Buying an Esprit

Buying a Used Esprit

Esprit ownership isn't something you should jump into with both feet. If you do, you will surely be stung. In order to do things right, the process requires a methodical approach.

The first step towards ownership is knowledge. Read everything you can about these cars. That includes everything on this web site, the Lotus Esprit World web site, and any books on Esprits you can get your hands on.

The next step should be called the "lurking phase". Join one or more of the several Lotus forums. You can access these from the Support section of the EFF. Once you sign up, introduce yourself to the group. Write a brief message identifying yourself and explaining that you are interested in buying an Esprit sometime in the near future. From there, just listen. You will surely get several welcome messages, but the most important messages are the ones not directed to you. You will quickly become familiar with what kind of issues are common to these cars and which are red flags that should scare you away from a purchase. A lot of this has to do with your threshold of tolerance and your level of mechanical skill. Many car owners take them in for service at a dealer or other business and let the do the work Others are the kind that prefer to get their hands dirty and do the work themselves. Many Esprit owners fall into the second category. This can be a good thing or a very bad thing as we will see next.

As you become absorbed into the the Lotus community, you will quickly become familiar with a new term: "DPO". The DPO or "Dreaded Previous Owner" is the source of  much of the Esprit's poor reliability reputation as well as the cause for much current owner dissatisfaction and frustration. Please, don't become a DPO yourself.

One of the first things to consider when buying a particular used Esprit is to get a CarFax report. Though it might not reveal everything about a given car, it will serve as a starting ground from which you can determine if the car is worth pursuing.

Here's some other advice that Richard wrote on the turboesprit:

"First of all, the choice of reasonably priced Esprits is slim. My price range was $15,000US to $22,000US, and I only found three cars in this range with the paint scheme I wanted (black, which is the only proper Esprit color...uh!). The first had obvious mechanical trouble (heat wouldn't turn off, even with a/c on, power window didn't work, and there was evidence of extensive turbocharger work), second sold one day after being advertised, so I never got to it, and the third I found for sale, I own. This is in two months of hard, geographic non-specific searching."

"I don't think you're going to be able to pick and choose the perfect used Esprit--there are probably only a handful available in your budget, and you're not the only one looking for one..."

"My advice? Check everything out on the car. Heat, A/C, power windows, mirrors, propensity to overheat, clunks from the rear end, brakes, clutch, everything. Then, adjust your price accordingly. The major service is at 50,000 miles, where all belts should be replaced. I was lucky--my P.O. had done that only 2,000 miles before I bought it. I'm sure it cost him $800-$1,000US to do it. If the car has a strong gasoline smell in the cockpit (mine did) rejoice--it means you can beat them up on the price (I did-to the tune of a thousand bucks) and then fix it in 20 minutes with a couple of bucks worth of hose."

"If the heat doesn't work--don't buy it. Trust me. If it burns oil, don't buy it. If the P.O. did all his own work, be wary. Probably a bunch of cobbled up repairs lurking for you at a later date."

"Things to look for:" 

  1. Left rear engine mount bad. This is a lot more common than I thought. Causes a lot of grief, too. It wrecked a $400 exhaust pipe, and a $%#@ coolant hose on my car. 
  2. Worn belts, especially the timing belt. I wouldn't count doing them by yourself; right away-it's quite a job. After you've dug into the car a whole bunch, it' becomes only really, really, hard to replace them yourself, instead of impossible. 
  3. Gasoline smell--very, very common. No big deal. 
  4. Warped front rotors. Check for a pulse in the brake pedal after you've warmed the brakes up a bit. Mine has 'em, but I couldn't tell on the test drive, I guess because they get worse as they heat up. 
  5. Electrical problems. Check EVERYTHING from the blinkers to the rear window defogger. If it has a switch, turn it on. Do NOT assume that if something doesn't work, you can fix it in ten minutes. You'll see what I mean the first time you snake your torso under the dash. Beware of the PECKTRON INVERTER (private joke from a while back). 
  6. Engine being in tune. I would be very, very, wary of purchasing an Esprit that didn't start right up and idle like a kitten. Again, don't assume that you can just "tune it up" in your garage like an old Triumph. Maybe you can...maybe you can't. 
  7. Exhaust leaks. If the exhaust is bad, you're in for big bucks. 
  8. Body damage isn't a super big deal, judging from the guys on the list who do their own fiberglass repairs. I don't, so price accordingly. Expect spider webbing under the paint on an older car. They all have it, and it doesn't bother me a bit. I understand a good, quality paint job on this car can easily cost $8,000 to $10,000 US, so don't buy one expecting to get it repainted for a couple of thousand. 

"A lot of this is academic. There were so few Esprits available when I was shopping, that I didn't really have much choice. I doubt you will either. My car has been so maintenance intensive, I would caution someone against buying a Lotus with pre-existing ailments. You'll have your hands full just keeping it running."

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How reliable is an Esprit?

Esprits, as any new car (especially from a small car company) started out having many reliability issues. During the many years of its development things have gotten progressively better. The most dramatic improvement in reliability was arguably the introduction of the GM/Delco Engine Management system for the 89MY. Year after year, Lotus took the lessons learned from the past and applied them to newer models culminating with the Esprit S4s which is generally regarded as the best example of a 4-cylinder Esprit.

Starting in the 96-97MY, Lotus took a small step back in reliability due to the introduction of the brand new 918 V8 engine. Common problems involved the faulty clutches and cracked exhaust manifolds. Lotus retrofitted all of these cars with new twin plate clutches for free and many manifolds were also replaced under warranty. Still, this small step back is to be expected and happens to any major car manufacturer at the introduction of a new model. As the years have progressed, the reliability is back up to where it was before with the S4s if not better. Furthermore, software improvements to the ECM have brought on more low end torque and responsiveness to later V8s. (Note: These changes are available as upgrades to prior V8s.)

The key here is that, generally, the newer - the better when it comes to reliability. However, as with anything else in life, there are exceptions. How reliable a particular Esprit is stems directly from how well the vehicle is maintained and how often it is driven. As I have mentioned before, "use it or lose it". Contrary to popular belief, a 10 year old, 3,000 mile "garage queen" may not be the most reliable Esprit you can buy.

Always follow and document your Esprit maintenance and you will find that the Esprit is actually one of the most reliable exotics available.

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So which should I buy?

The first decision to make is what body style, Giugiaro, or Stevens do you like best. Some prefer the crisp edges and more angular shape of the former, others prefer the rounder curves and contemporary looks of the latter. If you're into the newer-looking body style, note that most people (except for true Lotus enthusiasts) can't tell the difference between anything built from '88 to '97. Actually, most people can't tell the difference between a Giugiaro and a Stevens Esprit unless they're parked side-by-side.
If you're into carburetors and you live in the USA, you only have one choice of body styles because only early Giugiaro models had carburetors. In the non-USA markets, a few carbureted cars were built through 1992. If you like the improved reliability of fuel injection, you still have a body style choice. 1985-87 models had the Giugiaro body with the benefits of a Bosch CIS fuel injection system.

It is generally agreed that build quality improved over the production history of the car. So the general rule in the quality and reliability department is, buy the newest car you can afford. Apparently my SE never got this memo until recently. Note: this is also known as "blame everything on the PO (Previous Owner)". The reliability of my S4s, however, has been spectacular.

In the performance department: my friend, Ron, had an '87 Turbo Esprit and when he first drove my SE he could not believe the difference in power. He said mine was A LOT faster. Later, when he drove my S4s, he was truly blown away by its acceleration. He also prefers the Renault gearbox on my cars better than his Citroen-built gearbox. I recall that shifting gears in his felt "clunky". Driving the Esprit V8 is even a step beyond that is power and torque. Although it "feels" a bit slower than the S4s, this is only because power comes on more smoothly across the entire rev band.

The most important recommendation is to buy a car with a verifiable service record. Don't, I repeat, don't buy a "fixer-upper". It's not that I don't think there is some merit to rebuilding your own car back from the dead. It's just that, Esprit parts are extremely expensive. If you buy a car that needs a lot of repairs, you will soon come to realize that you would've been better off financially buying a better/newer model. The first time you hear that the flywheel you need will cost $1500, or that the window decal costs $80, you'll remember what I said.

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Is there a monthly magazine for and/or about Lotus cars?

There are two main publications available to Lotus enthusiasts. The first is Lotus Life which is the magazine of the Official Lotus Club. This is a nice, color publication with about 20-24 pages per issue. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to come out with enough regularity. Also, it seems that the main focus is on the Lotus Elise and its variants, as these are the current bread and butter for the company. Subscription is included with membership to the Official Lotus Club. To join, go to: the Lotus site at: and click on the link to the Official Lotus Club.

The other publication is ReMarque which is the newsletter published by the Lotus Limited club. The newsletter is in black and white and is usually about 8 pages long. As with the Lotus Life, subscription to ReMarque is included as part of membership to the Lotus Limited club. To join, visit their web site at

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How much money should I set aside for maintenance?

My general recommendation is that you budget approximately $3,000US for maintenance of an Esprit. The Esprit is covered with a 2 year, unlimited mileage warranty when new. During this time, repair costs should be non-existent, but regular maintenance will still cost you. The Esprit maintenance schedule is categorized into A, B, and C services with the A being the simplest (fluid changes, inspections, etc) to C being the most extensive (timing belt replacement, valve clearance inspection and adjustment). Service intervals are generally about every 6,000 miles. Expect an A or B service to cost about $600-800US. A full C service will cost between $1,500 and $2,500US, depending on the dealer. Of course, you can save a lot of money if you do some of the work yourself. If you decide to do this, all I ask is that you don't try to cut corners in the name of cost savings. If you bought an exotic supercar, please treat it with the respect it deserves. If you can't afford it, buy a Hyundai

How much is Insurance going to cost me?

This is an extremely difficult question to answer, yet it gets asked all the time. The reason I can't give you an estimate is that insurance costs have too many variables. Your age, gender, marital status, driving record, distance from home to work, number of cars owned, state, city and neighborhood of residence and a myriad of other factors will influence what you will pay. If you are contemplating the purchase of an Esprit, my recommendation is that you call your current insurance company and a few others and get some quotes. One thing that is in your favor is that, being an extremely limited production vehicle makes the Esprit undesirable for thieves in the car parts market. This is one advantage that the Esprit carries over much more common cars such as a Honda Accord, Toyota, Camry, or Chevrolet Camaro, all cars that consistently rank high in the most car stolen lists.

If you still are hung up on getting a number, I can tell you that it costs me only $800US a year with State Farm to insure my Esprit S4s. This is for 100/300/100 coverage with $500 deductible, clean driving record, multi-car discount, and a home, hurricane, and flood policy by the same company.

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What colors is the Esprit available in?

Paint color options vary slightly from year to year. Towards the end of the Esprit's production the was available in the following exterior paint colors:


Metallic Colors

Monochromatic Colors
Mustard Yellow Azure Blue Calypso Red
Metallic Green Chrome Orange Monaco White
Deep Purple Gunmetal Gray Black
New Aluminum Inferno


The most popular colors being sold in the USA market in the last few years were Mustard Yellow, New Aluminum, Calypso Red, and Black. These are then followed by Inferno, Chrome Orange, and Azure Blue. Metallic Green and Gunmetal Gray were new for the 2002MY.

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