BEING 80’S COOL IS NO RISKY BUSINESS OR WEIRD SCIENCE, IT’S MORE ABOUT A LICENSE TO DRIVE COOL.
Words by Tony Matthews & Luke Gilbert for Superfly Autos
The golden 80’s have to be my favourite decade, as my childhood and teenage years were mostly spent riding bmx bikes with no helmets, watching epic movies like the ghosterbusters, Porky’s and Back to the future, to playing Mario Brothers on my Gameboy and heading down the local arcade to play SEGA Outrun. Man those times were just amazing and to me and when it came to cars, my two favourite had to be the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Testarossa. I remember the posters I had on my bedroom wall of these two and dreaming about owning them one day.
So we were super excited when we got to meet the owner of this SuperFly 80’s Lotus Elite, Luke Gilbert. It was clear from the get go that this cool dude was an 80’s geeza through and through. I mean take for example his vehicle off choice…something that isn’t the usual of what you see rolling the streets right. So as we started to snap away with the camera, the conversation started…
To fully appreciate this car and the ethos behind it explains Luke, we need to go way back to my childhood to try to understand the influences that have contrived to produce the car. I grew up in a golden age of children’s tv watching such legendary shows as The Banana Splits, The Monkees, The Red Hand Gang, Sesame Street, The Hairbear Bunch and many more. It’s here in amongst the subconscious child’s mind influenced by the cars, clothes, skateboards, roller-skates and pop socks that The Red Panther Slammed Lotus Elite was conceived.
In the preceding years and as I grew up I had always had the niggling question buzzing around my head of ‘Who built these cars?’ ‘Where did they come from?’, a question that had intensified and began to burn. So after some research it soon became clear that such epic names as George Barris, Ed Roth, Dean Jeffries, came to light and later on with the advent of Sky TV Boyd Coddington, Chip Foose and even recently with the Fast n’ Loud crew have all inspired me in my quest to produce a car that winks back at such legendary cars and builders.
And so after years of dreaming about owning such a car and as I had a few quid in my back pocket I started to look into working on cars to modify or at least work on. A style and vision soon developed, low and moody, big rims and detailing were my passion early on and although my skill set is far greater now than those early days, it’s a rhetoric I hold dear. I never build a car to follow scene or kudos, and I’m certainly not in it for the glory, my aim is to create a car that I like and build on classic hotrod principles, ‘make it look better, go faster!’ And if it happens to get acknowledged in the media so be it, but that isn’t my motivation.
I come from a design background and have always been into cars and the way that they look, anybody that knows me knows that I’m a completely frustrated car designer at heart! I mean I was drawing and designing cars from an early age and I could have quite easily followed a path into automotive design but one thing and led to another I ended up selling my soul to the devil and started a career as a commercial artist, what a waste!
Anyway once I had started to earn a living I began my odyssey into car modification and started dabbling with 60’s VW’s taking on other peoples builds and putting my own stamp on them, always low, moody and a wheel change, but I soon drifted away and started looking at other options namely 70s wedges and was lucky enough to find a local S2 Lotus Esprit in need of restoration. The plan was to slam it and I had started to ask questions as the best way to do this, but as the Esprit was just too damn original to mess with, sometimes you just have to respect a cars originality and leave it alone. But eventually I decided to sell and after a couple of years without a classic car the bug had began tugging on me again and the hunt for a new build was back on…
At this point, I’m starting to get curious as to what made Luke choose this 80’s fly Lotus and how did he actually get hold of one, as you don’t come by these that easily.
There’s an interesting story behind the purchase of the car says Luke. So I’d been without a classic car for a year or two and the itch had started to niggle again. So out came the laptop and the search was on. Couple of months had gone by and nothing had caught my eye and I was starting to lose a little faith, until my mind hit on the idea of stepping back into a 70’s Lotus wedge of which I had previously owned and restored a ’78 S2 Esprit.
So scratching around and looking in the usual places I came across a sorry looking red Lotus Elite sitting at the back of a house, paint faded, bumpers cracked, flat tyres, the most horrific botched interior you will ever see, you get the picture, but unfortunately miles away! So I called the guy, very nice bloke, started chatting away and I could tell from his description that the car was potentially a good one, although looking tired. So how to view the car? Well it just so happened that I was going on holiday to Italy and was flying from Stansted, which wasn’t too far away from the location of the car. So we arranged a time to view it just after I had landed, what time I hear you ask? Flippin’ 1am in the morning! Pitch black freezing cold and with a torch to hand I view the car, body straight as an arrow, recent chassis change and a well sounding running engine, needless to say, the deal was done and the start of an epic build was about to begin.
It was very tired and in need of much love, with badly faded paint, oxidised wheels, bumpers cracked, the most hideous interior you will ever see and mechanically in need of a new clutch. I had the car trailored home and once it was in my garage I wasted not second one and started to rip out all the crap that had accumulated over the years.
First big job was the clutch so I pulled the lump and changed that, with the engine out I changed all the internal seals and belts. The, I lowered the living daylights out of it, easy right?! Nah, three months of head scratching, grazed knuckles and I lost count of the times I crunched my head on the wheel arches! So how to lower it? Coilovers, lowering springs or what?!
I mulled over each method for a couple of weeks but it was obvious that the only way to stay true to my original shop’d photo and achieve the slam that I wanted was to install airbags, so that is the route I went down. Was it worth, hell yeah! Once it had been dropped and mechanically sound I turned my attention to the cosmetics which were seriously flagging.
The interior was awful, someone’s failed attempt to reupholster the entire interior that had simply gone wrong with very bad fit and hideous colour combination. So what to do? I spend the next 8 months trawling the internet until BAM! I hit the jackpot, an un-restored original interior in brilliant condition, needless to say it was on my drive the next day. However I still needed a six hour round trip to again find a perfect original condition dash and centre console all of which fitted beautifully. I could literally fill this magazine with all the little jobs I have completed on the car, hand crafted headliner, rails and pillars ( 2 months work), a custom fit carpet set (another months work) and endless details all handcrafted as I go. A massive amount of effort that has tested my patience and resolve to the very outer limits of my sanity. The effort has paid off though, it’s such a glorious place to be, continually surrounded by Giugiaro designed switches, knobs and dials, and the steering wheel is quite wonderfully epic, and those tombstone headrest seats! It’s a 70s time warp.
The first thing to mention when talking about the build and what I have personally worked on is, erm… everything! I made a conscious decision to try and complete as much of the build as possible myself, to learn new things as I go, make mistakes, take the grazed knuckles, bumped heads, sore knees, what ever it takes, me, myself and I was going to build this car! And too date not a single penny one has gone to external help. And it was at this point when I decided to unleash the Elite and my plans for it onto the unsuspecting public, I mean I was always very shy of any car forum and had not really participated on them (a few posts here and there) as I knew they can be a very scary place.
But this time I thought, no I’m going to have a build thread, open to criticisms, trolls and haters alike. But to my amazement (after releasing a shop’d photo of a ‘before and after’ of my plan for the car) from the very first post the replies were simple staggering. Particularly on the Retro Rides forum the response was amazing, so much positivity, encouragement and advise just purred in. To quote a member “There’s so much win around this thread it’s making me dizzy”. Comments like that do everything for the moral, at times when it’s all going pair shaped, when you’re up to your eyeballs in garage crap, when your tools disappear into the 5th dimension, tripping over power cables, but knowing you have a supportive audience that wants nothing but for you to succeed, really really helps. And it was here that the name ‘The Red Panther’ was conceived, again a nod back to hotrod car culture and the very similar swage lines found on the Elite and the legendary ‘Pink Panther’ car.
And by giving it a name and identity a personality evolved and it’s been a very simple and sympathetic way to engage with those that are interested. There’s been so many ups and downs, twists and turns it would be impossible to put them all down and rather than focusing on a negative I’ll give you an example of a positive, the moment when I very first pulled it out of the garage on all four wheels at it’s maximum ‘slam’. After months of blood sweat and tears, working out of a dingy old single garage where space is on the nano scale and where tools seem to jump in and out of a parallel universe I stood back and POW! There it was, bloody hell it looked good, it was from that moment that I knew I might be onto something special.
We definitely agree with Luke that he has something special as we at SuperFly are very specific when we search the world of the flyest cars on our planet and Luke’s ticks all the right boxes of coolness, with a twist of 80’s fresh.
Engine: Lotus 2.0 Litre, 160BHP, 4 piston on the slant twin cam naturally aspirated Dell’orto DHLA 45 dual carburettors.
Transmission: Lotus 5 speed overdrive.
Suspension: Sport airbag over adjustable Spax shocks up front with custom made brackets, similar set up on the rear, all custom made parts.
Brakes: OEM drum and shoe rear, OEM disc and calliper front.
Wheels & Tires: 15″ ROTA BM8, 7″ front, 8″ rear, sourced from the USA as you can’t get this package fitment in the UK, custom white walled tyres.
Interior: OEM ‘Giugiaro’ original, every dial, switch, knob, radio and tombstone headrest seats with hand finished soft canvas headliner, rails and pillars. Handcrafted custom fit carpets. Completely hidden bluetooth headunit with Vibe surround sound 4″ front and 6″ rear speakers.
Exterior: OEM, semi-debadged and smoothed rear hatch, brushed aluminium bright work, mopped and polished paint. Vacuum to electric MX5 headlight lift motor conversion.