1987 LOTUS Turbo ESPRIT HC travels the desert
After a pre sale inspection of this good example of a 1987 Esprit Hc by Steve Taylor of Lotus Marques the decision was made to purchase the vehicle. Items found during the inspection were worn brake discs, non compliant brake lines, worn clutch and miscellaneous bits associated with these replacements. During the works Steve kept us fully informed and as to be expected other issues surfaced from as little as the original red clutch fluid line to a near catastrophe turbo. My personal preference to get as much done whilst the car was at this level of rebuild included an overhauled alternator and regulator, carburetor service and the list goes on but ultimately items agreeable with Steve and certainly gave excellent piece of mind for the evolving epic endeavor been considered.
A phone call one afternoon late in 2011 'Hi Steve, have been seriously thinking about driving the car back to Perth over the Nullabour, getting mucked around by various transport people and it is looking like my only option, would the car be ok on such a long trip'? ‘Certainly!' is Steves reply and after getting to know Steve well over the year i had that extra piece of confidence building that can only come from outside of ourselves. Steve goes on to say about his previous exploits tearing up the Autobahns and payarges through Europe in the best of British automotive conveyances.
The trip to be considered requires a co pilot so my good friend John eagerly agrees to come on board for a trip of a life time, and as word got around five other people also volunteered themselves! A 9am flight from Perth with Tiger Air brought us into Melbourne then a SkyBus to the massive monument of Southern Cross Station. Friendly Melbournians showed us to the ticket box (which for a grand station is seriously ordinary to say the least) and tickets to get us to FernTree Gully station were issued. The day was overcast in Melbourne (No s#it Sherlock i can hear people saying!) and the train slowly moved towards the Dandenongs and after a jump across the last station we were a few stops away from our Hotel. initial searches for accommodation near the stations Steve recommended were very limited but can certainly vouch for Ferntree Gully and or billet for the night our hotel, called life Style Apartments was a short jump from the station (via taxi as we were feeling lazy) and the reception was cheerful and refreshing and the room magnificent, will certainly stay there again and can recommend as suitable accommodation for any of Steve’s customers who arrive a bit late in the day after a long journey. Just a short walk takes you down to a very hospitable Pub just up the road from a large grocery store open late (and has a bottle shop, you just have to admire Melbourne for their relaxed liquor Licensing laws, go to Perth and you will see why). Across from the store is a magnificent Chinese restaurant and been an asianophile can seriously recommend this eatery of eastern Delights.
8am the next morning and there is a knock on the door of our apartment and there is Steves beaming face waiting to take us to the car. what a surprise as we entered the lotus Marques headquarters to so a magnificent red lotus Esprit 1996 model and when i said ' that’s the same car that bloke i bumped into in Busselton back in 2010’ to which they laughed as it was the same bloke who had moved to Geelong from Western Australia four weeks earlier and he and Steve had set up the meeting. I saw this as the completion of the circle as my origins of searching for a lotus started with a chance meeting with a hospitable bloke at the 24 hour Caltex petrol station back in December 2010 and know that i had finally purchased the lotus here he was to see it all happen, very curious turn of events to say the least. The bloke whose name is Michael took me for ' a spin' in his magnificent car and what an sphincter clinching event it turned out to be with acceleration and cornering like nothing i had experienced before a bloody great ride. Whilst away Steve and John took my lotus for a spin so when we all returned from our experiences of been the oldest teenagers east of Melbourne we were all suitably impressed.
After much chatting, photos and ogling at the cars myself and john jumped into the start of our epic drive across the Nullabour with Michael convinced we were barking mad and Steve quietly confident. This was only the second drive since testing the vehicle with the previous owner and there were things to get used to such as the closeness of the pedals, the lowness of the car and its brisk performance but as we made our way towards the Western highway we learned pretty quickly especially the gear change technique which was only perfected towards the end of the journey. The weather started as overcast and with temperatures around 23oC which Steve said would work well with the car as he cautioned about driving on hot days as ultimately the car as built for British climate conditions which can be best summed up as June and winter. Driving through the suburbs of Melbourne was pretty frustrating especially as it was Sunday so cars parked on the left and Trams and traffic filling up the rest of the road with the occasional turn righter making everyone fume so it was very stop start. The car performed well and only occasionally reminded the driver rather curtly that two hands are required on the wheel when tram tracks presented themselves.
The gauges reported back that everything was where it should be with oil pressure at idle routine with Steve having put in Nulon fully synthetic 5W-50W engine oil and also supplied a stash of Nulon octane booster as the availability and quality of high octane fuel across the Nullabour was unknown. The engine temperature sat at 90oC and would creep just above that whilst idling in traffic so this was a good sign. The volts were steady and the tachometer and speedometer needles were unwavering in there reporting of rpm and velocity. The cars suspension certainly lets you know its sporty that said my friend who has a dodgy back found the unique seating layout comfortable and agreeable. Steering is reasonably heavy when creeping along although manageable and nicely curt when moving appreciably along with a quarter turn manifesting itself to turn the car precisely with confidence. We entered Melbourne from the west exiting down through Flinders St and into the gauntlet of lanes that would spit you out onto the Freeway and over the West gate Bridge. having read a widely about the G cars i reminded myself about the cross wind stability issues the car had at about the apex of the bridge and noticed the large flag flying briskly in the breeze wondering what sort of James Bond spin the media would put on an Esprit blowing off the bridge...
successfully traversing the bridge it was noticed that the traffic was pretty normal (by Melbourne standards) and the 100klm speed limit became most frustrating as we made our way onto the western freeway to experience open road occasionally interrupted by workman less memorials to road works. Our first fuel stop was the BP at Rockbank Victoria and a healthy diet of ultimate 98 octane was carefully fed in with the mandatory person at each side saying when to stop (this is done to prevent reported cases of people overfilling their cars as the fuel trickles out from the other removed cap which is done to allow faster refueling) We were originally under the impression that our duel fuel tanks were only a total of 60 liters so adopted the ' remote travelling’ mantra of refuel at half a tank always, no exceptions. As it eventually turned out the 1987 Esprit Hc was equipped with a total fuel capacity of 86 liters which makes it a serious long distance Grand Tourer. During the drive to our then unknown next stop we took the opportunity to 'overtake vehicles as only a Lotus Esprit knows how’ and can say it was an exhilarating experience. The first sensory experience is the sucking of air through the driver’s side 'ear' or scoop which indicates that the throttles are fully open and all 4 cylinders start chasing the 7000rpm mark on the tachometer. Wind noise at speed is noticeable and acceptable for a car with such angular lines and is just part of the esprit mix when engine and road noise combine to serve up a decently raw driving experience that allows the driver to embrace the driving experience in keeping with Chapman’s whole philosophy of 'a driver’s car'.
As familiarity merged into the experience we then proceeded to look at the foibles of the car fist commenting that a radio/mp3/disk player would be welcome. the HVCC controls were played with to ascertain how best to get warm air discovering that the left vent provided nothing but a lifeless void requiring further investigating; the left door trim panel was coming adrift and my colleague compensated for no air from the left vent by amusing himself by removing the cigarette lighter from the socket to be greeted with a blast of fresh air. This source of air was curious considering the door seals were new and the window seals in good condition so went on the list for '...further investigates'. My colleague considered the head lining trim to be rather ordinary and had to agree with him that said it looked easy to remove and should not be costly to 'upgrade'. The AC is inoperative although the cool weather assisted by a persistent cold front kept the car in more British climes. Soon i found myself defending the car as my colleague who had given up all hope of driving the car started to pick at the trim to which i retorted that was an 'easy' fix by esprit standards and it was the engine and gearbox that were the main kingpins of esprit ownership and in the case of my care were in excellent condition. As Steve said of all the engines in an esprit that have come to him the one in this car was in remarkable condition and the best he had seen to date, this is good news.
Through all our driving from Melbourne heading towards South Australia it is worth mentioning that we had no number plates and were on a Victorian permit. Naturally we expected to be under the scrutiny of the ' rozzers' (slang for road cops) and as we got closer to the SA boarder we started to pass police cars, one just after a delicate maneuver pass a truck and they took no interest in the car which is a blessing to say the least and totally unexpected. Squirts of acceleration were a joy and broke the mundane straight line travel as we contemplated how soon we could take the car through bends and see what all this lotus handling was all about.
Arriving late in the afternoon in Boardertown we again filled up at BP and took the liberty of measuring turbo casing temperature with an infra red thermal gun. the decision was made to stop in at Tailem Bend South Australia as daylight was fading fast assisted by the overcast day. Just on dusk we pulled into the laid back town of Tailem bend in SA and searched for a motel settling on the Motel Riverbend which is the first on your right as you come into town from Victoria. The room was 70s but very comfortable with an on suite and just across the road was the glittering Riverside Hotel. parking the car and lifting the hatch to accelerate cooling of the engine (Old trick i picked up from travelling across the Nullabour) we went across the road to the Riverbend hotel and can certainly recommend this venue as it overlooks the Murray River helped by a nice verandah elevated above the river allowing a glimpse of the ferry taking cars across to the flood plain farm lands across the river. Another joy was the friendliest of the people we found here who would start talking as if old friends had just walked in and gave the place a friendly atmosphere that could be soaked in Pleasantly; certainly recommend the Kilpatrick oysters (a SA main). The night went well and discussions about the lotus were limited essentially because the car performed well and did its job faultlessly albeit working out the gearbox shifting came up with double clutch into 2nd and third, straight in 4th and very quickly into 5th and by doing this the changes were great unless going form 1st into 4th which can be embarrassing from time to time. It took until the end of the trip to discover reverse is best engaged by lifting the shifter and not abusing it for baulking.
Up and at them 6am, my friend is an early riser so frogged marched the unwilling into the mode of ' let’s get going' i hate early mornings! Checking the engine water level and oil to discover all is in good shape with the oil high on the upper tide mark which is a relief for having a car this age of its high revving performance oil consumption was a background concern which proved to be extinguished during the practice of long distance driving. with a bit of choke (well a fair bit to be honest0 and a wiggle of the accelerator about 5 minutes was spent bringing the engine to a reasonable idle, well enough before the other guests came out of their slumber rooms with pitch forks negotiating the curb with the accustomed diagonal spread we sped off towards our next destination which despite protest from john is to be Streaky Bay in SA. I first discovered streaky bay through a friend from England and since then (1997) i have not crossed the Nullabour and felt like i had done the trip unless i stayed there. We look the Lotus up to Mannum on the great Murray River, home of one of the few remaining (possibly the only) Murray River boat which back in the olden days was the main transport medium. We filled up there where a girl of about 8 years of age exclaims 'wow, mum, that car looks different' LOL :) after negotiating a short cut in the wrong direction we proceeded to make our way up to the Claire Valley, famous for its grippy monster Red wines which take no prisoners for the initiated and Rieslings which stand alone for unique flavours and styles and command a royal price. Unfortunately the wine tours were not on the agenda so i had to settle on mutters and whinges to john who being a whisky drinker couldn’t really give rodent buttocks as we drove pass the famous wine houses of Claire and truthfully it killed me, so near yet so far :( next time...
As you drive up the back roads north of Claire you enjoy roads of good quality with rises and falls and sweeping bends, some not so sweeping, more like a badly bent broom and it was during this drive towards Port Augusta through the hills my colleague became aware and impressed of what separates a Lotus from the general clichés of 'sports cars' corners could be taken with total confidence and then some, it was as if (cliché warning...) the car was on rails and justifies the low lock to lock of the steering wheel because to do the same in a sports car from a country where looks and comfort are more important you would need all of the 3.6 steering ration to recover from the previous wheel input :D The weather had not improved much from leaving Melbourne and overcast and wet rue the day although as Steve said, the more English the weather the better the car would handle it. And the Lotus did handle it well. Driving down out of the north Adelaide ranges we joined the general traffic heading north passing Port fairy before stopping In Port Augusta for a refuel. From here on it was the equivalent of ' no man’s land' for a car of this pedigree where Toyota landcrusers and any Toyota for that matter with a spattering of Nissans dare to tread. If the lotus broke down out here the wedge tail eagles would be fighting for a spot in the queue of 'opportunity' if you want an idea of what i mean watch the movie 'Tequila Sunrise' and i will let you form your own conclusions!
We decided we were committed and settled on the motto of 'old men and English cars’ and boldly set off to where no man had been before (in a lotus esprit). the first feature as you look to your left is iron Knob, seriously folks, that is what it is called and in its time it was a proud knob but alas no more, whittled down to a slight rise in the landscape and not much to be proud of, the ravishes of time and nonstop machinery has made it so. Getting pass that demise we find the famous ' tanks' huge concrete structures designed for water i guess but more known for the seasonal graffiti that adorns the curves of the tanks, some bearing the last years regional football finals wins some, rater faded touting a historical win of yore, not forgetting the occasional ' i love U’ motives... hope it all went well!? When people think about their trip across the Nullabor these tanks come up often more because it either was the monument of the start of the trip of the end of it before civlilsation is reached (i get this response from the wives of my friends!) taking the right turn as only a lotus knows how we rocketed towards Streaky Bay where oysters fresh farmed and a selection of fine SA reds awaited, amen.
The lotus performed well, the engine never missed a beat, no miss fires and acceleration was confident and more than willing. My colleague with his poor back said the seats and seating position made for myself and John a very comfortable ride. This was a relief as i was hell worried johns back would shit itself due to the Hc rater sporting suspension ride, to say the least. The Lotus Hc suspension is of interest as the 1988 Steves i test drove had a very compliant but where needed sports suspension that would make GT ing very comfortable, unfortunately it would not be as simple as replacing the springs and Shocks on my car with the Stevens set up as the suspension on cars works in tune with the whole car but is a project i am working on with Steve Taylor as i progress to tweak the car. Driving towards Streaky Bay the scenery is typical for this area being low lying scrub which enables one to view for some distance from the driving position; this is a bonus as the corpse of kangaroos turn up from time to time testimate to the old age game of roo verses car where more often than not both lose. So what has gone wrong so far? well, nothing, the engine keeps spinning not unlike the engine on an aircraft as you watch a movie and sip a red wine whilst flying to Europe from Perth (24 hours if you’re lucky!) it becomes a dedicated sound you accustom to as you relax, happy in your subconscious that its always there as the lotus made 910 engine is, comforting, more so as you gobble up the miles towards the Western part of Australia.
Streaky bay was reached just on dusk and after refuel we checked into the caravan park by the beach. Our accommodation was an affordable cabin of simple luxuries but comfortable. We walked to the pub and found it fully loaded with people enjoying wine, beer, food or all of the above so we knew we were in the right place. we ate in the public bar and once again oysters ruled supreme with loads of Kilpatrick attention, all good :) can also recommend the lounge bar where an elegant red wine can be enjoyed in elegant atmosphere and decor.
The morning awoke before dawn for us as we cranked up the lotus and prepared for the longest stretch of travel, being over 1300klm and would require diligence and dedication. As the sparrows flapped around looking for the ‘crack’ we put the driver and copilot in the breach and gunned the lotus out of the cool and quite Streaky Bay town, being especially careful to keep speed down so kangaroos did not have a chance of inflicting damage in their kamikaze manner they have been obsessed with since vehicles were invented (legend has it the panel beaters feed them on the side of the road early morning and evening!).
It was a very spring crisp morning and it was noticed how difficult it was to keep the car at the proper speed due to the cool air giving the car a performance boost (Natures special edition Charge Cooler but limited edition. it is worth noting how little accelerator is needed to keep the engine spinning at the desired speed; plenty of accelerator travel to get the turbo sucking but as one cruises along very little pedal pressure is needed to maintain the desired speed and this was throughout the whole trip. As the sun began its climb we settled the car into position for the famous streaky bay photo shoot which is one of my favorite screen savers, gorgeous picture to be sure. From there we stopped again for the T junction photo shoot and then back onto the Great Eastern Highway for our continuing adventure westwards towards Ceduna roadhouse.
The BP at Ceduna is a popular spot and was doing a roaring trade with predominantly inter-state truck drives shooting the breeze and catching up on coffee and food (but woeful coffee). It was here where a gentleman asked ‘Is that a DeLorean? Despite ‘LOTUS’ stamped on the back bumper he was looking at. ‘No mate, but they both had the same father’. We were tipped off that the police were ‘Up ahead’ which in Interstate travel talk could mean 500klm away or more. We set off for what would be our longest stretch of the journey being over 1,300klm in length but as we are heading West we would gain time so we would be able to do this in daylight. From Ceduna on the land becomes flat and just short of barren but despite this when one takes the time to stop and look around there is plenty of life about as only the Nullabor knows how with critters of all sorts such as lizards and birds but you have to be patient. The weather was still overcast and brief light showers occupied most of the morning although as we moved further West the temperature was slowly rising. According to the old folk at Ceduna the weather of late has been most unusual.
The Lotus once again proved what a brilliant GT the car is with performance and fuel economy going unusually hand in hand. My colleague was happily surprised how he did not have to touch his medication for his back as the seating position was very comfortable. At no stage did the car performance go feral and we reached Boarder village at the South Australian- Western Australia boarder in good form. Here you will experience the Quarantine Station where non declaring of fruit and veg and other items can land you a very unpleasant fine. The boarder inspector was pretty surprised to see a Lotus Esprit and when he stood at the rear of the car and asked to see the boot contents my colleague in great mirth said ‘well depends where you stand as the boot is the bonnet and the bonnet is the boot’ to which the bloke gave up. Seeing no number plates he correctly assumed we had a permit which we quoted and just before we headed of my colleague wound down and I shouted i\’is this where we declare the fish?’ and John did the Roger Moore action of dropping the fish as he sped off the beach in Sardinia and we did likewise. From here on the opportunities to duck off the road and witness the Great Australian Bight is not to be missed and was the only time we took the car down an access tract which she did well but we were not pushing it. As john jumped the safety fence to photograph the bight I dutifully lifted off the engine cover (a trick an old bloke across the Nullabor taught me) to assist the engine to cool down quicker and prevent fuel vapour lock which on a couple of short refill stops had made itself known
Heading off again we approached Madura Pass which is nestled in the foot hills of the Darling Range ridge and due to the outcrop has the first installment of trees which was quite the sight after the flat blandness. Here we topped up and added the Nulon octane booster (Shell only has 95 octane available) and headed on Westwards. This was the area where we came across our warmest temperatures with the approach to Madura Pass we were into 32oC from a mild 21oC in a rather short time. This higher temp did not affect the Lotus that we could discern. What we could see was a huge band of black clouds indicating the approach of a cold front, You really appreciate the dynamics of weather as the front quickly approached (as we too were from the East) the temperature plummeted back down to a cool 21oC, all this in the spate of about 2 hours!
The long straight to Norseman was interlude by unfortunate wrecks on the side of the road from cars which had long ago seen their best times to a few more modern units sitting forlornly on the side; we were told this is done deliberately keeping wrecks on the side of the road as a reminder of the risks to drivers by. Stopping by to chat to a bloke who had bogged his huge camper bus we just made Norseman before the sun set. Norseman is a small hub which is the start of the serious attempt to cross the Nullabor and also houses nickel and Gold miners. We settled on accommodation at one of the old classical hotels where accommodation was cheap, food OK and patronage amusing creating an entertaining night watching how young blokes these day have fun at the bar, and get away with it!
Early the next morning the Lotus was started and being relieved that its precarious parking position had not attributed to any grief. Filling up at BP, checking tyre pressure and suffering woeful coffee (again) we finished the last of the 500klm to Merredin where John would be dropped off home. It was the travel from Coolgardie to Sothern Cross where the rigidness of the Hc suspension became a curse; the road was very poorly maintained and resembled something the President of Syria had a grief with by being full of holes and patch jobs. He car ride was woeful jarring at every turn of the driving wheels. This has convinced me that a review of what makes the Stevens Esprit a more relaxing drive suspension wise a priority. On arrival in Merredin we popped the bonnet, let the kids sit in the seats and took photos. Other than a noisy exhaust (possible baffle collapse) a missing bolt off the sun roof and the idle creeping down from 900rpm to 650rpm the car performed very well on a trip that I will put money on the table has never been done, to go so boldly, with such naive uncertainty, pinning our chances on the robustness of the engine and gearbox, Steve Taylors years of experience and just wanting to accomplish something totally insane for the sake of just doing it! And in the distant background Michael ‘Ramjet’ voice in the distance echoes ‘…you guys are mad!’ LOL :D
Marong Court Baronia Vic to Tailem Bend SA
667 km, 8 hours 27 mins
Western Hwy/National Highway A8 and National Highway A8
Tailem Bend, SA to Streaky Bay, South Australia
826 km, 10 hours 30 mins
National Highway A1
Streaky Bay, South Australia to Norseman, WA
1,311 km, 13 hours 28 mins
Norseman, WA to Merredin, WA
Coolgardie-Esperance Hwy and National Highway 94
462 km, 4 hours 50 mins
(these are courtosy of Google Earth and may not indicate accurate distance, but close enough :)
Fuel-Klm Stats Litres Miles KM L/100km Location Fuel 48.56 0 0 0 Rockbank VIC BP 98 [165.9c/l] 39.97 270 432 9.18 Bordertown SA BP 98 [161.9c/l] 25.09 158 253 9.91 Mannum SA BP 98 33.6 226 362 9.28 Port Augusta SA BP 98 [152.9c/l] 42 250 400 10.5 Streaky Bay SA Shell 95(additive used) 11.14 73 117 9.52 Ceduna SA BP 98 [169.9c/l] 46.3 304 486 9.5 Border Village SA BP 98 [198.56c/l] 18 123 197 9.13 Madura Pass WA Shell 95 (additive used) [198.22c/l] 52.67 335 537 9.8 Norseman WA BP 98 [180.0c/l] 48 288 462 10.4 Merredin WA BP 98 [161.9c/l] 324.65 1757 3210 9.7 (29mpg average)
Fuel tank capacity for this Lotus Esprit Turbo hc 1987 is 86 liters giving a maximum range of 896klm to empty
Engine bay mechanical thermals Turbo Thermals Bordertown SA (engine stopped 2 minutes engine bay cover lifted) Exhaust Intermediate housing (water cooled) Induction Carburettor Box (Plennum) 258C 89C 79C No recording Turbo Thermals Streaky Bay SA (engine running at idle speed taken within a minute of stopping) Exhaust Intermediate housing (water cooled) Induction Carburettor Box (Plennum) 383C 90C 79C 38C NOTE: Celsius to Fahrenheit by (C X 1.8) + 32 =