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Iconic British Cars: Lotus EspritBack

As part of our search for the most iconic British cars of the last 60 years (head over there to vote for your own favourite) we’re looking at some of Britain’s best-loved cars in a little more detail. Today, we’re looking at the Lotus Esprit.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Wow. Designed by no less than Giugiaro the Esprit debuted at the Turin motorshow in 1972 and until 2004 found a place on the bedroom walls and hearts of countless teenage boys, thanks to its eternally futuristic looks and legendary handling.

For all its visual panache, the Esprit was initially at least a relatively poor performer in terms of pace – certainly compared to its Italian counterparts: the Mk. I’s 0-60 time of nearly 8 seconds was some way short of the pace set by Ferrari and Lamborghini. But in many ways, it was a revolutionary car that only got better with age.

With a fibreglass body mounted on a steel frame, it boasted an extremely light weight and was thus able to derive supercar performance from an engine only 2 litres in capacity and with a mere four cylinders. Compared to the huge V8s and V12 engines favoured by other performance cars, it seems a wonder that the Esprit was taken seriously at all, but Lotus boasted an impressive racing pedigree. The black and gold John Player Special livery sported by its Formula 1 cars was a familiar site on the victory podium and Lotus used every inch of their engineering nous to coax ever greater levels of performance out of their budget supercar.

By 1980, the famous Turbo Esprit would slam you from 0-60 in a credible 6.1 seconds and eventually past 150mph. While not in the upper tier represented by the Lamborghini Countach or Ferrari Testerossa, the Esprit’s dramatic looks, incredible handling and verve made it an unmissable presence in games of Top Trumps.

The car left its mark in popular culture too. Not only did it appear as James Bond’s ‘submarine car’ (an actual working version was made!) but could boast its own computer game (Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge – much-beloved by 80s gamers) and was driven by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (where he boasted to Julia Roberts that the car went round corners “like it was on rails”) and by Sharon Stone in Fatal Instinct – where she used its nimble performance on the road to outwit Michael Douglas without the need to play is-she/isn’t she with her knickers.

Why is it an icon?

Not just its looks – but its maximisation of resources. Built on the cheap and without the massive resources available to engineers at the likes of Ferrari the Lotus punched well above its weight in desirability stakes thanks to brilliant engineering and innovative use of materials.

What is the modern equivalent?

Well the closest match is probably Lotus’ own contemporary Evora. While it may not have the iconic appeal of the Esprit, the Evora has built on the tradition of great performance and driving. Perhaps spiritually, the still innovative Mazda RX-8 is the closest son and heir, despite barely registering in the coolness stakes.

Posted by Paul Carpenter on 03/06/2012