1986 Lotus Turbo Esprit – If It Has A Burglar Alarm, Just Leave It Alone

Here is a highly uncommon sight here in the Midwest, at least outside of big cities like Chicago, Des Moines or St. Louis. Spotting a Lotus Turbo Esprit in the small town of Geneseo, IL (pop. 6,586), a mere twenty minute drive from the Quad Cities, is a rather rare experience.

If, like me, you grew up in the totally awesome 1980s, your most vivid memory of the Esprit could be of the white S1 from the film The Spy Who Loved Me. Kind of funny, thinking a British car could be watertight, eh? Ha! I guess Q Branch had really stepped up their game. “Now 007, we’ve installed rather numerous gaskets and grommets to ensure your car will stay leak-free. Do try not to destroy it this time!”

But that was the S1; the original wedge. Our featured car on this fine day is an S3 Turbo Esprit, one of the more recently assembled, ground-effect laden Lotuses preferred by Agent 007 in the early 1980s. This has got to be the most effective (if not the most practical) anti-theft device ever installed on a car. I don’t think this will buff out. But still, so satisfying in a way…

The S3 Esprits, introduced in April of 1981, added the ground effects and other niceties of the limited edition Series 2 Essex, but were available in something other than that highly collectible Turbo Lotus’s metallic blue paintwork and striking red leather interior.

Judging from the center brake light, our small-town supercar must be an ’86 or ’87. Regardless of the model year, it is a rare car, as it is one of only 1,845 Turbo Esprits built between 1981 and October 1986.

Not much break in the angle between the hood and the windshield, is there? With a drag coefficient of 0.30, the Esprit was appropriately slippery. In Turbo Esprit form, that translated to 210 hp @ 6250 rpm, 200 lb-ft of torque at 4500 r/min, a top speed of 150 mph, and zero-to-60 in a mere 5.6 seconds. Not too shabby. Okay, okay, in today’s world of 300+ hp Impalas it might seem a tad lacking, but in the mid ’80s, it screamed.

The top half of the Esprit is an especially good looking example of the wind-cheating wedge design. Proof that a motor vehicle does not have to look like a bar of soap to smoothly swipe through the air.

The Esprit even shared a little something with the finest velour-clad Broughams of the ’70s–specifically, hidden headlights–but in this case, they were there for the sake of aerodynamics. And there were no chromey cursive logos on the headlight doors, of course. Perish the thought! All this might look a bit blocky to the fine folks of 2017, but this was cutting edge stuff in the ’80s. And unlike the bescooped and bespoilered Lamborghini Countach, the Esprit was rather elegant, at least for a supercar. No wings, no goofy Federal bumper blocks, etc.

As you would expect of such a sports car, interior accommodations were luxurious, if slightly claustrophobic. And now that I’m in my late 30s, I wonder just a tad at the contortions required to get into the vehicle. I’ve never sat inside one of these, but from the looks of it there appears to be decent legroom; headroom, however, might be another story. Still, if you could fit, you’d get places fast.

I believe this particular example has been repainted at some point over the past three decades, as it’s missing the prominent coach lines and “Turbo Esprit” badging that it would have had when it was new. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was a Turbo until I saw the small logo on the center console. Still, black over tan is always a winner in my book.

I happened upon this fine British motor vehicle while I was attending the excellent annual Trains, Planes and Automobiles car show. While you understandably may think it was part of the show, it actually was several blocks away, just one block up from where I’d parked my sedate bright white Volvo station wagon. Perhaps another show attendee? Some folks-like me!-love shows, but don’t care about any plastic-fantastic Made-in-China trophies, so we park nearby and just enjoy the metal on display. The Lotus’s fortunate owner may indeed have been a like-minded individual.

In any case, this S3 is in fine shape, and looks quite sharp in black. And for those not particularly conversant in Eighties British supercars, “LOTUS” is thoughtfully stamped into the rear bumper.

Since the Esprit and the ill-fated DeLorean (that’s a whole other kettle of fish!) both had bodies designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, there are a number of similarities, especially from the rear. Well, except for the famous doors…

Although the S3 was more powerful and luxurious than earlier Seventies Esprits, Lotus had even more in store for 1988 in the form of new sheetmetal and even more power.

Nineteen eighty-seven was the last year for the squared-off Esprit, and in a fitting send-off for the original Giugiaro design, the ’87 Turbo HC got even more power, courtesy of Mahle pistons and redone exhaust manifolds. The HC produced 215 hp @ 6000 rpm, a top speed of 152 mph and a 0-60 time of  5.5 seconds. In the end, the Esprit would last all the way to 2004–as perhaps the last true Lotus in the lineup. Today, Lotus keeps skipping from owner to owner, but back then, Colin Chapman’s sporting line of automobiles was firing on all cylinders!

2002 Lotus Esprit V8

17 Replies to “1986 Lotus Turbo Esprit – If It Has A Burglar Alarm, Just Leave It Alone”

    • PenguinBoy

      “I just noticed that the S3 used the tail lamps from the Rover SD1.”

      …and the interior door handles from the MGB and Austin Marina.

  1. hank chinaski

    Dad’s friend had a red Esprit Turbo which self immolated (the Lotus, not the friend). I scored the Momo racing seats in the part out.

  2. Ronnie Schreiber

    “new sheetmetal ”

    The only sheetmetal in a Lotus Esprit is in the backbone chassis. I’m not entirely sure about the Sevens and Super Sevens but with the exception of co-branded cars like the Lotus Cortina (Ford) and Lotus Carlton (GM) all Lotus produced cars have had fiberglass or carbon fiber composite bodies. The original ’50s Elite had a fiberglass monocoque, which was strong but expensive to make so with the Elan, Chapman turned to a backbone chassis welded up from bent sheetmetal (which turned out to be as stiff by itself as many complete unibodies), on which they mounted composite bodies. I think most of the bodies have been molded in upper and lower halves and then glued together to make a single unit. Modern Lotus cars have frames made up of aluminum extrusions and castings glued and bolted together. Body panels are composites. The DeLorean is basicly an Esprit with the drivetrain turned around to hang the PRV 6 off the back, along with some stainless steel panels appliqued to the fiberglass shell.

    • Tom Klockau

      How in the world did I not know the Esprit was fiberglass? Oops! Thanks for the correction. I’m more conversant in Broughams. 🙂

  3. Disinterested-Observer

    As much as I dig this car, and I am aware of the “no expectation of privacy” that the courts have found regarding taking photographs on public streets, I cannot get my head around taking a picture of a license plate without the owner’s permission.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Why is that a problem? People have no expectation of privacy in public. Much as I endorse property rights, I’m not sure that property in public has any privacy rights at all. Whatever privacy rights acrue to the owner, who legally can’t leave a car out in public in most places without license plates.

      I was once asked to obscure a license plate in an article about JDM cars because there was a theft ring going on in the area at the time and the owner asked me nicely to do so.

      If the owner was there, sure I’d ask, but just out of basic courtesy, “Mind if I shoot some pics?”, but only as a courtesy. I do it when I take photos of folks’ kids at car shows too, partly as a courtesy, partly because people freak out and don’t understand the meaning of no expectation of privacy in public.

      At a big car show at Greefield Village, I paused to shoot some photos of kids in a little pedal car park, not because I’m a pedophile. Sure, I’m a perv, but I was trying to get a down-blouse shot of mom’s rack.

      Are you aware that both government agencies and private companies are scanning millions of license plates daily? I’ve seen cars loaded with cameras driving Detroit freeways.

      • lzaffuto

        At my workplace the local police department drives around our parking lot with one of those license scanner cars every day, sometimes multiple times a day. It’s a retail shopping center with a Mexican restaurant that has a very busy bar, and if I had to guess I think the reason they do it is because of the bar.

      • Disinterested-Observer

        I am aware that the police use scanners, I am not happy about it and you don’t need to do their job for them. How hard is it to blur the plates?

        • Ronnie Schreiber

          “How hard is it to blur the plates?”

          What do you do for a living? How hard is it to do any of the individual tasks on your job? You want me to stand there like Taylor with his stopwatch and discuss how much effort you put into your own job?

          Do you have any idea how much work goes into an illustrated article?

          To answer your question, for one photo, a few clicks. My TVR history piece had about 50 shots with license plates. Since all I generally do with photos for TTAC is crop and resize, those few clicks would significantly increase the amount of labor involved.

          • Disinterested-Observer

            This was Tom’s post not yours, but you felt the need to chime in for some reason. As much as posting license plates bugs me, I have refrained from complaining about it before. The owner of this site has called out one of the Niedermeyers for posting gray market Rovers and I thought that you never know, this Lotus could be gray market too. I could not possibly care less about the Niedermeyers or the Rovers or your website. Hell I am uncomfortable with this blog post because you might dox me. I am not a public person, and neither is the owner of that car. Just because you and Jack choose to live a public life doesn’t mean anyone else does.

  4. Bigtruckseriesreview

    I do like that Lotus is making eye catching coupes, but as long as they continue to make them tiny small – they can go under for all I care.

  5. John C.

    The Peter Stevens 1988 restyle was very effective to me, but did dispense with a little of that 70s Euro plastic snap together look that adds such a period feel now. Wonder how long lived the Renault manual is under the ever greater turbo boost?

    Thanks Tom for writing this interesting car up.

    • Jack Baruth

      I know that the power of the V8 was deliberately cut in first and second gear and limited overall to spare the gearbox. Thats a 500hp engine if you’re not worried about driving it again tomorrow.

  6. dukeisduke

    I saw that movie in the theater when it first came out (I even went to see it with a friend who’s British – has dual US/UK citizenship), and the “Burglar Protected” scene is one of my favorite bits in the movie. I always thought that was an interesting way to phrase it on the sticker. Was that the common wording for stickers like that in UK?


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