The long-running success story that was the Esprit started as a production spin-off from a concept car designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was among the first of his renowned `folded paper’ cars, a clean-lined, sharp-angled wedge in the forefront of fashion. Colin Chapman, with the luxury supercar market in mind, immediately snapped up the design for Lotus. When the Esprit first appeared in 1976 it was somewhat disparagingly labelled a ‘poor man’s Ferrari’ but it soon acquired snob appeal by appearing as James Bond’s vehicle in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) epitomising British seventies glamour — powerful, exclusive, stylish, and (not least) a lot more reliable than a Ferrari.
The Esprit Si was a mid-engine, high-performance two-door coupe with a GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) body built on a steel backbone chassis, weighing in at less than 1000 kg (2200 lbs). Lotus used pre-existing parts to keep costs down and fitted a Lotus 907 lightweight alloy 2 litre engine with twin cams and 16 valves. From the start the car was praised for its superb handling, though there was the occasional gripe about insufficient power, especially in the USA where the engine was downrated to comply with emissions regulations. Over the years, the Lotus Esprit went through several incarnations with a couple of major revamps.
The body was restyled with rounder features in 1987 and was remodelled again in 1993, and throughout the 28 years of its production, continual mechanical improvements were made to enhance performance. All these tweakings have added to the original Giugiaro model’s legendary status. The very last model was the 1999 Sport 350, which could do 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 5 secs, but it is the 1976 Giugiaro S1 design that will be remembered as the iconic supercar of its era.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1976 (until 2004)
ENGINE: 1,973 cc, 2,174 cc Slant Four (1976-96)
PERFORMANCE: Top speed around 130 mph (209 km/h); 0-60 mph (97km/h) in 8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Altogether 10,675 Esprits were produced over the course of its 28-year run. Some models are extremely rare. To celebrate Lotus’s success on the racetrack, an exclusive gold and black JPS (John Player Special) model was produced in a run of less than 150, and a mere 45 special red, blue and chrome ‘Essex’ versions of the 1980 turbocharged Esprit were made.