BLACKBOURN

TOO MANY PROJECTS ARE JUST ENOUGH FOR ROB

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - ROB BLACKBOURN ROB BLACKBOURN

WHILE ROY and HG reck­oned ‘too much sport is never enough’, for me it’s more like ‘too many projects are never enough’.

What usu­ally es­capes me is the keep-it-sim­ple strateg y of find­ing the car you want in the con­di­tion you want, and buy­ing it. My in­ner voice al­ways seems to say: ‘Where’s the sat­is­fac­tion in hand­ing over the cash and proudly driv­ing your lat­est toy home? What about the re­ward­ing resto jour­ney you miss out on, with all those cre­ative re­sponses to the many in­evitable chal­lenges and for that mat­ter, the sweat-eq­uity bonus?’

It’s as if the bright and shiny, ready-for-the-road ex­am­ples are al­ways in my blind spot as bas­ket-cases and projects creep out from un­der their tarps to hunt me down. Over the years it’s hap­pened with houses, cars, 4x4s, car­a­vans, a WWII mil­i­tary truck, a camper van, mo­tor bikes, even odd­ball stuff like an an­tique cof­fee grinder and, wait for it, a rusted-up but tech­ni­cally fas­ci­nat­ing 1920s soda-wa­ter bot­tling plant (for­tu­nately that one went through to the keeper be­cause I couldn’t find any where to store it).

Other cir­cum­stances have pulled me back from the project abyss at times. A mem­o­rable one in the late-- 70s in­volved a com­plete but ne­glected Lo­tus Elan road­ster lan­guish­ing in a garage in Vic­to­ria’s ru­ral Healesville. It needed heaps of work but the price ne­go­ti­a­tions were show­ing prom­ise. And I loved Elans, as I loved Lo­tus Sevens (who wouldn’t love a Seven?). Didn’t much like the Elites, though. The styling didn’t quite gel for me and a Coven­try Cli­max mo­tor sounded a bit in­tim­i­dat­ing – and how could Chap­man have gone for rear struts so long that you could see them pro­trud­ing through the par­cel shelf ? But the Elans were lovely. For a com­mit­ted hot rod fan the mo­tor was per­fect – a hot-rod­ded Cortina en­gine that owed its twin­cam trans­for­ma­tion to the leg­endary Harry Mundy (I was bliss­fully un­aware at the time that Mundy was also the fa­ther of the Coven­try Cli­max en­gine).

I was brac­ing my­self for deal­ing with all the scars and craz­ing on the Elan’s fi­bre­glass body and the likely frame re­pairs at sus­pen­sion and driv­e­train load points. In­evitably the lovely twin­cam donk would need work and then demon­strate hard-to-cure oil leaks. And the calipers may well have frozen from sit­ting there. I also had some reser­va­tions about Chap­man’s engi­neer­ing ap­proach. An ex­am­ple is the Rot of lex ‘dough­nut’ rub­ber cou­plings on the rear half­shafts that eer­ily re­minded me of the hor­rors of the rub­ber/ fab­ric front uni­ver­sal joint on my Austin 7 Me­teor years ear­lier. But hey, it was an Elan. On­ward and up­ward…

But sud­denly I got an of­fer I couldn’t refuse from Eu­rope. ‘Sorr y mate, I’ll have to let it go. Gotta pack my bag.’

Back in Mel­bourne some years later cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of me. ‘Who knows? All things are pos­si­ble.’ The re­al­ity check came in the form of a bunch of town houses where the orig­i­nal house and garage (and the Elan) were last seen.

Then at a Mel­bourne Mo­tor Show at the Ex­hi­bi­tion Build­ings I recog­nised that that the Elan episode was a lucky es­cape when the all-new Mazda MX-5 NA model was un­veiled. At first glance it was an Elan – but love­lier than an Elan. And the more I delved into its engi­neer­ing de­tail the more my first im­pres­sion was re­in­forced (cer­tainly no pesky Rotof lex cou­plings on this baby). From that mo­ment when­ever a sportscar has seemed like a good idea a nice NA model MX-5 has been the only can­di­date – def­i­nitely a non-bas­ket case.

So how on earth did I find my­self with eyes glued to an ad for a Lo­tus Elan S2 project last week?

Phew! An­other lucky es­cape. It had been sold.

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