One of things that I’ve always wanted to do in the Seven was go on a long road trip. However I’ve always been afraid of mechanical breakdowns which is why I took the Elise to LOG 31 in Vegas two years ago. Once the 2013 West Coast Lotus meet was announced for Seattle in July, I started toying with the idea of taking the Seven but kept prepping both cars so that I could make a last minute decision. As luck would have it I was changing the oil on the Elise a couple of days before the trip and found a transmission leak which meant that the Seven was now the only option for the 2000 mile trip.
I started checking weather forecasts along the route and thankfully it appeared to be little chance of rain which is a good thing in a roof/door/window/windshield-less car with potentially dodgy electrics. I did see that a heat wave was expected with temperatures in excess of 100F but having done a 98F trip down to Buttonwillow in the past I felt pretty confident that I would be able to handle it with my cool suit. In terms of mechanical reliability I had driven the car several hundred street miles in the past few months which made me feel good about making it to Seattle without an issue. The risky bit would be the track day at Pacific Raceway but if a terminal issue cropped up Rob @ DiestchWerks said he would be able to trailer it back on his race trailer if needed. With all this worked out I decided to take the Seven on an epic roadtrip.
I started out with fellow Ultralite owner and GGLC member Jim R who was going to drive up with me till Shasta City. We started out at 7 am as I wanted to cover as much ground as possible before sunset and had set myself the goal of reaching Medford at the very least with Eugene as a stretch goal. Since the planed distance was only just over 400 miles, we even took a slightly longer route to get the obligatory pic with the Golden Gate Bridge just like my last trip tor WCLM 08.
The first couple of hours went quite well and we covered 100+ miles before it warmed up enough that I had to start up the cool shirt which is basically a shirt which pumps cold water through it to keep the wearer cool. They were originally designed for surgeons but are now used by firemen, military, hazmat and of course racing. I originally picked up a cool shirt to use it in Lemons racing but after I got the Seven I realised that it was the perfect way to stay cool in the car as well. Jim and I made it up to Shasta Lake before stopping for a bite to eat at the Basshole Bar & Grill in Lakeshore CA just after noon.
By this time the time the mercury was really rising and Jim decided to head home while I continued on to towards Oregon. As I entered the mountains below Mt Shasta the weather was quite pleasant (though assisted by the Cool Shirt :)) and I was feeling quite good about my progress for the day. That came to crashing halt as I got passed the mountains and entered Oregon where the weather really shot up. The temperatures in Ashland were well above 100F (Jim saw 108F at one point on his way back) and it was so hot that I literally just pulled off the highway and parked under a tree.
At this point the ice cooler part in the Cool Shirt came in handy as it meant that I had some cold refreshments to help cool myself down. I then decided to try driving a little bit without my helmet on but the hot air hitting me in the face made it hard to breathe so I put the helmet back on and kept going in short 30 min stretches. By around 5 pm the temps started dropping and by the time I got to Eugene at 6 it was pleasant enough that I took the helmet off off and cruised up to Salem, OR where I spent the night. The next day I was up and running again and made it to Seattle despite some extreme heat and traffic in the Olympia area. My dash got so hot at one point that my phone overheated and shut down. In the end I did make it to Seattle with the car running like a champ with only the organic bit behind the wheel having issues with the heat (see below). BTW if you think I’m complaining too much about the heat, it was so bad that the WDOT had to shut down a bridge and water its deck to prevent excessive heat expansion.
The first official event at the West Coast Lotus meet was a track day at Pacific Raceways which was put on by the folks at ProFormance Racing School. We started out with some lead-follow laps as most of us had never driven the track before. Pacific Raceway is a fairly technical track with 350 feet of elevation change which means you have a lot of blind late apex corners. Plus the track is very different from my usual tracks with very little run-off or exit kerbing and plenty of surrounding greenery – it feels more like a hillclimb course instead of a closed circuit track.
After a few sighter laps and some conversations with the instructors I was able to work out a reasonable line and really got into the groove at the track. As you can see from the video below I was not pushing very hard as I did not want to break anything at the track. One thing to note is that I did discover that top speed on my car is 125 mph which I hit 2/3rd of the way down the looong straight – it was actually a bit disappointing as I thought that the Seven was a bit faster than that but I guess crappy aero performance really does take its toll. We did have a modified Elise (slicks, 300 hp, sequential gearbox, paddleshift) that was quite a bit faster and was hitting 140 mph down the same straight.
The most interesting moment of the video above was when I go off at the 14:20 mark. This was due to a stuck throttle though luckily it was stuck partially open and not at full throttle. I didnt realise this initially as the revs do go down when I get off the gas but the car did not slow down enough. I keep adding more brake pressure and end up locking the front wheels before I go off the course. At this point I go both feet in and the engine revs rise to ~4k rpm and I realise what the problem was. I was able to use partial clutch to get into the pits and killed the engine as soon as I got in. When I opened the hood I found that the bracket that the external throttle release spring attached to had broken off and the stock throttle spring was not strong enough to close it all the way which is why the engine was stuck at part throttle. I was able to ziptie the spring back together to get the car going again but called it quits for the track day as I didnt want to risk it happening again on course.
After the track day I headed over to the event hotel which had organized some excellent “Lotus Parking” for the duration of the event. This meant that we not only got to see the cars all together, but we also got to chat with all the owners as we came in and out of the lot. After the cocktails and reception many of us headed out into the parking lot to check out the cars and shoot the breeze with other Lotus fans.
Day 2 started with an excellent tour of Paul Allens Flying Heritage Collection. Nothing to do with Lotus but it is an excellent collection of WW2 era machinery including airplanes, rockets and tanks. Many of the airplanes are still airworthy and are flown a few times a year. Its also right next to the Boeing Dreamliner factory where a bunch of planes were getting fitted for their customers. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes mechanical objects.
In the afternoon we headed over to the parking lot of Bellevue Community college for the WCLM autocross. It was a very tight course that you lapped multiple times to set a time. Most people were doing the course in first gear though due to my low gearing I was able to launch and do the entire run in second gear instead. The following video is of my 31.165 second run which ended up as the top time of the event. I was even able to avoid hitting “my cone” which folks were taking odds on whether I would hit it. Facebook users can see more photos from the autocross at the WCLM FB album
After the autocross we headed over to the Snoqualamie Casino where we had an excellent buffet dinner along with drinks on the roof right in the shadow of the mountains. Plus it was another great chance to check out the cars and we got a lot of regular casino guests coming by to ogle at the cars.
I was feeling a bit under the weather on day 3 so I skipped the SOVREN Historic Races and the parade laps at Pacific Raceway. I directly went over to the LeMay museum in the afternoon where we were taking a group photograph before dinner and a private tour of the museum itself. The album below shows some of the cars on display in the museum, as well as some shots of the cars lined up for the group photo. Another wonderful place to attend and much better organized than the original warehouses that they used when I first visited the LeMay in 2010. After the LeMay trip I was hanging out with some Canadian attendees at the hotel who were quite surprised to learn that I had driven the Seven all the way from CA. Hopefully at the next WCLM we can have a some of them drive all the from Canada instead
The final stop on the WLCM calendar was at the Griots Garage retail store in Tacoma where we got look at some of their cars and also got a demonstration of their car car products. Not very Lotus specific, but they are definitely car guys as evidenced by their McLaren display below. I have to say that Doug and the ELCC really put on a great WCLM and are going to get a lot of repeat business the next time they host a WCLM.
After lunch I headed out around 2pm with the goal of making it back to Eugene, OR before nightfall. The return trip was going well until I stopped just before the WA-OR border and noticed that the left side of the car was covered with coolant. The upper radiator hose had sprung a leak and was dripping coolant under pressure.
I filled it up with some water and Rob @ DiestchWerks a call to see if I could get him to trailer the car back. It ended up he was about 45 minutes ahead of me so I limped the car over there while he stopped at an auto parts to see what he could find. In the end he cut the hose at the point that it was leaking at and used a plastic coupler and some hose clamps to put it back together again. I then got back on the road and started driving with frequent stops to check the coolant levels and to watch for any further leaks. I was able to make it to Canyonville before nightfall and stayed at the Seven Feather Casino which was the site of the WCLM 08.
I decided to drop my original plan to drive straight down I-5 as the temperatures in the central valley were expected to be well over 100F and I did not want to put additional stress on my cooling system. Instead I took US-199 over from Grants Pass to Eureka and then took 101 all the way to SF. This turned out to be a great decision because though the trip would be longer, it was much much cooler plus US-199 is an fun road to drive in a sports car.
At this point I was far enough inland that it was starting to heat up again and I had to put my cool shirt on again. Plus the temps never went about 95 which meant that the cool suit was able to keep me quite comfortable. I then stopped off to meet a friend in Windsor, CA and was able to avoid much of the evening heat before making the final 90 minute drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge and through SF to get home again.
All in all the car ran quite well and apart from the throttle and coolant issues it gave me no trouble at all in over 2000 miles in some blistering heat. I got lots of weird looks and several photos taken of me on my trip but I have to say that it was great fun and I would say that all Seven owners should consider doing at least one long road trip in their cars – it is an experience that you will not forget and you’d be surprised how reliable our cars can be. Now where is WLCM 2014 going to be?