New & Used Lotus Esprit: In Depth
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An icon of childhood for many of those afflicted with a deep and unreasonable love of cars, the Lotus Esprit's futuristic wedge shape, temperamental reputation, and British origins not only created, but cause it to retain a special place in the hearts of many sports car and supercar fans.
Over the course of five generations, from 1976 to 2004, the Esprit evolved continuously--in some ways, dramatically, in other ways, only incrementally. While the first Esprit and the last don't share much in the way of individual details, the familial lineage is clear, and the major themes of shape, proportion, and layout remain the same.
The original Esprit was first revealed as a concept by Italdesign in 1972 at the Turin Motor Show, built on a stretched Lotus Europa platform. When the Esprit finally arrived in production form in 1976, it replaced the Europa in Lotus' lineup.
Mid-engined, with two doors and only minimal space otherwise, the Esprit's mission was clear from the outset: to be a sporty, fun-to-drive car with little concern for practicality. Starting out as a light but underpowered (140 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder) sports car, the Esprit grew into more powerful variants, including the Esprit Turbo (good for about 210 horsepower when launched in 1980), the fourth-generation Esprit Turbo SE (up to 280 horsepower), and the Esprit V8 introduced in 1996 (355 horsepower).
In addition to the core variants of the Esprit, many special edition variants were made, sold in limited-edition batches. But whichever form of Esprit the buyer chose, they were all special, coming out of the British brand's factory and rolling directly into the popular imagination. Perhaps no better example exists than that of the famed submarine James Bond car, used in the 1977 film "The Spy Who Loved Me." That car has seen continued interest from collectors over the decades, most recently selling for more than $1 million to none other than Tesla Motors' chief Elon Musk, who plans an all-electric upgrade for the car.
Despite many enthusiasts' fond memories of the car, however, the Esprit was (and continues to be) known for its many faults, from shoddy build quality to problematic electrical systems to its many shared parts from GM, British Leyland, and even Citroen or Renault. In many ways, the Esprit, despite its dashing design and high-performance intent, was hamstrung by the realities of the British automotive industry of the era.
Lotus, under then-CEO Dany Bahar, had intended to build a new version of the Esprit, even going so far as to build a concept for production by 2014, but subsequent business changes at Lotus shelved the product not long afterward.