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Posts filed under ‘Lotus’

Undercover Supercar:
The Early Lotus Esprit

November 3, 2012 by Matt

Lotus Esprit S1 Series 1 White Profile Side View

I have a great deal of affection for the pre-Peter Stevens Lotus Esprit, in other words, for original ’76-’86 car.

Lotus Esprit S2 Series 2 White

Why do I love it so much? In a nutshell, it’s the unconventional ’80s supercar. In contrast to rivals like the Lamborghini Countach or the Ferrari Testarossa that followed the classic “more is more” big engine supercar formula, the Esprit adhered to the traditional Lotus mantra of performance through light weight. It was powered by a comparatively small 2 (later 2.2) liter 4-cylinder engine, offered in both turbocharged and naturally-aspirated flavors. Horsepower ranged from 140 in the earliest US-spec Series 1 (S1) model to 215 in the 1986 Series 3 (S3) Turbo HC Esprit—on paper, nothing to strike fear in the hearts of its Italian competition, but as mentioned above, the Esprit’s light weight of around 2,400 lbs was its trump card, giving it sparkling performance on par with its rivals. 60 mph came and went in less than 5 seconds for the S3 Turbo HC, and the car’s low mass benefited handling and braking as well, making the Esprit a force to be reckoned with.

Lotus Esprit S3 Series 3 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

I’m drawn to the early Esprit from a styling perspective as well. In contrast to the softened, rounded post-1986 Peter Stevens redesign, the first three series preserved legendary Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro’s severe, uncompromising wedge shape. There’s an uncluttered simplicity to its lines that brings the perfect proportions to the fore, and the 1976-1986 Esprit just looks like a purer expression of the designer’s original intent, even if Giugiaro did admit to being a fan of the later two designers’ refreshes. The car’s lines also contrast with those of its more flamboyant rivals, and ensured the Esprit a lower level of desirability than a Countach or a Testarossa in a decade like the ’80s of conspicuous consumption. If it hadn’t starred in two James Bond films (Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only) it’s doubtful the Esprit would have risen out of enthusiast niche obscurity.

Dell'Orto Dellorto Delorto Carb Carburetor Carburettor Lotus Esprit Turbo

Naturally, as with almost all British cars of the era, there are some maddening problems, or charming quirks, depending on your perspective (and patience levels). The infamous British firm Lucas was responsible for the Esprit’s electrics, with all the (un)reliability that implies. Lotus went through several uneven financial periods during the car’s model run, and used a smattering of old and freshly engineered parts depending on the money available at any given time to be dedicated to development. The transmission, initially sourced from Citroen, was always a weak point, and the interior design, in contrast to the sheetmetal, has aged rather poorly.

As long as an enthusiast owner isn’t expecting to daily-drive the Esprit, the downsides aren’t dealbreakers, and all in all any eventual owners can congratulate themselves on having shown their taste in cars by snagging an unsung hero of the supercar scene.

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Which Would You Buy?
Lotus Elise vs. Caterham 7

March 1, 2012 by Matt

Lotus Elise Federal Gray Grey Silver Gunmetal

Call this “The Battle of the Track Toys.”

Both the Lotus Elise and Caterham 7 prioritize light weight and simplicity as a means to performance over raw power and grip. Both cars are British in origin. And both feature off-the-shelf 4-cylinder engines sourced from other manufacturers, the Lotus’s from Toyota and the 7’s procured from Ford.

Beyond that, the two cars differ in notable ways. The Elise, while a bit less hardcore than the Caterham, is far more attractively styled, its rival not having undergone any significant sheetmetal revisions in 40+ years. The Lotus’s independent rear suspension is more modern than the 7’s ancient De Dion setup. And the Elise offers its occupants an actual roof and glass windows, among other amenities, and so could function at least adequately as a daily driver.

Caterham 7 Lotus Silver Grey Gray

For its part, as elemental as the Lotus is, if it’s a thoroughly visceral connection with the road you’re after, the Caterham is in a class by itself. At two-thirds of the Elise’s already light 2,000 lb weight, the 7 takes the Lotus’s formula to its logical end (no coincidence that the 7 started life in the ’50s as the Lotus 7, designed by company founder Colin Chapman). It delivers a tactile driving experience like few other cars can. Not only that, but for we shadetree mechanics, the fact that the Caterham comes it kit form conjures up scenes of garage-dominating, construction-related bliss. For some, that aspect of the 7 might generate trepidatious emotions, but for me in particular, the idea of building an all-conquering track car myself sounds like a little slice of heaven.

So perhaps the real question is: How “extreme” do you want your track toy to be? Do you want it “dialed up to 11,” a DIY project with few eventual concessions to everyday practicality? Or would you like to be able to use your weekend weapon on more than just sunny days, even if that takes a bit of the edge off?

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I stack up the pros and cons of two broadly similar cars from an ownership perspective. Read the other installments here:

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New Lotus Esprit Details Trickle Out

December 14, 2011 by Matt

2014 Lotus Esprit Top View Green British Racing BRG

Automobile links to the latest tantalizing morsel from Lotus concerning their upcoming Esprit reboot, shown above. The tidbit in question is a glimpse at the 2013 Esprit’s all-new V8 engine, which was originally adapted from the Lexus IS F‘s mill before Lotus decided to start fresh. Given the British niche automaker’s engine-building experience (they developed the original Corvette ZR1’s world-beating LT5 powerplant, among many others), I’ve no doubt they’ll do it right.

Lotus Esprit V8 Red

As much of an issue as I have with Lotus’ plans for diversification of their product line, there will always be a place for the Esprit. In many ways, the ’77-’04 original was the quintessentially British supercar, a fascinating and compelling amalgam of cutting-edge and long-obsolete technology, a unique intersection between differing performance philosophies. Before the Esprit, Lotus cars embodied a characteristic devotion to light weight, but the Esprit was arguably the first Lotus to add power to the equation. Beginning with the 210 hp Essex Turbo in ’80, through the factory turbo cars of the ’80s, culminating in 300 hp out of the 2.2l 4-cylinder S4s in ’95, and progressing onto the ultimate 350 hp twin-turbo V8 of the late ’90s / early ’00s (shown above), the Esprit story has been one of continual evolution over a 27-year span. Truthfully, Lotus’ commitment to the Esprit is surpassed only by Porsche’s dogged and ongoing refinement of their 40+ year old 911, though in the British firm’s case, the attachment was driven largely by an perennial lack of capital to develop anything new, rather than by a more pure affection for the car’s legacy, as in the case of the German concern.

I love the way the Esprit took on the best from Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini during the supercar wars of the ’80s. It was the 4-cylinder turbocharged underdog from the UK, and had the glamor and pedigree to match its rivals step for step. And it looked more like a pure supercar than any of them, lacking the Countach’s over-the-top flamboyance, the bloated Testarossa’s Miami Vice cheese graters and the 911’s pumped-up bulges. No, the Esprit was just a simple, low, elemental wedge shape, the two-seat, mid-engined core of a supercar with every non-essential geegaw absent. And quirky as it may have been, it remained largely true to that philosophy throughout its evolution. For that, I remain an ardent fan.

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The Engine Swap Hall of Fame:
Hilly’s Audi V8 Lotus Esprit

November 10, 2011 by Matt

Hilly Lotus Esprit S3 Audi ABZ V8 Engine Motor Swap Motorgeek

For anyone interested in wild and wacky engine-and-chassis pairings, visit the Motorgeek community Projects subforum. On any given week, there are at least two dozen projects underway involving major engine relocation (a mid-engined V8 Golf, for example), completely custom sheetmetal fabrication and insane power builds. It’s mostly Audi- and VW-related, but some non-VAG stuff does pop in from time to time.

One of my all-time favorite project threads on Motorgeek is dedicated to Hilly’s Audi 4.2l V8 and 6-speed transaxle swap into an S3 Lotus Esprit. Ditching the anemic and temperamental stock 4-cylinder engine, Hilly went for Audi’s all-aluminum unit, in the process creating a sort of proto-twin-turbo V8 Esprit, a homemade version of what the automaker would later do themselves. You can browse the whole build thread here (it’s worth the read); I’ve grabbed a few highlights:

Click here for pictures and video!

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Losing Focus

July 25, 2011 by Matt

Lotus Elise

If there ever was a company that needed an Aston-Martin-in-the-late-’90s-style image-focusing makeover, it’s Lotus. The recent unveiling of their five (!) upcoming models seems like the latest convulsion of an automaker lurching from one era of their evolution to the next.

Their history as a company is the definition of uneven. They had a pair of incontestable successes in their early days with the kit-car Model 7 and pioneering monocoque Elite, went through a period of parity with other British sports car makers in the ’60s as they produced their lovely Elan roadster, and then diversified themselves into oblivion. Their ’70s cars, the frumpy Europa and second-generation Elite, were nothing special, then the company decided to dip its toe into the supercar waters with the late ’70s Esprit. They dabbled with a FWD second-generation Elan in the early ’90s before rediscovering their roots as a maker of lightweight, elemental cars with the superb Elise (pictured at top). All the while, the company farmed out its engineering services, working on projects as diverse as the chassis for the DeLorean and the cylinder heads for engines of the Dodge Spirit R/T and C4 Corvette ZR-1.

Lotus Evora

It all speaks to an automaker that doesn’t quite understand its niche. Companies have to grow and expand in order to survive and prosper; I know that full well, but there’s a way to do so while still retaining your core focus, understanding the non-negotiables that make you, as an automaker, distinct in the marketplace. Lotus should have learned that lesson with the enthusiastic reception the Elise received. People hailed its arrival as a return to Lotus’ fundamental strengths in developing pure, unfiltered, telepathic drivers’ cars, and for a while, it seemed as though they really had gotten it. The second generation of the Elise was introduced, and the weight stayed low, even as performance variants came and went. The Evora (shown above) joined the Lotus stable last year, and even it prioritized agility and kept weight relatively low (~3000 lbs), considering what it was, a larger 2+2 complement to the Elise.

But now the automaker is assaulting the sports car market with five new models, oversaturating and diluting the brand’s image in the marketplace, much the same way a musician would if he or she released five new albums in the span of a year. There’s far too much material to contemplate in one sitting, and even worse, the cars look appallingly similar, frustrating any attempt to distinguish between them visually. Worst of all, the new, larger, heavier Elise has broken fundamentally with the principles that shaped its genesis, and Lotus’s revival, in the mid-’90s. There’s little—on the spec sheet at least—to separate it from your average entry-level Porsche or Ferrari. For anyone who understands what put Lotus on the map in the first place, that’s a step away from a successful formula.

It’s difficult to grasp exactly what they’re trying to accomplish besides simply throwing everything into the marketplace at once to see what gains traction. And whatever merit that approach may have as a business strategy, it certainly doesn’t help their legacy as a maker of enthusiast cars. It just becomes more difficult for those of us who admire Lotus to be able to declare, with pride, that they have always done X, and have never done Y. Being able to make such statements about the guiding philosophy of an automaker we revere identifies them as an established, distinctive, focused company.

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