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Lotus Esprit: Buying guide and review (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 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 cars for sale

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Lotus Esprit
14995 75000 GBP
  • Lotus Esprit S3 1986


    This Lotus Esprit S3 has recently been recommissioned (including C service and belts) by us after a long period in storage. The mileage is only 55,000. She has a new MOT and drives very well indeed. As seen from the photo’s she would benefit from a new pain job but is a very usable classic Lotus and appreciating asset.

    For sale
    Barry Ely Sportscars
  • 1989 Lotus Esprit Turbo SE

    £46,995 £46,995

    Styled within the Lotus Design Studio, the Lotus Esprit Turbo SE (Special Equipment) was launched in May of 1989 with a total production run of just 560 units worldwide. The fastest, most luxuriously appointed and naturally most expensive Esprit to date, the SE was designed to outperform the Porsche 911 Carrera devouring the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4.7 seconds with its signature turbo flutter and race-proven handling. Features the SE offers over a standard Esprit includes twin oil coolers, more efficient aerodynamics and larger/lighter alloys but what really sets this car apart is the addition of a water-to-air intercooler, which Lotus refers to as a "Chargecooler"- increasing power from 228hp to a whopping 280hp. Corresponding to the original Owners' manual, this very original 1989 Lotus Esprit Turbo was delivered new by Chapman Automotive, Melbourne in October of 1992 optioned in Oxford Blue over a two tone Magnolia and Black leather interior. Meticulously maintained with zero expense spared, this Esprit SE benefitted from a major service replacing all drive and air-conditioning belts and all four discs with new pads both front and rear in 2013 as well as a new clutch and refur

    • Year: 1989
    For sale
  • 1990 Lotus Esprit Turbo SE


    Built between 1976 and 2004, the Lotus Esprit was unveiled in 1972 as a concept car and was a development of a stretched Lotus Europa chassis. It was among the first of designer Giorgetto Giugiaro's polygonal 'folded paper' designs. Originally, the name Kiwi was proposed but, in keeping with the Lotus tradition of having all car model names start with the letter 'E', the name became Esprit. Introduced in April 1981, the Turbo Esprit and Series III Esprits marked a necessary consolidation; both new models had a common chassis. The SIII continued to use the 2.2 litre, type 912 engine, whilst the Turbo Esprit reverted to a less complex wet-sump lubrication system, retaining the power and torque outputs of its dry-sump predecessor. The interior for both cars was revised and featured new trim; combined with changes to the body moulds this resulted in more headroom and an enlarged footwell. Externally, the Turbo Esprit retained the full aerodynamic body kit of the Essex cars and featured prominent 'Turbo Esprit' decals on the nose and sides. This handsome chargecooled and injected Esprit Turbo SE was the Earls Court Motor Show car in 1989 and is looking resplendent with its silver frost

    • Year: 2016
    For sale
  • Lotus Esprit S4 1994 Another available.


    Lotus Esprit S4 1994 finished in Norfolk mustard with ravern leather upholstry. 64,000 miles with full Lotus history. Recently serviced by us including belts. The Esprit S4 was intoduced in 1993 and replace the Esprit SE. Power comes from a 4 cylinder turbo chargecooled engine and is rated at 264 BHP. Power steering and Brembo brakes were standard on this model. This is a lovely example of a true super car from the ninties, values are now rising.

    • Year: 1994
    For sale
  • Lotus Esprit S4S 1996


    Lotus Esprit S4S Finished in stunning azure blue with cream leather upholstery piped in blue. Only 9,900 miles from new! Serviced by us since 2001 with 15 stamps in the book . We originally purchased this car from a Lotus main dealer in 2001 with only 7000 miles on the clock. It was in as new condition! Barry had intended to keep this one as his own car however, a friend and lotus fanatic saw it when collecting his own Lotus from Barry and persuaded him to part with it. Mike then owned the car for 13 years keeping it in a heated garage and maintained it regardless of cost. The S4S is widely regarded as the best all round Esprit to come out of the Lotus factory. Power comes from a 2.2 litre turbo chargecooled engine developing 286 BHP. 0 to 60 MPH is just 4.7 seconds! This must be the lowest mileage and nicest Esprit S4S available.

    • Year: 2001
    For sale
  • Lotus Esprit S3 1986D SOLD!

    £17,995 £17,995

    Lotus Esprit S3 finish in calypso red with tan half leather upholstery. air conditioning, 52,000 miles, C service including belts just completed by us. This is a very nice example which is now appreciating in value.

    For sale
  • Lotus Esprit V8

    £27,995 £27,995

    About this Lotus Esprit V8 Firs registered by Lotus Cars in June 1996 (N Reg) this car was first kept by a Senior Partner in a large well known Accountancy Firm. The last owner a garage proprietor acquired the car in 2006. In 1996 the Esprit V8 used Lotus' self-developed all-aluminium, twin-turbocharged (Garrett T25/60 turbos) V8, code-named Type 918. The Type 918 engine was de-tuned from a potential 500 bhp to 350 bhp to prevent gearbox damage. In period tests, zero to 60 mph came in at 4.4 seconds and top speeds of over 175 mph were claimed to have been achieved. This Lotus has always been well maintained as confirmed when we contacted the enthusiastic previous owner. He has confirmed that in his ownership he has carried out an engine rebuild with a new crank, turbos, camshafts and clutch for good measure; plus further significant works including new brakes, headlights and tyres. With comparable 1990's super cars from exotic marques increasing in value, it can only be a matter of time before Lotus's Esprit follows suit.

    • Mileage: 55700 mi
    For sale
  • 1987 Lotus Turbo Esprit HC

    £65,995 £65,995

    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
    • Mileage: 22799 mi
    For sale
  • 1977 LOTUS ESPRIT S1

    $75,000(£61,297.50) $75,000(£61,297.50)

    --Black with Brown and Oatmeal Marcasite (mouse fur) interior and Brown carpeting, Three owners-10,000 ORIGINAL miles from new! Original colors, Matching numbers, Restored to European specification. Number 423 of 718 Girgetto Giugiaro designed Esprit S1’s. The Esprit's legendary style was created from a private meeting between Chapman and famous designer Giorgetto Giugiaro at Geneva in 1971. In November 1972, Giugiaro's efforts appeared on the Italdesign stand at Turin alongside his even more outrageous Maserati Boomerang. The Esprit name, French for "spirit" was chosen by committee at the time. The first of the breed were delivered in June of 1976. This particular S1 Esprit was built in September of 1977 and designated for the US market. First purchased by Mr. Winters, this Esprit was sparingly used and sold to its next owner in 1981, a Mr. Miller, another collector and Lotus enthusiast who kept the Esprit for 32 years! During this ownership, this Esprit was loaned to Lotus CARS on several occasions for display purposes due not only to its iconic place in Lotus history, but also for being part of the 1980’s James Bond era. In 2013, Mr. Miller, decided to sell the Esprit through Au

    • Year: 1977
    • Mileage: 10000 mi
    For sale
  • Lotus Esprit

    £14,995 £14,995

    *SIMILAR QUALITY CARS ALWAYS REQUIRED* SOLD Thinking of selling? Our proven commission sale or SOR (Sale or Return) program is a great way to utilise and access our professional services and facilities while still maximising the return from your vehicle with minimal hassle, stress and time, If you’d like to take advantage of this then please get in touch for further information. Alternatively If you’d like to move your vehicle on quickly and efficiently with minimal delay then we can make an offer on an outright purchase basis with payment and collection arranged soon after. A Lotus Esprit Turbo owned by the Hon. President of the Lotus Drivers Club. EQUIPMENT GRFP composite body, rigid zinc-coated steel backbone chassis, tilting roof panel, front and rear stowage areas, rear pane spoiler, rear wing spoiler, front fog lamps, electric windows, leather steering wheel, electrically adjustable door mirrors, centre console with stowage compartment, turbo pressure gauge, twin fuel tanks. Factory options; Hide interior, stereo equipment. EXTERIOR The Peter Stevens redesign was unveiled in 1987 with this early 1988 example being one of the first revised cars and essentially identical to the car used in the iconic movie Pretty Woman. Stevens, who later went on to create the McLaren F1 was responsible for the radical restyling to a more rounded shape and the switch to a buttressed rear pane. This sensational example is finished in the original colour of Lotus Silver (code A40) which boasts a bright polished shine and uniform finish throughout thanks in part to a paint refresh. Only minimal markings to the finish can be seen and all trim sections, Lotus decals and badges are damage free and remain just as Lotus intended. The identity plate in the windscreen remains in place. Low slung, mid-engined and the vehicular star of a classic 1990’s blockbuster movie, your very own Edward and Vivian experience! INTERIOR Having covered such low mileage under absolute enthusiast ownership, the original Connolly hide upholstery individually cut and hand sewn has remained clean and largely wear free. Once installed low down in the anatomically sprung seats, the occupants are exposed to a traditional supercar environment which is not the most ergonomically advanced by modern standards but still surprisingly comfortable and demonstrates characteristic Lotus quirkiness! The original trimming to the fascia is fully intact and both front and rear storage compartments are clean. The carpets have been protected by genuine Lotus carpet mats. All functions and controls operate well including the period Pioneer DEH-770 stereo cassette. The sense of occasion and excitement is ever present to any occupant of this legendary Esprit, even before the key is turned! ENGINE & TRANSMISSION Fitted with the Lotus 2.2 Litre 910S 16v DOHC engine, this powerplant is turbo charged with two twin choke Dellorto carburettors, a set up that has remained true to the manufacturers design. A power output of 215bhp at 6250rpm achieves the 0-60 sprint in just 5.3 seconds with a top speed of 152mph. The five speed gearbox operates exactly as it should. Mid engined with near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, the perfect recipe for the exhilarating classic supercar experience! WHEELS, TYRES & BRAKES The stunning seven spoke alloy wheels with Lotus stampings clearly defined are in superb order with only the faintest markings. Matching Toyo Proxes tyres all round of size 215/45 R15 front and 245/45 R16 rear have masses of tread remaining. Benefitting from a recent complete overhaul, the braking system incorporating 10.2in ventilated front discs and 10.8in rear discs offer assured stopping power to match the performance. HISTORY FILE Supplied new by Lotus selling agent JCT Specialist Cars of Bradford on the 9th March 1988 this example has led a cherished existence under true enthusiast ownership. Owned from 1999 to 2014 by Laurie Barton, co-founder of the Lotus Drivers Club the origins of which began in 1976. Holding the position of Chairman/Vice Chairman for 16 years, click on the following link to learn more about the Lotus Driver Club. http://www.lotusdriversclub.org.uk/?page_id=17 A large comprehensive history file houses countless receipts and invoices throughout the life of the car from the supplying Lotus agent and other marque specialists including respected Paul Matty Sportscars. A considerable sum of money has been lavished on the car with supporting records and invoices. The original grey padded Lotus folder incorporates the handbook and maintenance record housing a number of stamps including several from the supplying dealer JCT Specialist Cars. Service records and virtually every MOT certificate fully document the 60,344 miles covered. A documented cambelt change was carried out in 2014 at 58,198 miles by Paul Matty Sportscars. An original 1988 Lotus Esprit sales brochure completes the history file. Representing a very genuine example enjoyed in the hands of true Lotus aficionados, this iconic 1980’s supercar must be seen. To see a video of this car please click on the link below: https://youtu.be/z5Bf3GIhy0A To see a complete set of photographs of this car please click on the link below: https://flic.kr/s/aHsko7VyZW 'Like us' or 'Follow us' for exciting new cars coming soon at KGF Classic Cars: https://www.facebook.com/KGFClassiccars https://twitter.com/KGFClassicCars

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