Start: Red '98 Car
|In May of 2012, I bought this red '98 car from an
auction site. It was listed with "engine fire" damage but from the
pictures it was clear there was no engine fire.
The history showed that the car had been totaled once before. After some digging I was able to contact the person who owned the car when it was first totaled. He provided me with pics of accident damage.
The cause of the impact was also clearly identified to be fault of the state of California.
Were this steel object not placed here by the state, the car may have been saved! OK OK - the right rear tire blew out. Everyone was OK but the car was questionably totaled. No frame damage etc.
Upon receipt of the car, I found that it had been subject to a significant under dash fire. This caused the shorting of the wiring harness all the way back to the rear relay box with subsequent melting of plastic etc. causing some fires along the way. The smell of the electrical fire in the cockpit was "unique". In other words, it was hard to be in the cockpit and breathe. I put the car away and purchased the harnesses needed and started the repair in April 2013.
The fuse box melted
I had been fortunate enough to get a few late model dash harnesses from Lotus After Sales. Jeff at JAE came through for me on the rear harness.
The Engine harness was found to be intact without damage. I knew the difficult thing would be to install this rear harness down the back of the firewall in front of the right gas tank all the way up to the right A-pillar but I put that problem out of my mind and continued disassembly.
I'm always happy to see when a repair has been done well. For example, not simply cutting out the blown airbag and recovering the panel.
Alas, I was not happy to see the blown airbag from the original collision still installed - sigh.
But Guy.. What was the cause of the fire??!!!???
Hold you horses. I think I see where it started now.
Gee, that's strange. It appears the fire started in the bottom of the heater box then burned up and out a bit shorting out the wiring and then that caused a bit of fire as well. What could possibly start a fire there you ask??? Well I am not a forensic fire expert but analysis concludes that an accelerant squirted down the main vents and then ignited is the most likely cause. In other words.... a torch job.
Now people torch their cars for a few reasons including 1) I can't afford the payments and 2) I redlined the car one too many times and blew the engine and I can't afford to fix it. In either case, the insurance money solves the problem and we all pay higher rates as a result. Once I saw this I became nauseated as the immediate question is... was it #2???
I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. Next....
The heater box has to come out. To do this from
the start you need to remove the cover under the bonnet and the fan
assembly, remove the passenger side lower dash & airbag including airbag
cover and dash metal frame (you may need to remove the right a-pillar
trim to do this). Then remove the center console, disconect the
hoses and drain, disconnect the air handler hoses, remove the derm
assembly, drill out the two rivets holding the box to the floor at the
bottom of the main vent, cut the black silicone betweeen the hole and
the box under the bonnet, remove two screws that are hiding at the
bottom of the hole, disconnect the actuator around the hood release rod,
unplug electricals as needed.
At this point the box should be loose. You then drag it to the right and it will eventually fall into the passenger foot well removing it from the car requires the AC lines to be cut.
I think the wiring harness definitely needs to come out.
I then took to removing the entire front wiring harness, which includes the fuse box, front relays, wiring under the bonnet etc.
I cleaned the soot off of the underside of the dash and upon inspection found that the fire actually caused limited damage. With everything cleaned up, it was time for re-assembly. First, The top dash windshield vents were a little melted along with the windshield washer lines. I realized that nearby a dead Esprit wanted to donate its parts to help his injured brother.
The Black 2001 donor car I bought to repair the '98 silver car had just what was needed and in good condition.
The heater box was not repairable. Jeff at JAE Parts was able to provide me with a used one.
Now you may notice that the electric actuator, which is burned on the left, does not exist on the right.
I went to plug in the wiper motor and found the connector to be different. This is why the wiring harness changes in mid-year '98. Lotus changed the wiper motor (actually the wiper motor changed) and rather than cut and use the old connector, I swapped the wiper motor over from the 2001 donor car.
The heater fan under the bonnet was burned. I was able to buy one from a SPAL distributor for less than $100 but bought the single speed version instead of the 3-speed version. I cut out a box for the speed controller and moved it over from the burned fan.
I reinstalled the fan and then the work under the bonnet was complete.
The new heater box was also missing a vacuum actuator. I looked around and found that the same actuator is used in several paces and luckily found a donor in the parts pile.
I took it off cleaned it up.
The center vent was melted and needed to be replaced however I found that this part was no longer serviced by Lotus. So I utilized the top portion of the old vent and heated it up with the heat gun and remolded it. I then made a cast of a vent from another car and made a new vent from fiberglass.
Now.... it looks reasonable right? I painted it black and silicone sealed the seams and when I reassembled the interior it fit... just really poorly. Well to be honest it did not fit. The DERM (airbag control module) hit it and there was no way to overcome it. I decided to use a vent from another car with plans to install the one I made in the '98 silver car, which does not have the airbag system.
Speaking of airbags... I needed one for the passenger side and was able to get one via a sweet deal again arranged by Jeff at JAE.
It was shipped in a box that allowed it to swing in transit! I guess so it did not blow up. And the box said it could not be shipped on an airplane - go figure.
Now back to that electrical actuator. Another unavailable part. The only place I could find it for sale was in....
wait for it.....
I cannot read Slovakian and I almost figured out the company's web site but got hung up at the payment section. Undaunted, I reached out to an old Czech girlfriend who lives in Tokyo and she was able to find someone who spoke English at the company and they wrote me with the payment instructions. The wire transfer almost worked the first time, actually worked the second time and the money got the company's bank account 12 days later. And then I needed to send them another wire as they forgot to include the incoming wire fee in the invoice. Eventually, I received three of the actuators - all with slightly differing arms on the spindle.
I ended up drilling out, welding and re-drilling the arm to get the right hole in the thing. I am willing to sell the others if anyone is in need.
I had to cut the AC lines from the old heater box and the new one. I thought I would have a local shop perform the splices but looked around in the internet and found the required crimp tool on Ebay. It is possible to crimp with a manual crank tool but this is tough if not bench mounted. Hand pumped hydraulic tools also existed but that tool's best price was around $600. A hydraulic tool would allow the repair to be made easily in place. I could not bring myself to spend that money for a tool I would seldom use. And then I remembered!!! Alibaba.com
Alibaba.com is a market place portal for all kind of things made in China. For one reason or another, it is not crawled by Google so you have to go there to find things. I found the same crimp tool there shipped Fedex for $215
I then installed the airbag.
A number of the Heater box air handler hoses were burned but I was able to find suitable replacements at the local Baxter auto parts store.
Now back to that rear wiring harness...
The harness runs around the entire engine compartment starting on the left side going back around the trunk to the battery and rear relay box then up over the right rear wheel well to the engine connection, ECM, etc.,and then it heads down ahead of the right tank between the tank and the fire wall. At the bottom the hot and ground goes off to the frame and a 90 degree turn heads it up along the AC lines through the fire wall to the top of the A-pillar.
I happen to know from experience that there are 3 nylon wire wraps along the firewall. In order to get to those the gas tank has to come out or be maneuvered to provide space. The engine needs to be removed to get the tank out. The idea of this was not something I liked. I was able to saw off the old harness at the entry point in the cockpit then peeling back the carpeting exposed the faux right speaker box in the firewall. I then punched through the box freeing the harness from the nylon clips and pulled out the harness from the back. Utilizing the skills of a pregnant Asian chick, I was able to slide the connectors down past the gas tank and when it reached the speaker box opening had her slowly inch the harness through the firewall forward inch by inch as I fed it down from the engine compartment. It was one of the few time things just worked out.
With all the wiring in and connected, I found all the electricals working and upon turning the key, the engine started right up. Wheph! I dodged that bullet.
Of course, I had to clean the interior with leather cleaner and it took a long time to remove all the soot using many other cleaners. The carpets suffered minor damage from the fire and I simply had them steam cleaned. There are a few dots on them that will not come off but a few new floor mats will take care of that. I had the airbag door recovered and color matched. It's closeJ
Now let's see if those AC lines work?
I evacuated the system with the vacuum pump and found that it held vacuum over a sustained period. I then filled the system with about 3.5 12 oz. cans of refrigerant and... everything got kewl!
The car drives well and seems very quick. It has blow-off valves installed and the engine plenum and valve covers were painted blue by the DPO.
That's the red car story - It's finished. A well running car.
That's the end of this update as of July 1, 2013
I decided to sell this car as we had a baby girl on the way and I have too many cars. I hope the new owner enjoys it.