In the early seventies, the PR Manager of Lotus Cars parked a pre-production Esprit sans any badging outside Pinewood Studios to persuade them to use the car in an upcoming film. The stunt worked, the studio liked the car and long story short, that’s how it came to be in 1977’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, featuring Roger Moore as James Bond and seeing the car take to the waters and convert into a submarine after a thrilling chase sequence showcasing its performance. In fact, the ‘submarine’ model (which is just a shell with electric motors and space for divers inside to manoeuvre it around) survives to this day and is in the personal collection of Elon Musk. Two Lotus Esprit Essex Turbos would also feature in 1981’s James Bond flick ‘For Your Eyes Only’, making this car the epitome of seventies and eighties coolness with its wedge-shaped, Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned styling and silver screen provenance.
The first generation called the S1 hit the market in 1976, and despite its futuristic styling, power was a tad lacking at just 160bhp from a 2.0L four-cylinder engine. Parts bins were raided wherever possible – the gearbox was a Citroen unit that also powered the French automaker’s Maserati engine SM, as well as the Maserati Merak. And let’s not talk about the US-market Esprit that was strangled with just 140bhp!
1978’s S2 generation rectified that somewhat with a larger 2.2L engine but it was the Essex Turbo of 1980 that brought a dry-sumped, turbocharged engine with 210bhp – a more befitting power figure to the car. Parts bin raiding continued – one would recognise switchgear from the Morris catalogue of the time if one knew where to look, for example. A roof-mounted Panasonic stereo was included in the Essex Turbo for dramatic styling effect.
The Esprit seemed to have a quick lifecycle – 1981 saw the S3 emerge with wider bodywork, BBS alloys and other enhancements. The gearbox had stayed a Citroen unit throughout its life, and would stay so for this generation as well.
By the late eighties, the wedge shape was coming out of fashion and Peter Stevens – a man whose penmanship also resulted in the McLaren F1 – redesigned the Esprit for a more rounded, but still distinctively wedge-ish shaped look and it was known as the X180. The Citroen transmission was replaced in later years by a Renault one that also saw the distinctive inboard rear brakes changed to conventional outboard ones. A Sport 300 variant saw power break the 300bhp mark and bring a potential top speed of 270km/h.
The S4 Esprit was revealed in 1993 with a further redesign by Julian Thompson, and the tail-lights were parts bin items from a Japanese icon – the Toyota AE86! 1996 saw a major change in the coming of the V8 – an engine that was long overdue for an Esprit and finally gave it the power-train chops to back up its styling. 350bhp was the final figure from the twin-turbocharged engine, again driving the rear wheels through a Renault gearbox that was beefed up to handle the increased power and torque. When raced in the GT1 category, the engine was able to produce 550bhp!
The final redesign of the Esprit in 2002 by Russell Carr was a minor one, with the tail-lamps now adopting the round fashion of the Elise and a few other improvements. When the Esprit model bowed out in 2004, it was one of the last cars along with the C5 Corvette to sport pop-up headlamps. Over 10,000 were produced through its 28-year run and their relative rarity coupled with the inherent reliability issues mean that a properly running and looked after Esprit is indeed a sight to behold!
A sight like this 1984 example which is in the care of the Akbarallys and therefore looked after fastidiously, with no expense spared and every nut and bolt meticulously checked to ensure that the car is the way it was intended to be as it rolled off the factory lines all those years ago. The car was first imported by the lawyer, politician and diplomat Susil Moonesinghe in 1987. Alas, at the first service, disaster struck as the incorrect oil was used and the sensitive engine did not take too kindly to it. In 1992, it entered the custody of the Akberallys where it has remained ever since.
With the heart-breaking debacle of the rare ‘John Player Special’ Esprit burning merrily away on Ward Place recently, this Esprit becomes even more cherished as an example of the classic automotive heritage that Sri Lanka is blessed with, and a timely reminder to all that classic cars need love and attention if they are to continue at their best – something that is lavished on this car in spades!