– That's the New Lotus
First-ever production Esprit
Grimsby Evening News, 1976
By Peter Hall
Monday morning as the inevitable jangling alarm announces a new week it is time to stop dreaming. Throwing back the curtains with eyes staring blearily down the drive I realise the dream is not quite over. The object of my weekend-long dream is still there, wide, squat, aggressively beautiful, waiting to purr 16 valve, twin-overhead cam music in my ears.
For a few more precious minutes I can taste the trill of driving one of the most desirable cars on the road today – the new Lotus Esprit. It is a car which pulls few punches. Dressed undoubtedly in wolfs clothing, another 160 break horsepower wolf lurks within but the inner wolf can, when required, give a fair impression of a lamb.
The two-seater Esprit is a very rapid motor car, for it not to be would be a mockery. But nestled a mid ships in true racing car tradition it's ultra smooth power plant shows no signs of temperament that might be expected from a car which will rocket from 0-60mph in under 7 seconds and almost top 140mph.
And perhaps even more important in these fuel conscious days the manufacturers claimed touring consumption of over 30 mpg is not an unrealistic one. Though, if driven as it begs to be, a figure of around 25mpg is perhaps closer to the mark. The immediate appeal of the Esprit is obvious. And a drive through a busy town confirms it. Old and young alike turn and stare. And few would argue that its looks are a real showstopper. Park it, and almost to the point of embarrassment, crowds gather to admire the body beautiful.
Getting into a car which stands 3'8" at its hightest point takes a little practice. But once inside it is quite striking in it's all fabric trim (over the dash and door lining). Lotus claim this is all washable, but it would be interesting to see how it looks on a 5 year old model. A futuristic console wraps around the steering wheel putting almost all controls within finger reach. The seats, though non-reclining re-raked well back for a superb driving position.
On out test the engine started surprisingly well even on one icy cold and one damp and foggy morning. Hot starting can take longer and care must be taken not to flood the engine.
The gearbox, though perhaps a little stiff on the test car, due to it's low mileage, can take a bit of getting used to. Spring loaded against first and second to the left of the gate and against fifth to the right you find you have to hold the stubby gear lever against the spring, when changing from first to second. The other gears comes smooth and fast and the two litre engine, with rev limit of 7000rpm sees you rapidly in the long legged 5th gear overdrive.
Once on the road the Esprit's cat like sure footedness does wonders for your ego and you wonder what James Hunt has you haven't. As you smack down a gear and apply a touch of power corners melt into the rear view mirror. On the occasion when I needed the excellent brakes at an unmarked road junction it just stopped, very quickly and undramatically on a wet road though I did find the pedal a little too soft for my liking.
In the unlikely event that you overdo it on a corner the Esprit will eventually and reluctantly hang it's tail out which may be unnerving for an inexperienced driver but is far more controllable than to go ploughing into the greenery nose first. In a word the road holding is superb.
The Esprit's short comings are as perhaps equally as obvious as it's qualities. It's mid engined concept limits boot space, though with some thought there is enough room for luggage for a weekend for two. Rear vision is also limited. The door mounted drivers mirror helps overcome one blind spot in the unlikely event of anyone passing you, but reversing can be a problem especially as the car is very wide.
I found it better to do a van driver and open the door and lean out. Obviously it was never intended to be a family car. It IS a drivers car and a very exciting one at that. Though it's £8,000 price tag is beyond many of us, it should provide some stiff competition to foreign manufacturers of exotic sports cars.
Some may regret Lotus's decision to go 'up market' but it is somehow satisfying to know that cars like the Esprit exist in these anti-motoring days.