Lotus Esprit World spent the day at the
Lotus Factory in Hethel,
read how the day went and what we found out.
LEW was invited to visit the factory on the 21st July 2005 as part of the Spring and Damper Programme Lotus Engineering are running. Turning up at the gate at 10.30am, we where issued with a pass and had clearance to take a camera on site. You normally have to leave your mobiles at security if it has a camera!
We were met by Engineering Geoff Davidson, who was present at the Oxford Meeting in September 2004 and taken to the engineering department to see Brian Angus.
There we talked about the Springs & Damper programme (see below) in length and other Esprit related matters, including the ongoing struggle to source parts to keep us all on the road. The main problem is Lotus are starting to run out of parts for the Esprit (and other Lotus models) and are going to suppliers to order, only to find the firm has gone out of business and with it the tooling. This means finding another supplier, which for the low volume Lotus require is very difficult. One example is a small part that's part of the valves. Originally the part cost Lotus very little. Now with the supplier gone and no one wanting to produce the small numbers Lotus need, the price has gone up over ten fold. Two per valve, 16 valves, you do the maths on the increase!
This problem is something Lotus are coming across all the time. They are constantly buying up the remaining stock of out-of-production parts to keep us on the road. Sourcing suppliers who'll make new parts at reasonable prices. Lotus are covering more than the standard 10 years and are trying to keep all Esprits on the road. LEW's Esprit is 13 years old and we consider it a young Esprit.
Lotus are also involve in supplying parts that previously where unavailable. Take the Gearshift Master Unit. This is a one piece item that was tested for 100,000 miles back in 1987 before it was stuck in with the new Renault gearbox. Trouble with testing like this is you can't do it over 15 years! 15 years later and the bearings are in a bad way due to mileage and time and you can only buy the whole unit, which is very expensive when all that is needed is the bearings.
Lotus where made away of this through LEW and it's users and have realised that it's unacceptable to expect owners to buy a new Master Unit, when all that's needed is a service kit. Lotus engineers are now sourcing the parts needed for that kit to keep owners on the road.
On the subject of the gearchange, both LEW and Lotus were interested in the state of the average Esprits gearchange. So Lotus had a look at LEW's while the Esprit was at the factory helping with the spring & damper programme.
LEW's 92 Esprit was looked at by Lotus. We considered our gearchange to be pretty good, Lotus though differently giving us only 1 out of 10. Lotus investigated the poor change against our will (well not really) and found the bearings in both the Master Unit and the Translator to be worn. They said this about the Master Unit.
• Free play in the neutral position (mainly felt side to side)
In a new unit the play in the bushes result in approx. 1mm of movement on the mechanism which is felt as about 4mm at the Gearknob (Ratio is 4:1)
• Free play when selecting gear (mainly felt as lost motion before gear is selected)
In a new unit this lost motion is as a result of three things :-
a) Clearance in the selector mechanism in the gearbox
b) Movement in rubber isolator bushes at cable connection (at Master Unit). These isolators are to reduce noise being transmitted from the gearbox to the gearlever.
c) Clearance in the cables. Cables have an ‘S’ bend in the early vehicles (L/H shift) which contributes to free play. (New cables would probably reduce play)
On this particular unit the free play in neutral was measured as 4mm in the mechanism which results in approx. 16mm at the gearlever. The isolator bushes had worn and were contaminated with oil which made them soft making the lost motion excessive.
LEW's Master Unit, which was a little worn!
The news wasn't much better for the other end.
The Translator (at gearbox end) was inspected. It following was noted :-
The adjustment was incorrect - the translator offset should be 4mm. This offset was set at approx. 6-7mm (difficult to measure accurately as fixings loose)
All the Ball Joints were free moving (lots of lubricant evident)
All the Ball Joint fixings were loose (probably happened slowly over time) which causes play in the gearshift – additional to that found at the Master Unit.
Lotus refurbished both the Master Unit and Translator to the specification in the workshop manual (also see here). Parts weren't expensive and the labour can be done by the owners. Once this work was done the gearshift in LEW's Esprit was transformed. Living with it for so long, it's easy to get used to the way it feels and think it's ok. This is something worth checking on every Esprit.
LEW will have the details on the service kits once they are ready for sale. Lotus are currently sourcing the parts at present. Once these kits are available we hope owners will make this there next job to do.
Lotus also explained about some of the testing that went on during the installation on the Renault gearboxes. The gearbox is seen as an Esprit weakness, which it really isn't. Problems only seem to occur once factory spec is ignored. Gearbox oil is critical, you use the wrong type and you're asking for problems. If you don't know what's in yours, change it now! Increases in power are also a problem, standard Esprit power isn't a problem for the gearbox, as it's been tested to 400 Nm, so any increase over this will need an upgrade to the gearbox to insure it's survival. Then there's general abuse that would kill any gearbox.
LEW was supplied with some interesting information on the gearbox testing that was carried out when the Renault transmission was fitted to the Esprit and the contiued testing throughout it's life in the Esprit. We have added a whole page on this in the Technical section. Read about it here.
Spring & Damper Programme
Lotus' Spring & Damper Programme was started in mid 2005 and will cover Esprits from 1987 to 2004. Lotus will test and set-up each Esprit model (turbo, SE, S4, S4s, GT3 & V8) with new springs and dampers and do a baseline appraisal on the current parts before they begin the development exercise.
Lotus Ride & Handling Engineers will then fit special springs and dampers for development. Lotus are looking at creating new specifications based on the old set-up, but refining it. With the advancement in modern materials and design, they can develop a suspension package for the Esprit models of the past using today's know how.
Lotus will create new spings & damper specs for each model retaining the 'feel' of each model, but improving the ride & handling without making all the models feel the same. Lotus are taking this project seriously and are investing a lot of money in it's development. The development is being done on both track and road and covers many different types of road surface, including motorway, A-roads, B-roads and the varying surfaces these can have. As you should know, Lotus one of the leading companies in Ride & Handling and have years of experience in setting up road and track cars.
Once the programme has finished (late August) and Lotus have all the data for the springs and dampers, they will decide on how many kits need to be produced to cover the models. S4 and GT3 are likely to share that same kit, as are the V8 Esprits. Dampers will be manufactured by Bilstein and are planned to have dual platforms, so the ride height can be lowered 10mm from standard. Adjustables would work out too expensive and with all the work done by Lotus, you won't need to adjust them.
Springs will be from Eibach and will fit both the Bilstein dampers and the standard Lotus dampers. Meaning you'll be able to fit just the springs to your Esprit or the whole package. Lotus are working on fitting them to 1983-1985 Esprits as well. So nearly all models will be covered.
LEW has been helping with the development of the suspension and has been impress by the amount of work being done for what is basically an out-of-production vehicle. Our view is this is going to be the best upgrade you can buy for your Esprit. Developed by Lotus, in a field they are renound for worldwide, for their own cars and using the lastest materials and technology. The Esprit is hard on it's suspension so many older cars with average mileage will be running on original suspension, which is probably well worn. Upgrading to the new spec, would not only give the improvement of fitting new standard kit, but with the newly developed spec you should see a massive change in ride and handling. We know, we've tested it!
More information will be posted here as it's released. The price should be reasonable on it's release, which we hope to be well before the years end. So start saving, as you'll want a set of these.
A very exciting development for Hethel.
This was an interesting find for LEW. Outside the Engineering workshop we spotted a black Giugiaro Esprit, looking a little worse for wear. Asking Brian and Geoff about, we go the low down on the Active Suspension Esprit. It had been sitting out the back of the factory for 7 years, even since Proton had taken over. It was due to be sold off with the other old cars, but some how managed to miss the cull. One of the mechanics pulled it out of the field a few months ago. As you can see from the picture above the tyres where flat and it was generally in poor condition. The mechanic changed a few fuel pipes and amazingly it started first time!
On further investigation, it appears this Esprit is actually one of the original Essex Esprits. The Blue paint is still evident under the door rubbers and if you look at the pictures below, you can see the Essex on the engine. The inside is in need of some TLC, but still has the controls for the active suspension among the red Essex interior.
LEW's is going to keep intouch with Lotus with regard to what happens to this Esprit. We will also have a rumage around and see what we can find out about the original project. We're guessing around 1980. If anyone has any info on the early Active Suspension Esprit, please email us.
Engineering's Giugiaro Esprit
This Esprit was purchased by Lotus last year through LEW's Used car page. Lotus needed an older Esprit for development and testing work. This car has already been used for tyre testing, for the Springs & Damper programme and used in the starter motor project. Lotus Engineering have this 1987 Esprit and a US Spec 2004 Esprit, which was seen at the last Oxford meeting.
LEW's Esprit was at the factory as part of the Springs & Damper programme, helping out getting the specification for the SE's. Lotus got our Esprit back up to scratch before the testing began. This included the work on the gearshift, so the ride & handling engineers could get it in gear! They also fitted standard SE springs and dampers to confirm the original spec before fitting the testing gear.
The exhaust mountings were also replaced as one was broken. The steering was also checked and adjusted to get LEW's Esprit back to the way it should be for testing. Lotus thought the handling wasn't up to Lotus standards and covered up the Lotus Badge until they were happy it could wear it! Geoff and Brian unvailed the Lotus Badge for LEW now it was back up to Lotus standards.
We're gald to get our badge back and have our suspension working properly after going through both Sport 350 and GT3 set-ups. Our Esprit now has standard SE springs & dampers and everything set to Lotus specification as set out in the workshop manuals. It handles like a dream now! A different car! Looking forward to testing the new suspension once it's ready, that should be something else.
LEW hopes to get together with Lotus to produce a list of things that should be checked and adjusted regularly to keep the Esprit in tip top condition. Too many cars fall from specification, which lead to the Esprit becoming less than it should be and can lead to failures, which we all know are expensive. Hopefully with Lotus's help we can provide owners will simple checks and adjustments (and maybe a few parts) that will bring Esprit's back to life.
Our day at the factory was well spent and it was soon time to leave. Brian & Geoff will be at our Oxford meeting and will give a short talk during the meal which will keep you updated with their work. LEW would like to thank Brian and Geoff for inviting us to the factory and spending the day enlightening us.
The views contained in this page are those
of Lotus Esprit World and not of the Factory, Lotus Cars Ltd or Lotus Engineering.
None of the information above can be taken as official information.