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The First Esprit to Come Home
First-ever production Esprit
Eastern Daily Press, 24th June 2005
By Ian Bullock

It was the first of its kind – a stunning scarlet supercar that began a global success story for Norfolk-based Lotus.

Twenty-eight years later, the first-ever production Esprit is set for a return journey of nostalgia. After seven owners, 70,000 miles, an engine rebuild and a costly restoration, the Esprit should look as good as the day it rolled off the production line at Hethel in the summer of 1976.

Lotus ceased production of the Esprit in February after making 10,675 of the stylish sports cars, best known for their roles in two James Bond films. The company said the Esprit had reached the end of its 'long and illustrious life' and wanted to concentrate instead on developing other models.

Gordon Masson, who lives in Aberdeen, has owned the red Esprit – index number LFU 972R – for 21 years and hopes to drive it to Norfolk later this summer after the three-year restoration project is complete. Because the car's chassis number is 0100G. Mr Masson had originally assumed it was the 100th to have been produced. But a chance conversation with a Lotus expert revealed that it was actually the very first – a fact subsequently confirmed in writing by the Company (see below).

'Without realising it at the time. I hadn't bought an early Esprit – I had bought the first production Esprit!' he told the EDP.

Mr Masson's love affair with Lotuses began at the age of 11. 'I saw a Lotus Europa being driven past my home. I had never seen anything like that 'in the flesh' before and it seemed to bear no resemblance in what I knew of as a 'car'. Cars were used for mundane daily tasks or to take the family out for a pinic, trunding along twisty B-roads at 30mph,' he recalled.

'However, even for a boy of 11, the Lotus was a different thing entirely. Here was a car that was anything but mundane – it looked as if it was alive. It looked as if it was moving fast even when it was standing still. As I watched it pass and heard the note of the engine, I said to myself: 'One day I am going to own a Lotus.'

Mr Masson, who is 43 and works as a project engineer on offshore construction schemes bought his Esprit for around £5,000 in 1983 after seeing an advert in an Aberdeen newspaper. 'It's fair to say that I looked at the car through rose-tinted spectacles and I was oblivious to its many faults with the car it was obvious that the smoking engine was in need of a serious rebuild, which was completed in 1985'.

The 124mph car was initially sold to High Cliff Motors in Grimsby as a demonstrator and later bought by Barry Collen of Scunthorpe. 'I managed to track down Mr Collen, who was a little surprised to hear that his car from 25 years earlier was still a going concern, especially due to the amount of work that was required to keep the car running in its first two years on the road when it was 'somewhat temperamental' to say the least', said Mr Masson.

'It's fair to say that the Esprit made a hurried debut in 1976 and the early cars were dogged by many problems. None more so than 0100G which was bought back from Mr Collen by Lotus in June 1976 because of its history of troubles.'

Mr Masson has enlisted the support of Norfolk's Nick Fulcher in his efforts to restore the car to its former glory. Now running his own coach-building business at Hethersett, he used to work for Lotus and will be retrimming the interior with red and green tartan cloth specially woven to match the 1976 original.

Mr Fulcher was closely involved in the design of the Esprit's interior along with Lotus boss Colin Chapman and legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Mr Masson said: 'I'm aiming to bring the car to Norfolk and, if possible, I would also like to have the car pictured outside the Lotus factory and on the test track where the original sales brochure pictures were taken. Some 28 years after its introduction, the Esprit is still the stuff of posters hung on bedroom walls and I have no doubt that the car will turn as many heads in 2004 as it did in 1976'.

Group Lotus spokesman Alastair Florance said: Because all Lotuses – new or old – are owned by enthusiats, we are not surprised to hear that this car still exists. It's great that someone has spent so much time and patience on restoring it. For the Lotus engineers of today to be able to take a closer look at the first production Esprit from 28 years ago will be very exciting.'

Mr Masson said the next owner of his treasured car had already been chosen. 'He is my 11-year-old son Fraser, who already refers to the Lotus as 'his car'. As for the price, that amounts to Fraser agreeing to one simple condition: when his is finished with the car then he must pass it on to his own children ...at the same price!'

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