ESPRIT SE TURBO
Car Choice July 1993
Emotive and quirky
pure two-seater driving indulgence
by Hugh Poulter
Ask a Lotus enthusiast which Esprit makes the best buying and they are left floundering. Knee jerk reaction is to tell you the early Giugiaro-styled Esprits are the 'last true Colin Chapman cars', but then admit the Peter Stevens styled Esprit is immeasureably better, offering aerodynamic stability and refinement.
And that's the way it is with Britain's affordable 150mph supercar emotive, quirky, eccentric. Summed up by Brian Atthews, joint managing director of London Lotus Centre in St Albans, as 'two-seater driving indulgence'.
An indulgence it may be but one which is catching on, according to Lotus dealers. New Esprit sales have een abysmal for the past couple of years with 48 sold in '92 and 86 in '91. As a result late used cars are in short supply and prices, having hit the bottom, are on the up again.
To make matters worse, trade sources we spoke to recommend buying the 'latest, lowest mileage cars you can afford'. 'Go for 100 percent straight cars with full history from recognised dealers', goes the rest of their advice.
The non-turbo Esprit makes financial sense, but was outsold eight to one by the turbo versions and can be difficult to find. For a true enthusiast its 2174cc 16-valve four-cylinder engine's 160bhp lacks the mid-range oomph of its 210 to 264bhp blown brothers.
Throw away the trade price guides say dealers, and shop only for the best cars. 'More than with any other car, go for a genuine model. This means a cast-iron service history, low mileage and a warranty.'
Colour is important, too. British racing green sells best, followed by red, white and black. Avoid silver or champagne gold. Specification is also important with leather, glass roof and air conditioning adding to the value.
With proper servicing the engine is bullet proof, dealers say but 6000 mile servicing is essential. Problems in earlier cars such as overheating, fragile clutches and harsh vibrations where cured in the S3. Two areas stand out as needing attention at around 40,000 miles. These are fuel pumps and electric part of the distributor. Each job costs around £60 to fix.
Particular to the turbos are the problem of cracking manifolds and sticking wastegates. The manifold can be expensive. The turbo takes high mileages, but a replacement costs around £400. Steering racks wear, so check for noises on full lock turns. Surprisingly, accident damage isn't the problem one would think. You can replace a 'space frame' chassis for £1200. The glass fibre body can be repaired at reasonable cost.
The problem is the many bodged cars in private hands or going through auctions. Avoid these like the plague.
At group 19 the Esprit is a high premium car but is not a problem to insure, according to Robin Foster-Taylor of F Rauch & Co (0702 460990). The Esprit doesn't carry a high theft risk so insurance depends on the driver's age and record. Foster-Taylor recommends buyers try the Lotus Owners' Club for details of specialist low-mileage policies.
Parts & Servicing
Here's a pleasant surprise for an aspirant Esprit owner parts and servicing costs are not in the supercar league. Lotus was forced to rely on volume manufacturers' parts bins and as a result most parts are easily found and relatively cheap. Servicing is required every 6000 miles and is rated A (6000), B (12000) and C (24000). Approximate charges from a Lotus garage are: A £300, B just over £400 and C £900 tops.
SE Turbo Parts Prices (inc VAT)
Engine (recon) £4112
Clutch (fitted) £401
Cam belt (fitted) £202
Tail light cluster £75
Air filter £7.95
Oil filter £10.50
What to Pay
Esprit SE Turbo from franchised dealer
89 F (below 40k) £19,000 £20,000
89 G (mid 30k) £20,000 £21,000
90 G (30k) £21,000 £22,000
90 H (below 30k) £23,000 £24,000
91 H (25k) £26,000 £27,000
91 J (below 20k) £30,000 plus
92 K (below 10k) £35,000
90 H (mid 20k) £17,000 £18,000
The One to Buy
Anit-lock brakes introduced on 91 H cars spoil the seat-of-the-pants handling and braking. Late, used cars are rare and expensive. For top performance we'd to for an 89 G SE Turbo with around 30,000 miles on the clock. Buy from a franchised dealer and you're looking at about £18,000. If reliaility and cheaper running costs are a priority, the same age and mileage normally aspirated Esprit will cost between £14,000 and £15,000. Harder to find but available. In all cases, it pays to shop around.
Specification: Engine 4 cyl, 2174cc, injection, 16v, dohc, turbo
Performance: Top Speed 165mph 0-60mph 5.1 sec Power 264bhp
Equipment: Wood facia, leather upholstery, air-conditioning, ice warning, central locking, glass sunroof.