1 June 2020

More than an old car #145: Lotus Esprit

If you are an avid fan of the James Bond film series, mention The Spy Who Loved Me and you may think about the submarine car. While something like this still remains a distant possibility, you could have a chance to see its inspiration in the Lotus Esprit!

The Esprit was first conceived in 1970 by Tony Rudd, a renowned British engineer who had just joined Lotus. This ambitious project, known as the Project M70, was intended to be a successor to the Europa and was supposed to be a 2-door mid-engined coupe. Giorgetto Giugario was involved in the styling and although Colin Chapman [the founder of Lotus] wanted to scrap it, a prototype was developed in time for the 1972 Turin Auto Show and this convinced Chapman to green-light the project. 

It was unveiled to the public in 1975 at the Paris Motor Show, with production commencing a year later. The 1st-generation Esprits, known as the S1, featured a wedge-shaped fibreglass body mounted on a steel chassis and weighed in at a surprisingly light 900 kg. In 1981, the S3 and Turbo models were introduced. They were distinguished by the type of engine and exterior appearance: the Turbo models had a more powerful 2174 cc Type 910 i4 engine and prominent "turbo esprit" decals on the nose and the sides. It could reach a top speed of 245 km/h with an acceleration of 5.8 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4191 mm long and weighed 1220 kg, with a fuel consumption of 10 litres/100 km.

In 1987, the Esprit was restyled by British designer Peter Stevens. Although it was markedly more rounded and less angular, Giugario was said to have liked this design too. Now known as the X180, the Esprit now came with Kevlar-reinforced roof and sides for roll-over protection. The body panels were produced using a new process called VARI (Vacuum Assisted Resin Injection), which offered advantages to the previous hand lay-up process. Some X180 Esprits were fitted with a high-compression variant of the previous Type 912 engine and thus were also known as the Esprit HC. The HCs were powered by a 2174 cc Type 912 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 245 km/h with an acceleration of 5.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4330 mm long and weighed 1268 kg, with a fuel consumption of 12 litres/100 km.

Production of the Esprit actually continued all the way till 2004 with the S4, designed by Julian Thomson. A total of 10,675 units were made, of which there were 2,274 S3 Turbos and 573 X180 HCs. Local news reviews had praised it as an "absolute sports car" with a powerful yet docile engine and excellent road handling, although there were gripes about its stiff clutch, audible engine noise and heavy steering. The S3 Turbo was first sold in 1981 by Kim Teck Leong Pte Ltd, the Lotus dealer back then for a rather huge price of S$143,120 [S$262,907 in today's money]. The X180 HC was sold in 1988 by Italia Pte Ltd at a price of S$238,000 [S$451,294 in today's money]!

The red unit, a 1988 model, has a storied history from what I have heard. It belonged to the Khoo Teck Puat family, a renowned local philanthropist [and incidentally wealthy] before it was sold off. At some point in life, it received an S4 body-kit and had some voodoo done on the engine, making it less reliable unfortunately. Recently, this unit suffered an engine fire when a car owner friend of mine briefly owned it! Its ownership has been transferred again and now it is awaiting restoration. The picture below was taken back in 2017, when the then-owner made a rare appearance. Subsequently, it was 'abandoned' as seen above before my friend owned it.

The yellow unit, a 1982 model, has changed hands recently and is embellished with decals and stick-on letters. I first saw it in 2014 at my 1st-ever classic car show, where it looked a lot cleaner back then. According to its VIN, it was made at the Hethel plant, although curiously labelled as an export LHD model.

The Lotus Esprit has appeared in films, most notably in the James Bond franchise although none of the 2 models above were featured. Esprits remain cult classics as it exudes a different atmosphere: this is not your average grocery car but one that demands your fullest appreciation. How could you not be taken away by just how it looks?! There are still a handful of Esprits around but they are mostly elusive; however, I hope you will have the chance to spot one, since you can't miss how unique they look!

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