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Used car buying guide:
Lotus Esprit Turbo

By ohn Evans on, 7 November 2019

The Esprit Turbo's head-turning ability is as strong today as it ever was.
But is owning one likely to be a pain in your low-slung bottom? Not necessarily

If you weren’t around when the Peter-Stevens-designed Esprit Turbo landed in 1987, you won’t know what a splash it made. There’d been Lotus Esprits before it, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and very good looking they were, too, but the Stevens car had even more presence and a timeless, aero-inspired look that, 30 years later, has lost none of its freshness and appeal.

A past neighbour of mine had a brand-new Turbo in Calypso Red with cream leather. In the quiet market town where I lived, its arrival was front page news, at least in our local rag’s motoring section. Put one on your driveway today and it’s likely to provoke the same reaction, at least among the neighbours. And if they laugh up their sleeves about the car’s modest 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, you can always bring the Porsche 718’s 2.0-litre four-pot into the conversation…

Mechanically, the 1987 Esprit Turbo was largely unchanged from the previous-generation model, with the exception of the rear brakes that were now outboard and the adoption of a Renault five-speed transaxle. The fit and finish of the glassfibre body were improved by a new resin injection process. At the same time, the interior, handling and performance were brought up to date.

For the record, the Type 910 engine, force fed by a Garrett T3 turbo and with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, produced 215bhp, a figure that may have declined somewhat if you stick a leggy Turbo on a rolling road today. It was good for 0-62mph in 5.3sec (the car weighs only 1270kg) but an uprated version called the Turbo SE arrived in 1989. Thanks to an intercooler and a new multi-point fuel injection system, it produced a more impressive 264bhp for 0-62mph in 4.9sec. You can tell the model by its large rear wing.

This standard Turbo continued until 1991. The Sport 300 of 1993, a stripped-out version with 302bhp and beefed-up spoilers and wheel arches, was the Esprit Turbo’s last hurrah before the arrival of the Esprit S4. Only around 50 Sport 300s were made and they’re sought after today.

The S4 of 1993 boasted a fresh but evolutionary look courtesy of Julian Thompson, today head of Jaguar design. It was the first Esprit to have power steering as standard and, on a less uplifting note, the revised interior featured parts donated by VauxhallLotus’s new owner. Power was provided by the 264bhp engine from the SE Turbo, a move that cleared the way for its more powerful successor, the 300bhp S4 S of 1994.

The Esprit Turbo’s final roll of the dice came in the form of the GT3, launched in 1996. The lightweight, stripped-out model could muster only 240bhp but is regarded as the best-handling Turbo of them all.

Experts reckon that, assuming it has been properly maintained, an Esprit Turbo is a reliable supercar with no serious faults. Buy a good one while prices are still reasonable and it’ll reward you handsomely.

An expert's view

Paul Clugston, UK Sports Cars: “I’ve driven and sold hundreds of Esprits and love the model. Assuming it’s been looked after, the car is perfectly reliable, with 100,000-plus miles easily achievable. However, at that mileage, the suspension and braking system will need an overhaul. I’m wary of cars with rebuilt engines because the engine is rarely as smooth as it was. You need to keep an eye on its oil consumption, too. Check you’re comfortable with the steering. Power steering only became standard in 1994. My favourite Esprits are the S4, S4 S and GT3.”

Buyer beware

Engine: Check the 6000-mile service intervals have been followed and that either main dealers or specialists have serviced the car since knowledge of torque settings and general adjustments is critical. Monitor oil pressure and be sure the three cooling fans work. Examine the filler neck for oil and water emulsion, indicating a blown head gasket. Check all pipes and hoses. Ensure the exhaust manifold isn’t blowing.

Turbo: If the car has been standing for some time, the turbo wastegate may be seized so be easy with the accelerator on the test drive to avoid overboosting the engine. Have someone blip the throttle and check the exhaust for white turbo smoke.

Transmission: The original hydraulic clutch hose is red but don’t be surprised if it has been replaced by a stronger, braided item. Feel for worn synchros. A notchy change is typical of the Renault ’box. 

Suspension: Unless they've been replaced recently, budget for new bushes and dampers all round. The test drive will reveal all.

Body and Chassiss: Inspect the suspension mounts for corrosion but elsewhere the galvanised chassis should be rust-free. Check the pop-up headlights work.

Interior: A tatty cabin suggests less obvious neglect elsewhere so be very cautious. Check that the electric mirrors and windows work as repairs can be pricey.

Also worth knowing

At Lotus Esprit World (lotusespritworld.com) you’ll find more useful info about choosing, buying and owning the model. Its Which Esprit guide rates cars on their availability and reliability, and there’s a guide to test driving the model, with tips on what a healthy car will feel like compared with one in need of work.

How much to spend

£8000-£17,999: From tatty to good early cars, plus good-value auction buys.

£18,000-£22,999: Early cars in good condition with up to 80,000 miles.

£23,000-£29,999: More decent, reconditioned SE Turbos from 1989 on and with around 60,000 miles. S4 and S4 S cars in good nick at the higher end of this price bracket.

£30,000-£34,999: More S4s, S4 Ss and GT3s in top condition.

£35,000 and above: Rarities, low-mileage and concours examples.

One we found

Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1988, 56,000 miles, £22,995: A proper example with full-leather interior and Targa-style roof being sold by a specialist. New windscreen, brake hoses and servo, suspension bushes and turbocharger with associated pipes. Engine recently tested and declared smooth and oil tight.

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