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“There aren't many cars around like the mid-engined Esprit in which I've arrived at the end of every journey, no matter its length or the prevailing weather and traffic conditions, and thought, ‘Fantastic! I wouldn't mind doing that all over again.’ " Motor Sport Magazine, March 1979
How many times have we been wowed at a Motor Show or by a magazine article featuring the latest concept car or proposed future production machine only for it never to see the light of day or, perhaps worse still, arrive in showrooms some years later as a dilution of the attention grabbing original (Porsche Boxter anyone)? Not so the Lotus Esprit which jumped straight from the sketchpad of Giorgetto Giugiaro to 1972 Turin Motor Show styling exercise in just a few months and thence to the Paris Salon in 1975 and general public availability in June the following year with barely a re-ruled line on it. A tweak to the rake of the windscreen to enable the car’s occupants to actually see through it (and to satisfy the safety police who considered cracking your head on a large piece of glass in a shunt to be a bad thing) and the odd subtle aerodynamic device to stop the car becoming the flying saucer it appeared to be, were the only concessions required to take flight of fancy to fully fledged production car. Actually, perhaps not that fully fledged as Lotus required the owners of the early cars to do a fair amount of hand rearing of their charges as many a niggle was addressed on the wing so to speak. This did not however prevent strong sales as the Esprit’s stunning looks, handling and performance (at least on a twisty road) prevailed, aided in no small part by being the car - and at times rocket launching submarine - of choice of one Commander Bond.
These developments, along with some instigated by Lotus engineers themselves, precipitated a Series 2 version just two years later which was universally considered to have upped the Esprit’s game considerably in virtually all areas. Understeer was significantly reduced, refinement improved and engine cooling issues resolved. Externally there was thankfully little change with the front spoiler’s graduation from after-market add-on appearance to a more integrated affair while ‘elephant’s ear’ air intakes behind the rear side windows managed to look as if they had been part of the original design. Speedline were commissioned to manufacture bespoke Lotus designed road wheels and while we love a Wolfrace as much as the next guy, these are a cut above those and the later offerings from BBS et al which could give the Esprit a bit of a ‘tuning shop’ look – no offence. Inside there were new instruments in the ‘Joe 90’ binnacle, a handy (or not handy) digital clock and slightly wider seats for the fuller figure. Towards the end of Series 2 production in 1980 the range was expanded with the Esprit Turbo, the majority of which were finished in the Formula One Team sponsor Essex Petroleum’s slightly lairy livery. Simultaneously the normally aspirated cars were treated to a revised ‘Type 912’ engine of increased 2.2 litre capacity and hence the “Series 2.2” was born. In production for barely a year apparently just eighty-eight examples for all markets were manufactured from January 1980 to March 1981, becoming the rarest of all Esprit models, Essex Turbos aside. While on paper they produced no more horsepower than the 2.0 litre ‘907’ engined cars, those horses may just have been a little more muscular, though the larger engines increased torque was quantifiable – up 20 lb/ft. to 160. However, possibly the most significant change for the Series 2.2 was virtually invisible to the untrained eye; for the first time on a Lotus car, the chassis was galvanised resulting in the Holy Grail of longevity, a fiberglass body and a virtually un-rustable chassis.
Contrary to commonly held beliefs (AKA Wikipedia), Lotus' production records are not “notoriously vague” especially regarding Esprits and we are once again indebted to the Factory Archivist for furnishing us with a wealth of build information and early history for this Esprit. The Certificate of Vehicle Provenance and Lotus Cars covering letter which have been added to the cars already extensive history file confirm that this Lotus was built as a UK market specification car, the fifty-ninth of just sixty-five such examples and the last of only eight cars finished in ‘L15’ black. In case you are of the opinion that two is company and three, never mind eight, is a crowd, it was also the only black car to have full cloth trim – black ‘Hopsack’ with silver striped seat centres to be precise. The Factory records also reveal that it was signed off from production on 12th March 1981 and became an official Lotus company car on 24th June, under the tenure of Mr Dennis Jewell. Mr Jewell, no doubt by then a fairly senior Lotus employee, worked on road car development under future Chief Executive Mike Kimberley and was part of the team responsible for the Europa – please see the photo gallery, Dennis is 3rd from the right, Mike 2nd from the left. Interestingly Lotus were allocated a batch of Norfolk Registration Numbers by the DVLA and UAH 270W sits alongside UAH 271W which adorned an Essex Esprit given by Lotus to Mark Thatcher apparently for his help with re-establishing the Brand in the USA, while UAH 272W was allocated to Team Lotus driver Nigel Mansell’s JPS liveried Turbo Esprit; check out ‘Our Nige’ playing taxi driver to HRH Prince Michael of Kent in the photo gallery.
By early 1982 the Esprit had been released into the public domain and was owned by a computer company on Regent Street in London. Details of the next owner are sparse (also known as non-existent though the DVLA might be able to help) but the paper trail picks up again in 1994 when the presumably fourth owner, a Mr Michael Haggett had the engine extensively rebuilt with a new block, liners, Cosworth pistons and so on. The car was then sold into the trade and registered by a Mrs Penelope Davis. The current, fifth private, owner purchased the car just one month later on 9th January 1995 by which time the Esprit had covered some 58,294 miles and the relevant Sales Invoice and Receipt are on file.
Over the next twenty-three years, just under ten thousand miles have been added to the total mileage (now just on 67,000) but more importantly an extensive program of refurbishment has been undertaken. Further engine work was carried out in 1996, new carburettors were fitted in 1997 and the bodywork restored and repainted in its original black in 2011 while the interior was re-trimmed in 2016 (see below). A ream of over twenty-five invoices from Lotus Dealers and Specialists such as Peter Smith, Clarks of Leicester and SJ Sports Cars total over £6,500 though these by no means cover the entire expenditure carried out. In the last two years the Esprit has been treated to a full service, new tyres, a rebuilt radiator and a new fuel tank, the first of the two fitted to the car having been replaced a few years earlier.
Today the bodywork is essentially very good with just a few blemishes discernible in certain lights and it is very straight with, for a fiberglass car, excellent alignment, panel gaps and fit. The paintwork is excellent with a very good shine and no evidence of any ‘orange peel’, crazing or micro-blistering though there are a small number of minor chips as detailed in the photo gallery. A period tilt sun roof is fitted and correct S2.2 pattern gold stripes and logos have been expertly applied which offset the paintwork very nicely.
As mentioned, new tyres have been fitted to refurbished rims which remain in perfect condition. The original Lotus-logo centre caps are present if a little faded. It may be worth noting that if the white lettering is not to your taste, the tyres can be reversed on the rims so the un-highlighted side is presented; a matter of personal taste really.
All the external plastics are in excellent condition with just a small mark on the near side rear window surround. There are no cracks in the rear lights though the front indicator/side light units have some very slight stress cracks emanating from the screw holes – please see the photographs. The apparently original Triplex glass is all in excellent condition with no delaminating, chips or scratches. There are only two bits of external chrome, namely the screen surrounds of which the front is very good and the rear is better still, being almost new.
Inside the Esprit is for the most part in excellent order; as mentioned, the seats were re-trimmed but cannily the silver/grey striped seat inserts, unique in a black S2.2, were retained and are still perfect. The new carpets fitted give the interior that ‘showroom’ smell while new seat belts and door seals complete the impression of a car barely a few months old as opposed to one knocking on the door of its fortieth birthday. The original chrome trim strips are very good though they could be more securely fitted in places. The original wooden gear knob is nicely worn-in but far from tatty. No radio is fitted as per the original build details; it was a cost option so Mr Jewell would have had to put his hand in his own pocket for that. The again original two spoke steering wheel complete with evocative, oh so 1970s Lotus script, is still in place though the joint stitching is very slightly loose. Easily the weakest aspect of the interior is the metal dash panels whose paint is flaking off and these really would benefit from some simple, cost effective attention.
The engine bay of the Lotus is clean and tidy; while not likely to win any concours competitions, it is no horror story either. Underside it is much the same; good honest grime which could be jet washed away in a satisfying hour or so, or left well alone while you do what the Esprit was designed for – drive! Stainless steel exhaust boxes are evident and the galvanised chassis looks to be in great condition.
Since its extraction just new anti-roll bar bushes, a suspension ball joint, an engine mount, a rebuilt water pump, a washer bottle and a couple of headlights. The Esprit now drives very well indeed with all the controls feeling tight and positive including the gear-change which can be a slight issue on Esprits. Oil pressure sits at a healthy 70 psi when idling from cold and when fully warmed up the fans kick in to keep the water temperature under control even during the most un-British of summers recently experienced. The engine pulls very well throughout the rev. range proving well set up carburettors can be a match for fuel injection.
On top of the aforementioned extensive collection of bills, the History File contains the current V5C plus a few earlier versions and some MOT certificates, the Lotus comes with a genuine Factory Workshop Manual dated 1982 and a very useful reprinted Parts List to supplement it. There is also a memory stick containing numerous photographs of the body restoration and repaint a few of which are included in the photo gallery.
With this era and style of ‘classic’ really coming into its own in recent years, now could well be the time to grab a wedge of 1981.
Photo location courtesy of Stubton Hall, available to hire for weddings, corporate events and private parties. www.stubtonhall.co.uk