Why would a German gearhead buy an English sports car? Especially after restoring a Fiat 850 Sport Spider and investing many months of hard labor, which seemed to pay off with a good-looking car. Unfortunately, after only one year, the rust came back to the surface and I realized that it was a losing battle...
Question: “When does a Fiat start to rust?”
Answer: “At the time they print the first sales brochure.”
Therefore, the Fiat was sold in the fall of 1980 and a car with a plastic body was sought. The list of potential candidates included the Renault Alpine A110, Matra 530, some rare English kit cars, and the Lotus line-up.
Since I was a student at the Cologne University, money was the major restriction. I looked at old used exotic car ads and called the people to see if their cars were still for sale and if they would be willing to reduce the price to the level I could afford. A Lotus Europa owner showed some flexibility over the phone.
I had seen the Lotus Europa at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1973, where the information material included a print from a newspaper test report.
The journalist made fun of the extremely low body of the car, which would need some gymnastic training to get into without looking ridiculous, but raved about the excitement of driving this plastic bullet. He finished his report with the words:
“The only more exciting thing than driving the Lotus Europa is helping a female passenger to get out of the car. You open the door and out comes a leg, and due to the low seating position there comes a lot more leg…”
While visiting England in 1974 during a school trip, we saw several Lotus Europas, Elan Sprints and Elan Plus Twos. The Europa was definitely one of the lowest cars I had known at that time, and I pictured myself driving on countryside roads only a few inches over the asphalt.
Two of my car crazy friends joined me to drive the 150 miles to Bielefeld to inspect, and possibly buy, the Lotus. It was a rainy February Saturday in 1981. The car was parked outside and looked a little sad. It was painted in an anthracite color over the original red. The owner had tried to mimic the JPS-design of the later Europa Specials. Still, the car did run, and looked good enough to be used as a daily driver. (I should have known better.)
We negotiated the price down to the equivalent of $2,750 and started driving back using the Autobahn. The steering was extremely direct and the straightening force, which we all know from our everyday cars, was completely missing. The Lotus needed to be steered straight by continuous very small corrections. If it went a little left and I tried to correct, the car went too much to the right. It must have looked like I was drunk.
After getting a little used to it and keeping the car under control in normal speeds up to 80mph, I wanted to know how fast it could go. The Lotus became very light in the steering and we used all three lanes while pushing it to 115mph. One of my friends followed us in his Mercedes and signaled us to stop at the next parking. It seems the Lotus was leaking so much oil that it accumulated on the windshield of the Mercedes.
We filled in another quart and drove home at a slower pace. Once there, the car went into the garage to receive some technical overhauling before getting it back on the street.
In the coming six months I spent most of my time understanding the weight minimizing engineering of Colin Chapman. By using the driveshaft of the rear axle as the upper trailing arm, the U-joints had to withstand the pressure from the negative wheel position. Later I found out that as a result, the U-joints normally last only 6,000 miles. Instead of buying the spare parts at Lotus, it was important to find the similar Ford parts or to go to even more generic solutions from the original equipment suppliers.
Having heard from the “Prince of Darkness,” I stripped the car of its Lucas stuff and brought in Bosch electrical components. Later the electrical system never let me down.
The engine was not the original 1470cc Renault used in the Europas. Somebody had exchanged it for the more recent 1565cc Renault 16 engine. I gave it the standard overhaul by replacing the cylinder sleeves, piston rings, crankshaft and piston rod bearings. Also, a new set of gaskets and seals took care of the oil leakage.
Inside the car, I took out the center part of the upholstery from the driver seat and replaced it with a half-inch foam layer covered with some corduroy fabric, leaving the leatherette side supports as they were. Now I was able to sit in the car without hitting the roof with my head. (I am 6’3” tall and the Lotus was only 41” high. Please compare your Triumphs to these measurements and you’ll realize how tall a TR6 or even a Spitfire is!)
The backrests of the Europa seats were not adjustable. The driving position was somewhat reclined, squeezed between the very high center console and the thick molding of the door panel. The car was only for slim people.
I wanted to get the car ready for a vacation in south France and Spain. Therefore, I focused on the essentials of getting it to run reliably, plus installing the most needed extra for south Europe — an alarm system, which also would disable the car’s electrical system completely. There were still many improvements needed for the good looks, but the car was ready for a 2,000-mile drive — at least that’s what I thought.
Starting at midnight from Cologne, everything went fine for the first 350 miles. Averaging about 100mph I reached the Swiss border, where a customs officer argued about the legal aspects of my front license plate, which was glued to the car body. It took a higher-ranking officer for him to understand that the German authorities don’t have to comply with Swiss regulations.
When the next day dawned, I was cruising along the Swiss Autobahn at the speed limit of 80mph and slowly became tired. To take a little nap, I exited somewhere south of Lausanne and drove up the hill to the edge of the forest to find a quiet place to rest for an hour or so. Driving a few curves refreshed me, so I decided to cross over to France via a small pass road. There was almost no traffic on these countryside roads and the scenery was beautiful.
A deviation guided the route along a lake, but I missed one of the signs and ended up in the center of a small sleepy town. There were five streets meeting at the intersection and several signs pointed to the next villages or towns. While I studied the signs and compared with the map, two older gentlemen came out from a bar to my right. Also, a lady opened the shutters from inside of her house — wondering who made all that noise. I had to make a hard left into the next street. The road was dusty, so it was easy to use a little too much gas and spin the car around with a loud bark from the short exhaust pipe.
Driving like this was a lot of fun and I became bolder despite the risk of getting caught by the gendamerie. I reached a solid average speed of 100mph on the Rue Nationale between Bourg en Bresse and Lyon.
A couple of days later, I met my French girlfriend (at that time) and the Europa successfully swallowed the additional luggage. The car had two trunks, a small one in front and a large one in the rear above the transmission. When using the front trunk, the airflow to the heating/ventilation system was interrupted. The rear trunk became very warm from the engine on longer drives.
Fully loaded with two adults and lots of luggage, we drove to Spain. Close to Barcelona the expressway was somewhat undulating. The car hit the bottom of the springs several times and the exhaust pipe broke just in front of the only silencer. We continued our drive with a very bold “racing” noise. Two days later, a small garage a few miles inland from the vacation place at the Costa Dorada fixed the exhaust pipe.
For two weeks everything was fine. The car performed well in the hot weather of Spain. When I drove to the Club Med Village close to Cadaques, the road became an unpaved dirt track — something for an SUV, but much too rough for a Lotus. We moved along very slowly. The engine started to overheat and even using the heating system for additional cooling wasn’t sufficient. The few miles took me several hours, because in 90°-plus heat it takes a long time for a mid-engine car to cool off.
When leaving the village a week later, the same road caused a brake line to break and an hour later I found myself driving down a serpentine road without any brakes. (The Europa has only a one-circuit brake system. To compensate for this lack of safety, Chapman gave the car a fantastic handling!) Due to pure luck, there was nobody in front of me on the road and I drove down the hill with the speed usually only seen in the movies after somebody disables the brakes on the car of an intended “accident” victim. Buying plenty of brake fluid and driving carefully brought me to my next destination, where I found a service garage willing to work on an English car.
It turned out that the shock absorber/coil spring unit of the right front suspension had broken, too. But since it stuck between the double A-arms, it was possible to drive. With the help of the ADAC (Germany’s version of AAA) and the Royal Automobile Club of England, I received the spare shock and spring within 24 hours direct from Lotus, with no costs for shipment, handling or customs. The car got repaired, including the brakes, and the remaining two weeks in Spain went well.
But somewhere in south France, on my way to my next destination, the left rear wheel bearing gave up. Due to the damage to the wheel hub, the repair would have taken more than a month. Again, the ADAC came to the rescue. They picked up the car at the next (Renault) dealership and paid for my train ticket and taxi to get home.
The Lotus was delivered there a week later and I unregistered it for the winter, because the repairs would take some time. I never used public transport as much as I did when I owned the Lotus. I repaired it over the following six months. Then I drove it, repaired it again, drove it and repaired it again. The statistical average came to one day driving, one day repairing.
I painted the car white and changed the engine to the larger Renault 17TS with 98hp and the transmission to a 5-speed. The linkage between the shifter and the transmission had to go around the engine and clutch to the very end of the car. It had five joints and the reverse, 1st, 3rd and 5th gear were next to each other in front. This made it quite difficult to find the right gear. At a traffic light I normally couldn’t tell if I had selected the 1st or the 3rd gear, which didn’t matter too much, because the Lotus could easily drive off in 3rd — but if I wanted to race the car next to me, I needed to test with the clutch which gear I had engaged!
The car became very fast. Speeds up to 130mph were no problem. Once I drove 200 miles, 50% Autobahn and 50% winding countryside roads, in exactly two hours. In the early ’80s, that was really fast.
I changed the negative position of the rear wheels and mounted adjustable Koni shocks. The car drove very nicely (when it drove at all). Due to the weight of only 1210 lbs. it accelerated pretty well. Usually, I shifted through the gears into 5th and cruised with a speed of about 100mph. In dry weather the car gripped the road and could corner a lot faster than most other cars around.
Frequently my passengers would suddenly become very silent when I approached a curve with no signs of slowing down at all, since they were certain they were facing death. The laws of physics did not seem to apply to this little plastic car. Even seasoned drivers had problems dealing with the capabilities of a suspension solidly rooted in mid-’60s Formula One racing!
Although I was able to improve the Lotus in many ways, there were many more areas in need than there were financial resources available. There was always something wrong. This was not a good situation, because by now I was supposed to be studying for my MBA.
Admitting that I had trouble concentrating on economics and business organization, I decided to sell the Europa for the sake of my professional future. It took several months, but then in early September 1983, I got a call from a car mechanic living about 60 miles away.
He and his girlfriend arrived on a Honda CB900 Bol d’Or. They were freezing from the ride, so I first made some tea and then we went to the garage to see the Lotus. When I opened the door, the girl said, “Oh, is this beautiful!” — and the price for the car became rock solid at 2.5 times what I had paid nearly three years ago.
Strangely the guy did not insist on test driving the car. I showed him that everything was O.K. and he bought it. When he came to pick it up, he even asked me to drive the car to the next gas station so that he could fill it up. When he finally took the wheel, he stalled the car three times before getting off.
Two months later he called and complained about a broken U-joint at the left driveshaft. He asked me to take the car back, for even less money. But by now I had bought a Bieber Speedster, a German-built replica of the Lotus Super Seven Mark IV on a base of Volkswagen parts — much more reliable. I declined his offer, and that was the last thing I heard from my first British car.
In spite of all the trouble, the car’s character — with the wooden dashboard and its unique design — had infected me with this special virus of loving British cars. Still, my German brain brought me to the conclusion that I should not rely on an old car made in England as my daily driver.
I still had the Super Seven replica mentioned above, and later opted for another German-built replica. This time it looked like the Jaguar SS100, which was sold by Classic Car Janssen as the Gepard SS.
The last fun car I had in Germany was a JPR Wildcat Roadster, which was a Jaguar E-type replica built in a garage (and that’s a stretch) on the Goodwood racing circuit.
All of these cars were much more reliable than the Lotus. But still the virus is in my blood, and that is why we now have our fourth British car — and like to meet all the other infected people for group therapy.
President Mary Newman called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m.
New members and guests and their cars included George Young, Jaguar XK120 Kirk Pierce, 1969 MG Midget Steve Kurowski, 1959 TR3 and Jim Woodall, 1961 TR3, and a couple of Jaguars.
Larry McCartt gave his Treasurer’s report. We have 63 paid members.
The Secretary’s report is on the website and in British Marque.
Larry said he has the paper cutouts of cars that were on the Moss website. He also brought some copies of MG magazines.
Past events: The club met for breakfast at the House of Omelets on October 30th. Thirteen members attended.
Upcoming events (as of the meeting date): These included the Safety Harbor All-British Field Meet and Southeastern Classic October 21st through 23rd, put on by the Tampa Bay Austin-Healey Club the International Jaguar Festival at the Sanibel Harbour Resort October 20th through 24th, put on by the Jaguar Club of Southwest Florida the MG Jamboree November 19th through 21st, put on by the Florida Suncoast MG Car Club, also in Safety Harbor and the Car Club Christmas Party December 14th, at Famous Dave’s in Ft. Myers (RSVP needed).
There was a discussion about changing the monthly breakfast to the last Friday instead of the last Saturday of the month.
The next breakfast would be at Penny’s Diner in Punta Gorda on October 29th.
There would be a Luncheon Run to Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda on November 6th.
Hermann Schaller spoke about the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club Car Show on January 16, 2022.
Mary Newman asked for British Marque articles, after which the meeting adjourned.
Minutes from November 9th
President Mary Newman called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m.
Guests Jim and Vicki Grant attended the meeting. They were given an application and said they would join soon.
The Secretary’s report is on the web and in British Marque (this article).
The Treasurer gave his report and stated we had 65 members.
Past events: We had 10 members at breakfast at Penny’s Diner in Punta Gorda on October 29th. They have always been very accommodating and have great food.
Bill and Mary Newman attended the Safety Harbor car show, along with several other BCCSWF members.
Twelve members attended the Luncheon at the Celtic Ray on November 6th. It is an authentic Irish pub and everyone had a great time.
Upcoming events: The Car Club Christmas Party will be held on December 14th at Famous Dave’s in Ft. Myers. We will be sending an e-mail and requiring an RSVP so we can have an accurate count.
There will not be a club breakfast in November.
Hermann Schaller spoke again about the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club Car show on January 16th. It is an invitation-only show. The meeting then adjourned. —Mary Newman
I became interested in British cars at a young age, and subscribed to Sports Car Graphic and Autoweek Competition Press when most of the kids my age were getting Hot Rod magazine. Ownership of a British car took a while, as my first cars were a 1950 Chevrolet at 16 years old, then a 1955 Chevy that I drove through high school and two years at LSU, before being drafted into the Army in 1966.
After discharge from the military, marriage, and the birth of a daughter and son, my thoughts again turned to British cars. My first choice was Triumph, and the TR3 seemed to be the ideal sports car.
After checking several TR3s that had been in poor shape and needing too much work to restore, I turned my attention to the local British Leyland dealer in Baton Rouge, RS&S Sports Cars. Robert Stewart, the owner, eventually became a friend, and I became a crew member on his Formula Ford SCCA racecar for some races.
The year was 1977, and that summer Robert directed me to a slightly used 1976 Triumph Spitfire 1500 in his inventory. The car was Mimosa Yellow and had only 15,000 miles on it. For $3,500 I became a British car owner for the first time.
The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Certificate that I obtained notes that Chassis No. FM43995-U was built on February 16, 1976, and was shipped from Newport on the vessel Vingnes to British Leyland Motors, Inc., New Orleans, La.
I bonded with the Spit instantly and the car became part of my family.
My Spitfire became a daily driver as I worked in the chemical industry in Baton Rouge. As a sports car owner, I became active in the Central Louisiana Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and soon became the club’s Regional Executive.
The SCCA led me to participation in autocross and road rally events. Soon the car and I were doing some type of motorsports event every weekend. Notable autocross events were in the New Orleans Superdome parking lot, the streets of downtown Baton Rouge, and a banked oval Speedway in Jackson, Miss. I participated in road rallies of all types throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas with numerous navigators and became quite proficient using only the speedometer and a stopwatch.
My Spitfire also served as a learning tool, as my daughter and son both learned to drive using the yellow Spit.
I have taken the car on many long distance drives from Louisiana to Texas and Georgia with very few problems. The Spit managed to survive our move from Baton Rouge to Navarre Beach, Fla., in 1985, with a stuck oil bypass valve and the addition of many quarts of oil. Many hours have been spent on preventative maintenance and repairs and the Spit is now on its fourth engine with several rebuilds in between.
The current block was obtained from Ted Schumacher at TSI in Ohio, who provided a 20-thousandths overbore. A local machine shop installed cam bearings in the 1500 block and oversized valves in the head. The head was ported and shaved to provide 10:1 compression. The valve train includes tubular push rods, lightened and hardened tappets and a roller rocker. A Crane performance cam is installed and the rotating mass was balanced along with an aluminum flywheel.
The engine breathes with a 40mm sidedraft Weber carb and a performance exhaust header. The wheels are 13” x 6” Super Lights and I am looking for a performance tire to replace the current 215/50-13R Sumitomos, which make the car sit too low for street use.
The car was repainted in 2002 with the original Mimosa Yellow and a hard top was installed (no more leaks in the rain). Mary and I also installed new carpets and seat covers in the original black.
My yellow Spitfire has been resting in the garage for too long due to racing, boating, and enjoying the 1972 Mini, but I am slowly getting it ready to get back on the road. I am going through all of the electrical, brakes, suspension and fluids. My plan is to have the Spit on the road again by the first of 2022.
I will keep you posted on the progress.
FT. MYERS, Fla., Sept. 14 — The meeting was called to order by President Mary Newman at 6:30 p.m.
There was one guest, Chuck Swanson. He planned to send in his membership application soon.
The Treasurer was not able to attend. He sent his report.
The Secretary was not able to attend. The minutes are on the website and also in British Marque Car Club News.
Breakfast on August 28th was at the Skillets Restaurant in Ft. Myers. There were 10 members attending. Several members drove their British cars and everyone enjoyed the breakfast.
The President read a letter from the British Sports Car Hall of Fame thanking the club for its donation in memory of Cy Ling.
The President thanked member John Baum for his article he wrote for the upcoming British Marque.
[It was published in the October issue. —Exec. Ed.]
The Sports Car Club of America regional road races are coming up, at Daytona September 25-26, and at Sebring Raceway October 23-24 and November 27-28.
The Safety Harbor All-British Car Show put on by the Tampa Bay Austin-Healey Club is October 21-23.
The International Jaguar Festival put on by the Jaguar Club of Southwest Florida is being held at the Sanibel Harbor Resort October 20-24.
The Florida Suncoast MG Car Club is holding the MG Jamboree November 19-21 at the Safety Harbor Resort.
The next Breakfast will be at the House of Omelets in Cape Coral on September 25th.
There was brief discussion about the Christmas Party. It will be held at Famous Dave’s in Ft. Myers.
The meeting adjourned. —Mary Newman
My interest in MGs began in high school, when a friend of mine bought a used Midget. I knew the first time he let me drive it that I liked sports cars.
The year Christine and I got married, we bought a brand new 1975 rubber bumper MGB and used it as a daily driver, until moving to Syracuse, N.Y., in 1979 when we sold it, to be replaced with something more practical and winter-friendly.
While on a trip to England in 1996 I noticed a lot of MGs and British sports cars from the ’60s buzzing around, and the interest came back to me. When we got back home, I began the search. With not too much looking around, I found what I thought was a good one.
I let my emotions get ahead of me and bought our 1964 MGB from an individual in Pennsylvania. The car had an unknown history and had been used and abused as a race car, and put back together for street use. In short order I realized the MGB was in poor but drivable condition.
My wife and I joined the MG Car Club-Western New York Centre. Within the more than 25 years I have been a member I have held many offices within the club, such as Treasurer, Vice Chairman and Chairman. This membership created a large social network for Christine and me. Through the club we met many people with similar interests in cars and car activities. We enjoyed many tours, rallies and social events with the club.
After driving the MG for a while, I realized the car had a lot of problems. The motor needed a full rebuild, and the transmission was junk and needed to be replaced. From that point on, I kept changing parts to get it better looking and running. In 2006, with the help from fellow club members, I was encouraged to take on a restoration.
At first, I thought it could be done in six months. Boy, was I wrong! The restoration took on a life of its own. Of course, I faced interference with daily living, running my business, and raising a family. There were times when I would be stuck on a problem and needed time to get the appropriate part and/or solution. The project that I expected to last six months took six years to complete.
As the restoration went on and on, I developed the confidence to take on more mechanical projects and even home improvement. First, I insulated, drywalled and heated the garage so I could work on the MG during the winter months. I learned basic welding skills to replace the sills and floors with the help from a more experienced friend. In all, I replaced all the sheet metal from the doors, both front fenders and the bonnet.
I also replaced the transmission with an overdrive unit and re-did the interior with a kit from Moss Motors, which cleaned it up. Add to that a complete rewire.
I’m not saying I did this all myself. The project definitely required help from my friends, along with professionals, to get all the body panels to fit. The car had much hidden damage in its past life that required a frame-straightening machine.
At last it got painted in 2012 and was back on the road. Since then, I have upgraded the SUs to a Weber and changed out the original distributor to an electronic unit. With these improvements, though they are not original to the car, the B now starts and runs reliably.
Since owning the car, we have enjoyed many trips through upstate New York Finger Lakes region, New England and Pennsylvania. In 2017 we took a 5,000-mile road trip from upstate New York along the Blue Ridge Parkway to North Carolina and Georgia.
This past year we moved to Fort Myers, Fla., and joined the British Car Club of Southwest Florida. We are looking forward to growing our experiences with the hobby, and making many more new friends.
For all the trouble and time spent getting the car to run so we could have fun with it, I can say it’s been a fantastic journey where we have met wonderful folks and have had countless memorable experiences, along with learning many new skills that have carried over into our everyday lives.
The August 10th general membership meeting was called to order by President Mary Newman at 6:50 p.m.
There was low turnout due to weather and related pandemic concerns.
Kieran Curley attended as a guest.
The Treasurer was unable to attend. The Secretary’s report is on the website and also in the British Marque.
The monthly breakfast took place at Keke’s Restaurant in Fort Myers. It was attended by nine members.
Bill Newman made a motion to send a check for $200 to the British Sports Car Hall of Fame as a memorial for Cy Ling. The motion was seconded by Chris Baum. The motion carried.
Upcoming events (as of the meeting date)
Upcoming car shows include the International Jaguar Festival, October 20-24 Safety Harbor, October 21-24 and MG Jamboree, also in Safety Harbor, November 19-21.
Cars & Coffee at Bell Tower Shops is on the fourth Sunday of the month.
Our August 28th breakfast is at Skillets Restaurant in Fort Myers.
Following this review the meeting adjourned. —Bill Newman