An Esprit makes sense based on performance and price, but it falls short on craftsmanship and materials


Although the wedge-shaped Lotus Esprit has been around long enough to be something of a 1970s retro car, it has gone through significant changes since it first appeared in 1976. To most people the Esprit conjures up exciting scenes from the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me," where Roger Moore escaped dangerous moments thanks to Q's outfitting of his Esprit. Most memorable was when the Esprit turned into a submarine and dived to the bottom of the sea, surely a one-way trip with Lucas electrics.
This pristine example may not be able to excite that kind of theatrical performance, but it does perform on the road. The 2001 Lotus Esprit coupe comes equipped with well-proven mechanical roots that have continually been improved. The revamped composite plastic body dates back to 1987 on this still-contemporary supercar.
A completely redesigned, luxurious leather interior was fitted in 1998 and has been continually upgraded since then. The 3.5-liter, all-aluminum DOHC, 32-valve, twin-turbo V8 engine with an intercooler was new in 1997 and produces a healthy 354 bhp to ensure that no Ferrari or Lamborghini will blow by you. And, with 295 ft-lbs of torque at 4,250 rpm, it has plenty of grunt.
The steering and handling have been described as a "perfect match" for the built-in supercar performance. At the same time, this is a driver's car with razor-sharp steering and abundant grip.
The example we have the pleasure of offering here is finished in a rare and attractive Caribbean blue and beautifully complemented by a Magnolia interior. It was purchased new by the current owner and has been very well maintained. Showing approximately 30,000 miles on the odometer, the lady owner reports that most of the driving was almost exclusively highway miles between Palm Springs and Los Angeles. Overall, the Lotus remains in excellent condition and needs nothing.
With a top speed of 175 mph, a 0 to 60 time of 4.6 seconds, and an average of 21 mpg, this Lotus Esprit Turbo is a true supercar.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:2001 Lotus Esprit V8
Years Produced:1997-2004
Number Produced:approx. 2,000
Original List Price:$90,000
SCM Valuation:$33,000-$75,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$212, two required
Chassis Number Location:Wheel arch or bulkhead inside front luggage compartment
Engine Number Location:Rear of block
Club Info:Lotus, Ltd., PO Box L, College Park, MD, 20741
Alternatives:1995-98 Porsche Turbo 993, 1989-94 Ferrari 348, 1990-2000 Lamborghini Diablo
Investment Grade:C

This 2001 Lotus Esprit sold for $55,000 at RM’s auction in Monterey, CA, on August 20, 2005.
The Esprit has been around for a long time. Consider that when it was introduced in 1974, Ferrari was still selling Dinos and Daytonas. When the last Esprit rolled off the production line in 2004, the 308 GT4, 308/328 and 348 had come and gone (not to mention the Boxer, TR and 456).
Despite body redesigns and engine upgrades, the car never really caught on with traditional Lotus fanatics (who thought it too plush and cushy), or typical supercar buyers (who found things like “Toyota” being stamped on the taillight lenses off-putting).
The Esprit shocked at its debut at the 1974 London International Motor Show. It was praised for Giugiaro’s sexy lines but criticized for its high weight (for a Lotus)-nearly 2,000 lbs-when the Lotus Europa Special weighed 300 lbs less. Further, it had a four-cylinder, normally aspirated, 2-liter engine that put out just 160 hp. Where was the spartan Lotus of yesteryear?
The market responded with indifference. Sales of all Esprits ranged from 137 to 1,058 per year, with a total of approximately 11,000 sold by the end of its production in 2004.
Lotus responded to complaints about performance by offering a 210-hp, turbocharged, 2.2-liter four in 1980. In 1988, the edgy lines were softened by Peter Stevens, who went on to design the McLaren F1 road car. In 1997, a 350-hp twin-turbo V8 became standard. However, along with the horsepower came an increase in weight to a monstrous (again, for a Lotus) 3,038 lbs.
While this all-alloy engine put the car on an even playing field with its rivals when it came to performance, it was getting more and more difficult to get the market excited about a design nearly a quarter century old.
But life with an Esprit, especially a V8, is exuberant. I bought mine two years ago and have never looked back. That’s a good thing, as you really can’t see much behind you anyway. I’ve learned exactly what contortions I need to perform in order to get into the car, and which driveways will rip the (fortunately replaceable) front spoiler off.
An Esprit makes sense based solely on the performance and price, but if you consider craftsmanship and materials it falls short. The all-rubber steering wheel is straight out of a Pontiac Trans Am, and there are those Toyota taillights. Those kinds of things just don’t happen at Ferrari or Porsche, where making cars is an art form.
According to the catalog description, this 2001 Lotus Esprit’s miles were mostly put on during highway use. I’m sure these are correct since 30,000 is a lot of miles compared to many Esprits that come to market. I don’t think either car or driver is capable of that many stop-and-go miles around town.
If you’ve decided that you want to give an Esprit a try, I’d suggest getting to know the owner before you buy to get a sense of their mechanical intuition. An Esprit emits a myriad of vibrations and noises; some are characteristic, but others need to be addressed.
Letting too many things go leads to the adage, “You can pay me now or pay me later,” which applies to Esprits in spades. Parts are expensive and can take a while to source. I’d also want to squeeze under the car for a look; since the car is low, it is susceptible to frame and suspension damage. If the tires are worn unevenly, it’s another clue something is askew. Incidentally, a set of new tires will set you back over a grand. And it goes without saying that you should check all things electrical.
In the 6,000 miles I’ve driven mine, I have mainly had to fix cosmetic problems the previous owners had ignored. The car has been in the shop for two months with what started as a routine 48,000-mile service and has since turned into a while-it’s-here kind of thing that extended as far as replacing the clutch, a $2,100 part. I doubt I’ll ever get this money back when it comes time to sell.
Let the market’s lack of interest be your friend. Esprit buyers, especially for the most expensive late-model cars, are few and far between. My car belonged to the owner of a high-end used car lot outside Seattle who repeatedly told me he was sad to let the car go, but it didn’t take much haggling to settle on a price of $41,500, washed and with a tank of gas.
The Esprit trades in a buyer’s market until depreciation takes the price low enough that mildly interested observers might see it as a Ferrari for Corvette money. However, by that time, chances are the car has begun its inevitable mechanical and cosmetic disintegration. A cheap Lotus is never cheap.
At $55,000, this was a lot of car for the money, but on-the-button for value. My advice to the new owner would be to drive it as often as possible, and enjoy the experience-while it lasts.

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