The classic car industry has produced many iconic motors, ranging from the Lamborghini Miura, to the Volkswagen Beetle. British classic cars have always ranked highly among the most prestigious vehicles, and the Lotus Esprit is certainly among them. Brought out in 1976, the Esprit stood out immediately for its ‘folded paper’ design that was popularised by Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was a gorgeous car and we’re looking back at the history of the Esprit.
Creating the prototype
In 1971, a meeting was arranged between Lotus founder Colin Chapman and Giugiaro by designer Oliver Winterbottom. He suggested that the Italian use his Maserati Boomerang concept as the inspiration for a new Lotus. Development of the car started soon after and a 1:4 scale model was produced.
It was said that Chapman was disappointed with the wind-tunnel results of the model and stopped the project. However, Giugiaro and his Italdesign firm pushed ahead and built a full-size model, which became known as ‘The Silver Car.’ The prototype appeared on an Italdesign stand at the 1972 Turin Auto Show and this convinced Chapman to move ahead with development. Another prototype was designed and became known as ‘The Red Car.’
Giugiaro wanted to call the final version ‘Kiwi’ but the tradition of Lotus cars starting with an ‘E’ won out.
A Lotus in bloom
The Esprit appeared at the 1975 Paris Motor Show, sporting a wedge-shaped fibreglass body mounted on a steel backbone chassis. It possessed a 1973 cc Lotus 907 4-cylinder engine that produced 160 bhp. Official production began in June 1976 and the Esprit S1 lived up to the company’s mantra of ‘performance through lightweight.’ The Esprit weighed less than 1000 kg.
Although the Esprit was praised for its performance and steering, it was generally considered underpowered by the standards of the American market. This was during a time when there was a crack down on emissions in the US.
S2 and beyond
In 1978, the Series 2 Esprit came out and featured new cooling ducts, rear quarter windows and lights from the Rover SD1. The next major revamp occurred in 1980 with the arrival of the Essex Spirit. This model became the first factory turbocharged Esprit and was upgraded with a dry sump type 910 engine. The car could reach 0 – 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and had a top speed of 150 mph. Giugiaro had a hand in the Spirit’s design, giving it an aerodynamic body.
The Lotus Esprit has remained an influential car throughout its production life. It became immortalised in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, with an S1 converting into a submarine during a road chase. A combination of style and handling have been key to its long term success.