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!