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Series 1 Engine Fire


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Hey Guys,

 

Well the topic says it all. I took my Series 1 Esprit out for a drive on Saturday, drove about 4 miles before stalling at a red light in heavy traffic on account of it being Canadian Thanks Giving weekend. Gave it a seconds then tried to start it again, crank, caught revved up and then stalled again. Thats when I heard someone outside the car scream fire. I immediately took the keys from the ignition, unbuckled and grabbed the fire extinguisher from the passenger foot well and jumped out. I fired the extinguisher along the ground beneath the car from the driver side and then noticed that I could hear the started motor spinning. I pulled the rear hatch release, popped the hatch up ran around to the passenger side and without being able to see on account of the smoke ripped the tonneau cover and battery covers out of place and pulled the positive wire from the battery. I then slammed the hatch back shut and proceeded to spray more fire retardant up under the car from the passenger side.

 

At this point it was still smoking and filling the rear compartment under the glass with smoke. Satisfied that no fuel could getting being pumped into the fire on account of the battery being disconnected I solicited to by-standards to help my push it into a nearby alley. Someone must have called 911 as a fire truck arrived within minutes. They moved quickly but cautiously, I explained why I hadn't opened the engine bay they agree it was a smart move but said it was time to do so. I popped the rear hatch again, they removed the engine cover no flames, lots of smoke. The fire was out. They ripped the air filter box open and extracted the filter which was scorched and stomped on it unceremoniously. Smoke was coming from around the left hand fuel tank floor board so they ripped it out but found nothing and no hot spot. They then said the engine was still very hot and if fuel leaked out could spontaneously ignite. They briefly debated using water or CO2, concluded that CO2 would do the least damage to the car and blasted the engine with CO2.

 

The police arrived set some flares asked for my papers and with the drama all over everyone packed up leaving me to find a tow truck. Just then a man stopped and says, hey thats a Lotus Esprit, James Bonds car... finally someone doesn't think its a DeLorean.

 

My girlfriend arrived a few minutes later, she had misinterpreted my text indicating I had a brake down and upon seeing the parts on the ground thought there was a accident and that I may have been hurt, but no injuries, not burn or a scrape, except to my ego. I suspect due to my swift reaction damage was limited to the engine compartment.

 

The worst damage was to the Stromberg carburetors, air filter box and the electrical wiring bellow it. Smoke has clouded up the rear windows but I suspect they need only be cleaned. The tonneau cover only has a tiny melt spot, I suspect because I ripped it off so early. The engine cover insulation is melted on the inside and the paint is bubbled. A few melted hoses, clearly the replacement hoses I used were of superior quality as they didn't even blacken, where the older rubber hoses melted into gunky crap. Somehow, it seems thats the distributor, starter motor and alternator survived.

 

I can't be certain but I think the rear carburetor float got stuck, or the fill valve got jammed. Fuel then flowed up the metering hole, out the air intake of the carburetor and saturated the air filter and dribbled down onto the high tension lead of the starter motor. Not sure what the point of ignition was, could have been a spark or a short. All the wire to the starter motor were melted together so I suspect this is why it was cranking. It could also just have been an electrical fire at the starter but I don't see what could have burned other than the insulation...

 

Pictures of damage to follow.

 

Brian M.

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Arghhhhhhhhh!

 

Well done you! Could have been much much worse, as I'm sure you know!

 

Battery cut-out switch in the cabin in my thoughts now.

"Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them." Albert Einstein

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Engine cover, tonneau cover, engine, airbox

IMG_20131014_104715.jpg IMG_20131014_104731.jpg IMG_20131014_104947.jpg IMG_20131014_104958.jpg

 

Top of carbs, fuel pressure regulator, coil, spark plug leads

IMG_20131014_105323.jpg IMG_20131014_105328.jpg IMG_20131014_105544.jpg IMG_20131014_105600.jpg

 

Oil fill hole, rear window, oil pressure sender, optronics controller

IMG_20131014_105651.jpg IMG_20131014_110519.jpg IMG_20131014_111324.jpg IMG_20131014_111330.jpg

 

coil, fuel pressure regulator, wiring near airbox, rear carb air intake.

IMG_20131014_111335.jpg IMG_20131014_111345.jpg IMG_20131014_111352.jpg IMG_20131014_112411.jpg
 

= (

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  • Gold FFM

Hi Brian, thank your lucky stars you got away with it, I had exactly the same with my S3 a year ago but my damage was mainly to the engine where the trumpets had melted and the metal sucked into the engine. I recon I had a missfire which first floaded the carbs and inlet filter then a second missfire ignited the surplus fuel and the rest they say is history. Like you I had only replaced all the fuel lines on my car about two weeks before the fire so was very lucky. Hopefully she will be back on the road in abbout two weeks time after a rebuild and loads of assistance and tips from these guys on the forum, without them I would have given up long ago and she would have been another dead Lotus. Now I cant wait to get home, finish the work and give her that first run, like falling in love all over again.

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Lucky escape!!

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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Gutted for you Brian although could have been so much worse, thankfully you acted quickly and did not panic! Always been mt worst fear with the Esprit as you see at least one a year come up burnt.

May be worth installing a direct engine bay hard piped extingusher system when sorting out the damage, I am installing one on mine during the restoration as had a similar thing happen to me with a Ferrari Mondial, fire destroyed the car in the end as fuel was being pumped onto the manifold.

Hope you get it sorted soon and the glass cleans up ok.

Good Luck

Do or do not, there is no try! 

 

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Bad news, but by the sounds of it, you got away with it.

 

Could have been much worse. Hope you can get it all fixed again.

All we know is that when they stop making this, we will be properly, properly sad.Jeremy Clarkson on the Esprit.

Opinions are like armpits. Everyone has them, some just stink more than others.

For forum issues, please contact one of us Moderators.

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That was a close one.

 

I remember when the cars were new that engine bay fires were one of the things that were known to occur.

 

I installed a plumbed in halon system in about 1988, and when I recommissioned the car almost a year ago I replaced it with this:

 

trans.pngtrans.pngJJC-Racing-Rally-Fire-Extinguisher-Kit-2

 

http://www.jjcraceandrally.com/race/fire-extinguisher-packages/jjc-fire-extinguisher-kit-2-25ltr-plumbed-in-1-75ltr-hand-held

 

£140 incl VAT & shipping. I would advise every owner to buy and install this or something similar, if only for that piece of mind.

 

(I have no links whatsoever with JJC)

 

 

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Hey Guys,

 

Little update, I've spoken to my insurance company, an appraiser will be in touch with me shortly to setup a time to look at the damage. I've found a Garage nearby that specializes in British cars, says hes done engine fires before and has experience rebuilding burnt out Stromberg Carbs. I have a pair of Dell'Orto which I'll try to have him fit, they would need a rebuild but likely less work that trying to clean up fire damage.

 

I know these cars had a tendency to catch fire, that why I had the extinguisher with me, but was it a single cause or just a set of failures that unfortunately resulted in fire. I've still no definitive answer as to what caused the fire and likely never will.

 

Brian M. 

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Hi Brian, sorry to learn of your troubles but congratulations on a fine job in saving your S1. You are indeed very lucky, so go buy a couple if New York lottery tickets. Floats sticking on the strombergs is a common issue and has sent many a car to the grave. I wouldn't bother with them and so suggest going with the Dellortos . The conversion is pretty straight forward. You just need the manifold. To do it totally right you would need to replace the distributor to a 45D with no vacuum. You can use the 25 that's on there already but you need to remove the vacuum as it butts against the manifold. I got a rebuilt 45D distributor from SJs. The upgrade is well worth it.

I am some what paranoid about fuel leaks as my car sits a lot. I now have a routine before I drive it....turn on ignition and allow fuel to prime the carbs. Switch off, check for leaks....start engine and get up to operating temperature. Switch off and check for leaks....go for drive...after drive check for leaks again....I also change my fuel lines every two years no matter the mileage. Don't get st/st braided ones, as you can't inspect the rubber. Regular low pressure line is fine. Just remember to change them out regularly.

Good luck with the repairs.

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Hi Gavin,

 

I've got the manifold for the Dellortos already, I'm the one who took them off and installed the Strombergs. I rebuilt the Strombergs as they were off the car and installed them when done. So just a matter of reversing what I did, but I will be getting a pro to do the work.

 

As for the distributor, I think I have a 25D but its been updated to a optical luminition system so there is no vacuum advance. The vacuum connections are still there though just not connected.

 

Brian M.

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Brian, I think you might be the only Esprit owner that went from Dellortos to Strombergs. You are a rare breed sir. :)

Edited by GavinT
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Hey Gavin,

 

Well I had two sets of Carbs/manifolds and both required rebuilding. I read about the Strombergs and figured they would be easier to rebuild as I seemed to have a better understanding of how they worked. So I figured take it back to original, the previous owner who had the Dellortos installed didn't change the Cam Sprockets so as far as I can tell they simply bolted on the Dellortos and adjusted the timing. The Dellorto's I have also don't seem to match the specs of the car, the jets are wrong etc. although I never really looked at them as my plan was to go back to the Strombergs get the car running and then if I found I wanted/needed more performance clean up the Dellortos and put them back on. Looks like thats what I am going to be doing anyways.

 

I spoke to the local dealer, I'm completely unimpressed with his attitude. Wanted to charge me just to look at the damage. He just didn't seem to want anything to do with it really and I don't want to hire someone to do work that doesn't want to do it. So I believe I will be going with a private garage who seemed very interested and enthusiastic about the project. He seemed very interested in rebuilding the dellortos too.

 

Brian M.

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Yikes!   I just saw this thread now, Brian!    I'm sorry to see what happened, but like the others I commend you for carrying an extinguisher and acting quickly and decisively.  We all carry them and we all dread what just happened to your car and we're all glad that your preparedness saved your car and saved you from either harm and/or misery!

 

In the other thread you had posted -- the one about difficulty starting -- I posted something yesterday about checking that one of the carbs isn't dribbling fuel into the air cleaner . . . I hope that was not what happened here!  :(

 

I agree 100% with Gavin on the rubber hoses;  use rubber hoses so you can easily and quickly verify their condition.  When you are running 4-5psi fuel pressure, braided hoses are just for show, anyway.

 

I think it's easier to spot leaks or potential leaks with Dellortos.  The main areas of concern are the accelerator pump diaphragms, the fuel line banjo fittings and tees, and the mounting O-rings, and they are all easy to check.

 

Good luck with the cleanup;  I'm sure the finished product will be better than what you started with.  :)

Tony K. :)

 

Esprit S1s #355H & 454H

Esprit S2.2  #324J

1991 Esprit SE

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.... and battery covers out of place and pulled the positive wire from the battery.

 

Just reread your first post and I have no idea how you did that as mine won't come off without a spanner.

 

I would be devastated if this happened to my S4. Is a fire as likely an occurrence with an EFI car versus carburettors? I presume it comes back to fuel hose condition with an EFI car? (a reason I don't prescribe to braided hoses as Tony K has said above)

All we know is that when they stop making this, we will be properly, properly sad.Jeremy Clarkson on the Esprit.

Opinions are like armpits. Everyone has them, some just stink more than others.

For forum issues, please contact one of us Moderators.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Guys, Little update,

 

As I mentioned earlier I've found a mechanic who deals with classic British cars, not a Lotus specialist but he said hes worked on one or two but as they are so rare over hear I suspect he will be the best I can find. He definitely seemed passionate and eager to get to work. I had the car towed to his garage this afternoon, he will asses the damage, then my insurance adjuster will and from there I will know if its a loss or not. I would be very surprised if it were on account of my swift action. Not much else to say about it until he takes a look. I spoke to him again about installing the Dellortos, but he seemed to think that my insurance company would be opposed to it and would insist that identical carbs as were present on the car before the fire be installed even if it required buying new or rebuilt replacement carbs. So I may stay with the Strombergs, we will see.

 

Michael, I replaced the battery terminal clamps with gold plated connectors as the old ones were beat up, but they never quite fit correctly. They were snug and wouldn't fall off but with a few good wiggles back and forth could be easily pulled off. I suspect without this "feature" the starter would have kept going, who knows if the fuel pump was still pumping away potentially feeding the fire.

 

Brian M.

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Hey,

 

So my insurance adjuster looked at the car today, his conclusion was that the starter motor had a short circuit because thats where the worst of the damage was. Since this was the cause of the fire it is the part I will have to pay full price to get replaced. The other parts I have to pay depreciation on but labor is covered. Any body know if the Esprit needs a special starter motor or if a generic (re: cheap) one is available?

 

He also said that if I have another set of carbs (my Dellortos) and that all they need is a refurb that it would be a good option to install those as I will have to pay the depreciation on replacement carbs. I'm not sure he understood that they were not identical carbs...

 

So far so good. 

 

Brian M.

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  • Gold FFM

When my S3 caught fire I had a huge argument with my insurers as I wanted to retain the salvage. the insurance company classed the car as a Cat C but in the end I managed to get it changed to a Cat D and I retained title so that I could then restore her, doesn't sound much but if I ever decide to sell her it makes a huge difference.

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Well done for saving your car!!

 

Sounds like we should all develop a Lotus-OCD...

Start engine, run round the back to check for leaks

Rev it a little, run round the back to check for leaks

Drive to the end of the driveway, run round the back to check for leaks

Cautiously pull out onto the street looking in the rear view mirror for smoke, run round the back to check for leaks

Decide that it's just too dangerous, drive it back into the garage

 

Hahaha

 

Paul.

Lotus Esprit [meaning] a 1:1 scale Airfix kit with a propensity to catch fire

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  • Gold FFM

Haha, yep been doing that for the last week, start her, check for leaks, reverse out of the garage, check for leaks, leave her running for twenty minutes, check for leaks, put her back in the garage, check for leaks. So today being the 1st of the month and the road tax is on she comes out to play for the first time and of course check for leaks. Lets just hope she stays dry

Edited by johnpwalsh
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  • Gold FFM

Brian I can only suggest what I went through when mine went up. Once  the insurance was sorted out just get stuck in and stick with it and every time you feel down hearted or loosing faith stick a message on TLF and the guys will keep you going, I know that's what I did and it has worked for me, two duff engines purchased from what was supposed to be reputable suppliers then going out an purchasing an Excel wreck which I could take the engine from knowing that it had a recent rebuild, converting it to fit the Esprit, getting her up and running well its the greatest feeling especially when you have done all the work yourself and loads of tips and advice from these guys. Remember the smile factor when driving and that will keep you going. 

 

Good luck.

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Thanks for the encouragement John, but the damage was not nearly as bad on mine as yours. My insurance is going to pay to get it fixed and I have found a mechanic who seems competent enough. I'm obviously concerned about how much this will cost me out of pocket but what can you do. I'm taking advantage of taking it to a garage to have new tires installed as the old ones were 20+ years old.

 

Because of the damage to the wiring harness in the engine bay the mechanic has told me he will be replacing the whole thing. I'm not sure if this is the best course of action. Seems like he might cause even more damage pulling the old one off considering the car has been modified however lightly. Seems like rebuilding the section in the engine bay and splicing it into the existing harness where it is not melted maybe with a waterproof connector would be the way to go. What do you think?

 

Brian M.

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