's Great British Cars – Lotus Esprit

Thu 31st Jan 2019

Great Britain, great cars. The UK motor industry is respected the world over, and though many of the vehicles are actually owned by foreign manufacturers, there can be no doubting of the fantastic heritage of the British motor.

To celebrate Britain’s famous history is launching a series looking back on some of the most famous vehicles the UK has ever seen.

Lotus Esprit
Bond Movie? Check… Experimental Design? Check… Built In Some Obscure Backwood of the English Counties? Check… The Lotus Esprit has it all, but it almost stalled on the starting line with motor racing legend almost mothballing the project before it had even got out of first gear.

Chapman had been working alongside legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro on a project for Lotus. Italian designer Giugiaro had already made his mark on the industry with more than 10 years of concepts and more before arriving at Lotus, but he was to have a huge influence on the shape of cars for the decade of the 1970s. His famous ‘wedge’ design would be seen on the Esprit, the DeLorean and a host of other brilliant machines to emerge from a truly remarkable era of car design. But the Esprit’s poor form in the wind-tunnel did not impress Chapman, but it was only Giugiaro’s perseverance that saw a full saw a car simply named ‘the silver car’ appearing at the 1972 Turin Auto Show. Chapman liked what he saw and a production prototype, ‘the red car’ was developed before the Esprit we know and love was launched at the Paris Motor Show in October 1975.

Built with a fibreglass body on top of a 1,973cc 4-cylinder engine capable of producing 160bhp, it was a car so light that it was capable of challenging the real speedsters of its era. Lotus’ factory in Hethel, Norfolk was perhaps an unlikely home for such a famous car, one which would go on to feature in not one, but two, Bond movies, most famously converting into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me. That model, ‘Wet Nellie’ was bought by Elon Musk in 2013. The Esprit would feature in many more movies, as producers looked for a car which was exotic enough to convince viewers that real money had been spent.

Launched in 1976, the Esprit would enjoy 28 years of production and there are a few rumours that it may be making a long-awaited return in 2020.

Years of manufacture: 1976-2004 
Price when new: £7,979
Price now: £9,000-£40,000
Engine: 1,973cc 4cyl petrol, 160bhp
Top speed: 138mph