Esprit Ownership

Can I Really Afford an Esprit?

I don't want to discourage you, but most people think they can afford a Lotus when they really can't. A Lotus usually requires one of two (usually both) very important expenditures from its owner: 1) deep pockets to take it to the dealer to feed it its periodic diet of extremely expensive parts and service; 2) patience and dedication (along with a certain degree of mechanical skill) to do the repairs and/or maintenance yourself. Both of these demand that you have a certain level of passion for the marque. Most people simply wouldn't put up with the hassle. There-in lies the problem. It's a vicious circle that's perpetuated by people who lack the Lotus passion (or as I call it - disease).

So you wonder why you see some of these cars for sale for so cheap? Here's part of the reason that happens: 

    1) Many people buy the car because they like how it looks and are surprised at how "affordable" they are compared to other exotics. "Wow! a 1987 Lotus Esprit for only $15,000US!" 

    2) They show it off to their friends, take it on a few dates, and generally have a good time with it for a while.

    3) Disappointment sets in when they realize that: 

      a) they can't always rely on the car as their only vehicle because it is impractical for carrying anything but the most minimal amount of groceries. 
      b) British reliability (electrical gremlins, engine fires, roof leaks, etc.) means the car may be out of commission for a while or permanently. 
      c) Parts, unlike in other British sportscars, are in limited supply and cost an exorbitant amount of cash. 
      d) Accessibility to various engine components involves dismantling of 20 unrelated components that just happen to be in the way. 
      e) The nearest dealer is over 100 miles away. 
      f) People at the parts counter ask stupid questions like "Lotus? Who makes that?" 

    4) When something breaks, they don't have the money, time or passion to fix the car themselves or get it fixed by the proper repair facility.

    5) They let the car sit while they save up for parts or tend to "more important" things.

    6) They buy another car to get them to and from work and the supermarket.

    7) Friends, spouses, fiancées and others make fun about how the Lotus never runs or how often things appear to go wrong.

    8) One day they decide to make a cheap "makeshift" repairs just to get the car going again instead of repairing it properly. This is the stage where they start evolving into the PO (previous owner) or DPO (dreaded previous owner) that we like to use as the scapegoat on the Lotus List for much of what ails our cars.

    9) The cheap repair causes something else, seemingly unrelated, to break or makes the car more unreliable. Or, heck, maybe something else breaks on its own, totally unprovoked. Perhaps simply by virtue that it has the words "Pektron Inverter" or "Lucas" on the side of the part.

    10) After much disappointment that the car isn't as reliable or takes much more maintenance than a Camry, they sell the car at a loss.

    11) This major depreciation affects many things. People get the perceptions the cars are junk, because the only examples they are commonly exposed to have been ill-maintained. This lowers the market value. Toss in the SUV market frenzy to the mix and prices plummet further.

    12) You buy the car and start wondering why the heck there's a wiring harness held together with twisty-ties that say "Hefty" on them and the tailpipe is suspended by a coat hanger. 

If you don't believe any of this is true, ask anyone on the Lotus List the story about the "Curse of Chuque"!

Most of the uninitiated public thinks that all Esprits must be over $100,000US. After all, they are exotic supercars just like Ferraris and Lamborghinis and everybody knows how expensive those are.  Frankly, I kind of like the fact that people think this. Not because of any kind of bragging rights or status thing, but because it keeps a great number of people without the Lotus passion from buying the cars because they assume they're too expensive. My take is that those who really do have the passion will have enough motivation to do a little research and discover the truth: a Lotus may be inexpensive, but it ain't cheap! But, because they are infected with the Lotus virus, it all seems worthwhile...

This is why the greatest Lotus slogan is: 

     "Lotus, For the few who know the difference..."

Finally, if you think your 1988 Mustang's parts are expensive, you're not ready for the shock of Esprit parts. For example: 

Wheel lug bolts $17 each
Suspension bushings $19 to $50 each
Spark plugs $27 each
Small window decals $80 each
Throttle Position Sensor $150
Clutch Disc $200
Pressure plate $200
Set of brake pads (1 axle) $225
Steering wheel $700
Alloy wheels $750 each
Non-assisted steering rack $800
Flywheel $1,500
ECM $2,000
Esprit (Renault) gearbox $16,000
910 (4-cyl turbo) Engine $42,000

I'm sure there are many more expensive, ridiculously priced parts as well. These are the only ones I can recall off the top of my head. Parts prices add up quickly because these parts are more fragile than on other cars. These parts are designed for high performance, not reliability.

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Use it or lose it

The question of reliability has always been an issue and concern with Lotus cars. Lotuses have a definite personality flaw. They retaliate if they see you drive off in a non-Lotus. Drive them regularly and pay close attention to maintenance, and you will be rewarded by a contented pal!

If a car sits a lot, the electrical push-connectors, contacts in relays, and commutators start to corrode and things mysteriously stop working. Oil seals dry out and take a set... and leak. Carb gaskets, diaphragms and soft mount o-rings dry out and develop leaks. Piston rings and cylinder walls rust. Engine bearings pit and wheel bearings Brinell.

Driving the car regularly will minimize all that. "IF" you end up wearing something out, at least you enjoyed doing it. Replace it and keep going. If the car sits and develops problems, there's no joy in it. It's just frustrating.

If you limit the miles you drive a Lotus out of fear that you might be stranded when it quits, you are contributing to the very conditions that will probably cause it to quit... a self fulfilling prophecy.

Drive it regularly and keep up to date with regular maintenance, and the car will defy it's critics.

Think about it. If a Lotus is underdeveloped, it's in the boring little side-issue areas that are affected by neglect, poor maintenance, and lack of use. Contacts are not gold plated. Electronics are not hermetically sealed. Chatzky parts are pretty ordinary in specification.

Motion is Lotus' schtick. Every finely tuned, leading edge advantage a Lotus has is engineered for motion. Use it or lose it.

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How do I increase the horsepower or performance of my Esprit?

The first question you really need to ask yourself when looking at increasing the Esprit's horsepower is "Why?". You need to examine your motives. If you're simply looking to fulfill some testosterone-driven ego trip, forget about it. The Esprit has plenty of horsepower - much more than the average driver can handle on the street. All the horsepower in the world won't fully compensate for lack of driver skill. The best performance upgrade you can invest in is to attend one of the many fine driving/racing schools throughout the world. Compared to other upgrades, it is a cheap investment, and it has the benefit that it's one that easily transfers to any car you happen to be driving.

If you are racing or auto-crossing your Esprit, there are upgrades you can do varying from free-flow exhausts, straight pipes, new air filters, larger turbos, blow-off valves, larger intake valves, larger brakes, different suspension setups, Larger wheels, better tires, etc. If you decide to go with any of these approaches, remember that upgrades need to be looked at as part of a complete system. Improvements in one area will necessitate improvements in others.

Also, remember that there are limits to the amount of horsepower you can safely and reliably add to the Esprit. For example, if you decide to increase boost on a 4-cylinder Esprit beyond 1.2 bar, you're likely going to blow up your engine. Additionally, it is widely recognized that the Renault-sourced gearbox in the Esprit is one of its weakest links. If you exceed 400hp, you can easily destroy the box or split one of the output shafts.

Esprit Do's and Don'ts

Upon the request of another list member, Dave Hsu was kind of enough to suggest a list of Do's and Don'ts for Esprit ownership. Although some are Esprit V8 specific, many are good advice regardless of what model of Esprit you own:
  • Don't abuse your drivetrain by doing burnouts, hole-shots, nor by rushing the 1-2 shift. This is the price you must pay for owning a car whose engine output has evolved beyond the rest of the drivetrain. 

  • Don't skimp on maintenance. If something needs fixing, fix it now and fix it right. Use the best parts and supplies, and use the best mechanic you can find, even if you have to do it yourself. Remember, if you're buying a 4 year old or older car, plan on changing every fluid in the car (except the A/C Freon and maybe the power steering fluid) unless you know it's fresh. 

  • Do learn as much as possible about the Esprit, and about Lotus. Start by reading everything in the excellent Esprit Fact File (which you are now reading) at: (ed. Thanks for the plug, Dave).

  • Do drive your car regularly. Not only does regular use help keep the car in top mechanical condition, but it gives passersby an opportunity to see of the rarest exotic sportscars, and you an opportunity to answer their questions. We need all the serious Lotus enthusiasts we can get. A Lotus sitting in the garage is an invisible Lotus, and a marque whose products are invisible is a marque which is quickly forgotten. Read the Joe Martz' "Personal Code of Conduct as an Owner of an Exotic Automobile".

  • Do have your timing belt checked frequently. Lotus will provide a tension adjustment every 1 year or 10k miles, but if you drive your car with particular vigor, you should consider paying for extra in- between inspections and adjustments. 

  • Do pay attention to what your car tells you. Listen and feel. Lotus consistently builds the most tactile and visceral road cars in the world, and you must develop the automotive equivalent of body awareness. Nothing is hidden from you. If something feels strange, it probably is. 

  • Do anything possible to improve your driving. For many owners, this will probably the be the first, if not the only, car you own in your lifetime that has no glaring performance inadequacies out of the box, and that you cannot easily improve by buying fancier parts. Those of us who are spending a fortune on upgrades are doing so for incremental improvements and vanity. Only a few, are able to come close to fully and consistently exploiting the car's potential, and still want more. You can, however, buy better training, and should budget accordingly. 

  • Do have your dealer perform the factory ECU upgrade if you're not running the latest firmware and maps. Previous advice notwithstanding. The expense is modest (<$500) and provides the biggest mechanical improvement per dollar you can buy for a '97 or '98 V8.

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