Paint Car B

Adventures in Lotus Elan Land -Neil Slade's Amazing Brain Music Adventure

Okay, so a girl drove this car.....but she had the best car. I tore out the yellow pages ad and made my plans for Saturday. I could hardly sit through my classes at school. I shared my discovery with my friend Victor-"It's a Lotus!" Victor and I spent most of our class time not paying attention to the teacher's lessons, but by filling three ring notebook pages with drawings of cars. We drew wild cars, fast cars, and soon I would be drawing Lotus cars.

So, Saturday arrived and I put my pants clips on and took off on my bike. It was going to be a long, long ride. The Lotus dealer- the only one in Colorado as it turned out- was about fifteen miles away in Englewood. The furthest I had ever ventured to ride my bike. But nothing was going to hold me back.

After a long ride, up and down some pretty good sized hills, across some major roadways, I arrived----and there she was in the showroom-------A brand new 1967 Lotus Elan roadster, just like the one Emma Peel drove.

This was absolutely the coolest car in the universe, no doubt about it. There were more expensive cars and faster cars, but this Lotus Elan was the coolest and most beautiful. The epitome of modern sleek styling. Intimate. Ultimate Cool.

In person, the car was indeed very small, the tiniest car I had ever seen in fact. Only a two seater, the top of the roof of the car was barely over a yard tall. This was a street legal luxury race car, no doubt about it. Subsequent investigation into car magazines and books told the story.........

The Lotus Elan was the brainchild of Colin Chapman, an English engineer turned into race car designer. He had started in simple uphill car climbs in nothing more than little British jalopies he modified, soon building his own cars from spare parts. In no time at all he was competing against some of the best in Europe in cars he designed himself and built in his garage at home. Before long he had created one of the most enduring and eventually imitated of all race car designs, the Lotus Super 7. Amazingly it is still driven by thousands of enthusiasts around the world today, competing and winning races- an astounding 45 years later. Eventually, Chapman would be recognized by everyone in the automotive and racing industry to be a genius, and one of the most important innovators in car design during the 20th Century.

By the early 60's Chapman had created a production car that would outhandle nearly anything on the road at any price- this was the Lotus Elan. Priced to compete with Jaguars and Corvettes, it might not be as fast down a straight drag strip, but passed everything in the corners and on serpentine back roads. Today, it's styling and handling continues to be a benchmark against which sports cars are measured.

The new Elan reviews in all the car magazines were wonderful and greatly praised the car. Undeniably it was definitely a fragile car requiring loving care, weighing all of 1200 pounds total. This was because the body was constructed entirely of fiberglass, and set on a unique light weight backbone shaped chasis. They made very few of these hand built cars--- in ten years, less than 10,000 were ever made of all the Elans. Only 1200 of the series 2 (S2) from 1964-66 were made. They were the rare gems; the lightest and the prettiest Elans of all.

Of course, back then, a new Elan cost $5280, a very considerable fortune. More than a 14 year old could realistically get his hands on, even by the time I was old enough to drive. Even by the time I was 21. Or older.

So, as in many things in life------ the Elan got away.

But I never forgot the thrill of the dream. I continued to read about the rare Lotus' in books and magazines, and the occasional glimpse in the movies or TV. James Bond eventually drove a Lotus- one that doubled as a submarine! Never very far away was a picture of an Elan, somewhere in my drawer, or hanging in the closet. One day. One day.


Thirty Years Later- Spring 1997

My friend John calls me up, "Neil let's get together for a goal meeting". So we meet for coffee at the local hangout. Both of us still trying to accomplish goals in life that have thus far escaped us. John is teaching college, I am teaching music privately. We sit down and decide what we each want to do, what things in this life we haven't experienced, things we feel we would be cheated in this life if we missed.

John says "I'm gonna pay off all my cards this year."

I say, "I'm gonna write a book.........and figure out a way with my brain to buy one of these........" and I pull out of my pocket a little model car that I've just spent a week putting together. It is a plastic model of a 1966 Lotus Elan roadster.

We laugh, drink our coffee and imagine how great it will be.

Two weeks later I have finished the manuscript for my first new book in nine years, HAVE FUN! Anti-Rules for Life, Learning, and Everything Else, and start to get word out. Over the next year, I faithfully go into the Tattered Cover Book Store every month and look through Hemming's Motor News. This is a small soft cover almanac where people list every conceivable car for sale across the US and Canada. No matter what kind of weird ass transportation you are looking for, it's in this book. Cars of every make, model, year, and style. If you want it, somebody has one for sale in Hemmings.

Of course, I skip straight to the ' "L" Cars for Sale'. L for Lotus. Lotus of every make and model are in there from the early Sevens, to the latest Turbo Esprits. Lotus' that are falling apart in need of loving care for cheap, or completely restored rocket ships for ridiculous sums. I fantasize and think "Oh, that would be a nice one!"

Summer comes and I actually spot one for sale in Colorado, and drive a hundred miles to test drive it (knowing full well I didn't have the money). This car was way up in the mountains, and I drove well into the forest, down a dirt road, miles and miles in until I came to a dead end. Nothing but trees, pine cones, one lonely log cabin--------and parked in front of it, a simply beautiful 1972 Lotus Elan. How bizarre. The last place, the absolute last place you would ever think to find one of these cars.

The owner probably read my mind pretty good, and figured I was only dreaming, but he let me drive it anyway on some twisty paved mountain roads. It was only the second time I had ever actually driven an Elan. The first time was when I was eighteen, and a trusting and generous fellow let me drive his. This car seemed twice as fast. It was euphoric. It was sheer bliss on four wheels.

I knew again that the Elan would not be mine, but the twenty minutes I drove it left a smile on my face for weeks.


June 1999

I'm sitting in the magazine section at The Tattered Cover, and spot it. In Hemmings, there is a 1966 Lotus Elan roadster, restored, with a custom engine rebuild. This is undoubtedly the fastest most beautiful S2 possible. Yes, that's the car I want. I must have this car. Once I have this car, then I can die happy!

Of course, though many of my bills had been paid over the previous year since my goal meeting with John, I still didn't have the money this sweet little car demanded. Never the less, I dialed the fellow in Canada who had the car, and got the details. "Yes, it sounds like the perfect car for me, but I don't have the money right yet. Maybe in a few months (still dreaming!), I'll let you know." Damn! Damn! Damn!

I had been doing radio shows, and working VERY hard writing and mailing books to people, but still, this dream was still beyond my grasp. Yet, this was exactly THE car, THE Elan, THE dream come true.

The Next Day

Art Bell calls and says "Would you like to do an interview in a couple of days?" Three days later we have a fine, fine discussion on his show, and people respond. Like mad. I get orders for a zillion books.

I buy My Lotus

(A choir angels are heard to sing at this point in the story, "Hallelujah!").


Later.....

Now, here's the really interesting part of this saga.

I make a deposit on the car, expecting delivery in a couple of weeks, by late July. Delivery will be delayed. Beginning of August.........end of August...... by September, for sure............October...........Halloween maybe?.......first week of November?...........did I imagine this whole thing?

Finally, during the first big snowstorm of the winter in mid-November, the car arrives on the back of a trailer, covered with a sheet of ice, gravel in the air scoop in front, and not in running condition.

I submit portions of an actual email sent to a friend of mine:

Neil Slade wrote: So the car (the Lotus Elan) has been here for about a week. It has not been a fantasy dream come true thus far by even the farthest stretch of imagination. It's been trial by fire......This is to say it was not completely finished when it arrived, about 75%. I was promised by the seller a car that needed "another 20 to 25 hours of work to finish". Thus far I have spent about 120, and thousands of dollars in parts. Moral: Get it all in writing.

Anyway, I can handle the rest as I have good friends who own similar cars, and I have sufficient money for parts. This week, I had to take out the gas tank as it was completely clogged with corrosion from sitting in a cow pasture for 20 years next to a barn in Canada. I kid you not. "Today's Lotus Surprise" was filling the brake system with fluid, and have it all gushing out the "new" brake line the former owner fitted. A brake line for an American car, by the way, will not work in an English car. Guess what kind of brake line was fitted? It rhymes with Fustang.

The guys at the Lotus parts store in California love me.

Fortunately, the body is in great shape, and the engine is new, along with the suspension and the rest of the brake system. It looks like that stuff will work. I hope I can have the rest sorted out within a week [hahahahahah, sure]. The electrical wiring is way beyond me, nothing is actually connected to anything that works. My friend Vic the expert will fix all of that as soon as I can actually drive the thing over to his house once I put the gas tank back in and fit a correct brake line. I am making a list of "surprise" repairs which I will be emailing "Dave from Canada", and demanding (he's agreed thus far) to be refunded the costs. If not, I am taking a plane and a shotgun to Calgary. Thought you would find this all amusing.

And then later:

The Lotus has been the most gigantic, biggest, most frustrating headache in the universe. However, problems seem to be over, for now. I have worked on that car NONSTOP- for a solid month- since I got it. Even this morning, I had an appointment to take it to the British car fix-up place to get the oil pump replaced and the clutch fixed--- and it took me 4 1/2 hours to get it started. Why? It took that long to figure out- after replacing the ignition coil, attaching an oil pan heater, charging the battery over and over, jump starting the car, etc etc etc----- I finally figured out that I had loosened one measly wire attached to the ignition switch on the dashboard that was preventing any spark from getting to the plugs. ARRGGHGHGUGHGUGHH! When I finally went to pick it up, they handed me the keys and told me that they refused to work on the car-they didn't want to be responsible if a wheel fell off or something.

But when the car works-- oh did I tell you the back wheel DID come off while driving across Cherry Creek Dam at 35 mph at 11:30 at night a couple of weeks ago?---- anyway, when the car works, it is like automotive LSD. Nothing else like it, no Porsche, no Jaguar, nothing drives like this car. Kind of like what it is like to date a really beautiful woman---- total Nirvana while it lasts, and nearly impossible to keep going.

TODAY'S LOTUS ADVENTURE---- while I'm in the parking lot at the car shop, I open the passenger side door-----and it comes off.

You see, Lotus door hinges are like no other, they are actually little plastic buttons bolted on to the door, that friction fit into little matching depressions (how appropriate) molded into the body. Well, my buttons were loose (have been since I got the car), and so the door finally just popped off in my hand (second time this week). The good part is, they had the tools I needed to put the door back on, and actually properly adjust it so it fit good and tight, and wouldn't come off again-- at least not for 6 months. So that's one more thing done on my check list. I wonder what will fall off tomorrow?............

Eventually, and fortunately, the seller agreed that he had underestimated the work to be done on the vehicle, and agreed to refund fix-up money to me. (Frontal lobes cooperation saves the day.)


The Moral of This Story?

Well, the car is running pretty well at last, all of the major problems fixed. It is a blast to drive, no doubt about it. I achieved a difficult life long goal- not a bad accomplishment. But HOW MUCH fun is it really?

Inside my personal brain space, compared with playing music well, I mean really playing well (you have to practice A LOT to get to this stage), it's only a 6 1/2, okay maybe 7 on a scale of ten. Nothing beats being creative with your hands. Even fixing a car (a creative skill) is probably a better long term high. Driving even the best car in the world, is still just driving a car, and its thrill is eventually limited by the scenery. I'm am coming to the stunning in-your-face realization ( hey, I'm only human) that my 14 year old Honda wagon is in general, much better transportation than---gulp-- the Lotus. Really, it's not much of a contest. This 1966 Lotus is such a specialty vehicle; it's a roller coaster you can drive down the street.

It's the most fragile unsafe vehicle you can drive bar none, except for another Lotus (if you get hit that is- a Lotus probably gives you the best chance of any car in getting out of the way if you can). The ride is reasonably rough--- you feel like you've been in a blender after 20 minutes. The parts are expensive and nobody except you or another Lotus owner can fix it. A long trip is really throwing the dice unless you have a trunkful of spare parts, and you know how to put them all on. It seats two people, or one person and one saxophone only, and okay, a couple of medium suitcases. You can't really listen to music unless you turn it up all the way, on the highway forget it. Also at highway speed you can barely listen to yourself think, partially because you feel like you could possibly die at any moment. This does not make for good relaxed sustained traveling enjoyment. A great big adrenaline rush, yes, definitely yes. And, I CAN fix most of the Lotus myself, unlike any other new japanese car.

On the other hand, The Lotus has it's unique good points- it's beautiful to look at, like a great sculpture or painting. Driving or riding in it has it's undeniable one-of-a-kind thrilling sensory moments; something you might want do at least once in your life, just so you know. And, it's a good ice-breaker with the chicks- "The name is Slade.... Neil Slade."

I just might keep it for a while..........


And so I would guess it is the same for most of the other BIG ICE CREAM CONES IN THE SKY. Something tells me that no matter what it is, accomplishments, climbing Mt. Everest, being the most fabulously rich or good looking person in the universe, even being the most talented, being the most loved, being the best anything-----------

It's never all that much better than being just who you are, right here, right now, with what you've got. It's all in the process of getting to your goal that really matters.

And Having Fun might just be a lot easier than it looks.


UPDATE: October 2000

As it eventually turned out, I sold my Lotus Elan in March of 2000 after looking at my 1999 Federal Income Taxes. A very nice fellow flew up from Texas, and after one hour driving the car over some scenic and twisty mountain roads immediately purchased it for my fair asking price (considerably less than I had actually spent getting all the bugs out of it). He was delighted, and I was glad to move on to other adventures....but, story not over.

As they say "You don't know what you've got 'till its gone." And even before the fellow came back to Denver with a trailer to tow the car back to Dallas, I had a nagging feeling I would be missing this little sports car. Within two weeks of waving goodbye to "Emma", I was again looking through Hemming's Magazine.

Within two months, I had miraculously earned enough money (by virtue of working my ass off) to replace the sold car. I had driven some more "practical" little cars, even a Miata (Mazda had actually purchased 3 Lotus Elans when they began engineering their 1980's version of the British sports car). Nothing came remotely close. I continued searching on the Internet, and spoke to a jolly 75 year old fellow in Deadwood, South Dakota. As it turns out, he still had a small classified ad buried deep on the Internet for his 1965 Lotus Elan, the exact same model as my first car, and it's serial number was exactly 50 cars earlier. I had actually spoken to him a year previous, and when I called him again--- he STILL had the car. Nobody had wanted it. I got the details- and was amazed I had passed on it the first time (what had I been thinking?!), and was further flabbergasted that every other Lotus enthusiast in the country had missed the opportunity to get this car as well.

He was only the second owner of this car. The original owner lived five minutes from my present home today, on a street a I knew extremely well- Remember my friend Victor who used to draw car pictures with me in Jr. High at the beginning of the story? Victor grew up and lived on the very same block as this owner- and we never even knew it!

History: In 1965 Owner #1 went to England and purchased the car from the factory, and ordered a custom built LH drive (they were exporting few at that time.) It was shipped to Denver via boat several months later, and he and his wife barely drove the car in the subsequent 35 years, mostly just keeping it in the garage. When it was sold at the estate sale in 1998, it had exactly 9000 original miles on it. The second owner was an old hand at Lotus cars, well known by name to the official Lotus parts suppliers in San Francisco (with a good reputation as a responsible and honest Lotus enthusiast), and it was his 5th Lotus Elan, besides owning other race cars and Loti. He added 2000 miles to it, before deciding to sell it to buy a track only racing version of the same car. We made a deal and he delivered the car to my doorstep within 10 days. And it cost 30% less than my first Elan. Go figure.

When the car arrived, every original nut and bolt was in place, the car in amazing and excellent perfect running condition, with an astonishing 11,500 original miles on it (perhaps the only such example in existence anywhere.) Emma II came completely assembled, unlike the first car, and it has run perfectly for the seven months I have driven it. It came with the original 105 hp engine, which turns out to be PLENTY FAST (0-60 in around 6.5 seconds at 25 mpg hwy). The tires are bigger Michelins, and so the ride of Emma II is much more comfortable and much less jarring than the first car. Also, the most pleasant surprise is that the stock muffler is WAY quieter than the competition exhaust I put in the first car- Music sounds better in this car, and long trips or highway speed is more pleasant- although the signature Lotus exhaust note still remains-a very cool BRAAAAPPPP!! sound when you let up on the pedal when downshifting. It has been a quantum leap in Lotus driving experience. (Oh, the trappings of 21st Century fossil fuel/automobile addiction....I will have to plant lots of trees to balance my karmic debt.)

It's a funny thing- when I visualized my Lotus fantasy, it was a white car, like the little plastic model I built. When I bought car #1, it did not match my visualization- perhaps an important Cosmic Detail/Brain Radar alert I chose to ignore (out of reptile brain haste perhaps). And like the car color itself, the experience did not match the dream. Emma II WAS white, and has turned out to be a delightful and completely satisfying and trouble free experience. Moral? Perhaps, pay attentions to the little details of your visualizations, and they make make a big difference when you decide to connect to the physical fulfillment of your dream.

I don't totally relish the unpleasant parts of the experience of Car #1, but would relate these important and perhaps necessary "Brain Lessons":

#1- "Don't trust anyone who hasn't 'transcended' into their frontal lobes."- T.D. Lingo, brain researcher. I took the seller of car #1 at his word-and he'd lied like crazy and ripped me off. If someone can take advantage of you- they just might.

#2- I learned how to fix a Lotus Elan. Every cloud has a silver lining, in this case, the silver lining to owning a broken Lotus is that I got to know the car inside and out. Potential problems I might encounter with my second car don't really freak me out, as I know the course of action. Experience is a great teacher.

#3- Having to repair my first Lotus brought me in contact with some really wonderful people willing to lend a helping hand. Although there are creepy people who will take advantage of you, there are equally helpful and generous souls who will come to your aid in time of need. Cosmic balance exists if your "Carma" is good.

Confident that the wheels won't be falling off this particular car in traffic, I often share it with friends, and even strangers. The other day, a fellow at the post office was walking around my parked car admiring it while I mailed my letters. When I came out, he told me "When I was younger my friends and I went through some MG's and a Sunbeam Alpine- but what we really wanted was one of these...." His jaw dropped when I immediately handed him the keys, and we went for a drive....The best things in life MUST be shared to be fully enjoyed.


EPILOG and HAPPY ENDING: Today, my lovely friend Sonja and I drove over Squaw Pass, a very curvy road with the most beautiful views of the Continental Divide. I let Sonja drive of course, she is the fearless Norwegian equivalent of Jimmy Clark. We had a truly wonderful time motoring through the woods, and the sight would have made Colin Chapman proud. On a scale from 1 to 10, it definitely ranked a +10. Had the weather been better, I think we would have hit +12......

Sometimes it takes a little more perseverance and some additional tweaking to get things just right.

Below: My Emma on the Cover of the World's #1 Book on Car Painting

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ADVENTURES IN LOTUS LAND

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Here's a story thirty years in the making......

1967
When I was a young lad of about 14 years old, I used to dream of being a secret agent. My heroes were Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin- the Men From U.N.C.L.E. - and British Intelligence agent John Steed (with his beautiful helper Mrs. Emma Peel). These were enviable men of character and intelligence who led exciting lives of adventure. Yes! I wanted to be like that! I could be one of those guys!

And of course, the grand symbol of being a "Special" agent is the car. Yes, driving a fast sleek European convertible, that's the ticket!

So, at the ripe age of 14 I focused on what I considered the most beautiful automotive image, the most unique and rare. And the finest example I found was in the mysterious little car driven by secret agent Emma Peel. Every Thursday night I tuned into the 60's English spy TV series The Avengers, mouth hanging open whenever I saw Mrs. Peel peel down the English countryside in her pocket rocket on wheels.........I didn't even know the name of the car, just that it looked and sounded FANTASTIC. Was it a Ferrari, a Maserati, or what was it!?! Who cared!!! Zoooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Man! If I could just have one of those cars, I would be in NIRVANA!


Finally, in one episode, there was a side shot of the car, and suddenly I knew!! I had seen a picture of the car in the yellow pages, and I instantly ran into the kitchen during the commercial. I quickly thumbed through the pages of Automotive Dealers- New Cars---------- and there was the picture of the mystery car... it was a

LOTUS



Emma Peel and Her Vehicle

 

 

 

 


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