No other cars on the market could ever be mistaken for the Lotus Esprit; this iconic car has become a legacy on its own, starting with its most unique designs as created by designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The “folded paper” look of the car gave it more than just stares; it also has turned it into the premier British sports car from when it first came into production in 1976 until the end of production in 2004. During that span of time, Lotus Cars has given us all the Esprit we could handle and more. Here is a brief look into the short yet fascinating history of the car and how it has evolved over time.
1976 was the year that Esprit entered into production with its Elite predecessor’s 2.0-liter V4. It was introduced during that year’s Paris Motor Show and replaced Europa in the usual lineup. At the time, it was capable of 140 HP and 0 to 60 in about 9.6 seconds—an impressive feat for a 70s vehicle. What wasn’t impressive was the price, as the mid-engine sold for roughly $16k, which translates to $60k today. However, the performance of the car was remarkably better than previous Lotus models. By 1979, a revised Esprit S2 could pull off 0 to 60 in 8.4 seconds. This happened without any significant modifications to the original Esprit. Either way, England had created an exoticar, something that was hailed a success already.
Right when the 80s hit, Lotus produced an Esprit that bragged a turbocharged 210 HP. It took 3 years for this car to hit the U.S. market however. By 1982, Lotus was selling the turbo car for just under $48k—a huge jump from what it was and an equivalent of $150k today. When tested in 1983, the Esprit Turbo was going 0 to 60 in 6.4 seconds. At 95 mph, the turbo could run the length of the quarter mile in just 14.6 seconds.
In 1986, Lotus attracted General Motors, which ended up buying a controlling interest in the company. 1987 came with a new designer, Peter Stevens, who restyled the look of the Esprit. The new Esprit designs still resembled the original but just with fewer angles. Lotus also picked up the specs so that by the time the Type 910 turbo engine came out, it was capable of 0 to 60 in just 5.1 seconds. The car had top speeds of 240 kmph or 150 mph.
The 90s came and a couple of Esprits were outfitted for the SCCA Escort World Challenge series. The resulting cars that were used in the race were designated as Type 105, and Lotus saw 20 of these cars made for the road. That version was called X180R. By 1993, the Esprit Type 105 was deemed ineligible for competition due to its weight.
In the same year, another designer, Julian Thomson, came into the picture and created the S4. With some notable exterior changes, the biggest difference about the S4 was inside. It became the first Esprit ever to have power steering. GM sold Lotus off that year to Italian businessman Artioli, who also happened to own Bugatti around the time. The following year in 1994, a sports model of the S4 was created, S4S. It still had the engine and specs of the 910-series, but with some modifications, the engine output rose tremendously so that the S4S was capable of going 0 to 60 in just 4.6 seconds.
In 1996, the Esprit saw production of its last 4-cylinder car, the GT3. It was made alongside the Esprit V8. The engine was completely updated using more modern designs as heralded by Derek Bell. With 350 HP and twin turbo V8, the Esprit V8 was an impressive feat of engineering that tackled 0 to 60 in just 4.1 seconds. By 1999, Esprit saw another version, the Sport 350, of which only 50 were ever made.
At this point, Lotus Cars had already passed its prime, with its age showing in the lack of big developments. In 2002, the cars would get another designer, Russell Carr, but no major changes would ever be made in the Esprit at that point. Production of the Esprit officially stopped in February of 2004. Only 10,675 Esprits were ever produced, a modest number considering its popularity. Esprits had an incredible production run of 28 years and remains to be one of the most iconic cars that came out during that time.