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.

Eaton M45

April 6, 2008

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

Eaton M45 Supercharger

Alfa update

March 22, 2008

It’s been some months since I posted on the progress of my Alfa build. There’s been a fair bit more welding – rear panel and inner/outer arches plus middle and outer sill on the offside in addition to those on the nearside since my last report. Although its been a touch expensive at least I know the car is 100% steel and the repairs should be good for many years to come.

One positive to come out of this was an opportunity to sort out once and for all the fit of the driver’s door – the gap between the bottom edge and the sill was always too big (around a half inch) and it didn’t sit too well with the b-pillar. Now we’ve replaced the outer sill properly, the fit is much better, and Pete (aka weld-o-man) took to opportunity to roll back some metal out of the rear wing and butt-weld the seam back up to get the b-pillar to door gap looking just right.

Meanwhile, I was tasked with stripping everything from the car. Seeing as I’m never going to have the car in this many pieces ever again (engine and gearbox out, pretty much the bottom 6″ of the car replaced) I’m going to take the whole lot back to metal and respray it inside and out. This means I’ve spent about 3 weekends stripping the whole interior, wiring loom, hydraulic lines, exhaust and all the trim off the car so it is now a bare shell. The photo shows the car halfway through this process (you can see the brake servos are still in).

The loom came out in one piece and looks in pretty good condition – I’ve managed to keep the stalks and the buttons attached so re-fitting it shouldn’t be that difficult. The hydraulic lines, however, were a complete nightmare and I resorted to cutting them in places – so much corrosion where the lines enter under-floor master cylinder that trying to unfasten the unions resulted in them turning to brown dust. As the lines were all steel, they could do with complete replacement with copper items which won’t rust.

I also took the opportunity to ask Pete to weld in some proper seat mounts – the existing arrangement consisted of bolting the buckets to universal Sparco mounts bought from Demon Tweeks, and then bolting these in turn onto the captive nuts (mounted on the floor pans) that held the old runners. After a quick personal fitting, with the seat roughly in place thanks to two antique blocks of wood (Pete’s main business is restoring old French furniture) he welded two hefty cross members (per side) between the inner sills and the transmission tunnel. The universal mounts now sit on these instead. Much safer in the event of an “off”.

So, although it looks like complete shit at the moment, the project is actually coming together nicely. With just wheels still attached so the shell is mobile, the next step is getting all the paint and old filler blasted off and then it’s ready for a fresh skim of P38, prime and a very neat paint job inside and out. Then comes the tedious job of a re-fit.

Meanwhile, batman is having a tinker with the engine side of things. He’s making noises about throttle bodies and re-using the actuator from the doner engine that can alter the cam timing with revs – a primitive form of variable valve timing – we could end up with an engine pushing near or even over 200 ponies at this rate. Now the car’s got some metal in it making it nice and stiff, this is shaping up to be one cheeky little track weapon.

Full photoset of latest progress here.

Run out of rust luck

December 17, 2007

Extracting the rear screen from the GT revealed more than a few holes in the gutter where the seal fits – looks like water has been getting underneath the seal for god knows how long and has turned the lip holding the screen into a brown mush around its base (as well as a hole on one of the corners on the roof).

Luckily, the car has finally entered the batcave after a few months sat outside looking forlorn, in preparation for some much needed attention from weld-o-man. Apart from the repairs to the rear screen area (which I am told, by weld-o-man, won’t require cutting out and replacing the panel) inspection to the dodgy nearside wheelarch area revealed the need for the following:

  • Nearside outer sill
  • Nearside middle sill
  • Nearside inner arch
  • Nearside outer arch
  • Nearside rear jacking point
  • Nearside repair panels 3 and 4
  • Front wing lower repair panel

Ouch! Luckily Classic Alfa sorted me out with the appropriate panels next-day all in for just over 400 notes.

Meanwhile, I have decided that the only way to ensure a top-notch paint job will be to remove all the paint from the inside and outside of the whole shell. Seeing as there is still some suspension, er, suspended from the car, and all the brake lines and wiring loom are present and correct, shot blasting or acid dipping is not an attractive option.

Once again, weld-o-man (aka Capt Slow) came to my rescue, having seen a company called Sodablast at the recent Classic Cars show at the NEC. They use baking soda as a blast material (believe it or not!) and can take a shell back to body-in-white without damaging attached lines, wiring or even headlining! Any residue just washes away with cold water. Sounds like an ideal solution to remove the paint, plus its cheaper than dipping.

Ideal – the car should be making its way over to Sodablast in Birmingham in January. Now, where to get it painted..?

Interior tidyup part one

November 18, 2007

Having stripped the entire interior, I spent most of Saturday afternoon scraping the meltsheet (a layer of tar poured onto the floor to provide soundproofing) from the floorpans of the Alfa.

Much to mine (and a lot of Alfa sceptic associates) I didn’t find any unexpected rust at all on either the driver’s floorpan or the rear pan directly behind it – not even by the floor mounted pedals where muddy and wet boots go – not bad at all for a 35 year old italian car. Not bad at all.

Next step is to strip the passenger side pans and wipe the whole lot down with thinners – then it’s on with a primer coat and a few coats of satin gray (to match the roll cage) using my new 50l air compressor to drive the spray gun.

Thanks to Dave lending me his compressor earlier this month to clean some engine bits I’ve invested in a compressor to convert all of my garage to air drive – impact wrench, sprayers, air drills… Oh dear I can see me spending quite a bit on tools in the coming months as air power is addictive!