1975 was notable for a few reasons. On a micro level, it was significant for me because that’s the year I arrived on this planet kicking and screaming – actions that I never really grew out of if I’m honest. And on a macro level, it’s the year the swoopy, Pininfarina-designed Ferrari 308 GTB arrived at the Paris Motor Show. The Porsche 911 Turbo was there also, which had just gone on sale, but alongside those two giants there was another significant icon-in-waiting, too: the new Lotus Esprit S1.
Sometimes, greatness appears as effortlessness. A bit like when you watch Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen appear to cruise effortlessly to victory while, behind them, the other drivers thrash around – including their teammates in the same car – in vain to keep up. And on a design level, that’s what the Series 1 Esprit was like. Stand back and observe Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design and it’s dead simple. It’s nothing but a few intersecting lines. A join-the-dots supercar silhouette, if you like. But it’s beautiful. It’s tiny. It’s perfect. Bond's submersible version made it truly famous, but when you look at those lines it was like it was designed to travel underwater from the start. Just try replacing the Esprit with a 911 Turbo or a 308 GTB in your mind. That scene from The Spy Who Loved Me doesn’t really work now, does it?
No wonder, then, that the Series 1 was a landmark car. And, as is often the case, over the ensuing years the simplicity gave way to added aggression, drama and weight. But unlike Mustangs of the 70s, 80s and, well, nearly every version up to the current one, the Esprit never really lost its way. Yes it became heavier but never a heavy weight, even as it morphed into the X180. It grew muscles in the notion of power – much more power – but mostly it retained its sense of purity, too.
Certainly that was still the case with the Esprit S4S. Yes, the arches are fatter and it has a huge rear wing sprouting from its rump, but the essence of the S1’s shape is still there, lurking underneath it all. It still looks pretty. The S4S came hot on the heels of the more motorsporty Sport 300. That had over 300hp, a hot-headed top end, and just 1,243kg to shove along. Sure, that’s more than the 1,000-odd kilos of the original but hardly lardy. The S4S added a little more mass in favour of more luxury and more of a road-car feel than the madcap 300, but that highly boosted, four-cylinder motor remained its heart.
It was still exciting, in other words, but more applicable to those that did more miles on-road than on-track. Yet there’s no denying that the Esprit had, by now, moved from sports car to supercar. The S4S’s sub-five-second sprint to sixty and near-170mph top speed was proof of that – both quick for the time and still quick enough today. And just because the Esprit had added power steering and servo brakes to the unassisted original’s formula, that didn’t stop even these later cars from feeling every bit the proper driver’s car, full of sensation and connection – to the driver and the past. Sure, the V8s may have represented the absolute pinnacle of performance, but this S4S still had the four-pot fizz and spirit of the S1.
If that’s what you’re after, then it’s hard to imagine a better example than this. It’s a 1996 car that’s covered fewer than 10,000 miles – 9,958 to be precise. It’s described as in ‘incredible condition’ and sifting through the pictures it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment. Presented in Azure Blue it’s every bit the poster pinup the Esprit has always been and still remains one of the truly awesome automotive icons. There's one problem, though. Sadly, since 1975 I've grown too big to fit in it. Never mind...
Specification | Lotus Esprit S4S Turbo
Engine: 2,174cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 305 @ 7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 290 @ 3,600rpm
First registered: 1996
Recorded mileage: 9,958
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £74,995
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