Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 11th April 2018

Concept cars are some of the most unique vehicles in the motoring world because you can never tell whether they are going to go into full production or not. Sometimes, they can simply be for display, while other times there are plans for the car to be on the road. The Lotus Etna was an example of a concept car that could have become one of the most successful automobiles of all time, but the project never got off the ground. We’re looking into the history of the Etna to see why it never developed beyond a concept stage.

From Espirt to Etna

The Esprit had proven to be a successful car for Lotus, but by 1984 it was starting to look dated. The company started looking into a new model and they came up with a wedge-shaped vehicle that was longer and more rounded than the Esprit. The car came with a 4-litre V8 engine that could output 340 bhp.

Italdesign were commissioned to build the Etna and they incorporated a new active suspension system that came directly from Grand Prix cars. The first road-going Etna would also receive traction control, ABS and noise cancelling. Italdesign created a style model that was built from wood, clay and fibreglass. This was done to stoke interest for a production version, rather than a fully-functional automobile. Unveiled at the 1984 Birmingham Motor Show, the Etna received critical acclaim.

Due to the powerful engine and aerodynamic design, the Etna could have become Britain’s first supercar. However, Lotus were going through financial turmoil at the time and the Etna was placed to one side. In 1986, GM bought the company out, which halted development completely. Going forward, it was decided a cheap sports car would be best and the Lotus Elan came out in 1989.


In 2001, the Etna concept was bought by a Lotus enthusiast called Olav Glasius. Wanting to revive the Etna, Glasius enlisted the help of ex-Lotus engineer Ken Myers. After evaluating the car, Myers discovered a Type 909 engine. Glasius tasked Myers with restoring the car into a roadworthy model. He incorporated Esprit suspension and a new Perspex canopy to bring the Etna to life. After a year, the car was up and running.

If Lotus hadn’t been going through financial difficulties, there’s a case to be made that the Etna would have been a supercar for the ages.

By Brian Snelson (originally posted to Flickr as 1984 Lotus Etna) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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