Chevy 350-Powered Lotus Elite Fails To Dominate Race, Nobody Shocked

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

On paper, a super-lightweight Lotus with a genuine ’68 Corvette 350 and Muncie 4-speed ought to eat up a road course; just go onto any online forum full of self-proclaimed car experts and they’ll tell you exactly that. Reality, on the other hand… well, reality doesn’t always live up to the expectations of internet car experts.

24 Hours of LeMons aficionados have seen this played out many times (e.g., the terrible LeMons C4 Corvette and the even more terrible LeMons Subaru SVX), and so we all took a deep breath when we saw the B-Team’s engine-swapped Lotus Elite at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza BS Inspection.

The B-Team goes pretty far back in LeMons history. They showed up for their first race in early 2009 with the type of car that bores LeMons organizers the most ( BMW E30) and the 11th version of a way-overdone TV-show-based theme.

However, they executed their theme— unoriginal as it was— quite well, and they were reasonably clean drivers. We became accustomed to the B-Team as veteran, usually hassle-free regulars in the West Coast LeMons Region.

Then, early in 2010, they showed up to a race with a top-notch new theme: the Pussy Wagën from Kill Bill, complete with costumes. Since my street name is Phil— dating back to my days as “Warlord” for the East Side Alameda Locos— they called their team “Kill Phil.”

I liked the B-Team’s new look so much that I hung their portrait in my office, right next to the extra-unsavory LBJ campaign poster and behind the illuminated Opel Manta Leuchtbild. But still, much as I like this team, they were racing a Bavarian Boredomwagen.

Until weekend before last, that is. Sometime between the end of the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 at Infineon and the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, the B-Team acquired an Elite into which some mid-70s mechanical genius had stuffed an allegedly Corvette-sourced 350 small-block and Muncie 4-speed. They managed to get a LeMons-legal cage into the thing (which is no small feat, given that the Elite has about as much substance as a gingerbread house), but they didn’t have time to get it, you know, running prior to the race.

Engines that sit for decades often don’t work so well when revived, and the small-block Chevy turns out to be particularly ill-suited to all-weekend-long road-race abuse. By the morning before the race, the B-Team had managed to get the “Chotus’s” engine fired up, sort of. All that oil smoke wasn’t a good sign, but they persevered.

They tried to take it out onto the track for some Friday prerace practice, but the car crapped out after a few hundred yards. No problem, though— that’s what all-night wrenching sessions are for!

Saturday morning came, and the green flag waved. Where’s the Chotus? Finally, the car clattered onto the track around noon. Hmmm… is it supposed to smoke that bad?

No, it’s not.

So, back to the pits for some more work.

To their credit, nobody on the B-Team was heard mentioning comparisons between the Chotus and their E30, in spite of the fact that the Pussy Wagën had been a consistent top-ten contender.

The engine was burning oil out of one bank while under load, which many paddock bystanders (myself included) told the B-Teamers was fairly strong evidence for bad oil rings on at least one piston on that side of the engine. However, the B-Team decided that the problem must be a bad intake-manifold gasket.

You know what? They were right! Once they fixed the gasket (and the distributor, and the carburetor, and the fuel pump, and probably several dozen other things), they managed to get the car onto the track on Sunday, knocking out a not-so-bad 68 total laps.

That was good enough for 117th overall (out of 131 entries), and the invented-for-the-occasion Least From The Most trophy (not to mention slam-dunk Legends of LeMons status, whenever I get around to doing the 2011 awards). You can read the B-Team’s story in their own words here. Good work, B-Team!










Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • ShitHead It kicked on one time for me when a car abruptly turned into my lane. Worked as advertised. I was already about to lean into the brake as I was into the horn.
  • Theflyersfan I look at that front and I have to believe that BMW and Genesis designers look at that and go "wow...that's a little much." Rest of the car looks really good - they nailed the evolution of the previous design quite well. They didn't have to reinvent the wheel - when people want a Mustang, I don't think they are going to cross-shop because they know what they want.
  • Theflyersfan Winters go on around Halloween and Summers go on in late March or early April. However, there were some very cold mornings right after the summers went on that had me skidding a bit due to no grip! I do enough (ahem) spirited driving on empty hilly/mountain roads to justify a set of sticky rubber, and winters are a must as while there isn't much snow where I am (three dustings of snow this entire winter), I head to areas that get a bit more snow and winter tires turns that light, RWD car into a snow beast!
  • SCE to AUX My B5.5 was terrible, but maybe the bugs have been worked out of this one.
  • Zerofoo 5-valve 1.8T - and OK engine if you aren't in a hurry. These turbocharged engines had lots of lag - and the automatic transmission didn't help.Count on putting a timing belt on this immediately. The timing belt service interval, officially, was 100,000 miles and many didn't make it to that.
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