The Start

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During May and June of 2001, I finally took my long overdue sabbatical leave from Intel. During the time off, I visited my best friend Martin Peters in Atlanta and worked for a few days on his 1968 Triumph TR250. It was then that I decided that I would start working on cars again after over a 10-year hiatus. I had always admired the Lotus Esprit and had often dreamed of buying one over the years. I decided that it was time for an Esprit project. 

My first thought was to attempt to acquire a car without an engine or transmission as I had often read that the Lotus power train was unreliable and expensive to fix by comparison to other cars. I thought that a more commonly available drive train might be a better choice. So I placed an ad on the internet for such a project and was contacted by Bert Curtis of Curtis Unlimited Inc. who had such a project car available, which I purchased from him. The car is a red 1989 Lotus Esprit Turbo SE with an unusual history. The car was purchased new from Lotus in the U.K. by British modified sports car champion Duncan Drye and was sent to NTC Cars for race preparation to participate in the Bridgestone Potenza Supercar challenge race series. This included switching the car from right-hand  to left-hand drive, removing most of the interior and anything else that could be removed to lighten the car, adding a complete roll cage,  fuel cells, kill switch, and a fire control system. Click here to view the Road & Track specials article on the race including a picture of the car competing.

The '89 car as I found it

After the race series, the car changed hands a few times and was raced in various SCCA events in the U.S. before being retired to the woods to age with just over 5000 actual miles on the odometer. Bert and his wife Fay build and repair Lotus race car frames suspensions and bodies for a living and acquired the car without an engine or transmission in 2000 as part of a barter deal. I picked up the car from near Eureka, CA in July 2001 along with a Cadillac Northstar V8 and a Porsche 914 Transaxle that Bert had envisioned he might put in the car. Bert had made a plate to adapt the engine to the transmission but there were many additional parts needed to get the drive train into the Lotus. Bert can make just about anything so this effort was more about time than capability.

The '89 car on the trailer back home

I removed the roll cage and race interior from the '89 car. During this process, I found the source of the funky smell emanating from the interior. It seems a number of animals had been hibernating in the car during it's time in the woods.

The '89 car's race interior with animal bedding

Shortly after I received the car, a wrecked 1997 Esprit V8 was posted on Ebay. After assessing the scope of the task to get the '89 car on the road and considering the cost, I decided a better route might be to use the body of the '89 car to repair the '97 Esprit V8 so I purchased this car and drove with my father over Labor Day weekend 2001 from Portland, Oregon to Baton Rouge, LA to retrieve the car. We drove straight through only stopping for gas (and trailer repair) leaving Friday afternoon and returning very early Monday morning - just over 5000 miles roundtrip.

Kimuel Lee, the '97 car, and my dad in Baton, Rouge

Interior of '97 car back home

The car is Blue (Azure) with a cream (Magnolia) interior. It had just over 11K miles on it when it got hit hard in the right front in March of 1999 and was totaled (a correct assessment).

Both cars outside the garage at home

After I got the '97 car running, with help from Larry Marsala and Wes LaRiviere, I began the task of disassembly.

The '97 car getting naked

The '97 car without its interior

The disassembly went along fine until my fear was confirmed. The frame was bent.

Bent Frame - notice the T ain't so perfect

Considering my need for a number of front-end parts (bumper, valence, etc.), an intact set of wheels, a new frame, and other parts and considering the potential cost of these parts... I decided to purchase yet another car. A burned 1999 Lotus Esprit Sport 350 with a good frame, tires, wheels, and front clip.

The Sport 350

Unfortunately, the only deal I could strike for the car included yet another Esprit. This time a '91 that had many of its parts already scavenged. 

The '91 car - minus its rear wheels

So after a trip to Los Angeles to pick up both cars in mid October 2001 I was the proud owner of 4 Esprits - none intact and none drivable. (Did I mention that on the way back from Los Angeles we had an accident where we rolled my '97 Mercury Mountaineer 5 times into the southbound lane of I-5 and totaled it while sending the borrowed trailer it was towing with the '91 Esprit slamming into the median blowing a tire and breaking the wheels off the Esprit due to the impact? Oh well.. that's another story...)

Totaled the Mountaineer

SO... after another trip to California to retrieve the '91 car and repair the trailer....I'm back to the Esprit Project! First thing to do is to remove the Sport 350 from its frame.

Sport 350 coming off its frame

Sport 350 rolling chassis sliding out

Whenever an Esprit is removed from its frame, it must be done at night using OSHA approved  lifting methods. These methods incorporate kitty litter containers filled with water, multiple wooden blocks stacked precariously on floor jacks, and at least one 8-foot long 4x4.

Sport 350 body on the ground (where it came to rest after the fall)

I might mention that fiberglass does not burn but fiberglass resin does. When what's left over gets beaten by wind it looks a lot like hair. I will also mention that the smell of a burned fiberglass car body is sickening sweet and is very penetrating. Thus the "smelly parts from that car better not be in my house" rule from the lady of the house. Luckily, I agreed. (She forgot to mention about no tracking black soot and grease from the burned car through the house though heh heh heh).

The next step is to remove the engine from the chassis.

The Sport 350 has what's left of its engine removed.

So now that the engine is out, I can start building my car. 

Click here to see the next chapter in the saga.