Alice in Lotusland

Driving to the Monterey Historics in a Super Seven

by Alice Larson

BACKGROUND

 

My husband Dave always said "Some year the Monterey Historic Races will feature Lotus, and we're going" in our 1966 Lotus Super Seven. 1995 was the year, but Dave died in 1992. The only good news is I don't have to argue over who gets to drive the Lotus anymore.

I HAD to go to Monterey.

A year's worth of work by my mechanic, Rick Slater, and I'm ready. I'm determined to not trailer, but drive from Vashon Island to Monterey. Bob Crichton, a fellow Lotus Seven owner, offers to go with me in my car.

DAY ONE, OFF TO MONTEREY

We take the ferry from my Island to Tacoma [photo 1]. First stop is AAA. They don't ask what kind of car I have... I forgot how much people stare at a Lotus Super Seven on the highway. We wave to the kids... We opt for Interstate 5 all the way. No scenic route for us. We just want to get there.

The Lotus runs great toward our first stop in Medford, Oregon. Before we arrive, it starts to hesitate and sputter, particularly when we pull off the highway. We literally coast into my friend's driveway. By the time she gets home we've worked on the car, broken into her house, made friends with all her animals, are drinking beer and wine and have called my mechanic and others back in the Seattle area. The conclusion: needs points.

 

DAY TWO, "SIMPLE" REPAIRS

Local parts store supplies points but not a condenser. Starts and stops along the freeway, with lots of calls back to my mechanic, make us decide a condenser is a must [photo 2].

The Lotus is still sputtering on and off the freeway. Sacramento is our second stop. We almost get lost about the same time we realize we're totally out of gas. We arrive at our destination on fumes.

Our second day was to be a shorter distance, but we've managed to stretch it to longer on-road time. Hmm.

DAY THREE, ENTRANCE INTO MONTEREY

Decide the timing is off. Lots of playing with that. We check all fluid levels. Transmission oil is leaking into the car, but, hey, it's a Lotus. We're not worried. I have a quick lube place check my differential oil level.

As we enter the freeway, I hear a whine. Bob's not concerned ‘cause his whines like that too. A few hours out, we change drivers so I can make the grand entrance into Monterey. I hear a bad noise, but it disappears at speed.

We pull off I-5 onto Hwy 152 to a definite car- stopping thrashing sound. An Aston Martin pulls along side and the driver says, "It wasn't smoking until you pulled off the freeway." We admire the trail of oil leading along the ramp to our differential [photo 3]

Despite my anti-Yuppy determination, we had been convinced to carry a cellular phone. Having no handy cigarette lighter in the Seven, we connect it to the car battery and call AAA. They lose money on my membership immediately.

We decide to tow it to Laguna Seca. Where else are we going to find a better collection of Lotus mechanics? While we wait, a large RV pulls up and John Carlson and his wife Coco from British Columbia get out. He spends 30 minutes providing a map of the race track, telling us what to say to get into the Paddock and offering other invaluable advice. We later learn John is a Judge at the Pebble Beach Concours.

 

I make my grand entrance into Monterey -- on the back of a tow truck. We get as close as a dusty parking strip above the Paddock. There my Lotus sits with a great view of the track [photo 4].

We rent the last car at the Monterey Airport -- a purple Hyundi. I name it "The Grape." We started our four hour drive from Sacramento to Monterey at 9 a.m. and conclude it at midnight.

DAY FOUR, THE SEARCH BEGINS

We hit the Paddock by 8 a.m. and are completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and colors of the most unbelievable collection of cars I ever imagined. Over 100 Lotus racers of every description as well as other makes ancient and not so old. Lotus Sevens are like weeds -- plentiful and common in comparison. We are in awe over the financial worth of what surrounds us.

We have three missions: find a differential, locate a mechanic and move the car into the Paddock so someone can work on it. We're immediately told these things are "impossible."

 

Entrance into the Paddock seems the hardest. A "person in authority" to the race organizer tells us, in a very authoritative voice, "There is only so much real estate, and it's all accounted for. We can't possibly allow your car in."

Finding a differential is an adventure. We go from team to team talking to mechanics and racers honestly concerned over our plight. They will do anything they can to help us. They refer us back and forth hoping somebody brought a spare dif.

One Lotus Seven racer tells us, "I just spent $2,000 on the differential sitting in the back of my truck, but I'm not sure if I'm going to use that or the one currently in the car. Tell you what, if you haven't found anything by Sunday evening, I'll loan it to you. You can ship it back to me when you get home." This turns out to be a Triumph rear end and I need a Cortina.

The Australian Team Lotus has a spare Cortina dif but the ratio is wrong.

About 2 p.m. we give up and locate Dave Bean. For anyone with a Lotus, Dave Bean is an institution of Lotus parts. Sure enough, someone is driving in from his shop tomorrow, and they'll bring a differential.

I realize driving the Lotus on the AutoWeek cruise is not a reality.

On the way out of the race track, in The Grape, we find our fellow Seattle Lotus Seven owner, Steve Shipley, walking by the side of the road. His Seven overheated. We wait a couple of hours with him for a tow. There is also a group of Europas pulled over to the side of the road, and some of the race officials tell us about another Seven broken down somewhere. One concludes: "The Ferrari Gods must be angry [because Lotus is the mark]."

We are all 2 1/2 hours late to the big dinner at the Monterey Aquarium. I hear them announce a gathering of the "AutoWeek Group." We join up not knowing what's going on.

The speaker makes a few Lotus jokes. Something about their dependability. He asks if there are any Lotus owners there. The three of us Seven owners are the only ones to raise our hands. Me with a broken differential, Steve with his overheating problem, and Bob whose car didn't come. We decide we are in the wrong place and leave shortly after that... 

 

DAY FIVE, AT THE RACES

There are incredibly 300 or more Lotuses in the Lotus Corral. I see Series 1 and 4 Lotus Sevens for the first time and a Mk 6. They all do parade laps of the track and then take a group photo. I was supposed to be part of that. I am VERY depressed.

The actual racing begins. We watch different vintage race cars go around the track.

The differential shows up in the afternoon. In the meantime, Bob spotted Thor Thorson from Vintage Racing Motors (VRM). Our Evergreen Lotus Club has previously toured his phenomenal race shop. Thor tells us, "If you can get the part, my mechanic will put it in for you." The elusive pit pass is borrowed from VRM.

 

My car is towed into the Paddock at Laguna Seca. Incredible!!

VRM has to move a Lotus 11 to park my car next to a Ford GT-40, 1934 MG NE and Formula Ferrari 312.

VRM mechanic Tony Garmey begins work with, "You work ON race cars and UNDER road cars." He crawls under mine. His fellow mechanics make fun of him as I fend them off. Tony takes a break from my car to help Bruce McCaw (McCaw Communications-Cellular One developer) race his Formula Ferrari. I can't believe the company my car is keeping.

Other race team members wander by and ask me how its going. I'm well known in the paddock by now. Tony stops work at 7:30 pm. He'll have to finish tomorrow. 

 

DAY SIX, LEAVING FOR HOME

We take The Grape to the Pebble Beach Concours to see the perfect cars and perfect people. They are as advertised: outstanding show pieces.  

I get to the Paddock after noon, and my car is ready. The probable cause for my differential failure is screwing down the filler plug too hard after the oil level was checked causing the casing to break. All of the oil leaked out of the crack. Everyone was impressed with the burnt gears and scrambled pins. I am grateful it got me to within 80 miles of the race track. If we had stopped when I first heard the noise, we would have been stuck in Sacramento all weekend waiting for parts people and mechanics to return from Laguna Seca.

Our friend Steve takes LOTS of pictures of me driving my Lotus out of the pits at Laguna Seca. Heads turn to look as I roar by (spectators watch anything in the paddock). I feel a part of the race teams.

We park in the Lotus Corral for 1 1/2 hours before we return the renta-Grape and leave. The Lotus still hates freeway driving, sputtering and hesitating, but the rear end is firm. 

 

DAY SEVEN, THE BAD PENNY RETURNS

Around Mt. Shasta we limp into Weed, California for lunch. Who is in the restaurant but Tony and others from VRM driving back with some of their race cars. We again offer thanks and promise to stay ahead so they can stop and help if they see us by the side of the road.

This scenario occurs five miles from our lunch stop. Tony tests and tunes and loans two spark plug wires from one of the cars he is hauling.

By the time we hit Medford, Bob and I have had it with my poorly running vehicle. Always the thinking Lotus owners, we had arranged with our friend Steve to keep in phone contact in case we needed to attach a rental trailer to his truck and haul my car home.

So ok. My car did trailer the last eight hours to Vashon Island.  

 

EPILOGUE

The Lotus is back home with my mechanic Rick. He re-tuned it, and we're now working on what must be the last two parts not rebuilt or replaced: carburetor and fuel pump.

As promised, I paid for the work performed by VRM: a bottle of Jack Daniels and two cases of Henry's. I added a cake with my sincere thanks.

Bob and I talked over our experience and came to the same conclusion. What happened is not at all what we expected. We were barely part of the Lotus street cars, never did the parade laps and are not in the Lotus group photo. Instead we got to hang out with the racers for three amazing days.

Everything we ever heard about race teams is true. They are an unbelievable caring/helping group. Despite the fact that I was far out of my league, they never hesitated a moment to bend over backwards to help.

I am truly grateful for all the people who made this adventure of a lifetime happen. And all of those present and future who help me keep this car going.