Painting and Mounting the Body on the Frame | Restoration Impossible Lotus Elan Project Car Part 9

Photography by Tim Suddard • Lead by David S. Wallens

Ah, that magical moment when a project car gets back from the paint shop. In a car restorer’s life, very few things offer more pleasure. 

The payoff with our Lotus Elan was especially satisfying. The truly hellish condition it was in when we acquired it meant that by the time our little roadster was ready to go to the painters, we’d already spent what felt like several lifetimes working on it.

We had reassembled a car that was once literally broken in two. We had reversed some 40 years of rust and rot with an assortment of patch panels and more than 5 gallons of fiberglass and resin. We had block-sanded every inch of the gelcoated body twice to make it straight again. 

So you’d think our next obstacle wouldn’t have fazed us. Instead, it sent us down a rabbit hole.

 

The Mystry of Medici Blue

Once the body was ready for paint, we were eager to believe that the hardest part of our work was behind us. But our Lotus project had one more challenge in store: picking a color. 

We’re pretty sure that our Elan left the factory painted Carmen Red, one of four colors originally available–the others being Cirrus White, Jaguar Racing Green and Medici Blue. (For a fee, Lotus would also paint its cars practically any other color its customers chose.)

Why aren’t we absolutely sure of our car’s original color? Because there’s nothing on an Elan’s VIN tag that indicates it. Further complicating matters, some of the paint colors the manufacturer used didn’t even have Lotus codes, since they were borrowed from other British marques like Triumph and Jaguar.

We wanted our car to wear a stock, original color, but we weren’t particularly enamored with the rather dull and dark Carmen Red. Such a small car should wear bright paint, we reasoned, so it will jump out at other drivers instead of blending into the pavement. That ruled out Jaguar Racing Green as well. The white? A bit too plain, we thought. 

Our attention turned to Medici Blue. Aside from its name and the fact that Lotus sourced it from Triumph, this color was a mystery. In fact, no one seems to know exactly what it should look like. A web search turned up an old Triumph paint chip, but we weren’t sure how accurate the scanned image was, never mind how much the chip might have faded or darkened over the decades.

Further investigation, both online and through our local paint shop sources, yielded several more versions of the color. We even found supposed Medici Blue Elans that wore a variety of hues and tints. Still, the preponderance of the data pointed us to the three most likely candidates. 

To choose one, we mixed up small batches of all three colors and sprayed them side by side on a leftover body panel piece. This gave us a big enough sample to run by marque experts and compare to our reference images.

One Lotus enthusiast swore up and down that one of our contenders–a rather dark gray-blue–was the correct formulation, but it didn’t strike us as very attractive on the panel. It also didn’t really resemble our color chip, so we discarded that option.

We found our next candidate on a deep dive into the books and online resources at Higgs Auto Paint & Body Supplies, one of our local paint stores. This color had two problems: It was too light, and we couldn’t match it to the PPG Industries products we wanted to use on this project. 

The last option–and our final choice–came from the PPG catalog. This absolutely stunning cyan from the company’s Deltron line was the closest match for what seemed to be the actual Medici Blue. The color code is 17041.

Step 1: Our Elan’s body, once a broken, crusty rodent nest, finally looked whole again: It sat straight, its panels were aligned properly, and the gaps were consistent. We then applied a coat of PPG’s ECP15 Gray, a premium, quick-drying primer that encourages paint adhesion and offers fantastic film build to help level the painting surface.

Step 2: If our car was going to earn a spot at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, it had to look nice from every vantage point–including from below. The elements had eaten away the bottom of our Elan’s trunk, so we recreated it by mating together three fiberglass panels. The area still needed some smoothing, though.

Step 3: Almost all restorations headed for a major concours reflect team efforts. We passed the car to The Body Werks at this point for precise bodywork shaping and paint. The shop’s Daniel Miller handled much of the final 500-grit block sanding. Once the body was primed, he test-fitted the rear bumper one last time. 

Step 4: Time to seal the fiberglass with a layer of PPG’s Deltron NCS2005, a product that promotes paint adhesion and hides minor sanding scratches. The sealed body looked great, sporting a uniform finish and tight panel gaps. It even wore a Lotus emblem, courtesy of a body shop employee who temporarily stuck it on the hood to head off questions from curious customers.

Using a white sealer would have yielded a slightly lighter final body color, but we prefer the darker, richer topcoat we achieved with the black. 

Step 5: The next task: Replicate the look of the raw Lotus gelcoat on the body’s underside. The shop prepped the entire inner surface of the body shell before painting it with a semi-gloss gray from PPG. Once it was dry, they taped off the area and flipped the body back over. 

Step 6: Finally, it was time for our car to go Medici Blue. The entire body was topped with PPG’s Deltron 2000, a combination base coat and clear coat. The color looked as sophisticated and vibrant as we’d hoped on our rejuvenated Elan. 

Now the shop crew could spray the rocker panels with a semi-gloss black, just as Lotus would have done. They also treated the wheel wells with 3M’s No Cleanup High Coverage Body Schutz Coating (part No.08964) in the correct satin black. Again, we were trying to recreate the stock finish. 

Step 7: Before returning the body to us, Daniel wet-sanded the new paint with 3000-grit paper and then buffed it. 

Step 8: Now we could reunite the body and chassis–hopefully without damaging our new paint or bodywork. 

Step 9: But first we took a little time to test the driveline on temporary fuel, cooling and exhaust systems. This proved to be a smart move, as the minor leaks we found in the tail shaft and valve cover were much easier to repair while the body was off. 

Step 10: The Elan has an easily removable dashboard, meaning we could build it right on our workbench–an option far preferable to crawling  beneath the dash for hours on end. Once reinstalled, the dash would connect to a period-correct harness sourced from British Wiring.

Step 11: We used our lift to carefully lower the body onto the chassis. We quickly saw that not only the carburetors, but also the stud between them and the entire intake manifold, needed to come off in order to clear the firewall.

Step 12: Once the rear bumper and rear lights were reinstalled, our project began to look like an actual car. 

Step 13: Reinstalling the dashboard, rubber floor mat, steering column and steering wheel had our interior looking good. Since the Elan’s controls weren’t marked from the factory, we temporarily labeled ours. 

Step 14: Tom Prescott, owner of The Body Werks, helped us adjust the doors. We wound up unbolting the entire body and installing different shims to get everything aligned. 

Step 15: The simple-looking door assemblies turned out to be some of the most challenging items to reinstall. It was a struggle to properly adjust the door glass, but in the end we figured it out. 

Step 16: Restoring the engine compartment meant tracking down a lot of the details for our Series 1 Elan, including the early-style radiator and silver-blue valve cover. Note the later-style oil cap; we’re still on the hunt for a nice early one. 

Step 17: Two weeks before our deadline to unveil the car at Amelia Island, we still had work to do. Fortunately detailer extraordinaire Tim McNair of Grand Prix Concours Preparation arrived to lend an assist. Sure, Tim can make paint shine, but he also knows the details. Under our car’s hood, for example, he properly rearranged a throttle cable tie-down.

Step 18: Tim used degreaser to patiently remove the glue we had left on the seals. 

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

Step 19:  Those windows needed to sit properly on the show field, so we continued to wrestle with them. 

Step 20: We had to scramble to finish all of the mechanical work, too, including bleeding the brakes.

Step 21: We sourced a set of period-correct Michelin XAS tires from Coker Tire. Our 155HR13 tires are the largest ones that will fit inside the fenders of a stock, early Elan. We mounted them on the original steel wheels, which we painted a Toyota silver color that matches the factory finish. To dull the silver a bit, we topped it with a matte finish. Graves Plating did a wonderful job of chroming the original hubcaps.

Step 22: Before we could load up for Amelia, we had a few remaining items on our to-do list: Repair and paint the cant rails that support the convertible top, then install the beautifully made replacement from Robbins Auto Top. They make tops for many applications, and we’ve always been happy with the fit.

 

Mission Accomplished?

Photography Credit: Marjorie Suddard

We dove into the final assembly process once we got the body back from the paint shop, spurred on by a daily countdown to the Amelia Island Concours. It came down to the wire, but we managed to pull off the seemingly impossible by getting our car on the show field. Sure, we were tired, but we did it. 

In the next installment, we’ll talk about some of our sorting challenges and share details on our finished Elan’s big reveal.

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Comments
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slowbird
slowbird UltraDork
4/23/21 2:59 p.m.

No matter what the exact shade of the original Medici Blue was, I think it's safe to say that your choice for recreating it is beautiful and suits the car perfectly. And congrats on the completed restoration.

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