10 Lotus Esprit quirks I discovered in my first 150 miles

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Nik Berg

What a weird and wonderful thing is the Lotus Esprit. Sculpted by Giugiaro’s chisel to be one of the wedgiest cars ever made, this glass-fiber-bodied beauty was so splendid in its day that it became one of the few cars in 007 history that didn’t wear an Aston Martin badge.

As a kid I had a Corgi model that would shoot immediately-lost plastic missiles from its rear window and join me at bath times as it switched to submersible mode.

Now one is mine, full-size. And I’m hoping that I won’t be taking a bath on it, given it came to me via a victorious eBay auction after I ignored (almost) all the advice available to me over the last several months. It’s a 1982 S3, naturally aspirated with a revvy 2.0-liter Lotus 912 twin-cam motor. I’d give the interior a generous six out ten and the body about a four, but mechanically I think it might even be a nine. It’s definitely a project. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more over the coming months, but for now here are my first impressions of the oddities of this splendid Seventies’ supercar.

Lotus Esprit S3 roof
Nik Berg

1. It’s very much a child of the Seventies

The Esprit was launched in 1976 and its angular body is just incredible to look at. From a distance; get close, though, and you’ll find gigantic panel gaps with attempts to fill them using additional trim pieces (some of which are not entirely present on my car). Also, it has two ashtrays in the wide sills because smoking and driving was basically the law in the 1970s, and it has door handles from the Morris Marina because that’s all Lotus could afford.

Lotus Esprit S3 engine
Nik Berg

2. The engine is sweet, the gearbox is sour

The 900 series engine was the first engine to be fully developed in-house at Lotus, and it’s a gem. With an iron block, an aluminum head with twin cams, and 16 valves it loves revs and mine pulls joyfully to 6000 rpm and beyond. It probably doesn’t quite have its original 160 hp but it still feels sprightly. The gearbox, which comes from Citroën, is another story. The throw is long and requires a firm shove, so accurate gear selection has been somewhat hit and miss. Reverse constantly plays hide and seek, but since it’s so hard to see out the back (see point 5), I’m trying not use it!

Lotus Esprit S3 interior 1
Nik Berg

3. Getting in and out is a performance

The best way to climb aboard seems to be to open the door wide and then fall ass-first into the seat and swing your legs in. To get out it’s the reverse: swing your legs out while avoiding the handbrake (see point 6) and push up. This method only works if you can fully open the door, however. In those other cases, all manner of contortions are required.

Lotus Esprit and Caterham
Nik Berg

4. The driving position is … interesting

Once flopped into the seat, there’s decent side support and squishy padding. But the seat back is fixed in a kind of perma-pimp-lean. The tiny pedals are offset way to the left (it’s a right hand drive car) and are even closer together than those in my Caterham. Delicate driving booties are a must.

5. There’s more glass than a conservatory but it’s still hard to see

The windscreen is a giant widescreen, giving a cinematic view of the road ahead. The door and side windows are also sizable and the rear window is another massive piece of glass. So you’d think it would be easy to position the car, but the reality is that the nose drops away so rapidly that there’s no telling where it’s gone, and the rear deck may as well be from an aircraft carrier. I’ll definitely be needing someone nearby to keep watch during parallel parks.

Lotus Esprit S3 interior 3
Nik Berg

6. It was designed before ergonomics was a buzzword

The positioning of many important controls is just plain bonkers. The handbrake is on the outer door sill, so you have to reach forward and down to use it. The choke is hidden on the center console between the window switches, and the heating controls are housed on the right side of the giant instrument binnacle but totally obscured by the steering wheel. On the plus side: All the important stuff, like oil pressure, battery voltage and engine temperature (it’s a Lotus remember) can be read quite easily.

Lotus Esprit S3 interior 2
Nik Berg

7. It’s spacious and cramped at the same time

The huge instrument binnacle, the wide sill, and transmission tunnel all envelop the driver. Coupled with the diminutive footwell space it’s quite a tight fit for the pilot, and anyone approaching six feet tall may well struggle. On the passenger side, though, it feels huge, with the vinyl dashboard miles away giving an amazing sense of space.

8. There’s carpet in some strange places and none where you’d expect it

The trunk, which is a small oven-like space behind the engine, isn’t carpeted like most cars. Instead, there’s a kind of zip-up bag to put your stuff in. There are, however, two small squares of carpet in the engine bay by the rear quarterlights. No idea why.

Lotus Esprit S3 rear
Nik Berg

9. Filling up with fuel is double the fun

The Esprit has twin fuel tanks, with a filler on each side. In theory that means you never need to worry about which side of the pump you pull up at. If both fuel caps are removed you can just fill one side and a balancer pipe evens out the volume between the tanks. That’s the theory anyway, but in practice it means being patient at the pumps and waiting for levels to settle lest you drive away only half full.

10. It’s surprisingly comfortable

With its balloon tires, squishy seats, and supple suspension, the Esprit is actually very comfy. It soaks up sketchy surfaces far better than you’d expect from such a low-slung sports car. That’s always been the Lotus way, though. Reduce the mass and you can go a little softer on the springs. I’m looking forward to many miles ahead.

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