Lotus Esprit At 40: Time To Go Turbo


Forced induction for the first time on an Esprit - but not the last.

Even before the Series 1 version went out of production, the Lotus Esprit had established itself as one of the great sports cars of the 1970s. Through a combination of gorgeous Guigaro styling, a phenomenal chassis balance and some noteworthy product placement in The Spy Who Loved Me, the humble two-seater from Hethel had managed to become one of the most talked-about road cars of the time. Despite its popularity, the Esprit was far from perfect - and Lotus seemingly wanted to rectify those issues quickly, as it took the firm just two years to make the 'Series 2' Esprit.

The tweaks themselves were mostly minor, but they did all add up to make the Series 2 Esprit a noteworthy upgrade. The new dashboard gauges and specific-to-the-Esprit 14-inch wheels gave the Lotus a look more befitting of a high-end sports car, and new cooling ducts were installed to help the 2.0-liter engine breathe that little bit better. Plus, bar the addition of a new chin spoiler, the graceful bodywork remained virtually unchanged in the Series 2, thus ensuring the Lotus Esprit's was one of the most distinctive road car shapes of its time. So stunning, in fact, that it was enough to distract owners from the fact they were paying the modern day equivalent of $115,000 for a sports car with Rover 3500 taillights and Morris Marina door handles.

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Bar all that, though, very little would actually change for the next couple of years, with the only major addition being the launch of a limited edition to celebrate Lotus' F1 successes in 1978. Things really started to heat up, however, when Lotus was gearing up for the Series 3 Esprit. When 1980 turned around, Lotus unveiled to the world what would be unofficially christened the 'Essex Esprit;' a deep blue mid-engined sports car with a bluff bodykit, larger wheels, stiffer rear suspension and, crucially, a 210-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Lotus had long been baiting high-end cars with the Esprit, but it was in this forced induction, 150-mph guise where the wedge from Hethel really started to threaten the supercar elite.

It really was a landmark car for Lotus that would not only be the building blocks for the Series 3 Esprit, but also start the model name's long-running association with turbochargers. But it wasn't the one that gearheads clamor over. That accolade belongs to the 'S2.2' Esprit. Thanks to an enlarged 2.2-liter engine, this stop-gap Esprit maintained the purity of the naturally-aspirated cars, while also adding a dose of drivability that only owners of the Essex Esprit had experienced before in a mid-engined Lotus. Despite those USPs, though, the S2.2 Esprit wasn't a big sales hit, as just 88 examples were ever built, with even less surviving today. If you ever see one, take a picture of it pronto - you'll likely never see another example again.

As expected from a car that was nearing its curtain call, the Series 2 Lotus Esprit started to fizzle out at this point, and was eventually replaced by the Series 3 in 1981. But the car's impact on the Esprit's future incarnations would be felt right up to the model's eventual demise in the early 2000s - and, as we'll find out in the next entry in this series, a lot of the lessons learned via the Series 2 would be applied to the rather impactful Lotus Esprit Series 3.

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