1 2
cyow5
cyow5
9/14/19 1:40 p.m.

Alright, everyone, I've been a subscriber to GRM for a year or so now, but I figured now was as good a time as any to start documenting my project. We'll start with where I'm at now:

 

 

Everything's pretty much been on pause for the last year due to a first child and then moving states. Now that everything is settling down with the new house and the workshop is coming together, I can start dismantling again (had to reassemble for transport). But let's go back to the beginning because that's important for understanding while the car is now naked. I bought this car for $20k back in '12 due to being rebuilt. This was the time these cars had just bottomed out and started to rise in price again, so this was actually a tad high for the branded title. I bought it from a guy in Indiana that worked in a bodyshop and thought the car would be a relatively simple project. What he didn't know was that the original owner nearly gutted the whole car after insurance totaled it - most notable was the removal of the supercharger and all ancillaries. The damage wasn't too bad - mostly isolated to the rear clam - so the guy repainted it from yellow to House of Kolor Tangelo Orange. By the time the car was done though, many of the bolts and hardware were just grabbed from random bins in the guy's shop, probably because they were missing when he got it. The paint was pretty good though, especially for backyard work. 

However, the car wasn't without its issues as I found before I even left Indiana and an interior panel fell off. A month later, the radiator sprung a leak (or at least that's when I noticed it and then learned this is an all-too-common problem for these cars). Fixing that required the front clam to come off, and that's when I found more mismatched hardware. Nothing terminal though, expecially for the price. 

I then took it to a track day, as any Lotus owner should. However, I was soooo new to track days, I didn't know to run for the hills when no instructor was assigned. My first session was just full of frustation. I could tell the car was far more capable, but I couldn't find a racing line with a red, striped stick. I was able to get a ride with an advanced guy though, and he showed me a lot better ways to get around. I was able to use this on my second session and picked up a ton of speed. So much so that I quickly outgrew my britches, and well, this happened:

 

 

To be continued!

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 1:54 p.m.

Part 2:

 

Would you believe Geico in Michigan excludes "racing" but not track days? Sure enough, they covered it after investigating and making sure there were no trophies or official timers. I then took it to the dealership (after getting a generous lift home) who assessed the damage: 

Front clam, windshield, FL wheel, FL suspension arms, door, mirror, rear clam, side sill, RL wheel, RL suspension arm

The adjuster asked what I expected to happen, so I told him there was no way it wasn't totaled. What I didn't know at the time was that Michigan had issued a clean title to me when I registered it, so it started looking like I was trying to majorly cash out. Geico fought tooth and nail for almost two years... 

Fast forward through tons of more drama and a color change to a factory orange instead of the aftermarket one, and I was able to pick the car up just in time to be the getaway car for my wife and I for our wedding. On our way to the honeymoon, I hit a deer in West Virginia...

Thankfully the damage wasn't too bad and just to the side sill.  We were able to still enjoy driving it around the mountains for a few days before getting home in Virginia at this point. 

I took it to a shop that had the highest reputation in the area, they took one look at the paint, and they told me they wouldn't touch it. Apparently there were aspects of the finish they didn't think were correct and I didn't know how to recognize. Primarily the depth was poor, and the metal flake was lackluster. I took it to another shop who then left it outdoors with bodywork removed. I asked them about that, and they lied and said it was indoors. I went back the next night at 11p, took a picture of it in the rain, and called them out again on the lie. I was ticked they lied more than leaving it outdoors, but then they called me and said "your car is ready, but it won't start". Turns out the immobilizer circuit shorted...

They eventually got it running, and I promptly hit some road debris that blew another hole in the side sill. This time I just patched it with a band-aid. 

 

 

Dusterbd13-michael
Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
9/14/19 2:05 p.m.

Dude. I had an nb miata i named pinata due to the number of times it was hit, totalled twice, etc. 

You win so far on the number of hits! Maybe you should name it mettallica!

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 2:06 p.m.

Shortly after all this, I was able to actually start enjoying it a bit. I noticed something seemed "off" with my paint when I parked next to a stock orange Lotus. 

 

Mine is the one in the foreground (the CF look vinyl in front of the rear wheel hides the aforementioned hole, haha). See how it is a bit flatter than the others? As it turns out, the shop that repainted the whole car used a dark primer. Since the paint is a translucent orange over a yellow base, the darker primer dulled it. The clear coat on the front clam was also thin in order for them to get a reasonable amount of orange peel compared to how they first wanted to deliver it. So let's count paint layers: primer, yellow, clear, primer, orange, primer, orange (this is when they realised they need a base coat since it turned out "salmon", primer, yellow, orange, clear. Whew. Believe it or not, the paint would now flake if you just looked at it wrong. 

The paint more closely resembles an everlasting gobstopper at this point:

 

 

The final tipping point however came when a Tesla backed into me. Yes, a car that can nearly drive itself can't do anything about a driver who decides he thinks it'll still fit in that spot it clearly can't fit in. 

I was tired of dealing with shops at this point and decided to just do it all myself. The adjuster actually remembered me from a couple years before (the deer incident). Great customer service is one thing, but you really don't want them to know you THAT well... 

So this was July '18. I went in totally blind and knew I wanted to strip all of the paint off and start from scratch. I replaced some panels with new to save some work and teamed up with a retired guy who had been doing paint in his garage for a couple decades. 

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 2:15 p.m.

I started removing the paint by sanding and quickly learned this was not the right way to do it. That was before I found that mentor who steered me towarded fiberglass-safe paint stripper. That stuff was (is) invaluable, but, man, it takes forever when you have a dozen layers to cut through. For example:

 

 

 

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 2:19 p.m.

As I stripped more panels, I started finding more repairs than I ever knew of. The roof, for instance, had grinder marks and tons of filler to try and make it fit (I'm guessing). The doors had cracks that were patched with too-dry glass mat that would just pull off after the paint was no longer holding it one. As much time and effort this is all taking, I am glad I should at least have a clean starting point. 

 

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 SuperDork
9/14/19 2:22 p.m.

You are an unlucky and ambitious man. I like how you haven't let your "bad" fortunes spoil your attitude. Keep it up and thanks for saving an awesome car.

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 2:26 p.m.

 

Also as I tore it down, the amount of overspray was horrendous. Apparently they never removed the doors to repaint them but instead just waved the gun around and left me with the texture of 40-grit. The underside was both lightly painted where it should have been and where it should not have been. And yes, that's a headlight bucket below.

 

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 2:29 p.m.
Teh E36 M3 said:

You are an unlucky and ambitious man. I like how you haven't let your "bad" fortunes spoil your attitude. Keep it up and thanks for saving an awesome car.

Thanks! My wife is the biggest reason. I would've sold it and started over years ago, but she is too attached to it. We had just started dating when we picked this one out, so it is a major part of our story. Even for our first date, I took her for a ride in my friend's Elise that he had loaned to me so I could see what it was like. This is from our wedding (her Sky Redline had "Just" in its rear windshield since we were taking them both through twisty roads in WV for our honeymoon):

 

Brett_Murphy
Brett_Murphy UltimaDork
9/14/19 3:35 p.m.
cyow5 said:

Thanks! My wife is the biggest reason. I would've sold it and started over years ago, but she is too attached to it.

"My wife won't let me sell my battered, semi-exotic hooptie car."

That's fantastic. If she's helping you fix it, that's even better.

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia HalfDork
9/14/19 3:46 p.m.

 fiberglass-safe paint stripper. ????/

Do you have the brand name ?   And any tips on using it ?

Thanks

Slippery
Slippery SuperDork
9/14/19 3:58 p.m.

Great thread!! 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
9/14/19 5:46 p.m.

I think it's hilarious that the lawn mower in the first picture is almost as big as the Elise.  smiley  I wonder how many pounds of paint were on that thing....Colin Chapman wouldn't have approved of all that heaviness.

wheelsmithy
wheelsmithy SuperDork
9/14/19 6:21 p.m.

Fantastic! I look forward to further updates...

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 6:49 p.m.
californiamilleghia said:

 fiberglass-safe paint stripper. ????/

Do you have the brand name ?   And any tips on using it ?

Thanks

I used this one and one other brand that I can't recall.

https://shop.advanceautoparts.com/p/prep-all-aircraft-paint-remover-quart-qar343/10193704-p?product_channel=local&store=6085&adtype=pla&product_channel=local&store_code=6085&gclid=Cj0KCQjwn_LrBRD4ARIsAFEQFKvurZV8wltVAsdxJMw-Z7LLJv2_Ve87N5grvufKqVT1vVieUwg8HuMaApIcEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Pretty much any "aircraft stripper" *should* work, but the generic caution applies to any of them - test in a hidden area first. I had a very hard time finding the gallons, so I am hoping what I have will be enough to finish. To use it, just lather it on as thick as you can (try to avoid vertical surfaces and lay them flat instead so it sits rather than drips), and scrape it off with a plastic razor blade. Temperature and humidity determine how long that takes - you want it to eat as much paint as possible but it can also start to dry and harden all over again. 

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/14/19 6:50 p.m.
stuart in mn said:

I think it's hilarious that the lawn mower in the first picture is almost as big as the Elise.  smiley  I wonder how many pounds of paint were on that thing....Colin Chapman wouldn't have approved of all that heaviness.

It crossed my mind, haha. All I know is that it actually was thick enough to throw off some of my body gaps!

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
9/14/19 7:31 p.m.

And people say they don’t wreck well and aren’t repairable.  Love it - keep it up.

NOT A TA
NOT A TA Dork
9/14/19 9:31 p.m.

Great project & thread! Thanks for sharing it with us!

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/15/19 11:03 a.m.
84FSP said:

And people say they don’t wreck well and aren’t repairable.  Love it - keep it up.

Lotus' official recommendation is to not repair the clamshells since they are a structural component (in their words), but they do advise small repairs if you want it. The only reason I didn't sustain frame damage is because the control arms buckled and didn't actually transfer much load. Not sure if they were designed to be a fusible link, but if it was intentional then it was done very well. Because the car is a monocoque though, any frame damage can easily total it out. The other factor is that most pedestrian insurance companies won't have them in the database. Whereas with a Honda they can plug in the damaged parts and it spits out a total, they have to actually do work and haggle. Rather than go through all that, it is easier to just sell the car at auction. You can find some pretty good deals on Copart but only if the damage is limited to fiberglass. As soon as it reaches the chassis or you have to by replacement parts, the price runs away quickly. 

 

JoeTR6
JoeTR6 Dork
9/15/19 11:57 a.m.

The Elise is still one of my favorite cars, so I'll be following this story.  Good luck with the restoration.  It will be worth it, IMO.

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/21/19 9:07 p.m.
californiamilleghia said:

 fiberglass-safe paint stripper. ????/

Do you have the brand name ?   And any tips on using it ?

Thanks

Alright, so tonight's project was removing a repaired section, and I found that my paint stripper would dissolve whatever binder the shop used for their repair. The Lotus service manual says that the OE binder is polyester, and it does not seem to react any. It's convenient for me since it help remove the "repair", but it definitely means you need to use caution since it may or may dissolve whatever you have. 

 

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
9/21/19 9:10 p.m.

It took forever, but I removed about a quarter inch or more of body filler. For some reason, a previous shop used half a dozen random patches on the outside of the body and then caked on filler to make it smooth. Turns out they didn't even clean the dirt out first, so I was able to even just pull a couple sections right off... 

Moto_Masochist
Moto_Masochist New Reader
9/21/19 11:36 p.m.

In reply to cyow5 :

That looks like some pretty terrible fiberglass work the shop did. I'm currently rebuilding my second Lotus Elise/Exige. I replaced the crash structure on one but left the clam repairs to the body shop, fiberglass repair is a messy affair. Will be following along with your progress. Great to see another DIY Lotus owner on here. Good luck!  

cyow5
cyow5 New Reader
11/14/19 6:51 p.m.

I've been out of state a lot over the last month or two, so I haven't been able to make much progress. I did uncover more excessive use of Bondo. The base where the driver's side mirror attaches seems to have broken off, and, when they reattached it, they didn't seem to be bothered to actually line it up with anything. This left a nearly one inch gap that they then proceeded to fill all with Bondo. 

wheelsmithy
wheelsmithy SuperDork
11/14/19 6:56 p.m.

Some of these pictures look like jawbreakers.

You are doing good work bringing this car back.

1 2
Our Preferred Partners
kCQm0gpprxwPaDNFZu5pDfAgRQve8ZZhxn9sey9O80Imn7LW02p2iCufCT7dm9FQ