Seven America on the Rolling Road at Lotus Engineering at Ann Arbor, Michigan

Three: Brrr... Don't overcook it!

Did I mention that it was early February and quite cold? In fact, here in Michigan we had had weeks of weather with temps well below freezing. The two weeks before the demo, we were down to zero degrees Fahrenheit most nights. The point here is that my garage is not heated, nor is it even attached to the house, so it's pretty much as cold as the great outdoors in there. The garage is something like 12 by 44 feet, so without a fair sized heating unit, it's not a space I could easily warm up. Nor is it insulated. Knowing the car would be expected to at least run, my immediate effort was to install a 100 watt light bulb in my 'trouble light' and slide it in just under the sump in an attempt to thin the 20/50 Castrol GTX syrup that had been thickening nicely in the sump all winter. Even my son thought that the aluminum foil reflector on the garage floor was a clever idea.

As the date of the test drew nearer, I began to worry about the rest of the driveline... what about the gearbox - from zero degrees to running flat out, without much chance to warm up? What might happen? And the rear axle - big lump of cast iron - that would hold the cold for hours... what about those felt washers that hold the oil in at the ends? Were they soft or brittle?? I finally broke down and bought an electric space heater and determined to create a sort of cocoon around the car, hoping to keep a little of the heat near it. In the end, what I did was to drape some quilts and blankets over the car so that they touched the ground on all sides, then opened a 'window' in the front and back. I pointed the space heater in the front hole, careful to avoid pointing it at the GRP nosecone, turned it on, and before long I could feel the warm(ish) air coming out the other end. So, I now had the car warming at least somewhat, though I was reluctant to leave this system running overnight or while I was out at work all day. A torched Seven would impress far fewer people than even a 948cc powered one!

So the drill was to start the heat as I pulled into the garage in the evening and leave it on until bedtime. On the Thursday night (before Valentine's day) I prepared to start the car for the first time in the dead of winter. I had planned ahead enough to bring the garden tractor battery inside early on to allow it to warm thoroughly, and I must admit it paid off. I also must admit that I did not change out the spark plugs (they sparked okay last time I drove it!) nor did I freshen up the fuel... it did still have about a 1/4 tank from last driving season (that's about two teaspoons in a Seven). I did, however, give a quick spritz of 'Hot Start' aka ether, to each carburettor in the hope of coaxing the system to life without undue grinding of the starter.

Surprise, surprise! The little engine turned easily and fired after no more than about 10 seconds of churning. It did sputter a couple of times, but with careful balancing of the choke and throttle, I was able to get it to settle down to a reasonable idle while I went about preparing the trailer. Oh yes, did I mention that I borrowed a trailer for the occasion? I once again ranged out to the middle of nowhere, somewhere just west of Dewitt, Michigan, an hour from my home to borrow the 'Lost Onion Load' trailer from Lotus Seven Vintage Racer Rick Cook. He was probably surprised to hear me mooching it in the middle of winter, but concurred that some free dyno time was a great opportunity, and though I couldn't see him on his cell phone in Atlanta where he was vacationing at the time, I guessed he was shaking his head and smiling at this nut (me). Back in Michigan, with the engine reasonably warmed and the trailer connected to the tow car to prevent it teeter tottering on its single axle (I learn quick!) I drove the car onto the trailer where it would reside until we left for Ann Arbor at 6:30 the coming Saturday morning.


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