Counting the cost of Esprit ownership

Nik Berg, Hagerty’s European correspondent, has had his sanity questioned many times since he bought this 1982 Lotus Esprit S3, on eBay, without ever having seen it. That was in the summer of 2021. Roughly 16 months and many, many pounds sterling later, the man is still committed to driving—and enjoying—this notoriously finicky automobile. We’re inspired. —Ed. 

As 2022 draws to a close and the Esprit is tucked away in a dry car park under a fitted dust cover, it’s time to reflect on a year that has been … expensive.

After the pricy paintwork was completed, I sent the car to Hofmann’s of Henley to have a coolant leak dealt with and a general going-over. Its inspection revealed a list of items that all seemed relatively minor, but added up to bill of over £4000 (as of this writing, roughly $4800).

The front brakes were refreshed with re-routed brake lines, new calipers, and a master cylinder, the rear dampers were renewed, a proper fix for an earlier coolant leak (see previous report) was sorted and a leaky balance pipe between the twin fuel tanks was replaced. A few sundries and some finessing of the throttle-cable linkage meant that the car was finally ready for a road trip.

Or it would have been, had I not opened the door to find that water was pouring in from around the windscreen. Since the respray it hadn’t been out in the rain and a torrential downpour revealed a big leak. Once again The Beaconsfield Workshop leapt into action, collecting the car and spending two days with a watering can identifying water ingress and fixing it, free of charge.

As you may have read, I finally headed north, crossing the border into Scotland to chase the ghost of legendary Lotus racer Jim Clark. On the 350-mile run up the A1 the car was faultless. At motorway speeds there’s a bit of wind noise but I was still able to comfortably listen to a crypto crime podcast—picking up a few ideas about how I might continue to fund the running of the Esprit.

nik berg lotus esprit december 2022 update
Nik Berg

Over the next few days I scooted around the Scottish borders then headed south on a brilliant drive through Northumberland, deep into Kielder Forest and then across to Kendal in the Lake District. Starting early on my last day it was up hill and down dale as I yomped across Yorkshire, stopping only for photos, fish ’n’ chips at the Magpie in Whitby, and a slow lap of the amazing Oliver’s Mount road-racing circuit in Scarborough.

nik berg lotus esprit december 2022 update
Nik Berg

The Esprit really was in its element. The new Falken tires and rear shocks transformed the handling and ride—it felt light on its toes and agile, just as a Lotus should. The engine was running smoothly and used barely any oil. It wasn’t even that thirsty, achieving north of 30 mpg.

It was the kind of road trip that I’d always imagined taking with the Esprit, and it was going perfectly. Until it wasn’t.

Approaching the steep and sweeping curves of Garrowby Hill, made famous by David Hockney, a rather unpleasant picture began to develop. Under full load, a misfire had appeared.

I stopped, checked fluids, and rummaged around for anything obvious then pressed on cautiously southwards on the A1. That impressive fuel efficiency plummeted and I had to stop again to fill up. Then I noticed a plume of white smoke. By the time I reached Peterborough services, I was trailing a full cumulonimbus.

Again, I looked for obvious signs of trouble, but seeing none, I feared the worst and called the AA. The first patrolman arrived and, after taking one look at the Lotus, called for a transporter. The last 100 miles of my journey was completed on the back of an AA truck. But, hey, at least it was color-coordinated.

nik berg lotus esprit december 2022 update
Nik Berg

I sent the car back to Hofmann’s and, mercifully, the diagnosis was simple. “The velocity stack had come away on one of the cylinders due to no locking nuts fitted,” senior service consultant Joe Tomczyk told me. “The other velocity stacks were all loose and this damaged the air filter. We fitted a new one, new spark plugs, cleaned up the leads, and balanced the carbs. The vehicle now drives how it did when it left us.”

It’s the second time that I thought I was looking at a catastrophic engine failure, only for it to be a simple problem. Joe pointed out that the rocker cover was weeping oil, and that they hadn’t managed to get it MOT tested in time for my trip. The Ministry of Transportation holds the Esprit exempt, but the exams are worth keeping up, in my view, so while it was back in the workshop I agreed to get the leak looked at, the cam belt changed and any work needed to pass the test. That turned out to require new rear discs, and because they’re mounted inboard it’s not the most straightforward of exercises.

Another £2700 all up, making 2022’s spend—hang on, I need to steady myself, my head’s gone all light—more than equal to what I bought the car for in 2021, given the bodywork and respray alone weren’t all that far off the original purchase price of the car, which was £23,000.

There are still some outstanding jobs, notably an interior tidy-up and stereo installation, plus trying to fix the heater, but they will have to wait until I get a Christmas bonus or develop my own crypto scam.

Via Hagerty UK

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    A few years ago I was gifted a 90s Chev truck. Market value here would have it at $1500-2500 Cdn $ at the time in the state it was in. It was $4700 to get it legally on the road and some clean up I did on my own. Comparables landed around $5000 so not underwater but only because it was given to me.

    You start doing tires, full brake jobs, etc. on anything it adds up fast. I post this as a keep in mind to those new to the hobby.

    Great story! I can certainly relate…I’ve never had the good fortune to be able to buy hobby cars which had already been sorted and ready to drive so in order to get the ones I’ve wanted I have always had to fix them and tinker with them as I went along and there’s a very good reason why old cars are called money pits….but ya gotta have something to spend your money and time on (especially after you have retired) and it might as well be an old automobile(s)…they pretty much keep me out of trouble and my wife always knows where I am…out in my little shop turning wrenches and occasionally twisting a few beer bottle caps as well…

    An American shop owner said (generally) parts are 1/3rd and labor is 2/3rds. Might be worth it to try your hand at repair, less jail time than crypro schemes… as long as it doesn’t drive you too crazy

    The wealth needed to have a Exotic is not in the new purchase price but in the ability to keep it on the road.

    Some will nickel and dime others can take your wallet all in one failed cam belt.

    Lack of quality in some years, complexity in others all come at a cost when things fail.

    I have found several Ferrari models I could have bought. The trouble was paying for the parts and up keep to keep it alive.

    You have to be able to perform at least some of the work yourself, between YouTube and the numerous online vehicle specific forums you can get all the technical expertise you need, you need only supply ambition.

    I restored a S1 Esprit and while driving through the neighbor hood, I saw an old friend approaching in her car. Being so proud of my Lotus I flipped the headlights up and down as we got closer. She didn’t even wave. Next time I saw her , I said ” Hey didn’t you see me flash the lights at you yesterday? ” She said “Oh was that you … I thought it was a Pontiac Fiero ” I placed an ad that night and promtly sold it.

    Even with no prior experience I think some of these could’ve been done at home. Replacing dampers would be an economical low stakes beginning. Also I’m very curious as to how a loose velo stack caused a miss and lots of white smoke. I fear more expenses are on the horizon.

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