It’s Ready But I’m Old Now… or, Thoughts On My (Fake) Lotus 7 (Locost)

Exciting times; my Locost project is on the road!  Legitimately, with registration, insurance, and most the safety requirements the state calls for.

The Locost has seventy-five miles on the odometer, all from this week; I know, because I finally figured out how to program the GPS speedometer four days ago.  

Yes, that’s right.  This 1950’s technological hodge-podge has a satellite driven computer speedometer.  I bet Colin Chapman, the car’s progenitor, didn’t foresee that. I’d prefer some mechanical technology, but there wasn’t enough room in the transmission tunnel.  The satellite speedo works great, except at low speeds when the speedometer becomes confused and can’t decide if I’m driving or flying slowly, oscillating between 5 and 100 miles-per-hour.  It’s like having a Mexican jumping bean for a speedometer needle.

But I should be glad to have a working speedometer at all.  If it wasn’t for Speedway Motor’s GPS driven speedometer it would have been difficult to come up with a solution.  I’m tired of difficult. After five years of working on the car, I’m thankful for time-saving devices.  Thank you Speedway Motors!

In a recent sermon, our pastor encouraged us to incorporate Phillipians 4:8 into our lives, “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things.”

It seems easy to apply Phil 4:8 to life’s mountain-top moments.  For example, my family was recently on vacation, standing in a canyon among the red rocks of Arizona, at sunset, immersed in a bonanza of blessings: my family (their existence, health, happiness, etc.), God’s provision (the ability to vacation, living in a country with beautiful places, etc.) and God’s creation (sunset, red rocks, desert, perfect weather, etc.), are only a short list of the awesomeness of that moment.

But I don’t think it’s far-flung to apply the concept of Phil 4:8 to the lesser things in our lives, like classic cars. There’s still an attitude and alignment with the concept of thanking Jesus for his gifts in life if the little things are appreciated.  

So, after seventy-five miles of driving my Locost, what can be appreciated about it?

A lot!

To start, the first time I took the car to 55 m.p.h. was terrifying… but nothing happened. My welds didn’t fall apart. My axle didn’t explode. My engine didn’t grenade. My radiator hoses didn’t burst.  My A-arms didn’t fold-up.  Nothing happened.  This was, and continues to be, cause for happiness.

You may not understand a fear of highway speeds, after all, your car does 55 mph with ease. Yes, but did you engineer and build almost every facet of your car?  If the Locost goes horrifically wrong, I am entirely to blame, not an engineer in Japan.  And that changes how you perceive 55 mph.  55 mph is fast if a wheel falls off, or some similar epic failure occurs!

But then, me engineering the car is a half-truth.  Something to be thankful for has been the input of others.  First, I’ll recognize Colin Chapman came up with the concept of the car. Then, I’ve learned so much from other builders and what they’ve posted to the internet.  

Almost every component of the Locost had small, but important, considerations that others had explored before me.  For example: the rear axle needs to sit at a certain angle compared to the driveline. Chapman’s frame design has been improved by Australian stress testing.  A guy with the same motor setup told me the best fuel to air ratios (jet sizes).  Etc.. 

The input of others was prodigious. I’d Google a topic for hours before I began the work.  Pre-internet I would have needed to join a club… and for an introvert that sounds, well, not enjoyable. I have my three friends. 

Side note – I may need to move. Except for our church, I don’t “fit in”.  For example, “defund the police” is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of.  Yet, all around my town there are hand-made signs professing allegiance to an organization extolling “defund the police”, despite that organization actively destroying the nearby city.  

Uh oh, if you’re reading this from a Facebook link, because of that last paragraph you’ll be sent a message informing you, “you’ve been exposed to extremist material”. I am, proudly, who Facebook hates.

Ah, but how quickly I digress. Let me try to get back to the discussion of the Locost.

The technology I could, and did, purchase for the Locost is excellent.  

My electronic ignition, with pre-mapped timing, based on (Ninja motorcycle) carburetors with a throttle position sensor, made engine tuning almost unnecessary; I simply had to plug the right wires together.  

Also, the short-shifter is excellent. The halogen headlights, and LED taillights are bright.  I have five forward gears, a locker in the rear, rack and pinion steering, and disc brakes on all four wheels (with an adjustable bias between front and rear).

In addition, I spent time to add a few higher-quality features I’m happy with.  I plumbed in a heater; on cooler days legs are burning hot. Many Locosts do not have heaters.  Also, I fit Wilwood pedal assemblies that hang from above, providing excellent pedal feel and placement. Many Locosts use floor mounted pedals. 

On the topic of driving, the Locost drives nicely.  Using online spring rate calculators, following online directions for alignment by string, and (mostly) eliminating bump-steer provided the Locost with a surprisingly nice ride from day one.  

But, day one we hit several large pot-holes that jarred our spines, which I initially dismissed as normal for a Locost with a rear axle, but then I discovered cut marks on the rear tires. I wrongly thought I’d placed the fenders just above full suspension compression.  When I saw the cut marks I became scared I’d need to change my shock or fender mounts (hard work), but then the technology saved me. My QA1 coilover shocks are adjustable and, after about a half-hour of work, I raised the rear of the car several centimeters. I hit the same spine jarring holes again, this time without compressing any vertebrae.  I can drive over small manhole edges, at speed, without feeling them!

And the car looks great!  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think it’s a nice looking little car. It’ll always be rough, but it’s a good-looking rough.  

Many people use fiberglass fenders and a fiberglass scuttle (dash area), but I built my scuttle from aluminum, and used aluminum trailer fenders hoping for a more classic look.  

Also, I didn’t love Caterham’s square rear tail lights, so I used the tail lights from a 1950 Pontiac, a classic American hot-rodder choice which I think compliments all the other round lights on the car.  

Many builders fabricate modern dashes, incorporating modern gauges, computer screens, l.e.d.-lit switches and carbon fiber, but I strove for a different, simple, classic look and I think I nailed it.   

I want to add a rally time-keeping setup in front of the passenger, for the occasional Friday night Time-Speed-Distance rally, but rally time-piece setups have went through the roof in price.  I’m not sure why hipsters want stopwatches.  I’ll probably make my own setup using cheap stopwatches. 

Yet, I’m far from done aesthetically.  I still need a rear deck, seat covers, etc., but I’m already enjoying the look of the car.

The wheels are probably my least favorite aesthetic, they just don’t match the time period of the rest of the car. The wheels were free, leftovers from my (long-sold) BMW M3. But, because the bolt pattern is a classic Chevy bolt pattern, I think I can easily downgrade to period-correct(ish) cheap steel wheels. I bet I can sell the M3 wheels for what new Chevy wheels will cost me.

Back to thankfulness, most importantly, my family enjoy the car.  Well, when they wear sunglasses. Even with fenders and a windshield those sticky M3 tires throw a lot of junk into the air.  My boy went for a ride, sans sunglasses, and I felt bad because he was rubbing his eyes a lot (five minute drive).  But, with sunglasses on, they all like the car. More so when I’m sliding it around a little. The rear tires spin easily.

I need to find a parking lot, or field, where I can have a little fun without fear of receiving a traffic violation fine (or three).  I want the kids to get those big smiles, and I want to have some fun too. 

Wanted, one donut friendly parking lot.  There’s off-highway recreational areas for 4×4 vehicles, why can’t they devote a parking lot to on-asphalt fun?  We need a parking lot where donuts are allowed.  Can I run for public office with that intention?

One issue I haven’t resolved is my windshield wiper.  Over forty mph my Model A windshield wiper rises into the air and starts waving at passing traffic. Humorous, but annoying.

And yet, I have a real complaint about the Locost. It’s an old man complaint.  It’s still way too loud!  I’ve already put a larger muffler on it, and I still can’t talk to my passenger or hear my stereo if I touch the gas pedal. I will put another larger and (hopefully) quieter muffler on it.  But they’re not easy to find.  

Almost all round mufflers aren’t technically “mufflers” but “resonators”, which lack the baffling of mufflers.  And car people aren’t much help. Apparently I’m odd, because every time I find a muffler with great reviews, I start reading the comments and they’re almost all to the effect of, “I love how this muffler pisses my neighbors off and raises the dead when I drive past the cemetery”.

All-in-all, the Locost seems to be a pleasure to drive.  I’m even starting to not worry about it breaking. I’ve read 500 miles is a good “sorting” period. I’m almost a fifth of the way there.  I need to put the seat time in, and then enjoy this car.  Dates with my wife, hangouts with my kids, cars and coffee meets, autocross races, the All British Field Meet, local car shows, TSD rallies, drives with friends, etc..  

Goodbye garage, here I come adventure (God willing).
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