This month’s cover feature has Phil lost in the Seventies, and reminds him of a gold Esprit S2 that escaped
In 1975, while a savage economic storm tore at the UK motor industry, this car-mad ten-year- old was blissfully unaware. Inflation hit a record 24% and cars sales slumped 29%. British Leyland was saved by a government bailout but Chrysler UK had to sort itself out with job losses in the thousands. For exotic car makers it was worse, with Jensen calling in the receiver and Aston Martin suspending production pending rescue. But at the Paris Show in October and the Earls Court show two weeks later a crisp, silver dart of glassfibre punctured the gloom. Despite battling with its own share of post- oil crisis pressure Lotus gave us the Esprit, a daring slice of futuristic optimism. It retained all of the radical drama of Italdesign’s earlier concept, yet this was a production reality. Or at least it would be by 1976 when it speared across the silver screen in The Spy Who Loved Me.
I was smitten. And for a while the world was too, as sharp- edged sports cars pointed to a more exciting future. Alongside designs such as Lancia’s Montecarlo and Maserati’s Khamsin, rivals clinging on to the curves of the Sixties seemed dated and homely. But like all high fashion, when the look dated, it dated badly. And precisely because it had appeared so uncompromisingly futuristic, that look took a long time to be welcomed into the traditional classic world.
Since the Seventies we’ve had a return to soft and reassuring organic curves, new edge, flame surfacing and at times chaotic collisions of the above. Now the clean forms of the Seventies offer a refreshingly simple and pure escape – both to a generation that was starstruck by them originally, and a younger cohort who sees them as otherworldly. The Montecarlo, Esprit, Delorean and Khamsin we gathered for our studio extravaganza represent a staircase of prices, and Britain’s own king of wedge styling, Oliver Winterbottom, delivers his frank verdicts on their respective success. With that asymmetric bonnet vent and glass rear panel, the Khamsin could hold my attention all day long, but in the end it’s the Lotus that holds the most irresistible pull. Childhood influences are hard to escape, and a near miss with an identical gold Series 2 a few years ago only reinforces it.
Thoughts about great motor show moments of the past have me yearning a 2017 fix of evocative shapes shimmering under exhibition lighting, the buzz of the crowds and the chance to catch up with everyone after the winter recess. In late February Classic Cars will play our own part in the dazzle of the London Classic Car Show with a selection of Smart Buys presented by our own Quentin Willson. I can’t say whether an Esprit will figure, but I do promise a set of cars that will have you thinking hard about your next classic buy.
Enjoy the issue, and see you in London.
During the wedge era, drama came as standard
Phil wishes he’d gone gold