RE: Lotus Esprit Turbo | The Brave Pill

RE: Lotus Esprit Turbo | The Brave Pill

Saturday 2nd November

Lotus Esprit Turbo | The Brave Pill

Hugely appealing, but also peeling



It might seem remarkable that Brave Pill has reached its 37th outing without having featured a Lotus, plus the attendant opportunities to put ticks against the bingo card of well-worn jokes about the brand. That's a situation that this patina-heavy 'X180' Esprit Turbo should correct. It also breaks new ground as the first BP subject to make do with just four cylinders.

The Esprit never really needed more, something the expensively developed V8 was later to prove. While memories from this period are becoming cloudy, the X180 was a critical darling and a car that used to regularly better the most exotic machinery in the world in comparison tests. As such it was the epitome of Colin Chapman's do-more-with-less ethos, which had led to the development of the first Esprit Turbo, the final car developed under his personal direction.

These days you can buy a mid-ranking BMW with a four-cylinder turbo engine producing similar power, but when it was new this 264hp Esprit Turbo was one of the quickest cars in the world, and faster from 0-60mph than the porky Ferrari Testarossa and its 390hp flat-12.


While the supercar market was considerably smaller back then, the Esprit was widely considered to be a proper member of the clan, albeit one that sold at a substantial discount to the mostly Italian alternatives. One of the seminal moments of my early car enthusiasm was the purchase of a copy of the original 'Test Drive' for my mighty 520Kb Atari ST. The most popular driving game of all time at that point, although with graphics that will doubtless amuse those familiar with slicker software offerings, it featured just five cars: Testarossa, Countach, 911 Turbo, a C4 Corvette (for the predominantly American audience) and the Esprit Turbo. The Lotus had a marked power disadvantage but - in lieu of any actual physics modelling - seemed capable of tackling the scrolling mountain course at full speed without the need to ever lift.

Then there was the spectacularly successful product placement that came from loaning a car to the producers of Pretty Woman, the rom-com about Julia Roberts' tart-with-a-heart. Both Porsche and Ferrari refused to supply cars on the prudish grounds of Roberts playing a lady of the night. But Lotus had so such inhibitions and supplied a silver Esprit SE that got a respectable chunk of screentime, including a scene where Richard Gere's character gets schooled on driving a manual by Roberts. The film was one of 1990's biggest hits, introducing the Esprit to a whole new audience.

In slightly realer life, magazines raved about the Esprit's combination of performance and what was then the novelty in something so fast of handling secure enough to keep the gussets of road testers' pants unstained as the limits approached. Yet even before the internet arrived to pour petrol on the flames, the X180 Esprit was following its predecessor's reputation for both scary unexpected bills and mechanical maladies. Something that even as a non-driving teenager I was already aware of. The first time I ever heard the notcronym "Lotus of Trouble, Usually Serious" was in connection to problems with a nearly-new example that, from memory, had devoured its gearbox a couple of months out of warranty.


Looking back, Peter Stevens should probably have received a knighthood for the work he did on the X180, or at least the right to herd sheep through the city of Norwich. It was developed on a budget that was shoestringy even by Lotus standards, a high percentage of structure and mechanics coming straight from the 1975 original. Yet the resin-injected bodywork and less angular take on the wedge theme of Giugiaro's masterpiece transformed it into something that looked both similar and different, much sleeker and more modern.

One of the problems Stevens faced was the fact Lotus's marketing department had long since given up on factual justification for some of the claims they made for earlier Esprits. He was very proud of the X180's ultra-slippery 0.33 coefficient of drag, which was a substantial improvement on the Series 3. The problem was that the outgoing model was already being advertised as having a score of 0.32.

Lotus had been one of the pioneers of road-going turbocharging with the original Esprit Turbo in 1980, and the range-topping X180 used a developed version of the company's long-serving slant four engine, working in conjunction with a Garrett blower and with electronic fuel injection; the earlier blown Esprit had breathed through a pressurised carburettor. Our Pill is the brawnier Esprit SE meaning it gained an intercooled version of the powerplant and sat at the top of the range when it was launched.

The X180 revisions - and possibly that brief moment in the Hollywood sun - gave the Esprit a new lease of life and it enjoyed several good years in the early 1990s. That means there are plenty out there to choose between, and also a decent infrastructure of specialists who know how to keep them running, but it also means that values of less immaculate versions have barely risen as interest in supercars from this period increases. There are cheaper project-grade cars out there, but our Pill looks attractively priced for a Turbo - it's less than a quarter the entry price for that slower Ferrari Testarossa.


It's not perfect, of course. The vendor reports that it wears a Category C insurance marker from as long ago as 1995, which would have represented a serious amount of damage at the time. It also has several of the known Esprit niggles including a non-functioning driver's window and air-con. But the more obvious problem is the peeling lacquer over the Calypso red paintwork - clearly this didn't just effect the many pink Vauxhalls of the period - and which is pronounced enough to probably require a substantial respray to sort properly.

But there's no reason the car can't be driven and enjoyed in its current condition and restored gradually. Although maintenance intensive, with 6,000 mile oil changes and 24,000 mile timing belts, the basic Turbo engine is generally regarded as pretty tough. Any exotic of this era in late middle age is going to require frequent fettling and likely cause a fair amount of swearing and bloodied knuckles. That is a perverse part of its appeal.

While Brave Pill is loathe to give financial advice beyond "have fun" the X180 Esprit does look conspicuously cheap considering the rise in values that some less worthy contemporaries have enjoyed. Smart early Esprits have been appreciating steadily for years and the serious prices are being asked for the late Sport 350s. With Lotus's Geely-funded revival set to include new sportscars interest in the Esprit could be set to increase soon; as one of the finest cars from the period to actually drive the X180 deserves to be taken a little more seriously.


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Author
Discussion

richinlondon

Original Poster:

124 posts

69 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Lovely car at heart, but would not buy a cat c without knowing exactly what happened

No ideas for a name

509 posts

33 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Even the advert says " Large amount of history and bills."
And probably more to come?

Actually, like the previous poster, it would be the Cat C that would say " a no from me" unless I had full details.

Dave Hedgehog

11,718 posts

151 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
EV conversion candidate

g7jhp

6,030 posts

185 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Always had a soft spot for these which were amazing cars back in the day.



My football manager used to take us to games in his Excel and then got the Esprit Turbo SE. They still look exotic.

The gearbox and electrics always seemed to be playing up.

Never been brave enough to pull the trigger and buy one. Had an Elise before moving on to better build older aircooled Porsche.


Turbobanana

1,536 posts

148 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
richinlondon said:
Lovely car at heart, but would not buy a cat c without knowing exactly what happened
A quarter of a century ago?

I reckon any problems may have appeared and been dealt with by now...

wormus

10,834 posts

150 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Dave Hedgehog said:
EV conversion candidate
Nah, I’d stick a proper V8 in it

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kXY-eUgDafw

Jellinek

228 posts

222 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
A quarter of a century ago?

I reckon any problems may have appeared and been dealt with by now...
I owned one of these for a few years (a higher mileage example) and the problems were relentless. Despite thorough servicing and maintenance it was a real struggle keeping it on the road. After the (relatively new) timing belt snapped which cracked a cam follower, it had to go. I love the marque and the car was great when it worked, but all completely overshadowed by the inconvenience and very high running costs. Brace pill indeed!

AlecT

126 posts

156 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all


''I reckon any problems may have appeared and been dealt with by now...''

Maybe so, but the biggest fallout from the Cat C repair is the cheap paint job which is now peeling off, a lot of work stripping that back to its base and painting properly, I would say a good few grand for a pukka job and what horrors are to found under the paint? that makes an expensive Cat C car.
non working A/C after all this time will most likely not be a simple regas it wll have been done if that was the case only £45.00 or so, so more likely knackered compressor and/or corroded condenser, god fobid it will be heater/ dash out and a new evaporator, there must be better prospects out there.

Edited by AlecT on Saturday 2nd November 08:38

Tin Hat

776 posts

156 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Is that a cigarette lighter and ashtray in the passenger door card\handle!?
Like it

Mikebentley

858 posts

87 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
A friend “Brad” who I worked with in 1988 bought a brand new identical car to the one in the article. He had issue after issue and was featured in magazines and newspapers heavily at the time about how Lotus couldn’t fix it.
Whilst I appreciate most things are fixable and knowledge is out there a non Cat C car is a better starting point.
I do love these though and think somehow Loti do age very well.

Johnston

238 posts

127 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
I had a 1990 Esprit Carb Turbo for nearly 5 years. It was a fantastic car and was used regularly, often for commuting and did a couple of trips to Le Mans too. Only let me down once with the king lead working its way lose. A few minutes to find the issue and then back on the road.

It was looked after by an excellent Lotus specialist who always said to me a properly looked after Esprit will be as reliable as anything on the road. Unfortunately, so many aren't looked after by people who have any clue in looking after them properly. They are a supercar and they are quirky and a lack of knowledge is dangerous. Everything is fixable though. The great thing with an Esprit is the fact they have a galvanised chassis and a fibreglass body. I pity anyone with a metal body at the same age. Constant headache.

I now have an Esprit V8 which in my opinion is the ultimate Esprit, Stunning car to drive. Esprit's are so cheap to buy compared to many inferior opposition. Massively underrated and undervalued car in my opinion.

jmcc500

519 posts

165 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Me and a couple of mates (Worzel on here) bought one of these for £4500 about 10 years ago. It had been sat a while and needed about £3k spending to get things in order. Wheels were made of chocolate, ended up with 12 to make a good ish set.

Suspect we should have spent more getting the suspension sorted as it tramlined like a pig.

Cool car though, and ultimately turned a £1k profit!

BigChiefmuffinAgain

186 posts

45 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Love these articles but not sure about this choice. It's a cat c . Not sure you would ever get back the money this obviously needs spent on it. That cat c will always cap it's value. There are enough other ones out there to choose from.

Ikemi

7,993 posts

152 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
I’ve owned a few Elises - and still own one now - over the last 14 years! I fell in love with the Esprit V8 due to the original Need For Speed 2 PC game ... As such, owning an Esprit in my early thirties made perfect sense!

My Lotus specialist advised me against it; unless I’d prefer it to live in his garage more than mine!

I think that says it all! hehe

Julian Thompson

1,188 posts

185 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
I’m in the “I had one too brigade”, but the funny side of my story is that I was 19 and hooked up on the family motor traders policy. At that time in the early nineties you could just write someone’s name on a policy and they were covered!

I traded a few cars and found myself in one of these and I started to learn the craft of balancing it around wet roundabouts at 3am!

I remember very distinctly the marvellous induction and wastegate noises that came from over your right shoulder - it was great fun.

I also remember that the whole thing didn’t feel particularly rigid, and that, looks and noise and character apart, actually, it wasn’t that good. But I still loved it and at the time so did the girls! Buy one of these for the right reasons and it’ll be great! If you want driving rewards, though, buy an Elise!

T-195

1,506 posts

8 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Dave Hedgehog said:
EV conversion candidate
Great idea!

As the article states, at least the engines are fairly sturdy.

blade7

8,956 posts

163 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Ikemi said:
I’ve owned a few Elises - and still own one now - over the last 14 years! I fell in love with the Esprit V8 due to the original Need For Speed 2 PC game ... As such, owning an Esprit in my early thirties made perfect sense!

My Lotus specialist advised me against it; unless I’d prefer it in his garage more than mine!

I think that says it all! hehe
Over 10 years ago I was looking for weekend car to keep long term. Heart said Esprit Turbo, head 250 bhp 944 Turbo. The Esprit had supercar looks, the 944 solid engineering. Magazine tests suggested there wasn't much between them on the road. I've still got the 944.

Edited by blade7 on Saturday 2nd November 10:36

rockin

7,002 posts

192 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
I looked at 944 and bought an Esprit instead, keeping it nearly 10 years. My Esprit never let me down and was almost completely problem free - just a DIY radiator removal for reconditioning and reinstalling.

Byker28i

20,491 posts

164 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
No ideas for a name said:
Even the advert says " Large amount of history and bills."
And probably more to come?
The reputation for large bills put me off buying one as I spoke to a couple of local owners, and I bought my Cerbera instead, which I've spent a fortune on biggrin

Saw a really nice non turbo one last week - still looked good

Taylor James

750 posts

8 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Aircon needs a re-gas.

Course it does.

This is a £10K car at best. Good luck finding a mug to buy it.