Red Hose Syndrome

Many Esprit owners, especially those that live in warm climates like Texas, have complained that their gear changing becomes more difficult on extremely warm days.

There are different theories as to why it is that some Esprits gears (especially reverse) become difficult to engage when the car is driven in hot weather. Most of these revolve around the choice Lotus made for clutch line tubing.

The clutch line tubing travels between the master and slave cylinders. Apparently, the tubing material becomes softer at high temperatures. When this happens, hydraulic pressure is wasted as the fluid expands the walls of the tubing when the clutch pedal is pressed. This wasted pressure reduces the amount of travel of the slave cylinder and results in the clutch not being fully disengaged. Many cars do not have synchros on reverse gear, so this gear becomes particularly difficult to engage.

Although other cars, like the Cortina, seem to use the same clutch line tubing without problems, several factors contribute to making this a problem on the Esprit. Firstly, the tubing on the Esprit is approximately 3 meters long. This longer distance provides a larger surface area where the problem may manifest. Also, mid-engine cars traditionally have hotter engine bays because of air circulation. The heat problem becomes even worse on the Turbo Esprit, due to the turbocharger and the body under-tray. Lotus Engineers denied for years that the hose was the source of any shifting problems on the Esprit and the verdict is still out. However, after a British TV show exposed the problem to the world, Lotus has now chosen to use stainless steel braided hoses for newer cars.

Replacing the clutch line with a steel braided one can, in many cases, solve the problem. Dave Bean sells the replacement lines for around $75US including shipping. Replacing the red hose is easy. The new line has the correct fittings and the length is almost right (could have been about 8 inches shorter). Here are some notes from my red hose replacement:

I didn't remove my red hose from the car. I simply removed all the fluid from it by disconnecting both ends and blowing air through it. I then capped both ends.

I started at the front of the car. I attached the line to the master cylinder. I had to slightly enlarge one (and only one) of the existing holes on the floor of the front compartment with a rasp. The hole was for one of the brake lines exiting the bottom of the brake master cylinder. I also used rubber spacers to hold the line in place and keep it from rubbing against the edges of the hole and the adjacent brake line.

The red hose is routed through the front box of the chassis. The access holes are at an angle that very difficult to work with. Since the connector on the new hose is bigger, these holes would have to be enlarged. This is what made me decide to keep the red hose in place. Instead I attached the new line to the underneath side of the box using the same kind of clips that were used to hold the brake lines in the same area. I wasn't concerned about the hose being "exposed" in this position. The ground clearance is such, that other areas would scrape first if you were to bottom out before the hose would get damaged. If you bottom out the car this far anyway, you've got bigger problems to worry about.

There are metal tabs that are welded along the backbone of the chassis that hold the red hose in place along the length of the car. I used a screwdriver to bend these out (the metal is quite malleable). I then threaded the new line alongside the red hose along this path and bent the tabs back to clamp the line(s) in place.

I removed the belly pan, so I could route the line in this area neatly. The pan is very easy to remove. Only ten screws hold it in place. BTW: I talked to a Lotus mechanic that recommends always removing this pan when removing the oil filter to keep the unavoidable oil spill from collecting on top of it and leaking through all the little holes.

I then connected the new line to the slave cylinder and tie-rapped the red hose to the new line along this last bit to keep it from coming loose and flopping around.

By keeping the red line in place, I can revert back the old red hose and keep my SS braided hose so I can install it on my next Esprit (whenever that happens).

The replacement hose took under an hour to install. The two hardest parts of the job were:

  • figuring out how to jack up the front of the car properly so I could work underneath the front safely.
    disconnecting the red hose from the master cylinder. It was attached very tightly and space is very cramped due to the brake booster being in the way.
  • Bleeding the clutch afterwards took me many frustrating hours. I had just purchased an EZ-Bleed kit and I hadn't figured out how to keep the fluid from leaking by being forced out through the threads of the cap. I finally figured out that the secret was to use two of the supplied washers together. This formed the proper seal to allow me to bleed the system. After this, it really was EZ to do.

If this doesn't solve your shifting problem, you may need a new master or slave cylinder, release bearing, pressure plate, or clutch. But, aren't you glad you tried the cheap stuff first?

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Speaking of shifting gears: on the newer Renault gearbox, it feels like there is a 2-foot travel for the 1-2 shift. Lotus improved this starting with the S4. If you have an SE, some people have made a fix to improve the shift feel by rerouting the shift cables and shift mechanism on the opposite side of the gearbox.

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Improved Gearchange

Through the 97MY Esprit V8, the cable-driven gearchange mechanism involved a part known as a translator. The cables, one each for the x and y movement of the shifter, attached to the translator and this in turn and through a series of complex movements converted the shifter position into the appropriate gear selection. The translator was a fussy piece of hardware. It was easy to have out of adjustment which directly impacted shift feel. If the adjustment was further off it prohibited the ability to select gears at all.

All this was much improved for the 98MY Esprit. On this year, Lotus removed the translator all together. Modifications to the gearbox itself were minimal. Mostly rear cap and associated parts were changed. Although the service manuals advise against it from a cost effective vantage point, there is no reason why it should not be possible to upgrade older gearchange mechanism to the newer style. So far, no one has taken the challenge. This is mostly due to the fact that, in addition to the components at the gearbox, new shift cables and a new shifter mechanism are also required to complete the modification.

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Reverse Collar Stuck

For Esprits from 89MY to 93MY, there is a small collar below the shift knob that must be lifted in order to select the reverse gear. Sometimes, it appears that the collar stays in the UP position once you shift out of reverse. Usually giving the collar a slight turn causes it to lower again. However, if you turn the collar in the wrong direction to lower it you could cause problems. To understand why, lets first see how the collar works.
Click here to see a drawing of the 89MY to 93MY gear lever.

The shifter knob has a small white plastic piece on the bottom-left side of the lift tube. (The "lift tube" is the outer portion of the shift lever that moves up and down when you lift on the reverse collar.)

The white plastic piece is known as the reverse inhibitor pin. It normally rubs against the side of a fixed metal plate located by the bottom-left side of the shift mechanism base. This metal plate is known as... you guessed it, the reverse inhibitor plate. Normally, when you lift on the collar, the pin rises enough to clear the plate and allows you to move the lever further left so that reverse can be selected. If, however, the pin is missing, or the shift lever is mounted too high, there will be nothing to protect reverse from being selected. (I'd hate to hear what that would sound like at 50MPH! ).

The base of the lift tube has two downward-facing pins (locating roll pins) that straddle a piece of metal that is part of the gear mechanism base. If the collar is rotated slightly while in the UP position, one of these two pins will rest on top of this piece of metal instead of beside it and the collar will stay up.

If you are slightly mechanically-inclined, you may be able fix this problem yourself. First you will need to remove the leather trim panel from the center console. Then remove the screws that hold the rubber gaiter (boot) in place.

Look into the linkage mechanism below and check if the reverse inhibitor pin is there. If it isn't, you will have to buy a replacement. It is, make sure that it *just* clears the plate only when you lift the collar. If it clears it even when the collar is down, then you need to adjust the shift lever height. Do this by loosening the bolt on the right side at the base of the lever. move the lever down to the proper height as described above and re-tighten the bolt.

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