LEW meets Mr Esprit
LEW gets an exclusive interview with Brain Angus, Esprit Platform Manager
Brian has worked
on the development of the Esprit for
over 24 years and is considered to be Mr Esprit.
Q. What was your background before joining Lotus?
A. From leaving school I was an apprentice at Rolls Royce Aircraft Engines as development engineer. Working there for 10 years.
Q. What year did you join Lotus and what was your role?
A. I joined in 1979 as a powertrain development engineer.
Q. What were your first impressions of the Esprit (before and close up)?
A. The Esprit was 3 years old when I joined Lotus. I'd seen them on the road and thought of it as a stunning vehicle. Working on them was a privilege (and still is), as it wasn't your everyday sort of car.
Q. What was your first involvement with the Esprit at Lotus?
A. Development on crankshaft bearings on the 907 engine which fitted to the Esprit S2. This work lead onto the revised bearing arrangement on the 912 engine which was fitted to the Esprit S2.2
Q. What are your best memories of your early involvement with the Esprit?
A. The development of the Renault gearbox for use in the Steven model. All the development work was done on two Giugiaro Esprit, one turbo and one normally aspirated. A huge amount of durability work was done during testing, with around 100,000 km done on each box. This testing was done on public roads all over Europe including, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, with me at the wheel on occasions. This including Alpine climbing and high-speed autobahn running. No road incidents occurred during over 200,000km.
Q. Any stories about the development of the Turbo Esprit?
A. I remember a huge amount of dyno work done for piston development. There was an enormous amount of piston design changes before the final design was proven. We were really pushing the boundaries at the time and leading the field in turbo development.
Q. What was Colin Chapman like?
A. He was the most dynamic man I've ever met. You couldn't help but want to work with him and wanting to be just like him. When the Lotus F1 car was banned (regulation changes) Colin lost a little bit of interest in the sport and was looking for something else to get into. I worked with him on the microlight engines (2 & 4 cylinder). The design concept for the frame was from the US, but the engines were pure Lotus and we actually had the microlights flying with Lotus engines. A wonderful time.
Q. Which model do you think you were most influential in improving the Esprit?
A. I was project manager for the Esprit S4, this involved all the body exterior and interior updates, new wheels, power steering, new window lifts, door mechanisms. This was the point in the Esprit production life where we could change a massive amount on the car and really increase its quality. With the GM parts bin and access to their suppliers it opened up all sorts of possibilities for the Esprit. Before simply changing the door handles would have meant crash testing the Esprit incurring large costs. Now we could source the parts from GM which had already been approved. The outer door handles are actually off an Omega, but the inner's are Calibra as we didn't want to use the door pins commonly found on the Vauxhall line. We also strengthen the doors and change the window lifter motors, which incurred regular failures. These were sourced from the Vauxhall Carlton, the US version couldn't have the single switch lifters, so we used a Holden part, which is another GM company based in Australia. With most of the other major sports car manufacturers having parent companys to help with parts and suppliers, we could now complete better in the market.
Q. The motoring press always brought up the fact of only 4 cylinders, what was your feelings on this?
A. Knowing that a prototype V8 had been developed and was running in development vehicles, we felt that the performance of the 4 cylinder vehicles stood up well against other V8's on the market. Also to step to a V8 for the production car, would have incur massive costs and development for little performance gain.
Q. Did you ever look at what Porsche and Ferrari were producing when developing the Esprit?
A. We always had Porsches and Ferrari's around for assessment. This including ride and handling, exhaust note, interior noise etc. assessment to compare with our Esprit. This also help with looking at market trends and wasn't used to develop the vehicle as such. It wasn't a case of copying as Lotus always wanted to be leading, but seeing how the market was developing and it which direction it was heading.
Q. Tell me more about the transmission. Could anything have been done?
A. Finding an available transaxle is difficult, finding one that would fit is more difficult, then finding one that would handle the torque is still even more difficult. You then need to have them available long term. This left options limited and we found Renault helpful with development of the box which has been satisfactory. Development of a in-house transmission would have involved an enormous cost.
Q. Tell us more about what's involved in testing a new Esprit?
A. Most of the money is spend on emission compliance (world-wide market vehicle). Safety system are also mandatory for US markets, which again take up huge amounts of time and budget. Ride and handling is also a major part of Esprit developed, which is done on-site and using many European facilities.
Q. 4 cylinder or V8?
A. 4 cylinder. 'I think it makes the driving experience more involved.'.
Q. Tell us more about the restrictions place on the team when developing a new model?
A. There's always a limited budget for a low volume car. Most goes on emissions compliance and safety regulations. Some of the legalisation costs render some proposals not to be viable, this then restricts the development of the vehicle. We keep a database of updates we'd like to develop, and what is needed to implement them. When legal requirement force the use of certain testing facilities, we can then check the database out and see what else can be done at the same time to improve the Esprit using the facilities.
Q. What effect did the various take-overs have on the Esprit Team (GM/Buggati/Proton)?
A. The most significant change was the GM take over, which gave us the power with the suppliers and the parts availability to really develop the car. Legalisation costs were less of a concern given GM's component validation assistance, meaning lower development costs and reduced tooling costs.
Q. With an unlimited budget, what was the one the you would have changed on the Esprit?
A. A new transaxle, 6-speed with a torque capacity of a minimum of 500 Nm
Q. How do you feel about the bad press Lotus is given about it's build quality?
A. Some is justified, but it's a tradition to knock Lotus, so we're not that bad really.
Q. What to you is the best version of the Esprit and why (and in what colour)?
A. Esprit S4s (Norfolk Yellow). The best 4 cylinder Esprit.
Q. Must be fun with the Esprit and a test track in the playground?
A. It's a great circuit, developed to exploit cars handling. I've spent many hours there and on the road.
Q. What is your favourite upgrade made to the Esprit?
A. Power steering was considered the best in its class at the time. And I was heavily involved in its development.
Q. How did you hear and what did you feel when you heard that Esprit production would stop?
A. It wasn't news, it had been stopping for years. Every year and for the last five. This time was for real, which is sad, but maybe the right time.
Q. Any info on the Esprit replacement?
A. It's happening!
Q. What are your hopes for the Esprit replacement?
A. It's got to be a step forward, and better in every feature.
Q. What does the future hold for you now, with the Esprit line closing?
A. Looking after the Esprits already out there, leaves me plenty to do. And we are also getting involved in the Elise. And hopefully the new Esprit in the future.
Q. What's your best memory of working with the Esprit?
A. ABS testing in Sweden for the Esprit V8, but lots of the early work was done on a couple of S4s including the Sweden trip. Driving an Esprit on frozen lakes testing on low grip surfaces is very challenging. Driving from the town we were staying to the test site on hard packed snow was very exciting. Also the drive from Hethel to the test site in Sweden was very memorable.
Brian at his desk at the Lotus Factory in Hethel
I would personally like to thank Brian for agreeing to this interview and giving up his valuable time. I was also shown around the factory and the Esprit production line during my visit to Hethel, gaining valuable information and meeting some of the people that have put together your Esprits. I have invited Brian to any of LEW's future events, so we hope to see him in the future.
The views contained
in this page are those of Brian Angus
and not of the Factory, Lotus Cars Ltd or Lotus Engineering.
None of the information above can be taken as official information.