from the hurriedly-commissioned Giugiaro prototype, Lotus's
approach with the Esprit has been one of constant development,
sometimes to keep abreast of the opposition, but more usually
out of necessity.
Lotus cannot say for certain how many Esprit variants it has
produced: at times, the Esprit has seemingly gained a redesigned
interior by the week.
however much the details change, in more than 25 years the basic
concept has remained remarkably constant. Outlined below are
some of the landmark models.
a radical design that would spearhead Lotus' fleet throughout
the Seventies, and Giugiaro builds it in double-quick time for
the 1972 Turin Show. By the 1973 Geneva Show, the design is
revised to remove the bonnet louvres and single-piece tilting
rear section. As a concession to the manufacturing process,
the design also inherits a ridge halfway up the flanks to disguise
where the bodyshell has to be made in two halves and bonded
The long-awaited first
production Esprit is launched at the Paris Show, three years
after the first designs appear in public. Technical hitches
mean that the first cars don't reach customers until the summer
of 1976, and it's a credit to Giugiaro's design skill that the
production version still looks bang up to date after a four-year
gestation. The mid-mounted 1973cc all-aluminium engine is technically
advanced. Poor quality control and reliability problems don't
endear it to many early buyers.
The Spy Who Love Me
While its shaky
reputation with customers did little for the Esprit S1, an
appearance as James Bond's latest mode of transport most certainly
does. The Esprit's rakish styling plus its uncanny
ability to sprout fins and turn submarine make it one
of the most memorable Bond cars ever. Cynical owners of real
Lotuses are left wondering how Q managed to eradicate all
the leaks, screen demisting problems and constant electrical
failures from the rocket-firing Bondmobile.
After just two years
on sale and less the 1000 purchases, Lotus introduces the first
of many Esprit revamps. Its extensive test team (also known
as its customers) demanded improved ventilation, plus better
reliability and engine access. The S2 delivers this, and also
offers a better quality of interior trim. Biggest visual differences
from the S1 are Rover SD1 rear lights and Lotus' own wheel design
to replace the Wolfrace alloys in a bid to shake off Lotus'
persistent kit car image.
Esprit World Champion
When Mario Andretti
wins the 1978 F1 World Championship in the ground-effect 79,
Lotus launches a special commemorative S2. Mechanically identical
to a standard S2, it features the year's coolest colours
the GP cars' black and gold John Player Special livery, including
'World Champion' written on the flanks, a gold garland round
the nose badge, gold seat cloth and even a gold windscreen
surround. Lotus builds 100 for each market (UK, USA and rest-of-the-world),
and each car bears its commemorative edition number next to
the fuel filler.
This stop-gap model
is current for just 13 months. Although visually identical
to the outgoing S2, this car introduces the larger capacity
2178cc engine as used concurrently in the Elite and Eclat,
and also becomes the first Esprit to benefit from full chassis
galvanisation. Thankfully, it's also the last of the Esprits
to suffer pronounced resonance problems before the chassis
and rear suspension are substantially modified. One of the
rarest Esprits too Lotus claims to have built 88, but
independent historians have put the true figure as low as
The first examples
of Lotus' brave new model wear the gaudy colours of Lotus'
latest GP sponsor, Essex Petroleum. The chassis is developed
to accommodate revised rear suspension with a separate top
link, but of far more significance is the Garrett AiResearch
turbocharger blowing through twin Dell'Orto carburettors,
raising power from 160bhp to 210bhp. The turbo saves on the
expense of developing another bigger engine to keep the Lotus
abreast of ever-quickening competitors.
Essex Turbo's revised suspension is so much smoother and quieter
than the original that the new chassis is adopted by the normally-aspirated
car too. The front suspension mountings are firmed up to make
the ride and handling even better. The interior makes greater
use of leather, while the body shape remains basically the
same as the S2, but for a slightly reworked front bumper and
valance. The 160bhp engine remains, but is at last capable
of attaining the long-claimed 135mph.
turbo continues to spearhead Lotus' sales as a full production
car long after the Essex special edition's popularity has
run its course. The body shape and trim levels correspond
to the normally-aspirated S3 except for the tell-tale side
spoilers with NACA ducts and bold 'Turbo' lettering on the
flanks. Performance is in a different league from the standard
car; even the fastest supercars of the day struggle to match
its 152mph top speed and a 0-60mph time of 5.6 seconds.
Turbo Esprit HC
The incessant search
for extra power leads Lotus in incorporate bigger carburettors
and a higher compression ratio on what is to become the last
'original shape' Esprit. Power climbs to 215bhp, and torque
is hiked even more radically to an impressive 220lb ft at
4250rpm. Apart from an additional 'HC' on the customary side
transfers, the main difference from the other Esprits is the
change from black to body colour for the bumpers, hinting
at the smoother look that the Esprit is shortly to develop.
A year of reversals.
The words in the name swap around, and Giugiaro's sharp lines
are rounded and musclarised by a new design by Peter Stevens.
Engines remain unchanged, but the venerable Citroen SM transaxle
finally gives way to a modern Renault 25 unit. The normally-aspirated
car is facelifted too, differing from the Turbo only in its
simpler rear valance with two grills rather than a giant air
exit. In 1989, emissions laws turn the carburettored Turbo
into the 264bhp fuel-injected Turbo SE.
Another new look
for the ageless Esprit, this time even smoother than before,
with tweaks including a curvier front air intake and side
scoops, different wheels, slim indicators from the Elan and
a reposition rear spoiler. The suspension is improved too,
giving the best handling yet for the Esprit at the cost of
a slightly harder ride. Power steering becomes standard across
the range, but the engine remains untouched in its 264bhp
fuel-injected the turbocharged form.
Esprit Sport 300
Following the success
of the SE-based 335bhp X180R racer of 1992, Lotus also introduces
the Esprit Sport 300, which is essentially a roadgoing version
of the race car. The car is stripped out and extensively lightened,
and a highly-tuned engine pumps out all of 302bhp. Huge wheels
under extended arches and a monster spoiler hint at its 162mph
top speed and 4.5 second 0-60mph time. This is almost the
last of the four-cylinder turbo line, but in 1996 another
stripped-out Esprit is launched, this time the bargain 240bhp
GT3 aimed at first-time Esprit buyers.
Although it had
been Lotus' intention to make a V8 Esprit right from Giugiaro's
first designs, it takes nearly 30 years for the dream to become
reality, Its 3506cc twin-turbo engine delivers 350bhp and
is fearfully quick, but the engine sounds disappointingly
flat and the clutch is heavy. Matters are improved in 1998
with new two-plate clutch for less petal effort and a quicker
gearshift. This is accompanied by yet another plush interior
redesign, but purists rave most about the new Esprit V8-GT,
which combines V8 power with the stripped-out economy of the
are errors in this piece, but I've left them in, reproducing the
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