The Atlanta Saga – Part 6

April 11

I need to find a way to get the car fixed. I’m not going to get out on the track at Barber unless I get it fixed. Without a fix, the rest of the trip is done. No Andersonville, no Shiloh. No Carter Museum or Clinton Museum. Can I even drive the car home like this?

Lotus of Atlanta

First thing in the morning I got online and looked up Lotus of Atlanta. They open at 8, so I waited until about 5 after and gave them a call. I got the message that their voicemail box was full and I couldn’t leave a message. Perhaps they’re busy and couldn’t pick up the phone. I waited a while and tried again. Same result. I did a Google search and found a different phone number, where only the last digit was different. I called that number and got through. How long have they had the wrong number on their website, and what does it say about their general competence? Just wondering.

I talked to a service writer and explained my dilemma: I’m 1300 miles from home with a car that keeps blowing a fuse. Is there any way you can take care of me? The short answer was “Tough shit”. To be fair, he explained that their tech was going on vacation starting Thursday (or perhaps it was “after Thursday”) and he already had a line of cars to work on. There’s just no way they can get me in.

So I asked if he could suggest a Plan B. “Well, you could drop the car off and leave it here until Thursday and maybe we could get it done.” As I said, I’m 1300 miles from home, and being here without a car is not a good option. Can he suggest another shop that might be able to help? “No, I don’t know of anybody anywhere near here that can work on your car.” I get that it would be bad business for him to recommend a competitor under normal circumstances when the customer can just wait a while. But I’m not in normal circumstances. Their lack of compassion was striking. Not even a platitude.

The Odyssey

It’s a Toyota engine, so I headed to the nearest Toyota dealer. I drew a big crowd when I pulled into line. This dealer is quite busy. The advisor I talked to said they average more than 250 cars a day in their service department. He told me it was a slow day and they could get right to me.

Only one or two of their advisors knew the Elise had a Toyota motor.

I explained what was going on and they said they’d take a look at it, with the usual diagnostic charge that would be waived if I did whatever work they recommended. To take it from the service desk to the shop, a young gal got behind the wheel. One of the advisors asked if she knew how to drive a stick. She said she did. She stalled it three times before she got it going. After the third try, I hollered out, “No pressure! Nobody is watching!” Of course, everyone was watching. When she did manage to go without stalling, she went like a rocket.

A couple of hours later, they came to give me the bad news. They had no idea what the issue was. The harness isn’t Toyota, the ECM isn’t Toyota, and they can’t do much without a wiring diagram, and anything they suggest would just be a guess. They did provide a guess, though: the oil control valves. There are two, each goes for about $200 and the labor would put me in the thousand-dollar range. That’s pretty ballsy. “We just admitted we don’t know anything about your problem, but we’re willing to charge you a grand on something anyway!”

One of the advisors asked the other if he remembered the name of some British guy that worked on Lotus and used to come in for parts. He might be able to help. They never did come up with his name, but one said I should go to Robinson Racing, which is not far away. The guy there, Barry, would know the British guy. So off I went.

The address he gave me turned out to be a building housing a Jeep shop. I would say “bustling” Jeep shop but even though there were a couple of dozen Jeeps there, the place seemed deserted. I went in anyway. I spotted the race car that the Toyota advisor showed me on his phone, so I figured I was in the right spot. I called out “Hello” and Barry came out from behind a car and greeted me. Yes, this was Robinson Racing, but he sold the building a while back and he’s down to being a one-man shop, mostly doing fabrication. He couldn’t help me, he had no clue about any British guy and suggested I go to the building next door and talk to the vintage Porsche guys. So off I went.

They have a big semi out front with the name Vintage Racing Company. I “Hello”ed again and this time was greeted by a chap formerly from South Africa. He was busy with something but was quickly on the phone with someone who I assume was his boss. He put him on speaker and I answered some questions: What kind of car? What year? and a couple more. He didn’t know anybody but told the South African to have Matt call around for me. We went inside and found Matt. I let him make his calls while I ogled all the old and not-so-old Porsche race cars.

A few minutes later, he told me he tried to get hold of two guys. One was on an airplane and the other was in a business meeting. He said I should wait a while for one of them to call back.

Next, I met a guy who was just visiting the shop. He used to work there and the other guys kept giving him grief for one thing or another. He was curious about my problem. I showed him the list of fault codes and he poked around here and there and looked up the codes he didn’t already know. His suspicion is that it’s a bad solenoid.

Matt came back outside with a Google maps printout. He said I should reach out to Hyper Sport Engineering-Lotus and talk to a guy named Kirt. I had him spell that. It’s the same Kirt I talked to at the track. He wasn’t much help at the track, but he was busy with his own work. What harm is there in reaching out to him again? Perhaps in his shop he could work some magic. I dialed the number. “We’re sorry. The number you dialed is no longer in service.” I found another number after a little googling, but that number turned out to be the firehouse for engine number 10. Sorry, wrong number.

Further searches led me to believe Hyper Sport Engineering-Lotus is no more. When I first talked to him, he did say he used to build Exige race cars. Past tense.

I also reached out to Ryan at Blue Chip to see if he knew anybody in this neighborhood. He asked a bunch of questions. He had a list of possibilities. An oil control solenoid could be drawing too much amperage. Later he said he had a hunch that there is a chafed wire somewhere or an issue with the alternator. He, too, reached out to Dave Simkins. I bet Dave is getting tired of people telling him about my car. (His suggestion: visit the local Lotus dealer.)

Michael’s first suggestion when the first one blew was that there is a wire shorting out. I’m generally clueless about these things, but it seems to me a short would fit with the fact that it doesn’t matter whether I’m on the second cam or not and that it has failed upon startup and also when cruising. In any event, it doesn’t look like I’m going to find an answer in time to salvage the rest of the trip.

I went back to Jayne and Dan’s and did a load of laundry. For dinner, I met a colleague I’ve worked with over the last year and a half. We ate at a place called Butcher & Brew. I had the roasted beef birria sandwich and a couple of pints of lime gose. Very tasty.

I probably spent two hours driving from place to place on today’s odyssey and with the hour’s drive after the track, it’s been about three hours of operation since the last fuse went. Nobody is going to be able to troubleshoot it without the wiring diagram. The car isn’t going to get fixed.

What are my options?

One thought on “The Atlanta Saga – Part 6

  1. Lotus (actually Motorcars) of ATL used to send a bunch of the their cars to Jason Pannell, who currently is a full time cop and part time mechanic specializing in Aston Martin (which Motorcars of ATL is a dealer for) and Lotus but had his own shop a couple years ago. He fixed the same problem for me. Then they tried to rekindle their Lotus business and had up to 3 guy who could work on Lotus. I guess they gave up again on being an active Lotus dealer. Too bad you did not reach out to the Lotus Southeast group on Facebook. You would have gotten suggestions for Pannell (who is generally booked a couple months out but may have been able to slip you in) or Jason Harris (another private Lotus mechanic).

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