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Lotus Esprit: Buying guide and review (1976-1987)

Lotus Esprit: Buying guide and review (1976-1987) Classic and Performance Car
Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS interior Lotus Esprit JPS engine Lotus Esprit JPS rear light Lotus Esprit JPS
Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, every kid used to lust after a Lotus Esprit Turbo – and there were plenty of adults who did just the same. Here was the most fantastically shaped wedge of plastic that could hit 150mph and sprint from a standing start to 60mph in less than six seconds – and all thanks to a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of just over 2.0-litres. Talk about trouncing the big boys from Italy and Germany, especially when it came to affordability – if not necessarily reliability. 
 
Few cars look as ‘right’ as the original Giugiaro-penned Esprit, and for many the Esprit remains one of the coolest James Bond cars of all time, after playing a major roll in the Rodger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me. When that white Lotus plunged into the Mediterranean, and transformed into a submarine the, a Hethel-built star was born.  
 
As it developed, the Esprit became more usable and faster, while perhaps losing some of its design purity. For this guide we’re covering the S1 to S3 cars, including the Turbo models. 
 
Which one to buy?
 
Lotus developed the Esprit a lot throughout its decade-long production run. If you can afford a minter and you’re not planning to cover lots of miles, they all make sense. But if you’re on a budget and you’re buying an Esprit to use it, you need to consider very carefully which edition to go for. 
 
American-spec Esprits are unloved as their Zenith carburettors and anti-smog equipment dulled the twin-cam’s sparkle. The raised ride height also damages the dynamics – and the looks aren’t helped either, thanks to the ungainly impact bumpers.
 
Collectors tend to want the earliest cars (Series 1 and 2), but these are suitable for professional restoration only, which is why projects are best avoided – they also suffer from chronic parts availability. As a result, you’re better off going for a Series 3 or newer, even if you’re not taking on a project. 
 
JPS cars are sought after, along with Turbos, whether standard, HC or Essex models. However, that turbocharger puts off as many potential buyers as it entices, so a boosted car isn’t necessarily the best investment. That leaves the S2.2 and S3 as the most affordable Esprits, so if you’re on a budget aim for one of these. 
 
Performance and specs 
 
Lotus Esprit Turbo
Engine 2174cc, four-cylinder 
Power 210bhp @ 6500rpm 
Torque 200lb ft @ 4500rpm 
Top speed 152mph 
0-60mph 5.6sec 
Consumption 22mpg 
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Insurance group 20
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2438mm
Length 4191mm
Width 1852mm
Height 1118mm
Kerb weight 1067kg
 
Common problems 
 
• There were three versions of Lotus’s all-alloy twin-cam engine; a 2.0-litre (type 907) or the later 2.2-litre (type 910 or 912). If correctly looked after, the engines can rack up more than 100k miles between rebuilds. 
 
• Regular servicing is the key, and any failures will most likely be due to poor maintenance. The big one is the cam belt, which should be changed every 24,000miles or three years without fail. 
 
• With turbo models, the wastegate can stick causing boost issues. Monitor the boost pressure on the test run and make sure the gauge doesn’t exceed 0.7bar, unless of course the car has been tweaked. 
 
• Oil leaking from the top end of the engine is often caused by incorrectly fitted cam covers. This can lead to rough running if oil collects in the spark plug wells. 
 
• Take a listen to the exhaust from cold. If you can hear a blow from the manifold, the chances are it has probably cracked, as this is a common problem. 
 
• Head gaskets were a cause for concern when the esprit was new, and can still be a problem today, so a fully functioning cooling system is key. The pipes that run the length of the car to the front-mounted radiator can become rusty, which is a nightmare to fix. 
 
• The steering in an Esprit should be an absolute joy, especially in the early cars, so if it doesn’t feel right it probably needs a new rack. Steering in the later S3 cars is a little heavier due to wider tyres. Racks in these later cars also wear out quicker thanks to the extra strain. 
 
• When test driving an S1 and S2 models, step on an off the throttle a few times and listen for any clonking sounds. Universal joints have a habit of wearing out, although later S3 models have a much improved rear suspension setup. 
 
• You don’t have to worry about the body panels corroding, and the shell is generally strong and long-lived. Crash damage, and poor re-spray work are really the only concerns.
 
• If there are signs of accident damage on top, then inspect the chassis with a fine-tooth comb. You won’t generally find too much corrosion, as everything after the S2.2 was fitted with a galvanised chassis. If it’s still in one piece, and not bent or damaged, then breathe a sigh of relief. If there are any issues, then it really needs to be replaced, as repairs are not generally good enough. 
 
• Another problem area can be the fuel tanks. If they haven’t been replaced (and are rusty), then it’s a nightmare of a job to carry out. 
 
• Windscreens will need to be re-sealed if hasn’t been replaced, and it’s a delicate job requiring patience. Half of the time the screen will crack during the procedure, making things even more expensive. 
 
• Lotus originally sourced it’s gearbox from the Citroen SM, meaning replacement parts are almost none-existent, and expensive. Check that the ‘box engages all gears cleanly as well as noisy bearings. It’s a fairly strong transmission though, and will last a long time if you’re a sympathetic driver. 
 
• One safety checkpoint you must make is to find out if and when a new clutch slave cylinder feed hose has been installed at any point. If not, the fluid can catch fire as it hits the rear brakes. 
 
• Interiors generally don’t wear too well, so it’s not unusual to find cars with re-trimmed seats. If looking at an early car, check that the dashboard is in one piece, as the finding spare parts today s almost impossible.
 
Model history 
 
1972: Lotus shows the Giugiaro-designed Esprit concept car at the Turin motor show, based on a modified Europa chassis. Production version remains largely unchanged
1976-1977: Series 1 car goes on sale in the UK, with 160bhp 2.0-litre alloy engine. This is the least refined of all Esprit models, but the purest in terms of design. 714 built.
1978-1980: After just two years, the Esprit is facelifted. New S2 model features Speedline alloys, and new rear light clusters from the Rover SD1, as well as a few updates that make it a little more usable. 1060 built.
1978-1979: JPS special edition built to celebrate Mario Andretti’s Formula 1 Championship win, with just 147 produced. 
1980-1981: Bigger 2.2-litre engine is fitted to all Esprits, known as the S2.2. Although power is still capped at 160bhp, the larger engine improved the car’s drivability. With just 88 built, these tend to be bought by collectors. 
1980-1981: Essex Turbo model pack a 210bhp punch, with dry-sump engine and unique paint job. 45 built. 
1980-1987: The Espirt Turbo goes on sale, now as a full production model. Stronger chassis, improved ventilation and over 210bhp made this a genuine supercar chaser. 1537 built.
1981-1987: Substantially better-developed S3 model goes on sale, alongside the Turbo. Galvanised chassis comes in at this point, and the reliability is much improved over earlier cars thanks to development of the turbocharged car. 767 built. 
1987: High Compression Turbo model launched, boosting power to 215bhp. Externally, there is very little difference, with a small HC badge the only giveaway. 
1987: Peter Stevens re-styled Esprit goes on sale, featuring a thoroughly updated interior and exterior. 
 
Owners clubs, forums and websites 
 
• www.clubesprit.co.uk
• www.lotusdriversclub.org.uk
• www.club-lotus.co.uk
• www.lotusespritworld.com
 
Summary and prices 

In the 21st century the Esprit is still jaw-dropping, without appearing passé. While the handling is still outstanding, turbo models are certainly fast enough to keep even the most experienced drivers on their toes. A lot of the car’s initial foibles have been ironed out since the early days, and the Esprit is a largely reliable gamble today – if you buy well. Running costs shouldn’t be too bad, and most Esprits could be covered by a classic car insurance policy.
 
Series 1 cars are by far the rarest and most valuable. A top condition example will set you back around £38,000-£45,000, with a usable car at just over £30k. Esprit Turbos are also highly sought after, with the best cars £14,500-£20,000. Early ‘Essex’ Turbos do command a £5k premium however. 
 
S2 and 2.2 models offer the classic styling, with many of the earlier car’s foibles worked out, so are also highly desirable at £15,000-£20,000. If you’re looking for great value, then a top S3 will likely set you back just £12,000-£14,000, with usable cars starting at just £7000.
Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS interior Lotus Esprit JPS engine Lotus Esprit JPS rear light Lotus Esprit JPS
Last updated: 9th Feb 2016
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Lotus Esprit
27995 100000 GBP
  • LOTUS ESPRIT Esprit S1

    £100,000 £100,000

    Type: Used Year: 1978 Make: LOTUS Model: ESPRIT Trim: Esprit S1 Body: Coupe Trans: Manual Mileage: 36038 Engine Size: 1973 Ext Color: WHITE

    • Mileage: 36038 mi
    • Engine size: 1973
    For sale
    £100,000 £100,000
    Westover Sports Cars Poole
    01204828300 View contact number
  • Lotus Esprit

    £100,000 £100,000

    Variant name:2000 ,Derivative:MK1 ,Variant: Esprit S1 Completely restored and rebuilt 1978 Esprit S1. A perfect example in the most prized colour and interior trim combination. Complete restoration by SJ Sportscars. Some improvements have been made to the original specification. Fully detailed photographic record of this ground up re-build. Iconic Green and Tartan upholstery with unmarked Orange Carpets. The body has benefited from being taken back to the gelcoat before being repainted. The chassis completely stripped and powder coated. The engine and gearbox stripped, cleaned and rebuilt. This is an exceptional car and a rare find that we are delighted to offer for sale.

    • Year: 1978
    • Mileage: 36038 mi
    • Engine size: 2
    For sale
    £100,000 £100,000
  • Lotus Esprit S4S Turbo, 1995. Fabulous example in Norfolk Mustard with full Raven Grey interior

    £36,995 £36,995

    Lotus Esprit S4S Turbo, 1995. Fabulous example in Norfolk Mustard with full Raven Grey interior with the factory glass removable targa sunroof. Air conditioning. Beautiful example with the correct original OZ Racing split-rim alloys in excellent condition. The car drives like an S4S should with the magnificent power steering which is renowned for it’s responsive behaviour and transforms the Esprit from the earlier days. The steering rack was overhauled in 2015 with all new pipes fitted. Replacement exhaust manifold. Super Sport exhaust system. Replacement front and rear brake discs. Comes with a thick history file with all of the old MOT Certificates going back over the years. Original Owners Handbook and service stamps and spare set of keys. Rear parking sensors with onboard camera which discreetly slides away when not in use. The car is in exceptional condition and the S4S is very desirable, especially in the distinctive and iconic Norfolk Mustard. Comes fully serviced and MOT’d prior to delivery.

    • Year: 1995
    For sale
    £36,995 £36,995
  • Lotus Esprit TURBO HC 2.2

    POA POA

    Vehicle Information LOTUS ESPRIT TURBO 2.2 HC 1987 (A/C) COLLECTOR / ENTHUSIAST OPPORTUNITY Chassis: SCC082910HHD12418 Registered: 20/02/1987 48475 miles from New HISTORY: Just recomissioned by Hangar 111 Lotus. 5 owners. 48475 miles from new. Complete history with a variety of invoices, service stamps / old mot certificates verifying the mileage. MOT June 2016. Handbook pack. Full set of keys with spares inc. immobiliser. RECOMMISSIONING DETAILS: This Esprit was owned by an Engineer / Scientist enthusiast since 1985. The car had been dry stored for the last 10 years prior to my acquisition earlier this year. Upon purchase I entrusted the car to Hangar 111 Lotus (www.hangar111.com) for a full appraisal and recommissioning. The car had been stored after a thorough rectification and service in November 2003 at 47828 miles with a bill totalling £4100. When inspected it was found to be original, sound and unabused. A large amount of money has been spent bringing the car back to my and Hangar11's satisfaction and it is now in fine condition. This included specialist repainting of the front to eradicate micro blistering and the fitment of replacement dampers and factory springs, with th

    For sale
    POA POA
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo V8, 1996. Norfolk Mustard with Raven hide. Just 31,600 miles.

    £39,995 £39,995

    Lotus Esprit Turbo V8, 1996. Norfolk Mustard with Raven hide. Just 31,600 miles with a fully rebuilt engine by the South West Lotus Centre and new clutch fitted. Around £20k spent in total restoring the mechanics of this stunning example to a very high level. Paintwork in superb condition with a full raven leather interior which in in very fine condition commensurate with the low mileage of this fabulous Esprit. Comes with the full width factory “targa” glass sunroof which can be stowed in the rear luggage compartment for open-top motoring. Beautifully refurbished original Split-Rim OZ Alloys. Overhauled air-conditioning system. A chance of owning one of the best V8’s with fully sorted engine and mechanics in the most iconic colour combination for a a V8 Twin-Turbo Esprit. Original Owners Handbook and big file of receipts. Delivery worldwide if required.

    • Year: 1996
    • Mileage: 31600 mi
    For sale
    £39,995 £39,995
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1983. Stunning example in Ice Blue metallic with half blue leather interior.

    £28,995 £28,995

    Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1983. Stunning example in Ice Blue metallic with half blue leather interior. One of only two ever made by the Lotus factory in this colour combination. Just 62k miles with a thick history file and accompanying photo album showing the full engine rebuild and pictures of the Esprit being used at shows and events over the years. Just 4 owners from new. Beautiful paintwork in exceptional condition. Original Owners Handbook with details of the service history from day one. Comes with a letter from the Lotus Archivist and a Certificate of Provenance Comes with the distinctive registration number POO 16R. Numbers POO 489R, POO 504R and POO 505R were used by famous Rally Drivers Roger Clark, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola in the mid Seventies on their works Escorts. A brilliant example to drive in remarkably original condition and a stunning looking Lotus. Full C Service has just been completed with new drive belts and water pump. Two new fuel tanks fitted and much more. An extremely rare Esprit indeed.

    • Year: 1983
    For sale
    £28,995 £28,995
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo Limited Edition No. 25 of 40, 1989. Just 46k miles and one family owner for 25 years since 1991.

    £27,995 £27,995

    Lotus Esprit Turbo Limited Edition No. 25 of 40, 1989. Just 46k miles and one family owner for 25 years since 1991. Three keepers in total. Stunning original condition in its correct Pearlescent White paintwork with the beautiful blue leather and suede interior. All 40 were painted in this colour scheme apart from one that we owned which was special order Calypso Red. This is such an exceptional example that it has to be seen in the flesh to appreciate its presence. It is so correct, down to the original tools and unused sparea wheel. Has old MOT certificates going back 25 years to show the low progression of mileage. The car drives superbly with a smooth gear-change and precise steering and braking. This example had a full C Service in April 2016 with all belts changed and new cam-belt tensioner and other associated items. Comes with original Owner’s Handbook with service stamps from the supplying Lotus Main Agents, Frosts of Shoreham in the South of England. A rare opportunity of acquiring a stunning example of this rare limited run of 40 Esprits. Fully MOT’d.

    • Year: 1989
    For sale
    £27,995 £27,995
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo 1986. 29,000 miles from new! Stunning JPS black with gold decals.

    £39,995 £39,995

    Lotus Esprit Turbo 1986. 29,000 miles from new! Stunning JPS black with gold decals. Beautiful sand coloured full leather interior and factory glass “targa” sunroof. Immaculate original BBS alloys. Built in September 1985 and registered in March 1986 as confirmed by the Lotus Archivist in the letter and Certificate of Provenance from the factory. Good history file which traces the very low mileage. A new clutch has been fitted and new exhaust manifold gaskets replaced. This example drives impeccably with plenty of turbo boost and smooth power of 230+bhp as can be seen from the dyno print-out in 2016. A stunning example in beautiful condition throughout and one that drives as well as it would have done thirty years ago. Having been driving and selling Esprits for well over thirty years, I can vouch for how well this one performs. Fantastic looking Giugiaro penned shape that gets better with age. Giugiaro is celebrating 50 years of Italdesign next year so a good time to buy one. We visited the Italdesign factory earlier this year and have been invited down for the celebrations next year and Esprit owners in particular are welcome to join in. The Esprit comes fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 29000 mi
    For sale
    £39,995 £39,995
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1986. 34,000 miles. Two owners from new!

    £29,995 £29,995

    Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1986. 34,000 miles. Two owners from new! First owner from 01/08/86 until 2003. Fabulous Lotus Racing Green metallic with a fully retrimmed leather interior in raven with dark green piping. Factory fitted air-conditioning and factory “targa” glass sunroof with storage bag and wind-deflector. Stainless steel exhaust system. Supplied by Lotus Main Agents in Essex and serviced by the London lotus Centre. We have just completed a full service including the replacement of all drive belts after a £3,900 recommissioning in March 2017. Original Owner’s Handbook. Original spare keys. Good history file including invoice for replacement clutch. A rare Esprit Turbo in this iconic colour. Fresh MOT before delivery/collection.

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 34000 mi
    For sale
    £29,995 £29,995
  • Lotus Esprit S2, 1979. Stunning in Carnival Red with 2 owners in 33 years.

    £34,995 £34,995

    Lotus Esprit S2, 1979. Stunning in Carnival Red with 2 owners in 33 years. 56k miles with old MOT certificates tracing the mileage. Re-trimmed to superb standard in original black cloth with a new headlining in original material and a full carpet set including the rear boot area. The work was done by our top trimmer and it is in new and original form. Fully recommissioned over the last 12 months, including all 4 brake callipers rebuilt with new brake pads. New seatbelts, new battery with cut-off switch. New HT leads and distributor cap. Comes with letter from the Lotus Archives which confirm the original Carnival Red which is in stunning condition. New tyres. Correct Lotus Speedline alloys. Esprit S2 Owners Handbook. Just been serviced with new cam-belt, water-pump belt and alternator belt, new air filter, petrol filter and oil filter. Comes with a full MOT.

    • Year: 1979
    For sale
    £34,995 £34,995