The Lotus Position — Facing Forwards

The Lotus Position — Facing Forwards

THE FABULOUS Giugiaro-styled Lotus "Concept Car", the Ema, will almost certainly be on public sale in a developed, but substantially similar form, in 1988. The one provision which has to be met to make it a reality is a partnership with another manufacturer to help finance production development of the new V8 engine. Lotus are presently in negotiations with three large manufacturers and Managing Director NIike Kimberley is confident of a successful resolution to those negotiations.

The plan will then be to produce between 1,500 and 2,000 engines a year with Lotus themselves taking 500 to power the Etna and a new flagship to the range, the Eminence, which is designed as a high security luxury vehicle for Heads of State and other luminaries. Production of the Eminence again depends on an association with another maker but Kimberley is confident that it will be seen in 1989. The Lotus V8 engine has been rumoured for the past decade and the general assumption was that it would be two of the current four-cylinder engines sharing a common crankcase. Though there are obvious similarities with the four, the VS's alloy block, actually weighs four pounds less than the four's. It has a new lubrication system which needs to pump only 40% of the oil of a four, it has light alloy low friction cylinder liners, a compression ratio of 11.2:1 and utilises the latest lean burn thinking. The banks of cylinders are set at 90 degrees and a 95.29 x 70.30 bore / stroke gives a capacity of four litres. There are double overhead camshafts on each bank operating four valves per cylinder through a single toothed belt. Complete with all ancillaries, including the air conditioning compressor, this all-alloy engine weighs lust 414.5 lb and is so compact that the prototypes have been run in both Esprit and

Elite models.

One of the impressive things about the new engine is that Lotus, with a shrewd and realistic eye to the future, quote only power figures gained on low octane (91 RON) unleaded petrol. 325 bhp is claimed at 6,500 rpm while the torque, which exceeds 260 lb ft over a 3,000 rpm range, peaks at 5,500 rpm with a figure of 295 lb ft. Lotus is also seriously considering a twin-turbo version to give either a maximum 600 bhp or else torque peak repositioning. Lotus seems poised not only to compete with the true Supercars basso surpass them.

Though a prototype, the Etna had the presence of a production car. It betrayed its uniqueness only in little ways such as the fact that the external mirrors were solid and not retractable. To judge by the way that Lotus' top brass reacted in its presence, there seems little doubt that they regard the styling as more or less set. On the prototype the engine is set north / south but Lotus is considering the iirost%rza,=stars=at

sleek without the addition of boy racer spoilers and large badges. A drag co-efficient of 0.29 is claimed for the car and computed figures suggest that with the normally aspirated 909 V8 engine the top speed should be 182 mph and 0-60 mph should be achieved in 4.3 seconds.

The Etna has not yet run under its own power but Lotus is confident that its computer predictions will be verified. These ipredictions have been made on the record land in writing so Lotus' confidence must be taken seriously. According to my Frank Costin "If We. . ." chart, a top speed of over 225 mph is possible with a 600 bhp turbocharged engine.

Mike Kimberley reckons that if the Etna went on sale tomorrow its price would be around the E28,000 mark.

It would be unfair to examine the Etna in detail for it is still a prototype using current technology and Lotus plans more advanced hardware. At present, for example, the doors are unlocked, and the ignition actuated, by means of a key whereas it is conceiveable that a personal card may be used in production trim.

Two significant systems, however, feature in Lotus' plans. The first is the use of their active suspension system on the new car. This has been extensively tested and refined over the past few years and, it will be remembered, appeared on Lotus Fl cars last year. As a racing application it proved less than successful for its advantage would have been with the use of ground effect cars. For ordinary motoring it offers many advantages for a small rise in price. Briefly it is a hydraulic suspension system which does away with current technology such as dampers and roll bars. Sensors adjust the ride and roadholding of the car to meet changing conditions. Folk who have driven an Esprit fitted with it, tell me that it

is sensational. Unfortunately, it was away having its hardware uprated at the time of my visit so I could not judge for myself. Four major manufacturers, one in Britain, one in the Far East, one in Europe and one in North America are involved financially in promoting this development and others knocking on the door have been politely refused. Because it is a hydraulic system, it has the capacity to serve other functions on a car, power assisted steering being an obvious one.

The active suspension will be experienced for the first time on the production Etna but, shortly afterwards, volume producers will be able to offer it on their cars at a premium of £200-300. This package indicates the way Lotus is developing. At present about half its design and engineering staff are engaged on consultancy projects (representing nearly 30% of turnover) and these figures may increase, though car production will always remain Lotus' raison d'etre no matter by how much the consultancy work increases. The second significant move is a mooted continuously variable ratio transmission (CVT) controlled by micro-processors with programmable lock-up mode. Two variations of such a transmission have been'

kicking around Fl teams recently, one is a vastly refined variant of the DAF Variomatic principle, the other operates on the sarne principle as the Hayes transmission of the thirties, similarly refined. There may be other solutions of which we know nothing. We do know, however, that the Lotus CVT is not of the Variomatic principle. We also know that Team Lotus has investigated that avenue.

Existing only on the drawing board at present is the projected Lotus Eminence, conceived as a flagship for the marque. It will be exclusive (if built) and expensive. The idea into provide luxury and protection to those who need it. (fin sees the light of day, it will use the V8 909 engine, the active suspension and a bullet and bomb resistant monocoque made from Lotus' VARI process and Kevlar. It may have a choice of twoor four-wheel drive. Apart from being a flagship for Lotus and whatsoever other company combines to produce it, it will give those for whom protection is necessary, both the protection which comes from defence (Kevlar is used for bullet-proof vests) and that which comes from being quick on one's feet. The performance figures suggest 0-60 mph in under six seconds and a top speed of

160 mph. These figures aren't enough to outstrip a speeding bullet, perhaps, but the aim is to be better than a Rolls Royce weighed down with armour plating. "Six passengers in self-contained luxury" (and safety) is the stated ambition.

The lined and the Esprit are being continually improved. There is the Lotus-Toyota sports car, known as the X-100, due for release in late 1986 at a projected cost of less than £10,000. By 1990, the company expects to produce 6,500 carts year, broken down into 1,500 "prestige" cars and 5,000 X-100s. In the background will continue the consultancy work for which the firm, despite the best efforts of John Z. De Lorean, is gaining a deserved reputation.

Given a recent capital injection, the company now has the financial confidence to make the same demands of its suppliers and dealers as Jaguar have done recently. The result is improved quality which has led to a reduction in expenditure on warranties of over 40%. At the same time, production has risen by 40%. Around 850 Lotus cars will be created this year. The figure is projected to rise to over 1,000 next year. Some suppliers and some agents have been axed, and others wooed. Lotus in 1984 seems to be a different proposition in terms of product, of marketing, of quality, and of future, to what it was two years ago.

Just in case any one tries to relate the upturn to the coincidental death of Colin Chapman, a senior engineer who, off the record, called a spade a spade, gave chapter and verse to illustrate why he thought the essence of Chapman still lived on in the company he created. It's a matter of looking at problems in a particular way and responding to those problems with flair. When Lotus Cars sent us details of their new logo, there was a ripple in the office for the ACBC monogram of Colin Chapman was omitted. Look at the badges which decorate the 1985, and futurc cars, of Lotus and you will see both the new logo and the great man's monogram. They arc together, in harmony. — M . L.