Essex whirl

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The combination of Colin Chapman’s inspiration, Lotus engineering and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s styling should have been a recipe from heaven, and the Esprit Turbo has certainly stood the test of time.

The mid-engined Lotus Esprit was launched in 1976, and its angular lines ensured that it bore a family resemblance to the front-engined Elite and the Eclat. It was powered by the dohc four-cylinder, 16-valve Lotus 907 2-litre engine producing 160 bhp, and soon came to be regarded as an exceptional sports coupe with outstanding ride and handling. In the early days, though, build quality was of the traditional Lotus standard.

By 1980 a number of manufacturers were joining the ‘turbo club’, seeing forced induction as a fairly easy way of getting more power from an existing, small-capacity engine, and Chapman intended to be at the forefront in this area.

Lotus’ Formula 1 team was sponsored by Essex Petroleum, a company run by the American David Thieme, and the first 100 Esprit Turbos produced in 1980 were decked out in the mid-blue metallic paintwork favoured by Essex, finished with red and silver flashes.

At last, Lotus joined the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini in the ‘supercar’ stakes. The four-cylinder engine, now with 2.2 litres and with a Garrett AiResearch T3 turbo providing the boost, developed 210 bhp and endowed the Lotus Esprit Turbo with a claimed top speed of 152 mph in ‘overdrive’ fifth.

The engine, which was dry-sumped, was designated Lotus Type 910. It had two twin-choke Dellorto carburettors, and the boost pressure was set at a modest 0.6 bar (8 psi). Lotus set out to provide a cry driveable engine with no discernible turbo lag, and test appraisals were very favourable.

Ride, handling and engine response were highly praised, and although the performance figures fell slightly short of those claimed (maximum 148 mph, 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds) owners were ready — as Lotus owners had always been — to forgive.

The criticism that refused to die down was that the engine was “only a four”, which disappointed those who listened for thoroughbred Italianate sounds. Colin Chapman intended to address this matter, and had a V8 under development for the Esprit at the time of his death in 1982.

Designed by Tony Rudd, it was effectively a pair of 910s joined at the crankcase, and eventually this engine was used to power the ‘James Bond’ Lotus Esprit, which became Rudd’s personal transport. In 1984 it appeared again in the Etna concept car, and later formed the basis of the Rudd-designed LT5 engine in the Chevrolet ZR1.

Resident designer Peter Stevens supervised the revised Esprit launched in 1987, I which had the paper-dart angles smoothed over and modernised. Power went up to 228 bhp, and still the car cost less than £30.000, which was excellent value compared with exotic imports.

In America, Doc Bundy won the SCCA sports car championship in 1992 with the 300-horsepower X180-R, a version that was rapidly developed to become the limited edition S300 model in Europe.

The Lotus Esprit S4 was launched in March 1993, the current version of which develops 264 bhp. Key features of the S4 are the narrower tunnel and greater interior space, coupled with improved rear-view vision.

Rightly, the Lotus Esprit Turbo has come to be regarded as one of the world’s great sports cars, despite the continuing use of the four-cylinder engine. That, we believe, is a matter that Lotus Cars will address this autumn.

Will the London Motor Show at Earls Court be the setting for the debut of the long-awaited Lotus Esprit V8? Insiders believe that we’ll see the car for the first time on October 18, a date to look forward to.

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