Lotus Esprit At 40: The High Compression Era

Feature

To all those who thought the Essex Esprit was powerful enough.

Being a relative minnow in the sports car world, Lotus wasn't in a position to waste money on inefficient production methods. However, that's exactly the position Lotus found itself in with the Esprit. By 1980, no less than three different variations of the car (the S2.2, the Turbo and the North American export model) were being produced, each with specific chassis, bodywork and engine systems. So in a bid to streamline the whole operation, Lotus set about thoroughly revising the entire Esprit production process, which resulted in an all-new "Series 3" generation.

A large chunk of this lineup consolidation, though, consisted of carrying over a lot of bits from the Series 2 Esprits. The base cars still featured the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine from the old S2.2, and the new Turbo Esprit was, bar a set of "Turbo Esprit" decals, virtually identical inside and out to the Essex Esprit that introduced forced induction to the mid-engined model. Not that it was a bad thing, though. After all, the 2.2-liter engine was widely regarded as a far more drivable motor than the 2.0-liter from the original Esprit, and the Turbo made the headlines as the junior supercar slayer that punched well above its weight. Put simply, the foundations Lotus laid down in the Series 2 Esprit ensured the Series 3 would hit the ground running.

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That's not to say Lotus would rest on its laurels, however. Even in spite of the product placement via another Esprit/James Bond partnership (this time with a Turbo Esprit in "For Your Eyes Only"), Lotus understood that upgrades would be needed in order to keep the Esprit competitive in a world still feeling the effects of the oil crisis aftermath. As a result, the Series 3 Esprit would be given a few nip-and-tuck alterations over the course of its six-year pre-facelift lifespan, with many of those tweaks having to do with revised bodywork and subtly altered suspension setups. The bigger changes, however, would have to wait until 1986 when Lotus would make another transitional step forward to a future incarnation of (and era for) the Esprit.

During that year, Lotus introduced a new range of engines for the Esprit under the High Compression, or "HC," banner. Thanks to higher compression ratios (8.0:1, in comparison with the 7.5:1 in the regular Esprits), the HC models had a wee bit more power to play with: 172 hp in the standard Esprit HC, and 215 hp in the Turbo Esprit HC. Though admittedly not massive upgrades, the extra grunt did improve the flexibility of the NA 2.2-liter engine, and having extra power in the already brisk Turbo Esprit only further cemented its status as one of the faster point-to-point high-end sports cars on the market at the time. Plus, the HCi models sold stateside introduced fuel injection to the Esprit, even if it was at the mild expense of some torque.

All was going a long rather swimmingly for the Series 3 Lotus Esprit, so well, in fact, that Lotus wouldn't release the Series 4 version until 1993. However, the wait for more comprehensive upgrades to the Esprit wouldn't be as long as that. When 1987 came around, Lotus unveiled a new look for its famous flagship model that not only updated the iconic wedgy profile but ushered in perhaps the biggest refresh to the Esprit since the model was introduced over a decade earlier.

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