A Lotus Road Trip is an Old English Car Thing
I have this old English car thing. There is no cure or twelve-step program. The only therapy is a constant flow of rusted English steel and cracked fiberglass. I’m convinced it was Dad’s fault. It started when I was still in diapers. I’m told Dad would wedge me under the hood of the current automotive project while he worked on it. Dad was a tinkerer, an airframe mechanic in the Marines during WW2. He was the first on our block in the ‘50s to own a foreign car. I think he was way cool before way cool existed.
Compounding the problem, in the early ‘70s I worked as a mechanic at a Lotus/TVR dealer. It was a small shop. Tom’s Pit Stop was, to me, the epicenter of the world. What wandered in was a cornucopia of automotive greatness. It was the golden age of English cars; a time when a perfect, used E-Type could be had for a couple of thousand dollars, a new Élan for $4k. One day a GT 40 rolled in, the owner wanted $10k but would have taken much less. All of us who worked at Tom’s were young and truly without a clue. Tom taught us basic life lessons about business, the beauty of the internal combustion engine, and the importance of smoke in English electrical systems. With that exposure, so early on, I was a goner.
Fast forward to today. I’ve had a bunch of toy cars over the years but there was one car, one dream that had eluded me. Hardly ever seen or talked about, a car with a lot of baggage, a car haunted by English cars’ bad reputations. But a car so seductive, rare, and alluring no one’s life could be truly complete without ownership: The Lotus Esprit Turbo.
I did the research, visited web sites, had friends scoff, read forums, and ordered checklists. I was ready and eventually found what would come to be known in our family as simply “The Lotus” in Meriden, CT, a ’93 with 22k miles, black with tan and a documented service history. I drove it and after some negotiations bought it. With the deal done I decided to go public, step out of the closet, let the world know the extent of my affliction, yeah, I was gonna road trip it home.
My brother, Jeff, lives south of Albany, NY outside of Hudson, a quaint area just west of the Mass border. And only ninety minutes from Meriden, Connecticut where I bought The Lotus. A great first drive. I could hang out with him a couple of days and road trip it back to Annapolis where it will reside forever. I had a plan.
I took the train to Meriden CT. I was a little nervous, well a lot nervous. On the east coast it was one of the hottest summers in my memory. Did I mention the AC doesn’t work? It’s English. It’s old. Yeah, I’ll be fine… Hey, the wife believed it.
A taxi from the train station and there it is. The seller had set up the tire pressures, checked fluids, and collected all the bits. I hung the plates and after some conversation I was off. I thought I had asked all the questions but missed the fact I was only getting one ignition key, no door key.
It was really hot, hot like it hadn’t been in the northeast for a long time. But the car ran cool. I was stunned. I was a dishrag but the car didn’t seem to mind. Both oil and water temps well below bubbling over. Yeah, did I mention there is no cruise control and a really tight foot well? So after thirty or forty minutes my foot, ankle, lower leg, and knee all went to sleep. But the Massachusetts Turnpike has rest stops with Micky Ds. So I stop, park out in the lower forty so no one is near it. I hobble around until some blood flows back into the leg. Now, I want to go inside, get a cool drink but I can’t lock the car. I can’t leave it open so we “fake lock it”. You know, stand at the door and pretend to insert the key and turn. So paranoid that something may happen to my dream that I “fake unlock it” also.
I am now a true believer. I arrive at Jeff’s house and The Lotus has not missed a beat. Starts, drives, stays cool and gets 30 mpg.
Jeff and I run some errands over the next few days. My brother being the kind-hearted, caring individual always says in a very loud voice “Hey better lock it here, not the best neighborhood”.
Jeff delivers baked goods and eggs to New York City three times a week. I make a run with him very early one morning. We leave at three AM and are in the city at five. I’ve spent some time in New York but not where he goes and not at this hour. All the drunks are gone and the only people left are some girls without a lot of clothes (must be the heat) and guys in blue. Jeff says we have to meet someone to pick up tofu. He stops at a storefront on Houston Street and on the sidewalk are many five-gallon buckets, all with different origins. Inside the buckets are plastic bags with blocks of white stuff floating in a yellowish fluid. I jump out to investigate the fluid and immediately two guys appear from nowhere and place boxes of tofu where I was just sitting. Then disappear. What??? Who??? I was sitting there!? Along with the boxes we get a couple of buckets. “Don’t spill the yellow stuff” Yeah, really. We rearrange the load and we’re off. Back to upstate and having breakfast by ten AM.
The time has come to face the six-hour ride home; the acid test, the real deal, the come to Jesus moment. I leave at three AM to beat the heat. As on the trip from Connecticut, the car runs fine. The main problem is leg cramping. I have to stop at every rest stop to coax some blood into my lower extremities.
I arrive home at eleven that morning. I roll into the garage and let the engine idle to cool the turbo. I just feel good about the car. I did it, road tripped it home without a problem. A car I once saw as out of reach, “The Lotus” is finally ensconced in what a good friend calls “The Lab.” Dad would be proud.
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