Five Classic Trials
Lotus Esprit S1
In summer 1977, you could probably have heard the gnashing of teeth over the snarling wail of a Lotus Type 907 engine in Newport Pagnell, as Aston Martin found itself eclipsed by a younger upstart from rural Norfolk. James Bond had new wheels in the latest 007 film,
The Spy Who Loved Me, and it couldn’t have been much further removed from his old Aston loves. Small and big kids alike suddenly wanted a Lotus Esprit rather than an Aston DB5 or DBS. Exactly 40 years later, how could
CCW resist driving an Esprit Series 1 in celebration? However, this is also our own little tribute to the man whose Bond made Lotuses his own – Sir Roger Moore – following his death last month.
Rather appropriately, gunshots ring out as we’re confronted by the car that catapulted Lotus onto the global stage, but they’re from farmers and birdscarers in the neighbouring Kent fields, so no need to feel ruffled. Instead, raise an eyebrow at the sheer handsomeness of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s low-slung, razorlike projectile. It is absolutely stunning. To the uninitiated, this bright red lefthand drive example could easily pass for a Ferrari or Lamborghini – it genuinely radiates that kind of brooding aura.
Inside, past the British Leyland standard-issue door handles and body contortions necessary for negotiating the thick sill and curved, semi-reclined bucket seat, brown and beige dominates.
You’re enveloped by suede – on the plunging centre console that makes you feel like you’re in a very snug cubby hole, and on the instrument pod that leers out from behind the steering wheel with a vaguely ET silhouette. White-on-green dials are very of their era, as are the chunky switches with blocky, stylised lettering. They’re nicely laid out though, and everything falls readily to hand. You need to be au fait with the somewhat awkward driving position; legs outstretched, arms bent and the steering wheel and pedals slightly off-set. Well, it is an Italian design after all.
Firing up the engine brings forth not the expected deep bass grumble you might expect but a muted four-cylinder rasp. It’s only when pressing on that the tone becomes properly sporting, with a high-pitched yowl. All-round visibility isn’t great, especially in left-hand drive form, so caution is initially the better part of motoring valour. But as the Esprit’s oils warm up – and its shortthrow gearchanges become less resistant – so your own confidence grows.
Outright straight-line speed isn’t that impressive, but that’s not the point of these early Esprits. The focus of Lotus has always been more on handling than linear velocity and the Esprit conforms totally to its marque’s benchmark standards of manoeuvrability.
With its light, balanced weight, asphalt-kissing profile and mid-mounted engine, the Esprit is an utter treat on twisty roads – you’ll lose your bottle long before the car loses grip, although it is prone to light understeer. But if you do get massively silly, an Esprit can break away in a shockingly scary way. That balanced, flickable ability on bends means you can forgive it for not actually being all that fast, for all the other essential supercar elements are in place. The ride is taut – but never uncomfortably so – and the brakes always feel effective.
Two words can be used to sum up the way in which an Esprit behaves when it’s got the right bends ahead of it. One is ‘outstanding’. The other is ‘utterly’.
WHAT TO PAY // CONCOURS £25-32k // EXCELLENT £19-24k // USABLE £15-18k // PROJECT £10-12.5k
esprit is just 43.7 inches high, but looks even lower. Type 907 engine was dubbed ‘The Torqueless wonder’ because it lacked low-down grunt.