Background Noise

Much more fun than writing an article is the process of defending it after the fact. How could I, a paid professional, so utterly butcher the spelling of Snoqualmie Pass? My good friend Jim Pesta called and told me about the time he had an experience like mine driving top down in the rain with no wipers. Of course, Jim’s story was better, because he also had no windshield, no floorboards, and no brakes. My girlfriend threatened to sue over the spider reference. I even had a map company call and claim their product would never lose pages in the manner I described (just kidding about the map company).

One of the reasons no one ever edits my work is because they know if they piss me off I’ll invent some wild story about them, then publish it for all the world to read. Fortunately, it is never necessary to invent stories about British cars. Like spontaneous human combustion, humorous British car anecdotes appear without warning.

Way back in the spring I took a trip up to Idaho to deliver a Bugeye Sprite. I traveled north to Seattle, spent a couple days with my sister, and then continued on to Idaho. It was your average adventure. While stuck in Seattle’s rush-hour traffic it started to rain. After a few minutes, my sister took pity on me and hopped out of her nice warm and dry Acura to loan me an umbrella. She said I would have made a terrific picture. A little red car with a big blue umbrella and a wet puppy cowering underneath—but she didn’t have a waterproof camera.

Having suffered the usual indignities at rest areas in three different states (“Something wrong with your little car?”), I repaired, tinkered, and fiddled until arriving in Boise. As I was on time and delivered the car in mostly the same condition as when it left California, I was rewarded with a weekend in Sun Valley and the use of a Lotus Esprit. Lotus in general and the Esprit in particular is the next best thing to a real exotic. Why the next best thing? Because real exotic cars generally don’t use plastic MGB interior door release handles. Another difference is the number of engine cylinders. While a true exotic should have multiples of four cylinders, the multiplier should also be more than one.

Still, to be fair, it was more car than I’ll ever be allowed. This particular example was a 1989 Esprit Turbo. It was red. I mean RED! It was “arrest me ’cause I must be driving way too fast” red…with gold wheels. Before leaving town, I undid the top three buttons of my shirt, stopped off at a local jeweler and bought a gold necklace. The Lotus attracts attention. It looks like a baby Lamborghini. People walk up and look at it in parking lots. While stopped for my morning caffeine, it drew a pair of Idaho road workers. They too had stopped for coffee and were slowly circulating around the car. I walked up, being careful to look as nonchalant as possible, opened the driver’s door, and a bolt tumbled out on the ground. Not a small one, mind you, but a big sucker. Broken in half it was. That bolt was just about big enough to hold something important. A suspension unit, perhaps.

As the author Douglas Adams said in his book, “don’t panic.” So I casually scoop up the bolt, inspect it, then toss it into the passenger compartment with an air of dismissal. “Not to worry, boys. It’s an exotic. These things fall off all the time.” Being careful not to catch my gold chain on the steering wheel, I gracefully entered the vehicle and drove away.

The trip along route 20 out of Mountain Home starts out in beautiful rolling foothills. With sweeping turns and little traffic, one can get a real feel for a car. I steadily increased speed because it sounded as if someone was following close behind. Later, they told me the sound was from the mid-mounted engine. The engine behind thing seems like a good idea. It helps keep pesky oil and water leaks from splattering the windshield.

In a grand touring sense, the Lotus was an interesting car. Only plebians back up, so forget about a rearward view. Grand touring also implies long stately high-speed turns. Through careful pedal placement, heel and toe driving (being quite uncivilized) is discouraged. I found it physically impossible to touch brake and gas pedals together. To its credit, the non-intercooled Lotus turbo motor seemed happy to send the rev counter around for a second lap. Acceleration at full boost and high revs was entirely satisfactory. Even the leather-wrapped ’70s vintage Star Wars dash and indecipherable ventilation controls exuded old world charm.

I enjoyed my three days in a Lotus. Comparisons with modern transport need not apply to such an unusual vehicle. Besides, a 25-year-old design wouldn’t hold up well. And who am I to point out a modern upstart $30,000 RX7 will happily blow the doors off the old tank? Raw performance aside, it’s still not a Lotus.

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