By the early 1970s, Lotus’ product line was distinctly long in the tooth. Both the Elan and the Europa had been on the market for more than five years and both had been sold in kit form. The Europa was funny-looking to boot. World economics also forced Lotus to compete at a pricing level that approached the cost of much more sophisticated and professionally executed cars. A new model was needed to change Lotus’ image.
Enter the 1976 Lotus Esprit. The new Lotus wore sharp wedge styling courtesy of Giorgetto Giugiaro, and looked just like the stunning 1972 concept car. Engineers mounted the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine mid-ship, and coupled it to a 5-speed transmission. Sadly, build quality on these early Esprits wasn’t up to the price and the usual Lotus fragility along with the Federalized cars’ anemic 140-hp rating failed to impress enthusiast. The Esprit’s ride and handling were brilliant, however, as were its looks.
The S2 of 1978 brought with it evolutionary changes, but the biggest change to the original Esprit occurred in 1980 when engine displacement increased to 2.2 liters and a turbocharger was added to the model lineup. With the introduction of the turbo, the car’s complexity increased, but finally the car’s performance was commensurate with its looks.
The Giugiaro Esprit continued until a redesigned model was introduced in 1987. The early cars, however, remain one of the purest expressions of the 1970s wedge theme. And while the Lotus Esprit can certainly be classified as an exotic, parts and maintenance are nowhere near Ferrari levels. As such, this car remains a popular vintage option.