It took the meeting of two great men to create a supercar...
The place; Geneva's Auto Salon. The date; 1972.
The men; Giorgetto Giugiaro and Colin Chapman. The Car; Lotus Esprit.
Alternative Cars May 1983
by John P E Maitland
At that moment began a chain of events which led to the birth of a car which is arguably the best car ever built in Britain. But they didn't know it at the time. . . The initial idea was that Giugiaro's Ital Design company should build a one-off special to fit a slightly stretched Lotus Europa chassis and indeed it was just such a prototype that made an appearance at the Turin exhibition in the same year. But though the name Esprit dates back to then, it was not until 1975 that the first production Esprit was shown to the public.
Changes in those three years had been many, and the modifications which have since followed even more extensive. But the most exciting of all was the introduction in 1980 of a turbocharged version of the Esprit S2 with an updated bodywork design by Giugiaro. And with the April 1981 release of the further improved S3 Lotus Turbo Esprit, who could now doubt that the coming together of two great men had produced a true 'Supercar'. . .
But impressive though they are, specifications tell only half the story. . . We describe the various emotions the Esprit provokes.
In everyone's life there are certain goals to be achieved. Some people want to climb mountains, others like to cannonball over Niagara in barrels – I like to drive fast cars. No doubt the Psychologists would say this is the result of repressed subconscious adolescent urges. And no doubt this is true . . . But when the opportunity came to test drive the Lotus Turbo Esprit, the adrenalin began to pump with renewed vigour as one of my long cherished ambitions was about to be realised.
The moment I climbed into the cockpit, a number of conflicting impressions hit me simultaneously. The interior was substantially cosier than expected, particularly for a car with fairly generous exterior dimensions, and was a decidedly snug fit even for a chap of my modest stature (5'7"). However, it still somehow felt right. Gazing out through the mammoth expanse of glass, visibility was surprisingly good (the bonnet was predictably invisible) and all-round vision was more than adequate. Even more encouragingly, the dials were easy to read, all the controls fell naturally to hand and the laid-back seating position was both comfortable and in keeping with the kind of image that we all, I suspect, secretly aspire to. Familiarity bred confidence in a machine which rapidly felt like an extension of the driver. An impression heightened by the 'shoehorned into the seat' feeling and the all-enveloping black trim. The car looked mean and purposeful, both inside and out. Colin Chapman, God rest his soul, had yet again delivered the goods – with a little help from Giugiaro of course. The Elan had been good, but this promised to be something extra special.
I wasn't to be disappointed. The engine barked into life at the first turn of the key and displayed none of the temperamental histrionics associated with some of the more cammy foreign competition. Pulling away from rest, the revs rose with a rapidity and smoothness that belied the engine's humble four pot specification. Lotus had certainly done their homework. Turbo lag was minimal and power delivery between 2500rpm and 4000rpm was perfectly progressive, after which it really pulled out all the stops. This suggests that Lotus have gone for a combination of Turbo boost and tweaky cams to wring extra performance from the 910. But this all adds to the fun, for the engine is a gusty, hard working, unit that never complained once, whether idling in traffic or cruising at well over the legal limit. The only thing that detracted from otherwise dazzling performance was a somewhat heavy and agricultural gearchange that precluded one from zipping through the ratios with quite the rapidity that one would have liked.
However, in practice, the Esprit was still very quick by anyone's standards. Bend which used to be taken at 50mph on the limit, now became 75mph exercises in 'cornering on rails.' And overtaking involved nothing more than a mere blip of the throttle rather than the more usual frantic effort to avoid oncoming traffic. At all time the impeccable handling gave one the confidence to revel in the power and speed. Undoubtedly this is a car designed to be driven hard, beyond the normal limits ( . . . normal that is for normal cars) of driving prudence. And herein lies its Achilles heel. At 'normal' speeds (e.g. within the speed limits!), the tyre and suspension tuning can conspire to produce a car which is a bit of a handful. The NCT 60's with their rigid side walls exhibited an unsettling tendency to follow the white lines and bumps in the road, and in traffic the steering became uncomfortably heavy.
However, on the open road, the Esprit was exhilarating and a joy to drive. High speed stability was remarkable, even at nearly twice the legal limit, and made for extremely soothing cruising. The expanse of the frontal glass, the sheer width of the cabin and the harmonious drone from the power plant gave one a paradoxical feeling of spacious coziness. And it's probably the closest one could feel to piloting an aircraft whilst still remaining on the ground. In the true Lotus tradition, the car handles and goes every bit as well as it looks. On the road it's a real head-turner and commands a reverential respect from other road users that few other cars can aspire to. In short, its a real supercar with few other peers. It has its faults, but then a flawed masterpiece is still a masterpiece nonetheless.
by John J Laitland
Motoring journalists, as a breed, tend to become rather blasé about vehicles they test. They step into cars not with any particular sense of anticipation, but rather with a metal checklist of potential faults and duly record their views on such minutiae as the heater controls, the number of seat position permutations and the effectiveness of the rear window heater. It it, after all, a job like any other, and one can forgive the tendency for traditional assessments to be rather 'dry' and humdrum.
But when I was handed the key to the glowing red Lotus Turbo Esprit it was hard to contain my excitement, for by any standards the Esprit is something really rather special. With a 0-60 time bettered only by Aston Martin's £45,000 Vantage and a top speed of more than double the national limit the Lotus flagship is every inch a supercar – I couldn't wait to get my hands on it!
Settling into the luxurious, leather-trimmed cockpit I was immediately struck by the self-indulgence of owning such a purposeful beast. A passenger, after all, would soon tire of the lack of head and legroom. A wife would point to the lack of luggage carrying capacity. A cynic would scoff that there was nowhere one could use the car's performance to the full. But as I was soon to discover, none of that matters at all!
The first few miles in the Esprit were gentle ones. After all, in a car with an £18,000 plus price tag (not to mention a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds!) one doesn't want to make mistakes . . . And yet, as I quickly learned, the Esprit is no more difficult to drive than any other. Indeed, with its slick gearchange, light foot controls and beautifully responsive steering it was, if anything, easier. Okay, so there's not a lot of rear vision, but then again, not a lot of cars are quick enough to be capable of trying to overtake you. . .
It would be easy to ramble on about how quick it is possible to drive an Esprit. Suffice to say though that its capabilities are far higher than mine. Given a mere whiff of the accelerator the Esprit simply surges – on and on, faster and faster, as if it knows no limits. It isn't just straight-line performance either – any powerful car with reasonable aerodynamics can devour a straight. But the Esprit not only copes with corners as well, it enjoys them! No doubt it is possible to press still harder and turn the slight understeer into oversteer if one tried hard enough, but it would take some doing – and a braver drive than I!
Of course I loved the visual impact that the Esprit makes wherever it is seen _ the glares of pure, unadulterated envy and undisguised admiration. And of course I loved the slightly awed requests from friends simply to be allowed to sit behind the Lotus' wheel. And of course I loved the amazement on the face of the Rover-driving gent in the petrol station who looked in total disbelief to see one so young (not to say scruffy!) in such a desirable machine.
But above all I adored the sensation of driving a car whose limits were so much greater than my capabilities. Everything I demanded of the Esprit it performed with contemptuous ease, as if to ask, 'Can't you think of anything more difficult than that?' It tore past streams of cars where one could normally only pass one or two. It flew through corners with breathtaking ease. It stopped quickly and securely enough to prevent me looking stupid (or worse!). It whistled up to speeds which made 'quick' cars seem like milk floats by comparison. And it did all this, and more, without any sign that to do such was extreme in any way . . . Freed from the constraints of boundaries over which no man dare to tread I felt as if I was in a dream. Nothing I could ask would be too much for the Esprit. Truly I felt like I was 'King of the road'.
Inevitably, handing back the keys of the Lotus after all-too-brief an acquaintance was a bitter-sweet moment. For it signified a return to the reality of cars which know extremes – cars that might have looks which approach the beauty of the Esprit, or even better them, but cannot match its astounding capabilities. But it was a moment to treasure too, because for a brief second I felt that if I were to never drive again, I would still die a happy man . . .
by David Sumner Smith
The keys which had been so fervently withheld for the previous five days were finally handed over. My months of drudgery as the sole skeleton on the all-demanding Kit Car magazine had come to fruition with my opportunity to drive one of the most dynamic of production supercars – the Lotus Turbo Esprit.
As I stepped out into the crisp February air, the toil having taken its toll on the journalistic circuit banks, the gleaming, almost glowing red wedge seemed to exclude a surreal aura, the perfection of its surfaces heightening its improbability as a man-made machine.
Ever the gentleman, I beckoned darling Alison to the passenger door, but curses! A couple of ad lib off-the-cuffs were required to maintain the cool image as I fumbled to find the correct key from the four on the ring. Another from the remaining three opened the spitfire-type lock on the rear hatch, but alas, the Lotus was obviously designed for the person who carries a document rather than an executive case. Subsequent failure to open the front had dear old Al' carrying both brief case and editorial flying jacket on her lap. A couple of cranks saw the blown twin-cam roar into life, but the archaic and poorly lit smiths instruments, and the out of step rise of the headlights typified the Italian-styled exotic as a British car. However, no sooner did the Garrett T3 blower come in to squirt the Esprit to sixty in a whisker under six seconds, than these petty niggles were simultaneously blown away. The aircraft-nose exterior and interior styling is wholly unpretentious and a worthy compliment to the soaring, surging qualities of the Esprit.
The revelatory experience of driving the Lotus is such that it takes but a couple of miles to settle comfortably in the sumptuous leather of the cockpit, and to begin concentrating on the serous business of driving the car. A poke in the eye for the self-made critics who snort 'I could never drive anything like that'. The Esprit Turbo is easy to drive, and easy to drive well – not in a self-gratificatory sense but in a rewarding way. The precision of the response from any driver input provides instant, directly proportional feedback with a wide margin of safety – you can hardly put a foot wrong. A stab at the throttle and the turbo propels the car forward at lighting pace, a tug at the wheel and it goes sweetly round your chosen line, a prod at the central pedal and it's as if your own hands were pulling the discs up squarely. And all the time the body of the car bobs gently up and own while the compliant but taut suspension keeps the wheels in contact and the occupants in one piece, in what is truly a wonderful ride.
Few cars demonstrate such tremendous ability to satiate the driver, so magnificent is the Lotus chassis. Despite the superlative feed-back gained through the controls, the car is far less demanding than a glance at the data sheet might suggest, its slot-car cornering power and subsequent acceleration to incredible speeds putting one seemingly in control of one's destiny.
Only through first hand experience can one begin to appreciate the qualities of the genius who saw non barriers in the development of this car. No barriers to the wring of over two hundred and twenty smooth and tractable horses from four cylinders. No barriers to isolating the necessarily large wheels which transfer the power, nor the conferring the solidity of a two-ton Jaguar on a car with half the mass. The Lotus Turbo Esprit is quite simply the ultimate driving experience.
by Sandor Ballago