1500 miles with a vintage Lotus I bought sight-unseen, and I’m still smiling

Nik Berg

Regular readers will recognize Nik Berg as Hagerty’s European correspondent. The British journalist has driven humble cars for Auto Express, supercars for Top Gear, and everything in between. His greatest claim to fame is piloting the first hybrid-powered car to be entered in an FIA rally.

I have had my sanity questioned many times since I bought my 1982 Lotus Esprit S3, on eBay, without ever having seen it.

One Twitter commentator suggested that it would be “basically like paying someone to repeatedly kick you in the ***** and then thanking them afterwards.” Another suggested that my story “brought back so many memories … of the car being in the shop.”

And yet, I’m 1500 miles in and serious trouble has yet to materialize. I’ve had to get used to the idiosyncrasies of twin carbs, which require three stabs on the throttle to prime them before starting. I’ve battled with selecting reverse, but now I’m winning on that front—I can find the gear 90 percent of the time.

I had one small scare when the engine developed a strange part-throttle misfire on the motorway, but after 40 miles of worry it disappeared as quickly as it came. I put it down to some crud in the fuel. Speaking of fuel, I still haven’t managed to completely fill the twin tanks. Although there’s a balancer pipe linking them, the procedure requires both fuel caps to be removed, followed by a gingerly orchestrated trickle of super unleaded E5 fuel—otherwise it splashes back. Once one tank appears to be full it should, in principle, divert to the other, but this doesn’t quite seem to be the case; so, if the pump hose will reach, I pop around to the other side and fill that too. But no matter what, the fuel gauge has never quite registered full.

Speaking of fuel: Amazingly, the Lotus-built 2.2-liter twin-cam engine doesn’t appear to use too much of the stuff, with a rough calculation putting it at 30 mpg (25 mpg by U.S. standards).

1982 Lotus Esprit S3 front three-quarter goodwood
Nik Berg and his Esprit S3 at Goodwood. Note, he’s still smiling at this stage of Esprit ownership. Nik Berg

On a visit to the opening of Richard Hammond’s The Smallest Cog I collared fellow Esprit owner Harry Metcalfe. We had a lengthy discussion about ride heights, as negotiating speed humps is extremely tricky. Harry agreed that my car didn’t look too low, but once he’d pulled out various photos and scrambled underneath mine, he reckoned it is actually riding lower than standard. I have yet to investigate whether it’s tired springs or a deliberate choice by a previous owner. Whatever the outcome, I’d like it to be a tad higher.

The official To Do list for the Esprit also includes new tires, as they are mismatched with some fairly budget rubber on the front and ancient but supercool Goodyear Eagle balloons on the rear. “Squirmy” is the best word to describe the feel when they’re loaded up going through a roundabout. (It could equally be applied to my own feelings in those instances.) One of the fronts has a slow leak, which I think is from the rim, but the wheels could all do with a bit of a refurb and a balance.

Having enjoyed the Esprit immensely on two trips to Goodwood, plus accidentally taking it home to Lotus in Norfolk, as the weather is turned sketchy it was time to find a specialist to go over the car and quote for the bodywork.

1982 Lotus Esprit S3 garaged front three-quarter
In good company with a John Player Special Turbo Nik Berg

To paint, or not to paint?

The Calypso Red is almost pink in places, while there are microblisters all around the rear end and some cracking in the gel coat behind the driver’s door. From ten feet away it’s not so bad, but every time I drive it and then wash it, it does bug me.

The seller rather optimistically suggested that “a couple of grand” would sort it out, but as it turns out, stripping the car back to its bare fiberglass body and restoring it to former glory is going to be considerably more costly, as I found out when I visited a couple of specialists.

Dropping into Allon White Sports Cars in Bedfordshire and Hilton & Moss in Hertfordshire I received almost identical estimates of around £10,000 ($13,500) plus stripping and refitting. By the time all is done that’ll be over half the purchase price in paint alone, which is rather scary.

The miser in me is tempted to leave it as and try to live with the “patina.” There’s another voice in my head saying, “Wrap it.” It’s probably a false economy, but wraps are what all the young influencers do, and the treatment might make the car more presentable on the road trips I’m hoping to take this year. A stop-gap or just sacrilege? What do you think?

1982 Lotus Esprit S3 grime
They all do that, sir. But how much is too much? Nik Berg

In the meantime, I was able to get the car on a ramp thanks to Josh Kemp at Hilton & Moss and that revealed both good and bad news. On the positive side, the underside of the car looks solid and rot-free. On the negative, there’s quite a lot of oil being sprayed about. It appears that the front crank seal is leaking and there’s possibly some seepage from the diff or gearbox, so that’s now the priority. Well, that and the heater because, at the moment, I’m having to wear an electric jacket and heated insoles for my shoes to avoid being frozen every time I drive.

Given that one of the places I really want to take the Esprit is the mountains above Cortina in Italy, some cabin heat will be a must if Mrs. B is to be persuaded to join me. Why Cortina? Well that’s down to the Esprit’s starring role alongside Roger Moore—as immortalized in the number plate.

In a lengthy letter a previous owner explained that BJZ 4007 was chosen because B is Bond, JZ for James, with a 4 for For Your Eyes Only, and the self-explanatory 007. Let’s just say that less high-minded individuals may have other ideas, but it’s always a talking point!

Nik Berg's 007 Lotus Esprit
Bonding with a 007 model Nik Berg

Via Hagerty UK

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