Five Clas­sic Tri­als

Lo­tus Esprit S1

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

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.

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