Cars - History - Legend - Stories - For Sale

One Day in Florida

I just couldn't get over the impression that I was sitting in an oversized toy car. I have seen several Series IV Lotus Sevens 'in the flesh' but had never come across the yellow/orange version made so popular among my friends by Matchbox cars back in the early 1970's. Not that it's the prettiest that I've seen, but it certainly had that 1970's flair -- groovy, man!

It's early Spring, 2003. My family had planned a trip to Florida to escape the last cruelties of winter in Michigan, flocking south with many northerners whose children's school schedules include a week long break in early April. As usual, I posted a few messages to some email lists, poking around for some Lotus-related activities of interest near where we were planning to stay. The excuse to my wife was that I couldn't possibly spend 6 days on the beach - I'd be sun-burned to a crisp! I learned that Wire Wheel Classic Cars was just a bit southwest of Vero Beach, and that they in fact had a Series IV Lotus Seven for sale. I emailed the owner, Hayes Harris, with whom I had shared email communications previously, and he assured me he would be around the shop that week and that I would be more than welcome to come and try the car out particularly since I had yet to even sit in a Series IV Seven.

Watching the weather forecast, it appeared that the Thursday of our visit would be less than optimum beach weather, so my son Austin and I planned to make a short drive down to Wire Wheel Classic Cars. An early morning walk on the beach revealed that storm clouds were brewing inland. I began to wonder if maybe it wouldn't be such a good day for a test drive of a lightweight open sports car! Nonetheless, after lunch we piled in and pointed the rented Pontiac Montana minivan toward Wire Wheel. The rain held off for a few minutes, but soon began pelting down enough that the wipers couldn't even keep up with it. Even the road signs were hard to read, and my hopes of a drive in the SIV were swiftly fading.

In truth, we did spot 36th Court fairly easily - not only did the rain let up a bit, but when the crossroads are all 'named' by number, it's much easier to know when your road is coming up! We turned into 36th Court and drove on down to the end, where a low white building stood with a half dozen overhead doors all closed to within a foot or two of the ground, various sports cars having taken refuge but still peeking out to see whether the sun would show up again. Pulling up in front of a swinging glass entry door, I could see the Lotus sandwiched in against the wall looking forlorn, yet eager - surely as I did on rainy days as a child, standing inside the door looking out hoping that the rain storms would subside so that we could go outside to play.

Austin and I hurried from the van to the front door of the shop, which led to an office space filled with vintage sports car memorabilia, models, posters, parts -- all the stuff classic sport scar dreams are made of. A distant "hello" sounded from a door into the garage area an a moment later, Hayes Harris introduced himself to us. 'Not great weather' he said, but assured us that it would blow through in a few minutes and if we stayed around, we could extract the Seven and have a drive.

We looked through the variety of cars in the shop, many in pristine condition, and a few in various states of restoration. A quick glance across the room revealed a smorgasbord of sports cars -- Lotus Elise, Exige, Europa, Elan... Bugeye Sprite, MGB, TC, TD... Marcos, Mini Moke (okay, not necessarily a sports car, but fun nonetheless!) Then there were modern cars 'in the classic style' -- Birkin, Kougar, Ginetta (Mazda Miata powered!)

After looking over the more interesting of the cars, we noticed that the skies were in fact clearing and Hayes reiterated his offer for us to take the Lotus Seven out. I questioned the way it was shoe horned into the corner behind several other cars, but Hayes assured me that it was no problem to get at the car if we'd like to try it. So we began maneuvering cars out of the way - the Kougar, a Healey Silverstone-esque roadster with modern Jaguar running gear rolled straight out of the way. The Lotus Exige was next, with the usual back and forth rolling and turning to get it out the door, then the MGB (went easier once the parking brake was taken off!) and finally we were inching the Seven out (rather easier than the others) pointing its nose more toward the door with each back and forth push.

By the time we had the Seven out of the garage, the sun was poking through the dense cloud cover here and there, so we set about getting the car running. Tucked as it was in the corner, I didn't really expect it to 'fire right up' and sure enough, the battery was completely flat. No matter, as Hayes reached for the portable battery booster. Suitably connected, the Big Valve Twincam turned over strongly but was still hesitant to fire. The fuel gauge read empty. Hayes was confident there was at least enough fuel to start the car and run it up to the corner filling station, and with a shot of ether for the dual Dellortos the motor decided it was time to start. The Twincam motor makes a different noise, of course, than the more basic pushrod motors in many Sevens, my own included. The cam gear at the front of the engine makes a fine, mechanical whirring sound and in the case of the SIV, the exhaust is fairly well muffled with its tailpipe exiting at the back of the car rather than at the passenger's elbow.

So Hayes handed over $10 and suggested I run the car up the road and put some gas in before going anywhere else. My son is well familiar by now with clambering over the side and planting his rear in the passenger seat, even if it is on the left hand side of the car. I noticed that my usual 'watch the exhaust' warning was unnecessary because the front wing on the SIV stretches clear back to the front of the rear wing. Also keeps a little more of the water out of the cockpit, especially just after a good rain!

I slipped down into the cockpit and recognized the basic feel of the Seven. There are not many cars like it for that open air effect! Yes, the interior details are somewhat different (more instruments) and the tunnel, floors and side panels are all black painted fiberglass rather than the bright aluminum to which I'm accustomed. The shift lever felt somewhat vague and longer throw than the Sprite gearbox in my Seven, but after stirring though the gears a couple of times, I became confident that I knew where they were. I was pleased to find that the pedal arrangement seems to be about the same as earlier Sevens, even the footwell seemed nearly as tight - I had brought my driving moccasins along for this specific reason!

We eased out of the parking lot and up to where 36th Court joined the 'big' road. Hayes had suggested turning right and stopping at the first station on the corner to fuel up. He said that the roads were pretty much a big grid in this part of Florida, no sweeping turns or hills to play on. Oh well. We drove sedately up to the Shell station while I watched the temp gauge to see the engine warming up. Fueling was challenging as the filler neck takes a right angle turn directly beneath the filler opening preventing the filler nozzle from entering more than an inch or two. Maybe there's a trick I'd learn if I had to do it again. I was also hesitant as I didn't know the fuel capacity of the tank and wasn't sure if it would take the whole $10 worth. That done, we finally got to get out on the road and play a little.

Anyone who appreciates the Lotus Seven knows that the best part of driving one is the cornering. Being stuck on straight, two lane roads with stoplights every half mile however, leads one to find other ways to have fun... particularly when the Seven one is driving is powered by a strong, smooth Big Valve Twincam! I soon found myself slowing and willing the traffic lights to turn red just before I got to them so I would have the opportunity to practice running through the gears and treating myself to the kind of rush you can get from a larger engined Seven! Granted, the roads were still damp and drying so we didn't really get a great impression of being thrown back in our seats, but controlling wheelspin to the best of my ability, I certainly got much quicker launches than I would under optimum conditions in my own Seven - probably doubled or tripled even! The rear would squat only slightly as the tires made their best effort at grip and the rear of the car would slither just a bit before biting in and after that, no drama, just crisp, quick acceleration.

Not too many stoplights up the road, I noticed a condominium complex, with ample parking and nicely paved and twisty access roads... now it was early afternoon, so there were few cars in the lots and none at all moving around on the perimeter roads... and even better, no curbs! So with my passenger suitably warned that we would be taking in some quick tight corners, we dove into the complex. Now lest the dear reader (or the car loaner for that matter!) conjure up images of one mustard yellow Lotus flying around the place, tire squealing, power-sliding, scaring small children on tricycles and pets on leashes, let me please reassure that there were no pets anywhere near us and the only child was the somewhat overgrown one behind the wheel! The Seven kept its poise perfectly with just a slight touch of opposite lock on one or two turns which brought it back into line in a predictably comfortable fashion.

Struggling with a strong urge to eyeball a short course to run around a few times and really familiarize myself with this car's handling and improve my lap times, common sense reared its head and we once again sedately motored out to the main road. The British invasion of 'Generic Florida Condos' had ended after probably a whole 30 seconds worth of ear to ear grin-inducing fun.

Well, a couple of more stoplight launches to confirm the Big Valve Twincam is indeed an engine which would be well suited to the track and we were back at Wire Wheel. In all, my brief first date with a Series IV Seven was altogether enjoyable. Perhaps like going on a date with a gal who's absolutely great in the, uh, I mean, on the dance floor, but whose looks I just couldn't imagine living with... just the ticket for a weekend fling!

Pulling in to the parking lot, I noticed that the fuel gauge still read empty. Hayes, honestly -- I put the $10 in the tank!! Thanks again so much for the opportunity to try out a car of every little boy's dreams!

Cars - History - Legend - Stories - For Sale