Instrument Panel

Cracked Dashboard Wood

Heat, sun, and moisture are the enemies of the Esprit's aesthetics. Any car left for a reasonable amount of time in a parking lot on a sunny day will suffer their wrath.

It is common for the wood on the dashboard to crack in multiple places. Cheap materials and construction cause this. As heat expands the wood, the clear urethane finish above it cracks due to its inability to expand along with it.

The wood dash on my SE had several cracks on it that had been caused by the heat of the sun here in Florida. I often wondered why they chose to put wood on it in the first place. I always thought that carbon fiber was more appropriate in this type of car. It also matches better with my charcoal (raven) interior than the light birch wood color. I looked into having my dash resurfaced in real carbon fiber and found out that it was EXTREMELY expensive. Apparently, there is a shortage of carbon fiber worldwide and this has made prices skyrocket. To cover just the 3 pieces on the dash is more than $1,500US.

I have seen many companies offer real carbon fiber dash kits for Nissans, Mazdas, etc. But, I guess Lotus is too limited in demand to warrant their making kits for the Esprit. If your pockets are deep, you may want to contact them and see if they will make one for you.

There is one alternative I have found. There is a company on the web ( from Germany that sells what they call "carbon fibre design film". It is an adhesive film that looks similar to real carbon fiber. I don't know if this material looks extremely realistic, the real stuff has a "texture" that is hard to replicate, but it still looks really good.

To accomplish the re-surfacing task I had to first remove the instrument binnacle. This isn't very hard to do. Removing the wood panels (known as the fascia) from the binnacle was much harder.

Trying to gain access to the 7mm nuts that hold the wood fascia to the metal dash beneath it without first being able to remove all the gauges is not a fun job. It looks like the metal dash is permanently fixed to the binnacle cover by "glassing-in", pop-rivets, and silicone sealer. The Lotus Parts List seems to validate this. In newer cars (1990MY-On) you can remove the leather cover from the top of the binnacle for better access to the instruments. For older cars, Lotus sells the metal dash and leather binnacle cover as one part only. So, it would appear, against all reason, that the wood fascia must have been attached first in the fabrication process and then the gauges followed by the wiring. This means that you have to have 1/18-scale hands and maneuver very small tools to reach the tiny screws.

Once I (finally) removed the panels, it was time to resurface them. One of my panels (the main one) was cracked so badly that the clear coat was bent outwards. This meant that the film wouldn't be able to lay flat over it. The fascia is made of several very thin layers (veneers) of wood glued together. I had to remove the entire top (finished) layer and then sand the underneath smooth.

The film applies just like a contact paper. I cut it to roughly the dimensions of the panel, then trimmed around the instrument holes with a sharp knife once the film was adhered to the wood. You can apply heat to make the film more flexible so that it will go around bends a little easier. But it won't bend a whole lot. This means that the inside lip of the instrument holes had to be painted with a flat black paint.

Putting the fascia back onto the binnacle and then attaching the binnacle to the car took some time, but it was not impossible.

Overall, I am very pleased with how it came out. The interior looks a lot more modern and the dash matches the leather much better.

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Real Carbon Fiber Fascia

Like all others, my S4s came standard with beautiful, real walnut veneer wood trim for the fascia and door panels. While this was a huge improvement over the fake carbon fiber trim of the S4 model, it still seemed inappropriate for the interior of an exotic supercar. Cars with light interiors such as magnolia or tan looked alright with the wood trim, but my interior is raven (charcoal grey) and it just didn't look right. I always have loved the look of real carbon fiber parts with their prismatic, three-dimensional quality and I always thought that the fascia and door trim would look best in this finish.

Unfortunately, everyone I approached about creating a real carbon fiber interior trim set for the Esprit gave me the same response. The problem is that (as always) the limited numbers of Esprits makes it difficult to recoup the initial investment necessary to develop new parts for the car. In the case of the dash and door trim, molds would need to be made which can be quite expensive. To make matters worse, although the basic shape of the instrument panel is the same, there are almost a dozen different gauge layouts depending on the year, model, and vehicle's market. This means that a dozen or so different molds would have to be made for these various layouts.

It finally occurred to me one day, why not simply apply a carbon fiber veneer on top of the existing wood pieces rather than attempting to recreate the entire part. I set about trying to locate someone who could provide this service and finally came upon Mr. Leo Kozloski. Leo's company, Carbonwerks, specialized in Carbon Fiber products for DSM vehicles and had already done several veneer overlay projects. After several conversations, Leo and I decided to go for it. I sent him all of my trim pieces and the result was beautiful. To this day, I still get compliments on the look of the trim.

Leo said he would consider doing other Esprits on a case-by-case basis, so if you are interested, please contact him and tell him that Karl from the Esprit Fact File referred you. You can reach Leo by phone at (610) 374-2464 or by email at

His web site (may be down right now) is

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Falling Gauges

For the introduction of the S4s model, Lotus replaced the gauges on the Esprit from the previous VDO models to a set made by Caerbont which is a division of Smiths in the UK. While these gauges are attractive, the smaller diameter gauges, (all except the the speedometer and tachometer) all have a plastic barrel construction. The white plastic housing of these units is no match for the hot Florida climate and many of them have "cracked under pressure". The problem with the design is that the gauges are mounted in such a way that pressure is constantly being applied to the circumference of the barrel housing. Once the plastic starts to become brittle, a hairline crack begins to develop around the barrel. Eventually, the crack will make its way completely around the gauge. When it does, the result will be that the gauge bezel and lens will land on you lap and the rest of the gauge housing and mechanism will fall somewhere inside the dash leaving you with a nice empty hole where the gauge used to be.

Currently, there is no solution to this problem. Some people have resorted to replacing the gauges one-by-one as they fail. So far, my fuel level gauge is the only one that has failed. My solution was to fuse the two parts of the housing back together with the help of JB-Weld two part epoxy. When reinstalling the gauge into the instrument panel, make sure not to over-tighten as this causes unwanted pressure on the seam. So far the repair has held and I have had no further problems. You may want to try this approach before going through the expense of replacing an otherwise functioning gauge.

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