, so every day has in­volved some kind of re­search. And as it has taken a long time to find all the parts for my ‘bitsa’, much of the project has felt like try­ing to com­plete a jig­saw puz­zle which has half of the pieces miss­ing, with only a fuzzy old pho­to­graph from the Fifties to work from.

Af­ter los­ing so much time to head-scratch­ing and parts-hunt­ing, I was look­ing for­ward to mak­ing some vis­i­ble progress and putting the rear axle in, which would help the car look like a car, rather than a very small climb­ing frame.

Apart from a hand­ful of spe­cial-or­der Coven­try Cli­max-en­gined cars built with De Dion rear sus­pen­sion, Se­ries One Sev­ens used the live axle from a Nash Met­ro­pol­i­tan – sim­i­lar to a Sprid­get one – with brack­ets welded on for a four-link sus­pen­sion set-up like that of the Lo­tus Eleven Club­man. The off­side lower link has an ex­tra di­ag­o­nal strut that at­taches to the chas­sis by the rear of the trans­mis­sion tun­nel and pre­vents side­ways move­ment.

My axle was supplied by Mike Brother­wood, hav­ing come from a car that had been con­verted to De Dion rear sus­pen­sion, as many are th­ese days. Mike makes the sus­pen­sion links – be­ing thin tubes, it is best not to use rusty orig­i­nals – although the di­ag­o­nal strut needs to be tack­welded in situ be­fore fin­ish-weld­ing to en­sure per­fect align­ment of the rear end.

Tak­ing my eye off the ball

Mike had also told me he could or­der Spax dampers for me, but one day I spot­ted a Spax dealer of­fer­ing a 15 per cent dis­count on Lo­tus Seven S1 ad­justable dampers – and I or­dered them, think­ing I would get a bar­gain. In the process, I made the as­sump­tion that they were the same ones Mike sup­plies. This as­sump­tion turned out to be a big mis­take.

When the dampers ar­rived, it was clear that the mount­ing eye at the bot­tom of the unit was too small to go over the stud on the axle.

Af­ter try­ing to re­solve the is­sue with the dealer, I even­tu­ally went straight to Spax, who agreed to re­place them with an up­dated de­sign with the right size bush­ings. A cou­ple of weeks later and I was ready to fit the axle with the new dampers, only to find once it was all as­sem­bled that they were too long, caus­ing the sus­pen­sion to foul the chas­sis in droop.

Af­ter lots of dou­ble-check­ing, and calls and emails to Tony Shake­shaft, Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor at Spax, and Mike, I had as­cer­tained that firstly, I had not got any­thing else wrong with the in­stal­la­tion that could cause the prob­lem; and se­condly, the dampers that Mike sup­plies are spe­cial or­der, and shorter than those Spax had listed for a Se­ries One Seven. The sec­ond set were posted back, and a week later the axle and dampers were fi­nally in­stalled, the right length and now black to match the fronts rather than the orig­i­nal yel­low (the set had orig­i­nally been supplied mis­matched).

A bit of foul play

Then I dis­cov­ered the di­ag­o­nal link was foul­ing the bot­tom of the off­side damper. This, though, was my fault. Even though I couldn’t fully check the clear­ance un­til the damper is­sue was sorted, I had pan­icked when friend Mike Main­got had told me he was go­ing abroad in a cou­ple of days – I wanted him to TIG weld the sus­pen­sion link rather than trust my MIG work. I had taken a risk and stupidly tacked it in place with­out the damper there, and got it in the wrong place.

Thus, it had to be cut apart, re-tacked, and posted to the other Mike (Brother­wood) who agreed to make a new di­ag­o­nal and re-weld it to the same di­men­sions. With that painted and fit­ted, the rear sus­pen­sion was fi­nally to­gether three months af­ter I’d first bought the dampers, ex­pect­ing it all to bolt right up in a day or two.

Although the whole episode has set the project back and had a knock-on ef­fect on lots of other work, I can’t fault Spax as they put in every ef­fort to sort out the prob­lem for what is a fairly ob­scure car – Tony ex­plained that they had only supplied 16 sets in 15 years, so it’s not ex­actly a money-spin­ner. And Mike Brother­wood has been re­ally help­ful through­out, even though none of this would have hap­pened if I’d just bought the dampers from him in the first place in­stead of try­ing to save a few quid – a fact he had the good grace never to point out. Af­ter all that, I turned my at­ten­tion to the front end, and re­alised that I’d ac­ci­den­tally posted a cru­cial part of one of the front dampers back to Spax when I re­turned one set of the rears. Sigh. ■ prac­ti­cal­clas­sics@bauer­me­dia.co.uk

The third set of dampers fi­nally fit­ted.

Lovely TIG weld­ing (that Paul had to cut apart again).

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