A single poor decision delays the Seven bitsa build
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. ■ firstname.lastname@example.org
The third set of dampers finally fitted.
Lovely TIG welding (that Paul had to cut apart again).