The History and Growth of the Lotus Esprit
Between its conception and first release in 1976 to the discontinuation of the line in 2004, there have been over 24 different production models of the Lotus Esprit, making it one of the longest running and most popular British Sports Cars of all time. Though the body work was updated every few years and a range of different engines were installed under the bonnet, the Esprit is the car that made Lotus what it is today, paving the way for the Elise and Exige and winning the hearts of hundreds of motoring enthusiasts.
The Early Years 1976-1980 The Esprit was in development from 1972 as a concept car, but the final design, from the drawing board of Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, and name were revealed at the Paris Motorshow in 1975 and went into commercial production in 1976. The first run of cars became known as the S1 Esprits, and produced 160 BHP from 2 litre engines. The first Esprits set the now famous Lotus trend for improving performance by making extremely light bodies and interiors, with the original Esprit weighing less than 1000kg. 0-60 was reached in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 138 miles per hour was stated to be achievable by Lotus themselves, though real life road tests set the mark at around 8 seconds for 0-60 and 133 mph as more realistic for the S1. A couple of years into its life the S1 Esprit was revamped to become the S2 series, which notably added air ducts behind the rear quarter windows. Most of the changes were aesthetic rather than performance based, and it became a car of increased comfort and accessories than the S1. An S2.2 was introduced as a stop gap car to fill the wait between the release of the S2 and the newer Turbo and S3 models in the 1980s.
Turbo and S3 Esprits (1980-1987) In 1980 the first Turbo-Charged Esprit was released, at the time to coincide with Formula 1 ties and celebrate sponsorship, and became known as the Essex Esprit because it was painted in the colours of Essex Petroleum. 210 hp pushed the tuned Esprit to over 150 mph, with 0-60 arriving in 5.6 seconds, a considerable performance boost from the S1 and S2 models. The Turbo models also featured a body kit designed again by Giorgetto Giugiaro, which introduced and aerodynamic outer shell to go with the performance increase and the strengthened chassis and rear suspension. In 1981 the S3 Esprit was introduced, featuring the same 2.2 litre engine from the S2.2 and the gearbox from the Essex Esprit. A new, revamped interior was offered, with the option of leather seats and improved noise reduction, making the whole experience more civilised. Again the engine produced 160 bhp, hitting 60 in 6.5 seconds and going on to 135 mph. 767 S3 Esprits were sold between 1981 and 1987.
Esprit V8 1996 A re-design of the Esprit`s exterior was carried out by Peter Stevens in 1988, but the next significant step in the Esprit Timeline took place in 1996 when a Lotus developed 3.5 litre V8 engine was added, and in 1998 the Esprit split into the SE and GT versions, offering similar performance but with the SE being slightly more luxurious. If you are looking to buy a car and considering a Lotus Esprit, your safest bet is to look for a low mileage late example which has been well cared for and not ragged around or used on the track too much, as is the case with some old Esprits.