Lotus Viva GT History
A few Viva HB owners are now playing with the lotus 900 series engine in the front of our Vivas, be it the whole engine or just the head bolted to the Vauxhall unit. As part of the restoration of my GT (KGT 455G) the engine at some point or other needed looking at. To cut a long story short, the original 2000cc engine was scrap, having a crack in the block and some deep scores in the bores that would of required some expensive liners to rescue it.
A replacement engine was needed and the opportunity arose to look at other engines that “fit” (a loose term!) into the GT, from searching the internet and knowledge of cars I have over the years I knew the Lotus engine was an increasingly popular alternative. The Lotus engine is now almost ready to fit, but instead of showing you what I have done this time around I thought I would digress a bit to explain some of the history of the Lotus engine and its close relationship with the Viva GT. There is much on the Internet about the lotus 900 series engine and much of the following is taken from the Internet and the present owner of RAH 713F (a GT originally owned by Lotus).
900 Series Engine Development by Mick Rainbird
In 1968(ish) Lotus decided that the latest Vauxhall 2.0 litre canted engine design was similar to their new proposed engine to suit the Lotus Excel/ Eclat. Lotus purchased from General Motors a new Vauxhall Viva GT registration number RAH 713F
The existing 2.0 litre engine was removed (I purchased this engine from Lotus) and a prototype engine was installed, this engine had a cast iron block and a new all alloy cylinder head with 16 valves, normally aspirated with twin Webber DCOE 45s, the engine performed quite well with just a few minor problems, I believe some of these engines were raced quite successfully.
I believe this was either a Lotus 904 engine but more likely a Lotus 905, for more on the various engines see this link
A few months later the first all aluminium engine was installed into the Viva, in the early stages the liners worked loose, with cylinder head gasket failures and after a few thousand miles the piston rings allowed too much oil to be consumed, plus a few other minor problems, however all of these development problems were sorted.
This will of been either the 906 or more likley the 907 engine, for more on the various engines see this link
Also around 1969-1970 a further test vehicle was purchased in the form of a Bedford van, a new Lotus prototype all aluminium engine was fitted into the van, these vans were quite sluggish in standard form, I understand that the drivers of the van had quite a few motorists of the day amazed at the increased performance of this vehicle.
During 1970 the Viva was involved in a collision with a ditch and the off side wing and front of the car was damaged, due to the extent of the Damage Lotus decided to sell the viva minus the engine, as I was already in possession of the original Vauxhall engine I promptly purchased the viva, repaired the body work and installed original unit.
Shortly after this I was able to buy one of the all aluminium development engines with a few gaskets (these only fitted the development engines) I owned this car for many years and covered some 130,000 miles, performance, well in those days it was quite staggering. The only down side to the engine, it got too old and tired and as it was a development engine some new parts would not fit.
Mike then sold the car onto a chap called Andrew Payton, who also wrote about the car in the Viva Owners Magazine in March 1987. His account does contradict some of Mike’s words, but we are talking about things that happened in the early 1970’s and that’s 40 plus ago now.
My Lotus Viva GT RAH 713F by Andrew Payton
Back in the late sixties Lotus Cars of GT. Britain were locking for a way into the two litre market. The requirement was for an entirely new engine to power a new 2+2 sports car, still a twinkle in the designers eyes; later to be called ELITE.
Vauxhall had recently started production of their new two litre slant four units, Lotus were quick to realise the strength and potential of the slant four and in an attempt to lower tooling and manufacturing costs associated with designing an engine from scratch they used the basic design of the Vauxhall unit to assist development; this was to be called project “LOTUS VAUXHALL 220” (220 standing for 220 BHP).
Project “LV 220” started with the requirement to produce a racing engine for their TYPE 47 chassis. For this Lotus kept the cast iron bottom end and set about the design and development of a sixteen valve, twin cam aluminium
cylinder head. This was developed still further and was later fitted to the then new TYPE 63 racer (an overgrown Lotus Europa).
Lotus were by now certain of the units potential and were already in the process of producing a road going version of the engine. To assist road trials Lotus purchased a Viva GT chassis no. V157303 registered on 21 June 68 no.
RAH 713F. To this they fitted a cast iron block with a de-tuned 16 valve twin cam head with down draught configuration Garbs designated “905” this was to be a one off. Things didn’t go too well and so the head was given the elbow.
I believe it was about this time that a young accountant drove round a corner on the wrong side of the road and met an oncoming bus, the following encounter with the embankment meant that the car required a new shell.
RAH 713F lost its first shell in this shunt and was now on shell number two.
By this time the cylinder head troubles had been ironed out and the bottom end moulded in aluminium, this new side draught configurated engine was to be given the title “907”.
It was to “RAH” that 907/007 was fitted. It would be difficult to portray “RAH’s” life with Lotus. ,From chatting with ex Lotus workers who remember the car for it’s ability to crab up the road sideways once full throttle was applied, it was probably a hard one.
Due to it’s ability to perform such stunts Lotus found it necessary to modify the cars suspension in an attempt to tame the chassis and get those 170 horses (or more!) down onto the road in a more even fashion. These included the usual top wishbone mod, rear roll bar and shock absorbers. Up until recently I believed the front brakes to be of VX 4/90 origin but turn out to be almost twice as thick! Other items such as battery tray were changed and a modified (ultra, close gate) gear linkage fitted.
RAH was being used as a company pool car in an attempt to get some miles on the engine when it’s day with the company ended. Having been seperated from it’s 907 engine the car was sold to Mr Mike Rainbird of Hingham, Norfolk, who persuaded Lotus to part with the engine which was promptly re-fitted. Mike Rainbird had quite a lengthy partnership with RAH 713F spanning some 10 years. In this time Mike required RAH to tow his boats about the county but the 907 had different ideas; It packed up in protest.
The engine was sold on and a rover 3.5 V8 squeezed into the engine compartment to carry on were the 907 left off.
It wasn’t until early 84 that I heard about the 907 engine, Mike had advertised it on behalf of it’s owner in this very newsletter. Since being removed from RAH, it’s bottom end had been rebuilt and fitted to a Toyota Celica for a rather short lived experience (2 weeks).
The advert finished “offers” so under the circumstances I turned the page. About late 84 whilst trying to scrounge some V8 bits off Mike, the fact that the 907 was still on offer came about. A couple of phone canes later I was due to pick it up that following Sunday.
Mike was very possessive about RAH and it wasn’t until later in 85 that I managed to twist his arm enough (or was it offer enough money?) to persuade him to part with his beloved. It’s here that this episode comes to a close. RAH is now gutted, it requires a fair amount of work including a new engine bulkhead. 907/007 is stripped, no serious abnormalities are evident so things look promising.
In it’s heyday the car was said to accelerate from rest to sixty in 6.2 seconds 1/4 mile came up in approx 12 seconds travelling at some 110 miles/hour, the rev limiter came in at 6750 rpm which equalled 125 mph but would do this five up and a bag of cement without protest.
That was it for a few years until Andy Thomas bought the RAH 713F off Andrew. The shell was rotten and the V8 had seen the bulk head moved about. Andy took the decision to re shell RAH 713F into another HB GT shell around 1990, so the car was onto its third shell.
In early 2013 I was contacted by Andy who was bringing RAH out of long term storage (since 1991) and had seen my GT at Retropower. Needless to say Andy has some work to do on his GT to get it back up to MOT standard. he still has the Development Lotus engine in his loft, and I look forward to seeing this restored back to the car.
I hope that rounds off some of the history of this car and explains why I wanted a Lotus engine in my GT.