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Another 90 SE coming back to life

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I've been peppering the Stevens forum with dumb questions, but thought I'd summarize my experience here so far.

My 90 SE has been sitting for over four years. It's a long story... job change, travel, domestic turmoil... but as everything else seems to have been resolved, time to bring the white rocket back to life.

I had thought the electrical system would have serious problems, but when I put in a new battery and turned the key, all the right lights lit up. What the heck, let's give the key a twist and see if it cranks. It cranked, and best of all, was a very even cranking sound, the el cheapo compression test. After a few seconds of cranking, I was about to let off when I felt a chug. Hm... try again. It slowly sputtered to life, and after around 30 seconds of idling, was revving as eagerly as it always did. Change the oil (still looked pretty fresh), take it for a brief spin up the road and hope the local police don't notice the plate expired by four years... good thing I live way out in the country... tires thumping like crazy, but at 3k it started to pull, brakes working fine. Don't rev it with that old cam belt, get it back home. Noticed on the way back, temperature stabilized at the right point, so the cooling system is doing it's job.

Ah, but my work has just begun. That cam belt has to go. And so the adventure began. JAE provided the cam belt, tensioner bearing, three aux belts, and a hose set. Belts were cheap, hose set was not.

First step is to remove the plate under the car, only to find the bolts are corroded in place. After twisting two heads off, I found that someone thoughtfully cut two large holes in the plate, right by the crankshaft pulley. Let's see if we can do this without removing the bottom cover plate, and maybe those corroded bolts are why those holes were cut by the previous owner?

Alternator wouldn't move on it's adjuster. Remove the alternator with arm attached, a tap with a brass mallet got the clamp bolt loose, and I found that it's a lot easier to get to other things with the alternator out of the way. AC compressor tensioner pulley won't budge, turns out it was obstructed by goo dripping out of the alternator. Cut that belt off, remove the tensioner and clean, and send the alternator to the overhaul shop. Vacuum pump... which bolts loosen it? Is it that allen head bolt behind the pulley? The list comes to my rescue again, yes it is, and you have to grind down an 8mm allen wrench to get in there. Geez, couldn't you have used a normal bolt? An end wrench would have fitted perfectly.

Espritfactfile says bump the starter to loosen the crankshaft pulley, but that makes me nervous - if the wrench used to lock the bolt comes loose, it could flap around and break something. Instead, I put it in 4th gear, engage the parking brake to lock the engine, and use a 1/2" breaker bar with 19mm socket to get the pulley bolt off. No problem.

Set the timing marks before taking the belt off. On the 90 SE, it's a red dot on the exhaust camshaft pulley, and a blue one on the intake. So I learned after rotating the engine to the zero mark, seeing only one dot way out of place, rotating it to zero again, and seeing the two dots line up.

There was talk about a screw adjustment for the cam tensioner. No, on this engine, it's an eccentric cam. Loosen the outer 17mm bolt, and a 19mm bolt head on the tensioner sets the tension. That came out easily. Ready to take the old belt off. Whoops, the second large hose from the water pump is still in the way, and the screw for the clamp is turned so that no screwdriver or socket could possibly get to it. Out with a Dremel and cutting wheel, and cut the clamp off. Hose won't budge, so get an angled pry bar, pry on the edges on each side, and it finally comes off.

On with the new belt. On the crankshaft pulley first. Then, stretch it over the exhaust cam pulley, and pull it tight until the lugs snap into place and the belt from crankshaft to exhaust pulley is tight. Timing has been preserved. Or has it? I goofed, forgot to put it in gear when I went to tighten down the crankshaft pulley. Engine turned about 1/5 turn before I realized what was happening, and as the belt tensioner hadn't been set yet, the cam belt slipped over the intake pulley. Out of phase now, and neither dot lines up. Out with the plugs to eliminate compression, set the belt on, tension it this time, carefully hand rotate the engine with a wrench through two turns to get back to TDC all while feeling for a valve colliding with a piston (it didn't), sure enough the intake cam is off by about four cogs. 17mm wrench on it until the dots line back up, tension the cam belt, put it in gear this time, now tighten the crank pulley down. That was boneheaded.

Running new hoses now, found some sharp looking steel braided hoses for the small stuff. No, you don't need a steel braided hose for the drain pipe, but I bought ten feet of the stuff anyway and it looks neat, so there are now two steel braided hoses running around the edge of the engine bay, and several inside - all the small water hoses have been replaced.

Currently working on the next crisis - tires. The SE still has it's original Eagles, 19 years old now and as shot as tires can be and still hold air. First, got to find tires that will fit, almost no one makes 15" high perf tires these days, and those that do are for the Mini and they're too small. Found Toyo T1R's in 215/45 15 and 245/45 16. So it will sit a wee bit lower, maybe half an inch. Tires ordered, they'll be in next week, so let's take the wheels off so we can get them mounted. Bit of a problem, all four wheels are firmly stuck. Yes, I did remove the lug nuts, but they won't budge. Again, the list comes to the rescue, a search revealed a thread from someone who had the same problem, for the same reason - sitting for a while. They solved it by putting penetrating oil on the wheel and hub, and waiting a few days. So, soak the hubs, and wait until this weekend.

Long term problem - the clearcoat on the body is coming off in sheets. Temporarily, I've found you can polish the paint underneath with polishing compound and it doesn't look too bad, though a bit sunburned with clearcoat still peeling off. Needs a full repaint some time soon. And I believe I'll redo it in the pearl white. I saw an anniversery Esprit in pearl white once, and it was absolutely beautiful. That does mean I'll have to find a paint shop that knows how to work with that sort of paint and won't screw the Esprit up. How the devil do you get the badge off of the rear?

Side project - redo the dash. I've always loved the wood dash in this otherwise spaceship of a car, a lovely British touch. Combined with the acres of leather, the inside of the SE seems like an exclusive men's club. But, the clearcoat is cracking, and the veneer is coming off. That, I can work with, I've refinished several rifle stocks in the past. Get online, and for $100, I get eleven sheets of burl walnut veneer, each sheet more than large enough to do the Esprit's miniscule dash. The only veneer sheets I liked were in that pack of eleven.

It's an easy dash to do, mostly flat, just the curves around the vents to worry about and they're gentle enough to bend the veneer over without even moistening it. The gun restorer in me says cover the veneer with linseed oil, the practical person in me says use polyurethane as it doesn't attract dust when drying. Still debating that one, linseed oil would take multiple coats and a couple of weeks, but would yield a deeper finish when done.

That's where I'm at now. Trying to extract the wheels, running new hoses, replacing the chargecooler impeller, redoing the dash. Hopefully, all but the paint job will be done within a month.

And many thanks to the list for being patient with me, and saving me much agony.

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The wheels are unstuck!

I followed what a search here showed me might work: penetrating oil around the inside of the wheel, and gave each lug bolt hole a shot for good measure.

Let it sit overnght.

The next afternoon, I took a 9 pound sledge hammer, swinging under the car so that I would strike the tire (not the wheel) in the direction I wanted the wheel to go. Gave it three good whacks, not full power, about a one foot swing. Spun the wheel 180 degrees, gave it another three whacks. Don't get complacent swinging the sledge, it's easy to miss and hit the rim. After a couple of revolutions of this, I spun the wheel watching the edge of the tire. Good, a wee bit of a wobble, it's coming loose. Fresh shot of penetrating oil, then back to three whacks, 180 degree spin, another three. Within a minute, the wheel was off. Repeated this on the other three wheels, all came off in a similar manner, though the left front was a bit more recalcitrant.

Warning: this procedure will kill your brake pads, so have replacements on hand. You're free to try and clean the penetrating oil off of the old ones, but you'll be testing the cleaning job with your life. If your wheels have been on long enough to be stuck, you probably need new pads anyway.

Next on the list - grind down an 8mm allen wrench so I can reinstall the vacuum pump belt. Put the rest of the belts on, replace the hoses, new spark plugs. Redoing the wood on the dash will have to wait. That will take about two weeks, what with multiple linseed oil coats and overnight drying. I want to drive it a bit first.

Probably will overhaul the brake calipers while they're exposed. Wish my job wasn't so shaky, I'd love to spring for something better than stock brakes. They were okay, but not great.

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John, it all sounds pretty good to me... and an enjoyable venture.... Well done.

Are there any pictures ?

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.<br />

<br />

In practice, there is!

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Here it is. I've modified the suspension for off road use... us hillbillies here in Kentucky have some rough roads...


Just kidding... it's sitting up on blocks, and I rolled the wheels with new tires in front for a few laughs. Note the essential wheel removal tool laying on the plywood sheet. As for roads, we have hundreds of miles of twisty, Lotus loving roads throughout the Appalachian mountains. You should see the roads around the horse farms where I live, light traffic, reasonably twisty, and kept in perfect condition. Won't do to transport a million dollar horse over a rough road.

Another day, another round of cursing. Went to put the new alternator belt on. Even with the tensioner all the way in, it was too tight, and yes it was the right size belt. I finally got it wedged on as tight as I could, then resorted to the manual starter, long .5" ratchet with 19mm socket on the flywheel bolt. Cranked the engine by hand, and the belt snapped into place. If it's going to fit that tight, why even bother with a tensioner? Is this an example of dry British wit? I know, it's a Lotus, but the simplest things can become difficult.

Fortunately, the water/vacuum pump belt wasn't nearly as hard. All that's left is to replace the spark plugs, which I'll pick up tomorrow. Found some neat 90 degree elbow connectors for steel braided hoses, that are just the right size to replace the chargecooler feed lines. They will fit perfectly on the lines coming out of the chargecooler. That should look neat.

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And another interesting note. I was having a terrible time trying to fit the new water pump hose. The new silicone hoses are a tight fit under the best of circumstances, and the sticky nature of the silicone doesn't help. With the long hose for the water pump, there's precious little room to grab it, so it was proving to be particularly difficult. After a couple of hours of wrestling, I put it aside and moved on to other things. Came back to it, took a fresh look, and found that an angled pry bar inserted between the cam pulleys pushes on the hose at just the right angle to seat it. After that, the rest of the new hoses were a snap to fit. I'm finding that the extremely difficult tasks usually have a solution, if you just back off and think about it. No doubt about it, the Esprit is a challenge to an amateur mechanic. Definitely broadens your horizons.

Thank heavens for hose clamps that can be driven with a socket. Otherwise, the hoses that attach to the frame pipes would have been impossible to remove and tighten.

So, it's ready for a final check of all bolts and hoses, and a final manual engine rotation with spark plugs removed just to be sure the valves and pistons aren't getting too friendly. I'm pretty sure the timing marks are lining up correctly, but the penalty for error with valve timing is severe. Then, I can find out if those Toyo T1R's are all they're cracked up to be.

The interior has freshened up nicely. Have to reglue the headliner, it's falling out, and has some mold stains, so a good scrubbing will precede that. A commercial leather cleaner was stripping off too much of the original dye, glad I tested it on an unexposed section of leather first. Used the last of my Brooks Proofide cycle saddle treatment on the seats, have to get some more. I love the smell of British leather, much nicer than that nasty acidic smell of German leather.

A friend who runs a woodworking shop has kindly offered the use of a vacuum bag for applying the new veneer to the dash. It insures that even pressure is maintained on the veneer while the glue is drying, otherwise the stuff can ripple like crazy. Much of the veneer is flaking off of the side panels so removal is easy, but the main dash may be a bit more difficult to strip.

One other puzzle to solve - assuming I don't fall victim to layoffs later this summer, it will be up for new paint in the fall. How do the badges on the front fenders and rear attach? Glued on? I can't seem to find any inner nuts holding them on. I plan on removing as much from the body as possible during the process.

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It is running!

This is probably simple stuff to most of you, I'm tossing it out for the inexperienced who may contemplate a C service themselves. It can be done, but it it isn't easy if this is your first time. What will drive you crazy isn't replacing the cam belt, it's the normally simple tasks like removing the water pump/vacuum belt, or installing a new hose when you don't have the greatest access. Once you've learned the sequence of events, it's actually not hard. Learning the sequence is the fun part.

A few odds and ends left to attend to. The chargecooler impeller was a piece of cake, compared to what I had been through. Only a box wrench can get to the 10mm bolt, has me thinking about those ratcheting box wrenches. Give it a twist to loosen it up, and out it came. Vanes absolutely gone, dig them out of the ports, pop the top of the chargecooler, yes, a couple in there. Put the new impeller on, be sure to bend the blades the right direction, slip it back on, twist it a bit until the splines on the pump line up with the drive shaft, and it dropped right in place. I had more trouble getting the hoses back on than I did taking the pump out. Not a very good design, though. Electric pump is definitely in the works when that impeller goes out.

Give the crankshaft pulley a final tightening, it took maybe 1/4 turn. Fill the chargecooler with water/glycol, that takes a bit of time as the fill hole kept filling up.

Fill the coolant system - uh oh, coolant streaming out of the bottom. Seems I forgot to reconnect the heater feed hose on the water pump. Okay, recheck everything... looks good. Open the bleed screw on the radiator (wow, something that's actually easy to get to on an Esprit, that's unique), wait until the air stops hissing out, close it. Refill with 50/50 water/glycol.

First, crank it over with no plug wires attached. Sounds good, nothing banging, though I had previously rotated it with a socket wrench on the crank pully and all plugs removed to be sure the pistons and valves weren't hitting. Connect the plugs, and fire it up. And I get - thump! thump! thump! and a very bad shake. Shut it down immediately - wtf was that? Valve timing? Plug wires on wrong? I'm defeated for today, go have a couple of shots of fine bourbon and sleep on it.

Come out the next day, pull the plugs, rotate the engine to TDC 1. Valve timing looks spot on, blue and red dots line up. Note - this is a lot easier with the alternator out, I had to feel the notch on the crankshaft pulley as it's difficult to see the timing mark with the alt in place. 3 and 4 plugs had petrol on them. Clean them off, put back in, check the plug leads, yes they're on right, though the way they're cut, it's about impossible to get them wrong. Let's hear that noise again. Crank again, and it fires perfectly this time. Idle is a bit loopy. Seems to be revving a bit slower than it normally does, and there's a whining sound that wasn't there before. Shut down, recheck to be sure belts aren't rubbing on something.

And I think I'll drain the rest of the old fuel. Can't even get an aquarium hose in there to syphon, so I'll have to pull the hose at the bottom. Go back to town, get a couple of large trays to catch the fuel, disconnect all electrics, and have both large extinguishers handy. I haven't gone through this ordeal to see it go up in flames.

I learned a few lessons that might help the uninitiated:

1. Study carefully what you have to remove, before you start. It's easy to remove the wrong bolts, especially when you're having trouble seeing what you are removing. You'll just have to tighten them again.

2. There is a fairly easy way to install a part, though it may not be obvious on first glance. The upper water pump hose drove me crazy, until I gave it a rest, looked at it the next day, and saw that a pry bar between the cam pulleys would push on it just right.

3. Be thorough, and replace what needs to be replaced. Getting to the component is the hard part, may as well replace anything that might need replacing that's nearby. Otherwise, you'll just have to go through the process all over again.

4. Once you've done a cam belt change, it's not so hard. I could probably do it in a day if I had to go through the process again. Hopefully, I won't.

5. If you have young, impressionable children at home, best not to have them hang around. I guarantee that some colorful language will float up from underneath the Esprit.

And many thanks to the list for the much needed guidance.

Edited by TrapperJohn
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And here it is, looking a bit better...


Maybe I can find time to mow the grass, now that this project is nearing completion.

Draining the old fuel and adding fresh may have helped - the idle is much better now. Had one last bit of excitement, the fuel line would be the one hose on this Esprit that wasn't stuck in place. Four turns on the hose clamp, and it pops off all by itself, sending petrol everywhere. Fortunately, this had a happy ending, though I did have one scare when I stood up, drenched in petrol, and my cell phone started ringing. Egad! Threw it as far as I could. Got the garden hose, rinsed myself, then went back to the Esprit and hosed everywhere under the car, to cool it down and disperse the spilled fuel. That was stupid. If you're loosening the fuel line hose, watch out. It comes off a lot easier than you might think.

Rechecked the belt tension this evening, it's too tight. Perhaps that's where the whining sound is coming from. Reset it tomorrow evening, by which time the new license plate should be on. It's been for a few jaunts up the road with it's four year old plate, but I'd better not push the envelope on that.

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Great work John, nicely done matey :lol:

88 Esprit NA, 89 Esprit Turbo SE, Evora, Evora S, Evora IPS, Evora S IPS, Evora S IPS SR, Evora 400, Elise S1, Elise S1 111s, Evora GT410 Sport

Evora NA

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Everything done. The whining sound was the cam belt too tight. Reset to the proper spec, and it's nice and quiet. Bit of a bear to set the tension with everything in place. Trick is to use a deep well 17mm socket on a long 3/8" ratchet to get to the lock bolt. Plates updated, legally driveable, a stunningly beautiful day here in Kentucky, and many miles of twisty little roads await, so I took the afternoon off to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

It was not to be. She was running like a dream, that marvelous tight feel, all while cozily cocooned in all that leather that makes the Esprit such an endearing vehicle. Everything working perfectly, brakes strong, steering stiff, and my first few flicks through turns weren't even approaching the limits of the very sticky T1R tires. Ah, that fuel vent line must be shot, I can smell it. Hmmm... even with the windows down and the sunroof out, it's still there. Take the 6 miles of twisty roads to town - really, the Esprit is the only way to travel these roads - get to town, and splut, choke... I coast into a gas station. Gauge on empty, it's just out. Funny, I just put in five gallons when I drained the tanks. Go to fill it up... fuel dripping out of the right side. Give it half a tank, hop in, and haul butt home watching the gauge drop as I go. Got it home without running out, though it did involve flagrant disregard of posted speed limits and a couple of spectacular passes of slowpokes. Is it speeding if it doesn't feel like you're going fast? 80 in the Esprit feels like 40 in any other car.

Right side fuel tank corroded, most likely. I feel defeated. I suppose the vibrations of running finally shook the last bit of rust loose. And it felt so wonderful for that brief drive, those Toyo T1R's really work well on the Esprit.

Ah well, time for another sip of bourbon and a bit of contemplation. I'm going to be an alcoholic before this is all done.

It will look better in the morning. The left tank isn't leaking. Maybe I could cap off the right side fuel line and run on the left tank only. No mere car gets the best of me. Where the devil do I find another right side tank here in the USA? I started this job, and I will finish it.

For grins, I took this shot of the Esprit sitting next to my other mechanical toy. 2006 Ford F350, turbodiesel, double rear wheels. With the bulging rear end to accomodate the extra tires, truck guys like to refer to these trucks as the 'fat bottomed ladies'.


Well, hold on a minute. It's amazing what a sip of bourbon and a bit of contemplation can do.

I got home with 1/8 tank showing on the gauge, and had lost over 1/4 tank in the 12 minute drive home. After a couple of hours, I thought, take another look at it. Turn on the ignition to be sure the tanks have run dry, and it's still showing 1/8 tank. Put in 3 gallons, now it's showing 1/4 tank, and nothing dripping underneath.

So it's only losing fuel when it's running, which means ruptured fuel line, not rusted tank. That, I can fix. Let it sit overnight. If it's still showing 1/4 tank tomorrow, I'll start it. If it starts dripping fuel then, that will confirm it.

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Fingers crossed and well done for not catching fire last night!

88 Esprit NA, 89 Esprit Turbo SE, Evora, Evora S, Evora IPS, Evora S IPS, Evora S IPS SR, Evora 400, Elise S1, Elise S1 111s, Evora GT410 Sport

Evora NA

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Looking good, I'm sure you will getthe Fuel sorted.

Do you have a pic of the dash?

Amateurs built the Ark

Professionals built the Titanic

"I haven't ridden in cars pulled by cows before" "Bullocks, Mr.Belcher" "No, I haven't, honestly"

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cor, thanx for you PM, but unfortunately I cannot reply, get some forum error :

The following errors were found

We could not find any matches for the member names you entered into the carbon copy box, please check the input before resubmitting

This personal message has not been sent

Can any forum guru have a look please ?

- Nulla tenaci invia est via -

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Yes they can.

Don't put anything in the cc box and you won't get that message!

HTH :)

88 Esprit NA, 89 Esprit Turbo SE, Evora, Evora S, Evora IPS, Evora S IPS, Evora S IPS SR, Evora 400, Elise S1, Elise S1 111s, Evora GT410 Sport

Evora NA

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It was the fuel line. Rather than risk a fire by starting it again, I just checked tanks in the morning, no leakage, and then removed the alternator to get a good look at the front of the engine.

That whining sound I heard was the plastic fuel line that I failed to properly secure. It had fallen over against the water pump/vacuum belt, and the belt had worn a hole in it. The hole was pointed to the right, so when the system was pressurized, it shot a jet of fuel to the right side, where it was dripping out. Apparently, when I reset tension on the cam belt, I moved the fuel line away from the water pump belt, so the whining stopped. By then the damage was done. I smelled fuel, but thought it was the remnants of draining the tanks the day before.

Darn lucky I didn't set the car on fire. Once again, the Esprit has reminded me that it demands a greater degree of precision from a mechanic.

Extracting the fuel line tonight. I never did like that damned plastic line anyway. Visit the local performance shop tomorrow, and replace it with braided SS lines and connectors, and this time, secure them properly. Fix it so it won't happen again. Yet another Esprit caution learned - if anything falls against the belts or pulleys, you may not be able to see that this has happened. So be very conservative in securing everything around the front of the engine, more so than with most vehicles.

Best of all, the fuel tanks are NOT corroded!

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Update: No, the fuel tanks weren't corroded. Something else was.

The fuel return hose turned out to be in good shape. When I got my hand on it, what I thought was a burn mark turned out to be a splotch of oil.

Found the problem. It's the primary fuel line, right where it comes out of the tank. Corroded where the foam was pressed up against it. I checked the tank, surface is smooth. Feels like it has a plastic coating. No corrosion. Just this one spot right where the fuel line turns 90 degrees to point upward at the joint to the fuel filter.

Off with the cover, out with the ECM, off with the seatbelt cover, off with the electrical connections. Lock ring is stuck. Won't budge. Hitting it with penetrating oil, and I'll try again tomorrow. Frustrating, to have one small spot of rust utterly disable the Esprit. But, it did, and it has to be corrected. If I can get it out, I may be able to cut out the rusty section and replace it with brass tubing. One of my other hobbies is restoring antique live steam models, so I've had plenty of experience doing that.

This is turning into a grand tour of ugly jobs on the Esprit. Quite an initiation for someone new to working on them.

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  • 2 months later...

Good work John!

I recently brought a 90 Esprit SE to life myself. Complete engine out disassembly and rebuild over the winter. Doing the timing belt job is much easier with the engine on a stand.

My fuel tanks are both leaking, which I didn't know when the engine was out (I bought the car with a spun rod bearing and never drove it)... so it may be coming out again this winter to seal those up. The smell of gas is annoying. I'm not loosing a noticable amount of fuel, but it needs to be fixed.

What sized T1R's are you running? Other projects this winter include new suspension and rebuilding the brakes... fix the speedometer, fix the dash, run new oil cooling lines, etc. Lot's of work, but it's been a fun car over the summer.


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You can get T1R's in the stock sizes for the 90 SE, except you have to go to a 45 profile. They have been fantastic, stick like crazy. I got mine at Tire Discounters, ended up being around $700 for all four plus installation.

I got lucky on my fuel tanks, they were plastic coated. Must have been replaced with the later coated models by a previous owner. I had patched the rusty fuel line by wrapping it in fiberglass, now I have a proper tank unit so that goes in soon. You can get the right side tank out without removing the engine. The left side tank isn't so cooperative. As for the lock ring on the tank unit - a mix of penetrating oil and graphite got the lock ring loose.

I would caution against complacency on fuel leaks. The tanks are right next to the engine, which can provide an ignition source to fumes, a prime reason that mid engine cars tend to be prone to catching fire. Check out the thread on the beautiful G Esprit going up in flames, breaks my heart to look at the photos. Really, the only fix for rusty tanks is to replace them. Corrosion is like cancer, it just keeps growing until you completely eliminate the bad part.

My SE has been quite reliable since I finished all of that work. At first, it was losing a bit of power at high RPM's, I think the 2ndary injectors were clogged, but that seems to have gone away. Has a number of little things needing attention: both headlamp motors are now out, dash is screaming for new veneer, my speedo is dead too, there's a tear on the driver's seat, and the headliner on the sunroof has some stains that won't come out.

But, it runs great, and turns like nothing else.


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Actually the fuel tanks can be refurbished with a lifetime warranty cheaper than replacing, at least here in the US. I've used these folks a couple of times and they do great work.

They may have done your tanks John, as I don't think Lotus ever put any type of coating in the tanks.

Here's pics on their website doing a couple of Lotus tanks.


Edited by lotus4s

1995 S4s

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