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Lotus Esprit buying guide (1976-1987)

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 two litres. Talk about trouncing the big boys from Italy and Germany, especially when it came to affordability – if not necessarily reliability.

In the 21st century the Esprit is still jaw-dropping, without appearing passé. It still handles brilliantly. And it’s still insanely quick. But best of all, the reliability issues have largely been sorted, which all adds up to a car that gives you more bangs per buck than you‘ll find anywhere else for the money.

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.

Tech spec - Lotus Esprit Turbo

Engine 2174cc/4-cyl
Power 210bhp @ 6500rpm 
Torque 200lb ft @ 4500rpm 
Top speed 152mph
0-60mph 5.6sec
Consumption 22mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual

What to look for

• There were three versions of Lotus’s all-alloy twin-cam engine; a 2-litre (type 907) or a 2.2-litre (type 910 or 912). They’ll cover 100,000 miles between rebuilds if 6000-mile/six-month service intervals are adhered to; failures are usually down to poor maintenance. The cam belt should be changed every 24,000 miles or three years.

• Look for oil pressure of 35psi at 3500rpm; at 6500rpm it should be at least 45psi. With a Turbo, monitor the boost pressure gauge on the test run. The wastegates seize, so see if the gauge peaks at 0.8bar.

• If there’s misfiring as you accelerate through the gears, look for oil pools in the spark plug recesses – leaks emanate from overtightened cam covers.

• Exhaust manifolds crack, so listen for blowing.

• Head gaskets fail. Cooling systems were a constant source of development because of overheating problems.

• The alloy water pipes, which run through the centre of the chassis, corrode and are costly to fix.

• There should be plenty of feel to the steering; any heaviness means a worn rack. Steering racks on S3s and later wear more quickly, because of their wider wheels and tyres.

• While accelerating and decelerating, listen for clonks from the transmission of an S1 or S2; the universal joints and wheel bearings disintegrate. From the Esprit S3 on, much stronger rear suspension was fitted.

• The bodyshell is strong, durable and heavy. Corrosion, cracking and crazing don’t occur, but look for accident damage.

• The chassis is durable, but accident damage and rot (mercifully rare) aren’t easy to repair. From the Esprit S2.2 there was a galvanised chassis, which staves off corrosion really well.

• If the chassis is damaged, anything less than wholesale replacement is a bodge; welding is inadvisable, even if it’s localised.

• Petrol tanks can rust; two are fitted and they’re time-consuming to replace, especially the nearside one.

• The bonded screens of S1 and S2 models age badly. Check if the screen has been resealed since the car was built; if it hasn't, it'll be due. The screen often cracks when being removed, increasing the cost.

• The five-speed gearbox was borrowed from Citroen’s SM, and parts are scarce. This ‘box doesn’t take ham-fisted use happily, so ensure gearchanges are smooth and slick. But the gearbox is durable; just check for worn bearings by listening for major whining.

• The plastic clutch slave cylinder pipe goes brittle then fails, pumping hydraulic fluid over the inboard rear discs which then ignite. See if a replacement hose has been fitted.

Model history

1974: The pre-prduction Esprit is previewed at the Paris salon.
1976: The first customer cars are delivered, with Lotus’ 160bhp 1973cc aluminium engine.
1978: The S2 debuts with an improved interior, Speedline wheels and SD1 tail lights. Power remains at 160bhp and to commemorate Mario Andretti becoming F1 World Champion, 147 JPS black and gold special editions are built.
1980: The 2174cc S2.2 arrives. Power remains at 160bhp, but there’s now a Turbo edition too. The first cars are badged Essex and feature a 210bhp 2.2-litre engine. There’s now a galvanised chassis as standard.
1981: The normally aspirated Esprit becomes the S3, with Turbo-spec chassis and suspension. The Turbo becomes a regular production model with a reduced trim specification. Dry-sump lubrication is a feature until 1983 – a carry over from the Essex.
1986: The 215bhp Turbo HC (High Compression) debuts. It’s stronger, faster and better built than all its predecessors.
1987: A substantially redesigned Esprit goes on sale.

Key clubs and websites

• www.clubesprit.co.uk
• www.lotusdriversclub.org.uk
• www.club-lotus.co.uk
• www.lotusespritworld.com

Words: Richard Dredge // Images: Dean Smith/evo magazine
Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS Lotus Esprit JPS interior Lotus Esprit JPS engine Lotus Esprit JPS rear light Lotus Esprit JPS
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Lotus Esprit cars for sale

8 Search results
Lotus Esprit
16995 34995 GBP
  • Lotus Esprit V8 GT in Azure Blue This right hand drive model finished in Azure Blue Paint with a Cream Leather Interior comes with a 3506cc Lotus Twin Turbo V8 Engine delivering 350 BHP, 5 Speed Manual, OZ Racing six spoke Saturn Alloy Wheels, Air Conditioning, Electric Windows and a Blaupunkt 6 Speaker CD/Radio Stereo. Full Service in 2014, which included: Cambelts and Both Turbos New Clutch and Flywheel fitted February 2015 48478 Miles For further details please contact our sales department on 01508 530491

    • Year: 2000

    Last update: About 1 Month Old

    • Mileage: 48478 mi

    For sale
  • Stratton Motor Company
    01508 530491
    see details
  • Stunning! 1998 Lotus Esprit V8 SE in Calypso Red, with under 4000 recorded MILES since new! 3506cc Lotus Twin Turbo V8 Engine delivering 350 BHP Finished in Calypso Red Paint Cream Leather Interior with Red piping Air Conditioning Electric Windows Alpine 6 Speaker Stereo For Further information please call 01508 530491

    • Year: 1998

    Last update: About 1 Month Old

    • Mileage: 1998 mi

    For sale
  • Stratton Motor Company
    01508 530491
    see details
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1984. Fabulous and desirable Glacier Blue metallic; one of the timeless Lotus colours. Contrasts very well with the navy blue leather interior with the cloth seat inserts. Just one owner for the last 12 years and has just been thoroughly checked over and refurbished mechanically with new bushes trunnion, wheel bearing etc. In November 2014 both rear brake callipers were rebuilt. New front and rear stainless steel brake hoses fitted. Complete “C” with new cam-belt, alternator and water-pump belt. New water pump. New thermostat, new oxygen sensor and much more. Recent new exhaust. Chris Foulds who is Club Lotus recommended has looked after the car for many years and fitted new brake disc, handbrake cable, boot carpet, output shaft seals, Aldon ignitor kit in distributor. Chris Foulds also did an engine freshen up and the turbo was reconditioned at the same time. Gearbox also rebuilt. This example is stunning in appearance and drives as an Esprit Turbo should.

    • Year: 1984

    Last update: 2 Months Old
    For sale
  • UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190
    see details
  • Yellow, Full Recent Service and belts done with Lotus Newcastle, New Tyres and paintwork Refreshed., Full leather interior, 2 seats, Full Connolly Leather interior, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, electrically operated fuel filler flaps, heated and electrically operated remote outside mirrors, delay safety interior lighting system, three phase ice warning system, tinted glass. Primary safety equipment is three point retractable safety belts and Supplemental Inflatable Restraints (airbag) contained with a kevlar and aluminum passenger safety cell. AM/FM cassette receiver with four matched speakers. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard. In 1993 Lotus introduced their latest evolution of this classic mid-engined performance car, the Lotus Esprit S4. Featuring a stunning, lithe and distinctive exterior, a refreshing new look to the interior, major advances in its suspension dynamics, and a range of other detail improvements, the S4 maintains world-leading standards of handling, performance and style for which Lotus has become famous over the last 40 years.,

    • Year: 1993

    Last update: 3 Months Old

    • Mileage: 50559 mi

    For sale
  • Silverlink Cars
    0191 460 7204
    see details
  • In April 1986, the final incarnation of the iconic ′folded paper′ designed Georgiou Giugiaro Esprit′s were announced. Fine-tuned following Ayrton Senna′s pursuit for F1 success, the new car boasted raised engine compression, a much more driver focused cockpit, and decreased turbo lag. The updates brought the Lotus marque in line with the best exotics of the time, including the Ferrari 328 and gave journalists and enthusiasts an exciting comparison to war over. With its new Higher Compression ratio, smaller exhaust turbine and housing helping the turbo to spool faster, the 1987 Turbo Esprit was able to reach 0-100 in just 5.3 seconds. Every aspect of this race bred machine was built to go fast, the pedal positioning allowed for heel and toe throttle blipping, communication through the steering rack is uninhibited, and the chassis clings to the road like a koala in a hurricane. Arguably the most exciting road car Lotus built, the updates allowed this machine to sneak ahead of the Ferrari 328 and Porsche 944 turbo on any given day. Your adrenaline most definitely flows as the whole machine comes alive but the cars resolute design makes an expert out of you in no time. This particular

    • Year: 1987

    Last update: 5 Months Old

    • Mileage: 22799 mi

    For sale
  • Classic Throttle Shop
    +61 (0)2 9922 2036
    see details
  • Lotus Esprit Turbo Limited Edition No. 004 of 025, 1987. Just two owners from new! Stunning in original factory colours of Cherry Red over Calypso Red and original gold leather and suede interior with gold carpets. Glorious condition throughout and 47k miles only. Supplied new my Mann Egerton & Co. Ltd. in London to a gentleman in Hertfordshire in May 1987 and then registered with a Midland’s petroleum company in late 1988. Factory fitted air-conditioning and removable “targa” glass sunroof. Full main dealer service history. Comes with its original Clarion Stereo system. Complete standard throughout and comes with Certificate of Provenance from Lotus Cars Ltd. An absolutely stunning example. Fully MOT’d and serviced.

    • Year: 1987

    Last update: 5 Months Old
    For sale
  • UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190
    see details
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