I came to the realisation over the last month or so that the Alfa won’t be ready for any track fun this year (not if I want it done properly, anyway). The departure of the AMG in February means there’s not been much car fun in my life of – the temporary BMW shed that replaced it was exactly that – temporary.

So time for something else.

It needed to be fun, affordable and reasonable to run – the fuel bills on the merc almost killed me. Spurred on by Dave‘s recent decision to buy a VX – and following a three year soap opera (amongst my petrol head friends, anyhow) of “will I, won’t I” I finally did it and took the plunge on an Elise. And here it is:

It’s a very straight 2 owner, 36k miles 2001 S2 Sports Tourer.

Now, there’s no way I was ever going to settle for the factory 120 ponies afforded by the unfettled K-Series Lotus bolted to the middle of Elise Sports Tourers of this vintage – but nor was I going to start forking out a lot of foldy for engine and suspension modifications – that kind of money pit activity is what the Alfa is there for. You never get back the money you spend on modifications, so for a change I let someone else foot the bill and bought a pre-loved and pre-fettled example.

The previous owner (of 4 years) bought the car after he ditched a S1 111S on a wet roundabout made even more fun by a diesel spillage – he intended to keep this car for some years, and as such had spend some cash on numerous yet sensible modifications. However, impending nuptials mean he hadn’t used it much in the last year and couldn’t see that changing, so he’d decided to cut his losses and reluctantly moved it on.

Now this guy is exactly the kind of buyer you dream of when purchasing a used car privately. He’d done the right modifications: expensive engine strip, rebuild and head work conducted by revered K-Series expert Dave Andrews, liberating an extra 40 ponies the right way and protecting against the dreaded K head gasket failure at the same time. Expensive suspension upgrades (Nitrons with new springs and a stiffer bar) that don’t make the ride so hard your fillings fall out. Receipts for corner weighting and full geo setup amongst the extensive and expensive mound of paper work. Nothing visual like silly spoilers or after market wheels to hint at the extra potential.

He’d also had it serviced meticulously by Plans Motorsports, Elise Motorsport extraordinaries, based on the Top Gear test track at Dunsford airfield. Aside: When they do tickets, perhaps they get the stig to perform the road test portion of the MOT? And when I say serviced, I mean annually (should that be anally?), even if it had only done a couple of thousand miles since the last oil change. Unlike the joker in Bristol who boasted full service history on his 6 year old Sport 135 I’d seen the previous week – only had three stamps in the book!

He was honest about the car’s use – used to commute daily before a recent change of job forced him onto the train, done a couple of track days, trip to Italy to blast up and down the Stelvio pass – all the kind of stuff I’d likely do with a car of this kind. Does anyone ever believe those “never tracked or driven hard” classifieds for proper fast metal?

It could do with a respray on the front clam – not excessive but noticable due to the dark colour – but the asking price more than compensated…

First impressions? Fast, but not crazily so – the AMG would eat it in a straight line above 60mph. Handling – awesome, but need to do some geo fiddling to dial out a touch of understeer. Fit and finish and practicality – pretty impressive, no rattles, actually pretty cosy once you’re in, although a longer run gives you ear ache and the induction drone at a constant speed mean motorways are best avoided. Also I’m getting over 30 to the gallon despite driving like a complete loon – at its worse, the Merc managed 8mpg (round Donnington) and on average you got just over 200 miles for £60 at the pumps. I’ve just brimmed it with £30 of Optimax and the trip is showing 195 miles from the last tankful…

So, what’s the other recent addition to the fleet? Well, just a week of driving the Elise revealed its not for shrinking violets – and you feel like a complete tool running down to the shops for a pint of milk. Bobbie wasn’t keen travelling in it at all with the roof off, and it’s not really practical for long motorway journeys due to the damage to the ear drums.

On friday evening, a routine scan of the AROC forums revealed a solution by way of a member’s Alfa 164 luxo-shed for sale, converted to LPG. These cars are literally worth less than their tax discs these days, but I know they’re pretty bullet proof – a lot of Alfa specialists run them as loan cars – I had one for about 3 months a few summers ago when my last Alfa engine was being fettled at Jamie Porter’s. With basic care, the engines go past 200k with ease and there’s no cam belts to snap as they have a chain to drive the camshafts. They don’t rust (some really poor examples might have a bit of bubbling on the arches – but nothing of note for the MOT inspector).

What really attracted me about this example was a load of recent work for the MOT, a leather interior and the LPG conversion – £30 of gas will get you 400 miles if you’re light footed! That’s the equivalent of about 60mpg. Check the pic – Zender alloys! And factory “Designed by Pininfarina” badges! Check out the two-tone red wine over tarmac grey paint job!

A very small purchase price (about the same as an interim service on the Lotus) combined with the LPG savings and the fact that the insurer on the classic will cover this on the same policy means this really is budget motoring. In stark contrast to about every other car I’ve bought recently….


Having had all its paint removed, the marathon that is the refurbishment of the Alfa’s shell is finally in the home straight. It’s at Rugby Autobodies awaiting a skim of filler (to smooth out the 35 year old’s wrinkles) and many coats of AR501 twin pack paint.

Here are some pictures of the naked rolling shell as it was when I picked it up from Sodablast Systems in Tyersley a couple of weeks back (the day I flew back from Beijing, as it happens…)

The blasting revealed nothing more sinister than a touch of corrosion around the rear window frames under where the chrome trims sit (must have got some damp under them over the years – this will be treated before the car is pained.

Kind of sad seeing the old girl so far from being road worthy – however this is rock bottom – every job on the car from now on sees it a step closer to being reassembled into a formidable track tool, starting with the paint.

In other news, batman has been scheming on the engine build, planning to tempt a great and renowned Alfa engine guru out of retirement to build up the head. Can’t wait.

Throttle Bodies

April 13, 2008

With the Alfa finally booked in for paint (5th May!) and it going to the sodablasters next weekend, attention turns to how we’re going to build up the engine.

I’m really keen to keep the rorty carb “sound” of the old engine – its just a defining characteristic of an old sports car. There’s no way I was going to keep the fuel injection of the doner twin spark motor, so the Bosch Jetronic was one of the first things we binned after lifting the motor out of a Alfa 75 condemed to the scrapper by its rusty sills.

However, I’ve been coming round to the idea of throttle bodies, specifically Jenvy throttle bodies, which maintain the sound of old carbs (and look pretty similar) but use modern injectors and an ECU for very accurate fuel delivery, and mean you can get massive power and a well-behaved engine when pootling about in traffic.

Image © Jenvey Dynamics

Combined with an Emerald K3 from engine management guru Dave Walker, these puppies should be good for 200bhp and beyond.

I suppose I can get some of the not inconsiderable funds required to purchase them from selling my old Dell’orto 45 carbs on the ‘bay.


April 13, 2008

Enka is a type of Japanese folk or country-style pop music usually sung by middle age salary men at karaoke bars in Japan.

Imagine my surprise to arrive in a Japan gripped by this enka-warbling American-born hip-hop-styled singer:

I like the hip-hop backing dancers the best!

日本国 – Tsukiji

April 12, 2008

On the advice of the guide book, we got up at 5:30am one morning to make a visit Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, and what great advice it was. Although there is a wholesale fruit and vegetable market attached, the main attraction is the fish and seafood market. It’s not an “official” tourist attraction, but there’s nothing to stop visitors mingling with the early morning bustle of the wholesale auctions (whole tunas can go for up to ¥1,000,000) or walking amongst the hundreds of small stalls were workers divide, prepare and sell smaller lots.

In stark contrast to the vast majority of the rest of well-organised, efficient and tidy Tokyo, Tsukiji is reminiscent of a shanty town, a myrid of small shacks and lean-tos under a large, low-rise warehouse roof. This, and the fact you can wonder unhindered amongst the traders, is the charm of the market. I can’t help thinking this will be lost entirely when the market is relocated to a brand new proposed sight on a reclaimed island south east of the current location, probably by 2012. The metropolitan government wants to reclaim the existing location for redevelopment as part of its bid to host to the 2016 Olympics – the proposed larger new site will no doubt be characteristically better organised, efficient and tidy, but its raised “viewing gallerys” designed to segregate tourist and trader will lead to a sanitised experience. If you’re in Tokyo before it moves, catch the old market whilst you still can.

Update: According to the economist, from April 1st new viewing restrictions have come into force at the existing site.

We almost accidentally stumbled upon the Tokyo International Forum on the first day proper of the trip, after walking around the largely underwhelming public areas of the Imperial Palace Gardens.

I’m getting increasingly interested in architecture and had purchased a couple of books on Japanese architecture before leaving for Tokyo. Opened in 1996, the forum was designed by the Uruguay-born American Viñoly. Its boat-shaped main complex is an impressive earthquake-resistant elliptical glass megatruss. Inside, the main concourse is flanked by wood paneling 4 stories tall, unbroken by windows or doorways save one main walkway, in stark contrast to the vast amount of glass opposing it.

The quality of the materials was breathtaking and its hard to picture the complex as already 10 years old – I’m sure it looks as good as the day it was completed.

Eaton M45

April 6, 2008

Hmm, I wonder if this can be used in my Twin Spark rebuild?

Eaton M45 Supercharger