Lotus Elise on California Coast

California Coast

I decided to visit my mother who lives in Washington State, near the end of Highway 101. (Highway 101 follows the Pacific Coast up through California, Oregon, and Washington. Once it reaches the northern portion of Washington, it follows the coast East and even continues back down South along Puget Sound.)

I left at 9:00am headed for Golden Gate Bridge and Highway 1 or 101, where I picked up 1 after crossing the bridge. I encountered many turns, lots of speed limits, uneven road, some views of ocean, and if it were not for the traffic, a perfect Elise road.

Every time I encountered an Elise enthusiast, one of the first questions was if the car lives up to its reputation and if it really handles as well as everyone says it does. I thought about how to describe the handing of the Elise.  How to put it into words. Perhaps if I found a good expression each day that I drove it a significant distance. What happened during the day that provided such enjoyment?

Later road opened up and there were more straights and wider turns.

One fantastic section as road left coast and went up and down through a series of tight valleys, for 22 miles.  It was a new road, wide, as it wound through redwood groves, along a creek, and up a long grade. I did not encounter a single car going my direction until the last 1/4 mile and they pulled over immediately.  It was one of those Zen experiences. 

Perhaps this was one of the experiences that gives an indication of what it is like to drive an Elise. The Elise allowed me to position the car in the turn with no constant correction of the wheel.   Look and go.  The adhesion limit is higher because confidence in car and ability to translate the corner as I viewed it into the path I determined the car should take.  It was 40 minutes of bliss.

I drove until 5 and only covered a bit over 300 miles! Since it was all slow turns, I felt like it was a real accomplishment! I stopped in Eureka, near Oregon border.

Lotus Elise on Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast, early morning

The next morning I started at 5:00am.  

Oregon has different style along the coast, a bit farther from the coast, much straighter, and it only drops down when there are significant inlets of the ocean.  I cruised with Cadillac CTS. The driver was good and very quick, and we covered a lot of ground. 

Once again I considered how to describe the handing of the Elise.  I enjoyed shifting the transition and keeping the motor in the power band was enjoyable. It added to the ability to cover more road but it was more difficult to learn to do correctly.  Because the number of gears and spacing it was sometimes confusing as to which gear I was in and where the lever should go next, depending on if I was accelerating or slowing. It is not so much that the gear shift is vague, but more that you have to learn the need to shift based on revs and need for acceleration and the psychokinesis of how and where to move the shift lever. Add to the need to move the clutch and effect smooth gear changes and it is a lot to learn in a new car.

The car was getting dirty because of heavy mist, dirt on the road, and passing close to ocean in places.  I found salt deposits on body. I stopped in Cannon Beach to visit a cousin for a moment, saw a 53 Studebaker that was absolutely magnificent as it was perfectly modified but still retaining the original Lowery design.  An automotive photographer wanted to take pictures of my car and 53 and promised to email copies to me. 

I finished the days trip at Seaside, Oregon, adding another 600 miles. 

Lotus Elise on Oregon Coast

I left Seaside at 6:00 and headed for Fort Klatsop, the winter resting point of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery.  I wanted to take a picture of the car in the same spot the NSX was at the end of its last journey.  There was not enough light so I ended up taking a time exposure and will have to wait and see how it turned out. 

Fort Clatsop with the Lotus Elise

I crossed over the Columbia River and headed up 101 into Washington.

Gravel road!  Soon after entering Washington, I encountered a portion of the highway that was recently oiled and coated with a heavy layer of sharp rock.  As I entered, I reduced speed, got passed going both ways and sprayed with rock. I even saw rock bouncing ahead of me after getting bounced up from my own wheels! I wondered long I would need to travel with these conditions. After five minutes I turned around and tried to get off the track.  Agony!  Some damage, about five or six nicks but only one where white paint or glass was showing through. 

I got gas, called home, and drove east instead, towards Longview.  I found I could reconnect with 101 and so I traveled central west Washington up to Aberdeen.  It was a nice trip, not many curves, and not eventful.  No clear reason why the Elise shines in this situation but it was a fun drive. I arrived Lacey, where my mother lives, at 11:00am.

I washed car and examined it for damage.  I was philosophical about the car's appearance and thought again if I should reconsider clear coating the front of the car. I believe a car is meant to be used and should show a patina of this use. It is part of the experience and the condition of the car tells a tale. I thought about how much fun it will be to repaint the car at some future time in an unusual color or scheme (Type 25)  The alternative is a clear plastic coating. I do not like the edges of the one piece of clear bra in front of the rear wheels, the yellowing and lack of real shine that results from the user of a plastic shield.  I decided I still feel comfortable with the decision to not add clear plastic to front.  I thought of my NSX and the trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail. I remembered when the Corvette got a window scratched from same trip, due to dirt on the wiper.  Cars are meant to be used! Would I avoid gravel roads in the future and is this just a case of new car protecting?

dew on a Lotus Elise

Car spent the last three days hidden in a garage. I have been driving Mom’s Accord, a luxury car, chuckle.

Tomorrow I am going to visit Dan, my college roomate. The car is noticed as I travel on the West side of the Olympic Peninsula. Dan wants to go for a ride to experience the rush.

Talked to one of my brothers, who races cars and works for a racing team.  He has an open track session on Monday at Pacific International Raceway, and is looking to see if he can get me in.  I worry that I have no safety gear but he offers to loan me some.  I also worry because I do not even have my fire extinguisher mounted.  I am a safety fanatic. I even wear my fire suit for open track events, and always have an extinguisher on board, even when driving on the street.  I have not had time to consider where to mount it in the limited room in the car and so left it to finish installing it upon my return.

I also did not know the course, or the quality of other cars on the track, and the format of the event. I decided that I was not comfortable and did not push for entry. It maybe fun to just go and watch, but I would love to get it on the track early and understand the car. The track is very technical and it would have been fun.

When I arrived, the Elise got a lot of attention.  Michael was out on track marking the passing zones.  Upon his return, he noticed the Elise immediately. We talked for a bit and he tried on the car.  The drivers’ meeting was easy and I was surprised because they expected all the people to have run there before and to know the turns on the track.  It appeared that many did not.  Some novice drivers hired a private instructor for portions of the day.  They ran only one group but shut it down from time to time to avoid the red mist.

I watched Michael for a bit as he instructed.  He was a bit more forward and helpful than I expected but then I have never seen him in this environment.   Most of the coaching crew were a bit laid back.  I watched for about an hour and was impressed with how the novices were handled.  I was happy to see Michael in his element. I decided to leave after the first session and headed north to visit another brother, Richard.

dew on a Lotus Elise

I left and headed North.  I followed the secondary roads along the foothills of the Cascades as I skirted Seattle to the West.  I thought about shifting more as I was doing it more frequently and was learning again how to tell what gear I was in. 

NOTE:  Shifting is not intuitive like the steering is.  You have to consider which gear you are in and even while you may know if it is at the top or bottom of the H, it is often difficult to tell which direction to press, to transition the horizontal portion of the H.  3-4 is easy as there is no loading to either side.  To go from 4-5, you need to push against the horizontal portion of the H.  Same for a down shift from 3 to 2.  It is also a bit difficult to feel the synchros working and it requires a high rev to shift up and catch the revs dropping in the next gear.  It also felt like it was almost ready to pop out of first. However, I think I was just anticipating and putting pressure to pull the gear out of first, allowing a clutch release to free the shift and for it to go the rest of the way, out of first.

Shifting a six speed transmission, with three spots above and below the H, requires some thought.  Worse, some shifts are loaded to the center and it is only 3-4 that have no preload to get in and require a preload to get out.  How nice it would be to have a sequential gearbox with a torque sensing differential!  It will take some learning to get the shifts correct.  You almost have to remember where you were last rather than counting on the speed to tell you what gear you are in.  The wide rev range of the engine hides the gear, and when you are in fifth and sixth, it is difficult to tell unless you look at the shift knob position. I know intellectually I can go into 2 at any speed under 60mph but cannot tell from speed and revs where the best place is to go immediately.  I have been forcing myself to not skip gears and am amazed at how far I have to go sometimes to get a good rev result.

I followed the road up past Sedro Woolley on Highway 20.  I went as high as the power plant (Nailam) and ran into a long wait to pass a slide.  I turned and returned to Bellingham.

I spent Tuesday with Richard as we followed North Cascade Road to Mt. Baker. We decided to take his car because he was worried about getting car sick.  It was an amazing road and ended up almost above tree line.  A storm front hit at the same time we arrived, making it very dramatic with wind, clouds, and the high elevation. The twists and turns getting to the top were exciting, with long drop offs on the downhill side. While the Elise would be fun on the turns, I did not relish the idea of dropping off the side!

Lotus Elise on ferry

Ferry ride from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend

On Friday, I drove down Whidbey Island to the Port Townsend ferry.  I followed 101 to Port Angles and had lunch at the Three Crabs. Took 101 back to Olympia, along west coast of Hood Canal. 

Lotus Elise at the Three Crabs

Three Crabs Restaurant parking on Puget Sound

NOTE:  Thought some more about shifting.  I thought about trying to keep the revs in the 5700-8600 rpm range as I went up through the gears.  Almost 3000 miles and I still have not stirred the gearbox in real anger.  I performed a couple of good accelerations from stop to 70mph but that only gets me two gears and first does not cross over second, according to shift chart. I do not and will never do a standing start. I think it is abusive to the clutch and power train, and serves no real purpose. I am content to get the car rolling before adding a lot of throttle.

Lotus Elise on ferry

Saturday, I drove from Washington back home to California. The trip was uneventful for almost 700 miles. However, upon leaving Interstate 5 for the Bay Area, I hit a patch of concrete roadway that pummeled the car. The car and I were unhappy for the last hour of the trip, amazing considering that I had driven the car for almost 2,000 miles with no problems.

dew on a Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise along Hood Canal