The Old School Lotus Esprit SE Is Still Your Best Entry-Level Exotic


Eighties awesomeness for around $25 grand. Hard to beat that.

To say that Lotus founder Colin Chapman didn’t play by the rules would be an understatement. He did his own thing from the beginning to his final days. In doing so, he changed the sports car world forever with his focus on chassis development and, of course, his “simplify, then add lightness” philosophy. Perhaps one of Chapman’s most iconic cars was the Esprit, which was sold for years before ultimately being dropped in 2004. This car was so good in so many ways that Lotus simply kept developing it since its 1976 launch.

Of course it went through some body redesigns and new engines, but the basic platform remained the same. Impressive. And as Matt Farah points out in this latest episode of The Smoking Tire, you can buy a used Esprit today for not a whole lot of money. Say around $25,000, give or take.

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But one he’s driving here is not your typical 1990 Esprit SE. It’s been modified by ATS Racing out of Denton, Texas and, thanks to some engine work, its 2.1-liter turbo four now makes 450 hp at the rank and 380 hp at the wheels. Originally, it had just 284 hp. Combined with its lightweight still stellar chassis, this Esprit SE is, fair to say, better than ever. Yes, there are still some clutch issues, just like in the stock version, but considering the price point, it’s an exotic that’s hard to beat.

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