LOTUS ESPRIT TURBO-continued
assisted, the front discs being slightly smaller in diameter at 10.5” than the rears, and the hand brake operates on the rear discs. The steering is by rack and pinion, and is not power assisted, despite the very large section tyres. There are just over three turns from lock to lock.
Styling is obviously a most important feature of this car, and the Italian designer; Giugiaro, has excelled himself. The turbo version differs from the cheaper Esprit in having larger front and rear spoilers, ducts in the sills to take air to the engine compartment as well as an under-body deflector to take more air into the engine bay, and louvres in the engine cover to enable all this air to escape. The overall appearance is so sleek that one colleague described the car as being a “wingless Concorde”. The front screen is near-flat, and is raked back very steeply. The roof height is an incredibly low 44″, and the strong lines of the whole car blend together to provide a profile of arrow-like simplicity and elegance which draws admiration wherever it goes. The only exterior styling feature which I find aggravating are the huge “Turbo” badges prominently featured on the front and sides -the car is ostentatious enough without such embellishments!
With its mid-engine configuration, the car is very strictly a two seater, the backs of the seats touching the rear bulkhead. On the test car, the accommodation is lavishly upholstered with soft brown leather trim. The seats are extremely comfortable, despite being of fixed rake, and are adjustable fore-and-aft. Short drivers would appreciate a height adjustment-I am 5′ 6″, and find the seat just too low: either I have to lean forward into an upright sitting position in which case the steering wheel is too close, or I have to spoil the comfort of the seat by using a cushion if I am not to look straight at the top of the steering wheel. Very tall people are likely to suffer from a lack of legroom, but otherwise the interior is spacious, and not at all cramped, the raked seats ensuring plenty of head-room, despite the very low roof line.
The central back-bone chassis necessitates a substantial central division, blending into a useful vertical cubby between the seats at the back, and forming a natural height arm rest. At the forward end, it dips away to an oddments tray around the gaitered, stubby gear lever, and ends in a small, hooded central console. The switches for the electric windows are mounted on the forward edge of the armrest, either side of the choke lever, and the central console houses the controls for the air conditioning, a digital clock and a coin tray.
Above the passenger’s legs is a non-lockable, top loading glove-box, which will happily contain a conventional size hand-bag. Luggage space is not as limited as might at first appear -the front cover, opened by a peculiar bent wire catch situated amongst a mass of wires above the driver’s knees, houses the 185 section get-you-home spare, the jack and tool roll, as well as the brake servo, headlamp operating mechanisms, washer bottle and air conditioning plant, but there is still room for a couple of squashy hold-alls. The main luggage area is under the rear hatch, behind the engine. A canvas zip-top bag fits into the space aft of the transaxle, to protect luggage from the battery (which lives in the rear off-side quarter) and other fittings, and this accommodates 7 cubic feet of luggage, but will only accept a small conventional shape suitcase. The shelf above the engine, aft of the cabin bulkhead, could be used at a pinch, as a secondary rear screen is fitted in the opening rear hatch, but any object placed on this shelf would become very hot, and would also obstruct the already limited rear vision.
While on the subject of space, our photographer suffered a puncture in one of the large section rear tyres. The tool roll contains top quality sockets and drive bar, but of only 3/8″ square drive, and this was not man enough to shift the, perhaps overtightened, wheel nuts. Having scrounged a ½” square drive socket and suitable extension, he managed to remove the wheel and fit the spare, but the full-size wheel will not fit where the spare came from -a common feature of supercars which employ space-savers, and usually meaning that the luckless passenger has to share the seat with a huge and heavy road wheel. Lotus have contrived to adjust the shape of the rear luggage compartment such that with the canvas bag removed, the wheel will fit (just). They make no suggestions about what to do with the canvas bag and its contents, but if the items are squashy, they should easily fit into the front compartment.
Stepping across the wide and deep door sill and snuggling into the leather upholstery is always a pleasure. With the exception of the lack of adjustment for the front seat for the small and the tall, all the controls and instruments are well positioned and the thick, leather-rimmed steering wheel of 13½” diameter is a particular pleasure to handle. Pedal spacing is ideal for press-on driving, but the large front wheel arch intrudes into the car sufficiently to give little clearance to the right of the accelerator for those who wear English brogues or desert boots.
Once the ignition key has been sorted-out from the other three necessary for doors, rear hatch and fuel-filler caps, the engine starts from cold, using half-choke, with no hesitation and runs smoothly straight away. The choke becomes unnecessary after only a couple of hundred yards gentle driving (in the Summer) and the coolant temperature rises to its usual 90° C within a couple of miles, but it is not until the oil pressure has dropped back from its cold 65 psi to a normal 55 psi that the engine is thoroughly warmed and ready to give of its best.
Once out on the open road, the fantastic manners of the Esprit become apparent. The famous Lotus ability to provide the ultimate in ride, handling and road holding has triumphed again and it is on a cross country journey that the car really comes into its own. Amazing average speeds are possible without ever travelling particularly fast simply because of the superlative quality of the car’s adhesion, handling and acceleration.
The steering is high geared, but is only heavy when manoeuvring at low speeds, and even then it is not as heavy as, say, an Alfa GTV6. The lack of power assistance makes for good feel, and the self-centering action is just right so that the wheels will automatically resume the straight ahead position when steering pressure is gently released, and yet it is not necessary to fight the steering wheel when taking a long corner at speed. Response to the steering is rapid and precise, so much so that the car soon becomes an extension of self, enabling the driver to “think” the car round corners and encouraging accurate placement on the road.
On dry roads, the adhesion is nothing short of incredible. The combination of Lotus engineering and Goodyear NCT tyres has to be tried to be believed -it makes anything else I have driven, with the possible exception of the 924 Carrera Porsche, seem like a Morris Minor on ice. Experienced passengers are pressing hard on imaginary brake pedals before the driver has even begun to explore the cornering potential; and to look for the limit on the road is to court disaster. Going into a corner fast produces a slight degree of understeer, but this is readily balanced first by backing off to help the car respond to the steering signals and then by gentle application of power to maintain the car on the chosen line. The grip of the tyres is such that I was quite unable to encourage any significant oversteer even by grabbing a handful of lock and applying power – all the car does is to follow a tighter curve and accelerate. The week in which we had the car was notable for being about the only week this year when no rain fell in the South, so I did not have the chance to try the car on damp roads. My feeling is that the handling would be viceless, providing one was gentle. I can imagine that brutal application of power and sudden movements of the steering wheel are likely to be rewarded with some very sideways motoring.
Doing sprint starts, ie banging in the clutch with 5,000 rpm showing on the tachometer, produces a short shriek of tortured NCT which soon dies away as the car rockets forward, demanding an upward change almost immediately. No sooner has the gear lever been pulled back into second than the needle on the tachometer is climbing round to the 7,000 rpm mark again, requiring third gear. 60 mph comes up in rather less time than is required to read this sentence, and only a speed-reader could make much of an impression on the paragraph before the speedometer needle is passing the 100 mph mark. My best time 0 to 60 was 6.0 sec, and to 100 was 16.5 sec. Maxima in the gears are 40, 60 and 90 mph with 125 mph in fourth and a theoretical 155 mph in fifth.
The gear change is the only disappointment, being rather ponderous and requiring a-forceful approach. The first four gears are arranged in the usual ‘H’ fashion, with fifth on a dog-leg to the front right. The lever is biased very firmly to the third-fourth plane, requiring a strong shove away to engage first, and an equally strong shove when changing from first to second to avoid finding no-mans land or fourth. It is easy to beat the syncromesh on upward changes, and rapid down-changes can be achieved only by double-declutching. However, such is the charm and character of the car this weakness in soon forgiven.
Response to the throttle is electrifying in the lower ratios, and impressive at the top end. There is none of the delay which is usually to be found with a turbocharged unit, and there is no sudden bang of power to catch the unwary as the turbocharger starts to operate. It all happens very smoothly and positively. If one should be so insensitive as to want the car to pootle along at 50 mph, it is happy to do this in fifth gear (just over 2,000 rpm) and will pick up cleanly from this speed. For traffic running, where the car behaved perfectly, never fouling a plug when ticking over in the Marylebone Road crawl and never showing a rise in temperature, it is happy running along at below 2,000 rpm in the lower gears, and will still provide the driver with outstanding acceleration should a gap in the traffic make this required. By selecting the appropriate ratio, shattering acceleration is available instantly to enable the driver to take advantage of the slightesr opportunity for overtaking.
The brakes are an excellent match for the performance, bringing the car from its own happy cruising speeds down to that of normal traffic without a trace of pull or fade. I tried panic braking at 50 mph, and couldn’t lock a wheel, I