Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
By the time the Lotus Esprit was launched in October 1975
at the Paris motorshow, the company had moved into a new market sector, the luxury sports car market, and have left behind the days of the kit-built sports cars that gave the man in the street Grand Prix
car handling, exhilarating performance and the bonus of economy car fuel consumption
The Esprit went into production in June 1976
, replacing the Lotus Europa
in the Lotus model line-up. It joined with the Elites and Eclats, however the then new generation cars were not in the price bracket of the 'man in the street' any more and, even though the Chairman of Lotus, Colin Chapman
, CBE, would have liked to market a 'basic' sports car again, sales figures told the company that the new line was the right one.
The first cars eventually became known as S1 (or Series 1) Esprits. With a steel backbone chassis and a fibreglass body, the Esprit was powered by the Lotus 907 4 cylinder engine, as previously used in the Jensen Healey
. This engine displaced 2.0 litres, produced 160 bhp (119 kW) in European trim (140 bhp in US trim), and was mounted longitudinally behind the passengers, as in its predecessor. The transaxle gearbox was a 5 speed unit, previously used in the Citroën SM
and Maserati Merak;
it featured inboard rear brakes, as was racing practice at the time.
The Series 1 embodied Lotus’ performance through light weight
mantra, weighing less than 1000 kg (2205 lb). The car gained fame through its appearance in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me
(1977) where it featured in a long chase sequence, converting into a submarine. The original Esprit was lauded for its handling
and is said to have the best steering
of any Esprit. However, it was generally regarded as lacking power, especially in markets such as the United States where the engine was down-rated for emissions purposes.
Lotus’ claimed of 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph (222 km/h) may be thought of as optimistic - actual road test times indicated 0-60 mph in 8 seconds and a top speed of around 133 mph (214 km/h). The S1 Esprit can be distinguished from later Esprits by a shovel-style front air dam, Fiat X1/9
tail lights, lack of body-side ducting, and Wolfrace alloy wheels
. Inside the car, the most obvious indication of an S1 Esprit is a one-piece instrument cluster with green-faced Veglia gauges.
The Lotus Esprit S2
Over the next three years the Elite and Eclat would remain largely unchanged, however the Esprit was quickly revamped to reappear as the Esprit S2. The changes over the original car were minor and mostly cosmetic, but they went a long way to making the car more appealing aesthetically and more in keeping with the 'supercar' bracket. The power unit of the Esprit was the by-then familiar 907 series engine as developed from the sports-car racing and Formula Two LV240 unit. The 1973cc engine produced 160 bhp at 6200 rpm and 140 Ib ft of torque at 4900 rpm, although it did feel a lot less.
In fact, the mild-mannered four-cylinder sixteen-valve unit with its 9.5:1 compression ratio seemed weak, and despite the makers claims we doubt it would really propel the car at its claimed top speed of just under 140 mph unless it was downhill and with a tail-wind. But you did need to consider that the Esprit weighed under 18 cwt, and the design was wind-cheating. Fuel consumption worked out at 24mpg overall, and again the relatively small-capacity engine and light weight make for impressive touring figures. Needless to say, the handling
and roadholding were the car's most impressive features with the mid-engine design helping to make the road manners even more impressive. handling
was just about neutral right through to the very limits of cornering while the grip itself in corners had to be experienced to be believed.
The detail improvements over the original car were a spoiler under the nose, Speedline wheels (the same make as the all-conquering Lotus Grand Prix
racers), new exhaust
system, new engine air intake, for ram air feed and better volumetric efficiency, and a revised interior with suede material replacing the original tartan trim. Other changes included relocating the battery
from above the right side fuel tank (under the rear quarter window) to the rear of the car, adding an access door to the engine cover, as well as replacing the instrument cluster made by Veglia with individual gauges made by Smiths and using different style of switches on the dashboard.
During this era, special edition cars were made to commemorate Lotus's racing victories. Sharing the black and gold colour scheme of Lotus' then F1 sponsor, John Player & Sons, these cars are commonly known as the John Player Special (JPS) Esprits. Lotus' records of production figures are notoriously vague, however best estimates suggest that 149 JPS Esprits were produced. The S2.2 was produced as a stop-gap model in 1980, almost identical to the S2 but with an enlarged (2.2 litre) type 912 engine used. This kept horsepower the same, but bumped up torque from 140 to 160 lb·ft (217 N·m). Importantly, the S2.2 also introduced the use of a galvanised chassis. These cars are extremely rare even among Esprits and only 88 are thought to have been produced.
Lotus Esprit Quick Specifications
Mid-mounted, water-cooled, four-cylinder. 95.2 mm (3.75in) bore x- 69.2 mm (2.72 in) stroke - 1973cc. Maximum power (DIN) 160 bhp at 6200 rpm; maximum torque (DIN) 140lb ft at 4900rpm; light-alloy cylinder block and head. Compression ratio 9.5:1. 5 main bearings. 4 valves
per cylinder operated via thimble tappets
by twin overhead camshafts.
Single dry plate clutch and manual five-speed gearbox. Ratios 1st 2.920, 2nd 1.940, 3rd 1.320, 4th 0.970, 5th 0.760, reverse 4.375. Hypoid bevel final drive 4.38:1.
Front - independent by wishbones, and anti-roll bar
. Rear - independent by wishbones, diagonal trailing arm and lateral link with fixed length drivesbett. coil springs and telescopic dampers.
Rack and pinion.
Discs front and rear.
7Jin x 14 (rear), 6J x 14.
205/70HR14 (rear) x 195/70 HR14 (front).
2 door, 2 seat.
Dimensions and weight:
Wheelbase 96in; track-front 60. 5 in, rear- 60.5 in; length 165 in; width 73.25 in; height 43.75 in; ground clearance 5.5 in; dry weight 19801b; fuel tank capacity 15 gal.
Maximum speed 135 mph; acceleration 0-60mph 6.8secs; fuel consumption approx. 28 mpg.