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Esprit Turbo (
1980 - 1987
1987 Lotus Esprit Turbo
1987 Lotus Esprit Turbo
Image credits: © Lotus.
1987 Lotus Esprit Turbo news, pictures, specifications, and information
In November of 1972, Lotus introduced the Silver Car concept based on the Europa chassis. The design of the vehicle was courteous of Ital Designs Giorgio Giugiario's. Giugiario, who had led an illustrious career as a stylist beginning at Fiat and later moving on to Bertone, then Ghia. He began his own business, Ital Design in 1968. The idea behind the concept came from Tony Rudd, Lotus's Technical Director who joined the company in 1969. The idea was a mid-engine two-seater vehicle that could serve as a replacement for the Europa. The concept, named the M70 project and Kiwi in some circles, evolved into the Esprit a year later when it debuted at the Geneva Auto Show. The vehicle was visually stunning with its wedge shape and clean flowing lines. It was hailed as 'Star of The Show' at the 1975 Paris Motor Shows. By 1975 production began for the Esprit S1 with the first customers receiving the vehicle in 1976.
Mounted mid-ship was a 2.0 liter engine capable of producing 160 horsepower. It was given super-car status due to its horsepower-to-weight ratio and its performance characteristics. In 1977 it was given a staring role in the James Bond Film, 'The Spy Who Loved Me'. The Esprit S1 was produced from 1975 through 1978 during which 714 examples were produced with most being exported to the United States. The S1 was replaced by the S2 in 1978 which stayed in production until 1980. The S2 was very similar to the S1 with modifications that resolved many of the issues that plagued the S1. The suspension and engine were improved and minor aesthetical updates transpired in the interior and exterior of the vehicle. There were 100 Special Edition S2 variants created that were adorned in black and gold colors produced as a celebration of the 1978 Formula 1 World Drivers and Constructors Championships and the successes achieved with the F1 Type 79.
The S2 was replaced by the S2.2 in 1980 which was basically a S2 with a type 912 2.2 liter engine. With fewer than 100 examples of the S2.2 produced, it is considered extremely rare in modern times. Performance was exceptional with a zero-to-sixty time of around seven seconds. This British sports car was exciting to drive and carried the tradition of Colin Chapman's Lotus cars and followed in the legacy of successful Grand Prix winners.
February of 1980 saw the introduction of the Turbo Esprit Type 82 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The engine was a 910 unit that when coupled with the turbocharger produced 210 horsepower. The chassis of the vehicle was modified to handle the extra horsepower and reworked to accommodate the larger engine configuration. A new splitter and front bumper were added to the vehicle. The first 100 examples were adorned in Essex Lotus racing livery.
A year later Lotus introduced the affordable Esprit S3 Type 85. During that same year James Bond, a.k.a. 007, drove a Turbo Esprit in the movie 'For Your Eyes Only. The S3 and the Esprit Turbo were built on the same chassis and suspension. The reasons were to eliminate overhead and reduce the cost of both vehicles.
The Esprit received an active suspension in 1983. The Active suspension was later be used in the Type 99 F1 car which, driven by Ayrton Senna in 1987, would prove the cars performance on the racing circuit.
During the years 1984 through 1986, 1427 examples of the Turbo Esprit were sold.
In 1987, to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Lotus at Norfolk, Lotus introduced a limited edition Turbo Esprit HC. The acronym HC represented High Compression, in reference to the modified 2.2 liter engine that produced 215 horsepower.
In October of 1987, the Peter Stevens designed Lotus Esprit was introduced. The design featured a new body that was smoother and round in appearance. The interior was modernized.
1988 was Lotus's 40th Anniversary and to celebrate a 40 Limited Edition Esprit Turbo models were produced. The vehicles were distinguished by their white pearlescent paint with matching wheels and blue interior.
In 1989 Lotus introduced their fastest edition of the Esprit, the Esprit Turbo SE. Powered by a 2.2 liter engine and producing 264 horsepower, the vehicle could race from zero-to-sixty in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed was achieved at nearly 165 mph.
Leather interior, air-conditioning and tilt/removable glass sunroof was now offered as standard equipment on the Esprit.
In 1994 Lotus introduced the Esprit S4S at the British Motor Show. The new Esprit had a 285 horsepower engine, modified suspension, and a new wing, wheel and tire package.
For 1990, Lotus returned to racing with 3 factory supported Lotus Esprit Turbo SE models. Competing in the USA 'Showroom Stock' series, the vehicles captured four of the nine races they entered.
The 1992 Esprit received interior improvements which provided the passenger with more room and better access. Safety was enhanced by improving the rear visibility for the driver. This trend continued in 1993 when the Lotus Esprit S4 was given power steering as standard equipment.
In 1993 two Lotus Esprit Sport 300 models were entered in the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans race. This was the first works-supported entry for the Lotus factory in more than 30 years. A year later the Lotus Esprit Sport 300 was driven by Thorkild Thyrring when it captured the British National GT series.
In 1996 Lotus introduced the Esprit V8 at the Geneva Auto Show. The twin-turbocharged, 32-valve, 3.5 liter V8 produced 350 horsepower and went from zero-to-sixty in around 5 seconds. Improvements continued throughout the vehicle with an improved braking system with a new Kelsey-Hates ABS controller and vacuum servo system.
A year later Lotus introduced the Esprit V8GT at the London Auto Show. Void were some of the luxurious amenities found in the V8 version as a means for reducing the overall weight of the vehicle. The interior was new, complete with updated instruments and layout.
In 1998 Lotus introduced the Esprit Sport 350 at the Birmingham Auto Show. Improvements included brakes, carbon fiber wing, and magnesium wheels. The result was the most technologically advanced road-going Esprit supercar to date, with a top speed of 175 mph.
Due to rising emission regulations, Lotus decided to abandon the four-cylinder Esprit, making 1999 the final year of its production.
The Esprit has been featured in movies such as Pretty Woman, 007, and Basic Instinct. Introduced in the early 1970's, production began in 1976 and concluded in 2004. A new version of the Esprit is set to be released in 2007. Based on the Lotus Europa, it was given the name Esprit in keeping with the traditional Lotus 'E' naming standard. The original powerplant was a 2.0 Liter engine but quickly advanced to a 2.2 liter unit in 1980. A turbocharger system amplified the output with horsepower skyrocketing to over 300. In 1987 Peter Stevens redesigned the Esprit giving it a modernized shape but keeping the tradition of the Giorgetto Giugiaro's 'folded paper' designs of the original 1970's Esprit. An eight-cylinder was fitted into the engine bay and the zero-to-sixty time sank to the mid four-seconds.
The Esprit is a wonderful example of form and function. The Lotus Esprit was an amazing vehicle. Its aerodynamic design, light weight material, advanced technology and potent engine made the vehicle a successful and attributed to its nearly thirty-years of production.
By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2006
Desiring an upmarket car to help secure the Lotus future, the British specialist sports car maker began taking bids for a new model. Tony Rudd, the new technical director drew up plans in 1970 for two new models, a front-engined coupe dubbed M50, and a larger, mid-engined model named M70. The M70 was designed as a replacement for the Europa. Since funds were low, Lotus chose to go instead with the cheaper front-engined model, named the Elite, hoping it would boost sales. The upgraded Europa continued on with a new version of the 1558cc 105bhp Lotus-Ford twin cam engine.
Giorgetto Giugiaro, already well known for his work at Bertone, Ghia and Fiat, was given the design of the M70. Giugiaro had his own studio, ItalDesign that he began in 1968. At the 1972 Turin Motor Show, Giugiaro introduced his design, a silver prototype proudly displayed on the ItalDesign stand. Already called ‘Esprit', this new car would soon receive the famous Type 907 engine. The Esprit was built on a lengthened, widened version f the Europa's steel backbone chassis, but rode on a longer wheelbase. Setting the vision he had for the Esprit was Giugiaro's earlier debuted creation, the Maserati Boomerang, a mid-engined, wedge-shaped performance coupe based on the chassis of the Bora. The Esprit design was among the first of Giugiaro's polygonal 'folded paper' designs.
Halfway through 1973 Lotus signed off on the final design of the M70. The twin windscreen wipers were removed from the prototype, along with the louvres behind the nose panel, the 19-degree acute rake of the windscreen and the opening action of the rear lift gate. Many other details from the prototype though made it on the final concept.
The Type 907 engine had began its life back in 1966 when Lotus chose to utilize Ford less for supplying its twin-cam powerplants and instead began to produce their own two-liter engine. Ron Burr, Coventry Climax engineer had been currently working on a four-valves-per-cylinder engine and once Lotus commissioned him, work was drawn up for a slant-four unit that would form the basis of a whole new engine family. With twin overhead camshafts and an aluminum alloy head and block, the new engine could pump out 150 bhp. Easily able to be doubled to make a V8, the slant-four design meant that it could fit under very flat hoods. Vauxhall was also working on a cast-iron engine of similar design so Lotus joined forces. Called Type 904, the first 2-0 liter race engines ran in the Lotus 62 racecars. The production engine was finally ready after a few last minute trials.
Since the Europa and Elan were too small for the new engine and the M50/M70 project not complete, Chapman made a deal with Kjell Qvale, the new owner of Jensen, in 1971 to supply the Type 907 road-car engine for the Jensen-Healey. It could be fitted with twin Dellorto or the U.S. Zenith Stromberg carbs. Unfortunately there were issues with the oil flowing back to the pumps in and Chapman had talked Qvale into purchasing the engines without a warranty. Jensen struggled with the engine issues and warranty claims. The engine issues were mostly taken care of by the time the Lotus Elite was launched with larger Dellortos that produced 155 bhp.
Since the 904 engine had always been planned for a mid-engined car, a 160 bhp version was developed for the Esprit. Though it didn't affect the handling, the shape and installation meant a slight weight bias on the left side of the car. The Renault five-speed transaxle transmission couldn't handle the power and torque, so Lotus instead got one from Citroën, the five-speed gearbox used in both the mid-engined Maserati Merak and Citroën's SM coupé. The front suspension layout for the Esprit was taken from the Opel Ascona, and servo-less disc brakes were borrowed from Girling, and 14-inch wheels from Wolfrace. The outside door handles were taken from the Morris Marina. In January of 1975 the first production prototype was driven to Heathrow airport to collect Chapman on his way back from the Argentine Grand Prix.
During the early 1970s the world oil crisis and recession held back the launch of the Esprit for nearly nine months. In October of 1975 the Esprit was formally announced, but it still wasn't ready for production. The name Kiwi was proposed in the beginning, but Lotus chose to continue to the tradition of all car model names beginning with 'E', instead chose 'Esprit' pronounced ‘es-pree'.
Lotus wanted to launch the new sports car alongside the new Eclat, a 2+2 version of the front-engine Elite, so they kept the public in suspense a bit longer. In June 1976 the first deliveries made it to customers. The Esprit pricetag rose from £5,845 to £7,885, which caused dismay from customers. Though it featured a larger cabin than the Europa, the Esprit didn't have much usable space except for a small compartment in the front, and difficult access to the seats. Riding on a 96-inch wheelbase, the S1 measured 165 inches in length, 73 inches in width and had a height of 44 inches.
Other early misfortunes included a press car unable to live up to Lotus's performance claims in an Autocar test. Thankfully these were soon forgotten when the Esprit's handling lived up to hopes, along with its big film debut in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me' James Bond movie. The car was featured in a long chase sequence that converted into a 'submarine' amphibious vehicle. This helped the Esprit's launch tremendously and aided in the sale of 580 models in 1977, a record that would never be topped. Launched in October 1975 at the Paris Auto Show, the S1 (or Series 1) Esprits went into production in June of 1976. In September 2013 the Perry Oceanographic-built submarine 'Wet Nellie' was auctioned by RM Auctions and sold to Elon Musk for £650,000 at Battersea Park, London. Musk had intentions to make the submarine S1 a road-going vehicle by installing a Tesla electric powertrain.
With a fiberglass body and a steel backbone chassis, the Esprit engine displaced 2.0L and produced 160 bhp in European trim, 140 bhp in US trim and was mounted longitudinally behind the passengers. A 5-speed manual unit, the transaxle gearbox was used previously in the Maserati Merak and the Citroën SM and sported inboard rear brakes.
A shovel-style front air dam, Fiat X1/9 taillights, lack of body side ducting and Wolfrace alloy wheels differentiated the Si Esprit from later Esprits. On the inside was a one-piece instrument cluster with green-faced Veglia gauges. Weighing less than 2,205 pounds the Esprit was the embodiment of true performance by Lotus. The Series 1 had a top speed around 133 mph and could accelerate 0-60 mph in 8 seconds.
In August of 1978 the Esprit 2 was launched with performance that finally met original claims thank to a series of improvements. With a top speed of 130 mph and a sprint time of eight seconds, the Esprit 2 had more mid-range punch and a different camshaft. The interior of the model was also revamped and featured more sculpted seating, brand new instruments, a digital clock and new switchgear. A sleek new front spoiler was the big news for this year along with redesigned air intakes behind the rear quarter-light windows, Esprit decals and Speedline alloy wheels. New taillights were also featured, identical to the Rover SD1. A space-saver spare wheel was hidden nicely under the hood and a new motor mechanism for the pop-up headlamps was added. The S2 Esprits used 14-inch Speedline alloy wheels that were designed specifically for the Lotus marque. The battery was moved from above the right side fuel tank to the rear of the car via a new access door on the engine cover. Individual gauges by Smiths replaced the Veglia instrument cluster and a new style of switches was used on the dashboard.
Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, Team Lotus drivers were the first owners of S2 Esprit sports cars. The price had risen to an astonishing £11,125 and Lotus hoped to use the publicity to soften the inflated pricetag. Limited Edition models were debuted at the 1978 Birmingham Motor Show and were resplendent in black and gold JPS insignia to commemorate Andretti's Formula One World Championship success. Only one hundred of these Limited models were created and each featured individually numbered plaques on the dashboard, all signed by Colin Chapman.
Sharing many of the Esprit's chassis and suspension components was the DeLorean, also styled by Giugiaro. The DeLorean was rear-engined however. A project that was meant to take only 18 months making production ready a faulty Renault V6-engined prototype ended up taking more than two years. The project was also at the expense of Lotus's product development. The end result was disastrous with a hefty pricetag, a car compromised by its rear-engined layout, badly fitting gullwing doors and unimpressive performance. After receiving millions of pounds from the British government for building its factory in Northern Ireland, DeLorean went bankrupt.
Lotus was thanked for their effort, but Chapman's involvement in the project didn't do his reputation any favors and he was tainted by the implication of the missing millions. He had a fatal heart attack not long after than many thought to be especially convenient for the circumstances. Suspicions arose that he had run away to Brazil to avoid the law.
Essex Petroleum, Grand Prix sponsors for Lotus, hosted an event at Albert Hall in 1979. Three prototype Esprits with turbocharged 2.2-liter engines were debuted at the auspicious occasion. In March of 1980 the non-turbo Esprit S2.2 was launched with an enlarged version of the Type 907 engine named Type 912. The horsepower remained the same, but the torque was bumped up from 140 lb/ft to 160 lb/ft. The DeLorean project had caused some of the delays with the S2.2, but the development was made possible for Lotus' own models by producing the engine for Chrysler Europe. Only 88 of the S2.2 models were produced by Lotus during its thirteen-month production run and are incredibly rare.
The Esprit S2.2 snatched wins at the 1980 RAC Rally and the 1981 Argentine Rally. It claimed second place in Monte Carlo, Portugal, Corisca, Brazil and San Remo. With peak power still at 160 bhp, the production form Esprit could produce 140 lb./ft. of torque at 2400 rpm. Another improvement over previous models was the galvanized chassis frame. Because of the new chassis Lotus was now able to offer a five-year anti-corrosion warranty if necessary when sold in the U.S. Other updates included a new part-stainless-steel exhaust system and updated badging. The price rose of the S2.2 rose to £14,950.
In September of 1980 came the long-awaited Esprit Turbo. Though to keep up with customer demand for a speedier Esprit Lotus dealers Bell & Colvill had been selling aftermarket S2 conversions with bolt-on Garret turbocharger since 1978, this would be the first time Lotus ‘officially' offered a Turbo model. The earlier Turbo model had a top speed of 150 mph, produced 210 bhp and 202 lb/ft of torque and could hit 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds. Lotus's factory Turbo featured a new chassis; new rear suspensions, a more aerodynamic look, and several engine modifications. Receiving nearly the same numbers as the Bell & Corvill model, Lotus had done their homework on the Turbo. The entire block was updated, receiving dry-sump oil lubrication used in many high performance makes like Porsche, the compression ratio was reduced, the camshaft was updates and air supply to the carbs was boosted. The 910 engine produced 210 hp and 200 lb/ft of torque. At first the Turbo was a special edition model that commemorated F1 ties and reflected current sponsorship. The Essex Esprit was blue, red and chrome with livery of the Essex Petroleum. Forty-five Essex Spirits were built, and followed by a number of non Essex-liveried dry-sump turbo cars.
The Turbo featured a smooth powerful delivery with no turbo lag. A top speed of over 140 mph was tested by Motor's road testers, and recorded 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds. Dubbed M72, the Esprit Turbo came with a redesigned backbone-style chassis frame that incorporated a more rigid structure that housed a new rear suspension system. In the event that a larger V8 engine was fitted, the engine bay was also made wider. The styling was updated by Giugiaro and included a larger front bumper, a deep front airdam spoiler, aerodynamic side skirts and additional cooling ducts for the engine compartment.
The interior of the Turbo featured new scarlet leather upholstery and seats and a roof-mounted Panasonic stereo. The special-edition Essex Commemorative models priced at £20,950 came with extra luxuries like FM radio, air conditioning and flamboyant Lotus decals. A total of 100 of theses special models were produced. The regular Turbo was priced at £16,920 and did not feature air condition or audio standard.
The Esprit's film cameo in James Bond film greatly helped sales and demand peaked in 1982 to 205 models sold. Two Essex-spec Turbo Esprits were filmed, one in white and the other in copper and though they were scripted as the same car, the white one was blown up in Spain, while the red one was a ‘rebuild' of the original.
In the spring of 1981 the continuing normally aspirated cars were revised after the introduction of the Esprit Turbo. Lotus was building three different models of Esprit by the end of 1980 with different chassis designs and body molds; the Domestic (UK) S2.2, the Export S2.2, and the dry-sump Turbo Esprit. Much cheaper than the pricy Turbos, these models cost £13,460 - £1800 less than the departing S2.2 models. The Turbo Esprit and S3 Esprits introduced in April of 1981, these new models shared the same chassis and had nearly the same configuration of the Essex body production based on a single common set of molds. The S3 continued utilizing the 2.2 L type 912 engine of the S2.2 while the Turbo model reverted to a less complex wet-sump lubrication system that still kept the power and torque outputs of its dry-sump ancestor. The inside of the cars received new trim and changes in the body mold that resulted in an enlarged footwell and more headroom.
In 1986 the American emissions regulations forced Lotus to develop two new versions of the Turbo, the HCPI for U.S. markets, and the HC for the majority of the world. The HCPI (High Compression, Petrol Injection) became the first Lotus that featured fuel injection, a Bosch K-Jetronic system and a catalytic converter. The HCPI also featured wider, lower seats, a larger footwell that resulted in a more comfortable cabin, wider tires, a new front spoiler and a raised compression ration and boost pressure. The High Compression version went to the rest of the world, including the UK, and had the same high compression head, but kept the carbs. The HC version also received the new seats and an improved cooling system and an enlarged exhaust. With a £24,980 pricetag, the HC featured 215 bhp and 201 lb ft of torque. This impressive offer was Lotus's attempt to boost sales with a dated range.
Alloys in the Turbo style were an option, but Lotus refused to kit out non-turbo S3 models with body kit and spoilers. Larger bumpers and new air intakes were added to the revised model and the interior was updated and received improved soundproofing. The S3 received more substantial bumpers but kept the simpler sill line and glazed rear hatch of the S2.2 body style. Both models sported 15' BBS alloy wheels. Thanks to the cheaper entry-level price the Esprit sales picked up nicely for a short time. Unfortunately Colin Chapman's sudden death in December 1982 hurled Lotus into more financial setbacks.
Lotus ownership was split between Chapman's family (who held 20%), BCA, British Car Auctions (BCA) investors who took the controlling stake, and Toyota, which took 16.5%. David Wickens, BCA man was elected as chairman. In 1984 Construction Company JCB took an 11% stake and Toyota then increased its share to 20%.
Unfortunately Lotus was unable to develop the new Elan in 1986, and without the entry-level model that was necessary for the company to survive, General Motors swooped in to buy out the struggling company.
At the 1984 Birmingham Motor Show the Giugiaro-designed prototype was debuted and featured Lotus's 4.0-liter V8 engine. Hailed as the British Ferrari competition, the Etna's engine was two of the slant-four units joined together and further modified. It was reputed to have a top speed over 180 mph and capable of 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds. Hoping to attract investors for a future Esprit V8, the Etna was an example of Lotus's consultancy work. The Etna featured a central computer that controlled the engine management, a crash-sensing radar system, active suspension settings, AC, ABS, photosensitive glass and a computer-controlled continuously variable transmission. Unfortunately even with all of these advanced features no financial backers were found and Etna project was abandoned.
Development on new models began under General Motor's ownership, but updates for the Esprit wouldn't happen for a while. U.S. customers preferred the Turbo, and small numbers of the car were sold in the UK. The non-Turbo version of the HC engine was offered at the end of 1986 already fitted in the Excel. It produced 172 bhp and 163 lb/ft of torque. The interior of the Esprit HC was revamped slightly along with a few minor changes including lift-out roof panels, like the HC Turbo. Priced at £18,980, unfortunately the Esprit HC was looking decidedly aged.
With the design influence of Peter Stevens, the heavily revised fourth-generation Esprit was introduced in October of 1987 and often known as project code X180. Stevens had worked for Lotus before the GM takeover and was responsible for the Excel styling, which had replaced the Eclat and he would eventually design the McLaren F1. Stevens and his team, which included Julian Thomson, eventual chief of advanced design at Jaguar, modified the Esprit styling by softening Giugiaro's harsh wedge shape and hard lines. The new design was more soft edges with a more modern look. The VARI (Vacuum Assisted Resin Injection) process was a new Lotus patented process introduced to create the new body in a much more advantageous way than the previous hand laid process. For more rollover protection Kevlar reinforcement was added to the roof and sides, which increased torsional rigidity by 22 percent. Retaining the mechanical components of the previous High Compression Esprit and Turbo Esprit, the Stevens styled cars introduced a stronger Renault transaxle that made a necessary move to outboard rear brakes. The MY1988 North American Esprit turbo retained its Citroën SM type transaxle and the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system from the earlier model year.
The Type 910 engine kept the 215 bhp and 220 lb/ft of torque, but decreased its 0-60 mph acceleration time from 5.6 seconds down to 5.4 seconds. The top speed was a little over 150 mph. On the inside the car received a little more space for passengers. Once again the Esprit was improved with the GM multi-port, electronic fuel injection system and the addition of Chargecooler, which was a water to air intercooler introduced in 1989. Known as Type 910S, this inline-four engine produced 280 HP with overboost and could accelerate 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds and had a top speed of over 160 mph. Other modifications included body kit changes as well like side skirts that were parallel to the body, five air ducts in the front air dam, addition of a rear wing and wing mirrors from the Citroën CX.
Turbo models sported a new see-through plexiglass panel, which greatly improved visibility. Stevens kept the ‘flying buttress' pillars, and the windscreen glass was made curvier, but it still didn't help the screen reflection issues. The whole structure was much more durable and cheaper to produce with all of the changes under the hood. The chassis and suspension layout didn't change however and there wasn't any more room in the cabin. Tweed-leather replaced the previous ruched leather seats, and a little more foot room was added, but those were the only updates. The buttons on the instrument binnacle were taken from the Austin Maestro.
Rigidity was increased thanks to the new body structure, so Lotus softened the suspension slightly to make the ride a bit more comfortable. Goodyear Eagle tires received OZ alloys, and Toyota provided new brakes. Replacing the previous Citroën SM set-up in Europe was a new close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox from the Renault GTA/25 Turbo. The old Citroën SM set-up continued with U.S. market cars for the time being though.
The Turbo was tested by Car magazine and had a top speed of 158 mph and 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds with the engine developed for another 5 bhp. Customers raved about the new Turbo and compared its performance to rivaling Porsche and Ferrari models. The only complaint lay in its throttle response and flexibility, and the interior styling.
To commemorate Lotus' 40th Anniversary a limited edition model was introduced. Featuring white pearlescent bodywork, the special model was introduced at the 1988 Birmingham Motor Show and sported a larger rear spoiler and front air dam, CD player and two-tone blue leather/suede cabin. The Limited edition model was a huge hit with the motoring public. Fuel injection was introduced across the range in 1989. GM subsidiary AC Delco provided a multi-point system with advanced microelectronics and engine management.
The first Esprit that could actually call itself a Supercar, the Esprit Turbo SE was introduced in May and would be the turning point for the range. With a top speed of 164 mph the SE had an engine tuned to produced 264 bhp and could achieve 0-60mph in just 4.7 seconds. All of this was made possible because of a new induction system and exhaust with catalytic converter, new forged pistons, a charge air-cooler, direct ignition system and new Delco engine management. Becoming the most powerful 16-valve engine in the world, the fuel injection revitalized the old four-cylinder unit. The suspension was updated slightly with stiffer front springs, gas-filled rear dampers and steering that was lightened.
Richard Bremner, deputy editor of Car magazine raved over the horsepower and performance of the Turbo SE. Gavin Green, editor, commented that after 14 years, the Esprit was now well built, and a reality and called the Lotus 'Britain's best supercar'. Priced £14,000 more than the non-turbo model, the SE was priced £42,500 - £8,600 more than the standard Esprit Turbo, which still remained in production.
Unfortunately the magazine press the next year wasn't raving as much when the Turbo SE fell behind in a four-car test against the Honda NSX, Porsche 911 Carrera 2 and the Ferrari 348. In 1991 the non-turbo model was dropped from the line-up.
A midrange turbocharged car was also launched by Lotus called the Esprit S, with much few appointments and 228 hp. The two-liter 'tax special' model was developed for the Italian market and was fitted with an intercooled and turbocharged version of a new 1,994 cc version of the 900-series four-cylinder engine. This two-liter model sported SE trim and was launched in December of 1991. Producing 243 PS at 6,250 rpm this engine soon became available in various markets in the fall of 1996.
At this in 1991 time Lotus started on a successful motorsport program and featured race engines that included a 300bhp, 2611 lb/ft unit for the America SCCA sports car challenge series. This unit featured a revised cylinder head, bigger fuel injectors, recalibrated engine management and increased charge cooling, and a bigger Garrett turbocharger. The limited-edition production Esprit Sport received this engine and was debuted at the Birmingham Motor Show of 1992. In 1992 Doc Bundy won the Driver's title in USA national sports car series behind the wheel of the Lotus Sport X180R.
In 1994 Thorkild Thyrring won the British National GT series behind the wheel of a Lotus Esprit Sport 300. The first Lotus-supported entry in over 30 years, two Sport 300s were raced in the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours, but were unplaced. A derivative of the X180R sold in Europe, the Sport 300 included numerous modifications has been known as the fasted of the four-cylinder Esprits.
After Porsche and Ferrari turned down the lucrative role as product placement in the film Pretty Woman because they didn't want to be associated with soliciting prostitutes, Lotus jumped at the opportunity to feature the Lotus Esprit. A Silver 1989.5 Esprit SE was used in the major feature film and sales of the Esprit tripled during 1990 and 1991. Other film appearances were made in The Rookie, If Looks Could Kill / Teen Agent, Basic Instinct, Taking Care of Business and the TV series The Highwayman.
Lotus removed the Excel and the M100 Elan by the spring of 1993, which left only the Esprit in the lineup. The S4 series, or fifth generation was introduced with a new hood, light clusters, bumpers, side sills, and a new understated spoiler. The exterior redesign of the S4 was done by Julian Thompson. The doors were also much easier to open with wider doors. The fifth generation was the first model to include power steering. On the interior the cab was improved with new carbon-fiber trim, new switchgear and instrumentation from the Vauxhall parts bin and a new Nardi steering wheel. For the first time power steering was introduced along with new front suspension components, anti-roll bar, springs and dampers, revised rear coils and shock absorbers. The S4 Series rode on alloy wheels with Goodyear Eagle tires.
The engine offering remained the same 264hp with management slightly modified for more low-down torque. The S4 was priced at £47,000. Despite criticizing the S4 Series for its lack of smoothness, close-set pedals, dismal windscreen wiper and poorly packaged cabin among other things, Car magazine called the car 'the new Lotus that's more fun than a Ferrari'. With the look and feel of a true supercar, the S4 Series experienced an 11% increase in sales in 1994. Unfortunately even this jump in sales wasn't enough to help the struggling Lotus Company who announced that the company was for sale merely 10 days later.
Under the Italian investor Romano Artioli, Bugatti became the new owner of Lotus. Artioli had purchased the rights to the obsolete French company in 1990 and was very interested in Lotus's active suspension technology. It was rumored that Bugatti purchased Lotus for £30 million. Eventually the Elan and its production was sold off separately to Kia.
The Esprit S4s (S4 Sport) were launched with the Sport 300's engine in November 1994. The power was now upped to 300 bhp and 290 lb/ft of torque, which greatly improved the performance while keeping the same comfort as before. The S4 featured a top speed of 168 mph and could acceleration 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Keeping the same 2.2-liter capacity, many modifications were added to improve engine performance that included enlarged inlet ports, a re-calibrated ECM, revised turbocharger and cylinder head modifications. The S4's featured alloys, uprated brakes and body kit, but the cabin and suspension were the same as the standard S4 model. One of the major exterior styling updates included a new large rear wing taken from the Sport 300.
In 1996 the Bugatti Company went bankrupt and Artioli to Volkswagen surrendered the rights. Artioli stayed on until 1998 as a Special Projects director and the Lotus Company was sold to Proton, which was currently gaining leverage in the European market. Right before the takeover the Esprit V8 was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.
With a top speed of over 175 mph, the Esprit V8, code-named Type 918 3.5-liter twin-turbo engine pumped out 350bhp and could achieve 0-60mph in just 4.5 seconds. Using Lotus' self-developed all-aluminum, twin-turbocharged 90-degree V8 engine in front of the Renault transmission like before, the V8 had no Chargecooler. An uprated gearbox was developed by Derek Bell that fixed many of the earlier gearbox issues with a thicker single piece input shaft. The motoring press fell in love with the new Esprit and claimed it was the best Esprit yet. Critics raved over the cabin quality, the sleek style and refinement. Priced at £58,750 the new Esprit V8 made its film debut in the infamous Sharon Stone film ‘Basic Instinct'.
The GT1, a racing version was launched at the Paul Ricardo circuit before the 1996 GT series. Fitted with a six-speed transmission, the GT1 had F1-style aerodynamics and carbon brakes. Unfortunately the car was discharged early during its first event from a fractured exhaust.
In 1998 the Esprit V8 Mk 2 was launched in both London and Chicago. The reception was lukewarm by some critics who felt that the cabin desperately needed a more thorough update. The improved gearbox and gear selector mechanism and new twin-plate clutch was appreciated by many who had earlier complained. Eighty-eight pounds lighter, the V8 Mk 2 was now more of a driving car than a luxury grand tourer. The GT3 was the entry-level model with four-cylinders and capacity of 1973cc with 240bhp and 294 lb/ft of torque. Previously this turbocharged engine had only been used in Italian market cars.
The V8 range was split into SE and GT specifications in 1998 with a changed interior configuration, both with similar performances. The SE remained the more luxurious of the two versions. The GT was priced at £49,950 while the V8 SE with a full leather interior and AC was priced at a hefty £59,950. The 1999 Sport 350 Special Edition was even more costly at £65,000.
Weighing 176 pounds less than the GT, the Sport 350 featured uprated AP Racing brakes, light magnesium alloy OZ wheels, stiffer springs, large carbon-fiber rear spoiler on aluminum uprights instead of the standard fiberglass rear wing and front splitter. Only fifty of these exclusive Special Editions were made. Each of these ultimate models pumped out an impressive 350 horsepower, and various engine, chassis and braking modifications.
For 2002 the Sport 350's extra features were then morphed into the base range for the final run of the Esprit. The new revision featured a redesigned rear panel with round taillights, new high-backed sports seats, special four-spoke ‘crystal titanium' OZ wheels and an updated exhaust. The only model in the 2002 lineup was the Esprit V8 with a pricetag of £49,995. Interior revisions included a luxurious cabin; two-tone leather seats with a Lotus logo and aluminum trim detailing.
After the Esprit facelift Lotus announced that they were scaling back production from the rate of around one Esprit a week. Many of the staff was laid off while Lotus introduced many cost cutting procedures. In 2004 Esprit production temporarily ceased while Lotus was satisfied with only making minor cosmetic changes including a switch to four round taillights for 2002. Total numbers peak at 10,675 Esprits ever produced after twenty-eight years in production with a new model expected to make an appearance nine years after the last on in February 2004 rolled off the assembly line at Hethel.
Lotus unveiled a completely redesigned new generation Esprit at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. Alongside four other cars in the marques lineup, the new Esprit is scheduled for production late in 2013 and offered for sale in the spring of 2014. Sporting an innovative front-end, with LED front daytime running lights the rear held a center-mounted dual exhaust system. A high the interior was found on the inside with a minimally designed cabin that includes a sport steering wheel, a digital instrument cluster and carbon fiber trim throughout. Weighing around 3,296 pounds, the new Esprit measured 179.1 inches in length, 76.8 inches wide and 49.2 inches high.
Automobile Magazine reports that the in-house Lotus engines for the 2014 Esprit are mid-mounted, lighter, and more fuel-efficient than the IS-F. The V6 and a V8 models will receive Lotus engines engineered and designed 'in-house' which will be mirrored to the 90-degree cylinder angle. The V6 displacement ranges between 3.0 and 3.5 liters while the V8 falls between 4.0 to 4.8 liters. With a claimed top speed of 205 mph, the new Esprit is expected to achieve 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds. According to Lotus the Esprit will also be available with a Hybrid option that used a KERS regenerative brake system taken from Formula One.
By Jessica Donaldson
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