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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.

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 spec

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

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 cam belt should be changed after 24,000 miles or three years.

• 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 the car has been tweaked.

• Oil leaks in from the top end of the engine are often caused by incorrectly fitted cam covers. This can lead to rough running if oil collects in the spark plug wells.

• If the exhaust is blowing from the manifold, it has probably cracked.

• 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 on it.

• 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 bodywork 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.

Model history

1974: Lotus shows the Esprit concept car at the Paris motor show
1976: Series 1 car goes on sale in the UK, with 160bhp 2.0-litre alloy engine
1978: After just two years, the Esprit is facelifted. New S2 model features Speedline alloys, and new rear light clusters from the Rover SD1. JPS special edition built to celebrate Mario Andretti’s Formula 1 Championship win, with just 147 produced.
1980: Bigger 2.2-litre engine is fitted to all Esprits, although power is still capped at 160bhp. Essex Turbo model pack a 210bhp punch. Galvanised chassis makes an appearance.
1981: Substantially better-developed S3 model goes on sale, alongside the Turbo – now a full-on production car.
1986: High Compression Turbo model launched.
1987: Peter Stevens re-styled Esprit goes on sale.

Key clubs 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.

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.
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Lotus Esprit cars for sale

5 Search results
Lotus Esprit
19995 34995 GBP
  • Lotus Esprit V8 Twin Turbo, 1996. Superb example in stunning Azure Blue metallic with dark blue leather interior. Factory glass sunroof and air-conditioning. 43,000 miles with a full engine rebuild around 8,000 miles ago by South West Lotus Centre. Last private owner for 10 years. Masses of history and the car has been regularly serviced over the last few years by Chris Foulds Motors, Club Lotus award winners. All MOT certificates to chart the mileage progression. The original split rim OZ Alloys have been fully stripped and rebuilt by our top alloy wheel specialist and look “as new” and we fitted two new Pirelli rear tyres at the same time in June, 2015. The car will be fully serviced and MOT’s before collection or delivery. We deliver Worldwide. A fully sorted example and good value at

    • Year: 1996

    Last update: 6 Days Old

    • Mileage: 43000 mi

    For sale
  • UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190
    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: 16 Days Old

    • Mileage: 1998 mi

    For sale
  • Stratton Motor Company
    01508 530491
    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: 16 Days Old
    For sale
  • UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190
    see details
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