End of Esprit Production
21st February 2004
Lotus Esprit World was invited to Hethel by Lotus to the celebration of the End of Esprit Production. Held on site, Lotus decided on a low key event for staff, as they didn't want to celebrate the end too much. Invited guests (ex-employees) only and local press attended.
The last Esprit was completed on 21st February and will leave the factory on it's journey to it's owners on in a week or so. The last Esprit off the production line will is going to a yet unnamed buyer, who has a large collection of Esprits. More detail will follow if and when they become available.
I was picked up by Lotus Engineer Geoff Davidson, who works on Esprits & all old Lotus models, for the event in an Opel Speedster. The Engineering departments Esprit was supposed to be my transport for the day, but due to the fine (and cold) weather, the Esprit was needed for some 0°C testing. It great to know engineering is still working and testing with the Esprit now production has ended. The journey up to Hethel was spent talking about the new Esprit replacement, dealer network, parts and the sportscar world in general.
Once we arrived at the factory, I had to surrender my camera and my mobile phone (has a built-in camera) and sign in. Then off to the Engineering department to meet Brian Angus again. After an interesting 15 mins talking about some Esprit parts issues, it was off to check in with the organisers. LEW's ibook was set-up so guest could surf Lotus Esprit World along with all the other memorabilia that had been assembled, including a lopping video on a large screen of the Esprits Hollywood appearances. I was also able to see what's left of the production line, which isn't very much at all. Now just looks like a big empty room with a few bits of stuff that have yet to be cleared away. There was a set of new V8 wheels, but I couldn't get them under my LEW fleece (should have ordered XXL)!
A quick pressing of palms in the Lotus Trim department, where Mel Broome has been offering a wonderful service in trimming my Sport 300 seats and a some trim for my brothers Elise, and the Lotus Sports & Performance Centre, were my cars was resting. I was then rushed back to what used to be the end of the production line, where all the finished cars were checked. This was where the event was to be held. The mixture of people invited included Colin Chapman's wife, Hazel, and many of the staff that work by his side for many years. Around 80 people were present to celebrate the Esprits production life.
The event was opened by Matthew Jones, manufacturing manager, who had overseen the last 18 months of Esprit production. He announced that 10,675 Esprit had been made at Hethel during its production life. He was followed by Morris Dowton who was head of Manufacturing and had overseen the Esprit from it's introduction until his retirement in 2002. Some great stories were told about the Esprit's production life. He was followed by Clive Dopson - Manufacturing Director of Lotus Cars. Then finally Acting Chairman Victor Kiam spoke a few words about the future of the company.
Everybody was then taken outside for a photo with the last Esprit (in yellow) and another of the last cars in the company colour of Green. The official Lotus photographer was on a scaffold to get an elevated picture. People there included the Directors, engineers, current employees that worked on the Esprit line and many ex-employees who spent years working on the Esprit. I'm second from the left on the very back row. A BBC camera crew were also there doing a few interview and capturing the moment for the local news.
Then it was back inside to have some champagne and food that was laid on and spend a little time looking over some of the memorabilia that had been laid out. Many people were catching up with people they hadn't seen in a long while. I managed to get the chance to talk to Russell Carr, Head of Design, about the work he's doing on the Esprit replacement. Had a very interest conversation with him covering many different aspects of what he's working on. I was lucky to get so much time with him uninterrupted.
Also talked to a few of the older guys who've spent many years working on the Esprit. Ken Evans, who has been Type Approval manager throughout the Esprits production, had some unbelievable and wonderful stories from his time working on the Esprit, including hitting sheep in France with a Turbo Esprit and blowing a piston on the way to testing in Italy. Also heard some great stories about Colin Chapman, the more you hear people who knew and worked with him talk about him, the more you realise what a great man he really was.
John Bloomfield, who certified every Model Year Esprit in USA since intro had a great story about getting carburettors certified for the US in the early '80s. A nice piece of engineering to meet all the requirements (well sort of!). Morris Dowton, ex-Head of Manufacturing, is a huge Esprit fan and has been a large part of the Esprit throughout it's production life. He has a large collection of Esprit memorabilia that LEW will hopefully be able to get access to for use on the site. The Lucky man had 5 different Esprit V8's as company cars!
Got a chance for a quick chat with the two guys that hand-built the last V8 engines for the Esprit, Jason Lane and Gary Towers. Those owners who were lucky enough to get one of the last few Esprit will have had their engine built by one of these two. A limited edition aluminium plaque is on each engine they built with which ever of the two of them built that actual engine. I met them both on my last trip to the factory as they were building up a V8 engine each. They have now been move on to working with the Elise, but are looking to move into engineering soon. Hopefully I'll be talking more to them and doing some stuff for the site, so we can have there valuable experience here at LEW.
Once most people had left the Directors did a few pieces of show driving for the camera's before the cars where put away before shipping off to the US. I had an interest conversation with a few of the top-bods at Lotus about keeping Esprit owners on the road and sorting a few problems out and working more closely with the factory. Could prove to be a valuable relationship in linking owners thoughts, views and technical problems with the factory. Lotus are committed to supporting Esprit parts for the future and as they estimate 9-10,000 Esprit still on the road, there's still a lot of work to be done.
Then it was time to leave the factory for the last time. I'm sure I'll be back, but it won't be quite the same with the Esprit no longer part of the Lotus line-up for the first time in 28 years.
I'd like to thank everyone at Lotus for a wonderful day. Matthew Jones for inviting me and organising the event. Brian, Geoff, Chris and Sue for taking good care of me and to everyone I spoke who gave me their time to talk about the Esprit.
Long live the Esprit.
Key People in the Esprits
Present at the Celebration
Matthew Jones Manufacturing Manager
(responsible for Esprit Run Out Programme)
Victor Kiam Acting Chairman
Clive Dobson Manufacturing Director
(responsible for all Lotus Cars Production )
Russell Carr Head of Design
(responsible for the Esprit Replacement)
Alaistair Florance Lotus PR Manager
Hazel Chapman Colin Chapman's Widow
Brian Angus Esprit Platform Manager
(responsible for Esprit & all old Lotus models)
Geoff Davidson Engineer
(works on Esprit & all old Lotus models)
Chris Sprake Engineer
(works on Esprit, Elise & all old Lotus models)
Adrian Howell Lotus Machine Shop
(Lotus V8 Engine Manufacturing)
Jason Lane ex. Lotus V8 engine Build
(now working on Elise Production area)
Gary Towers ex. Lotus V8 engine Build
(now working on Elise Production area)
Morris Dowton ex. Head of Manufacturing
(responsible for Esprit Production from intro in 1976)
Ken Evans Type Approval Manager
(responsible for Worldwide Type Approval of all Lotus Models)
John Bloomfield Powertrain Engineer & Esprit Certification
(certified every Model Year Esprit in USA since intro.)
Oliver Winterbottom ex. Head of Safety Systems, Lotus Engineering
(was also Head of Product Engineering. for some time)
Don McLauchlan ex. PR Manager
(involved in early Bond Movie negotiations)
Tony French Esprit Purchase Department
(responsible for parts supply for last 150 cars)
Mel Broome Service Parts Department
Mike Pomfret ex. Warranty Manager
(currently in Manufacturing Projects Group)
Dennis Jude ex. Esprit Production Line
(was line supervisor prior to Colin)
Colin Moy Esprit Line Supervisor
(responsible for Esprit Assy. Line & Road Test)
Carl Brown Purchase Department
(responsible for production parts supply)
Howard Murray Purchase Department
(responsible for parts supply from supplier to stores)
Ivan Nolleth ex. Esprit Production Line
Bernie Hollands ex. Esprit Production Line
kato Lotus Esprit World.com
Bill Brown Esprit Production Line
(now on Elise Production Line, Bill is longest serving Lotus employee)
John Catchpole Parts Store
(responsible for parts distribution to production line)