Lotus Esprit S4 1996

The 70s and 80s can be characterized as a triumph of sports engineering in the automotive industry. At that time, in Formula 1, small private teams successfully fought for the championship and constructor’s titles of the “Queen of Motorsports,” while creating fast road cars. One of such “stables” was Lotus, and one of such cars was the Lotus Espirit.

Lotus Cars (not to be confused with Lotus Engineering) was founded in 1955 by engineer Colin Chapman. Have you heard of active suspension and “ground effect” in Formula 1? It was his brainchild. The main motto that he transferred from aviation to F1 racing – not a gram of excess weight – worked effectively in his road cars.

Unlike TVR, Jensen, and many other small car manufacturers, of which there were quite a few in 80s Britain, Lotus did not rest on its laurels, completely bankrupt, but rather lives and thrives. The reason for this is the successful chassis, engineering solutions created by Lotus specialists, and, surprisingly, marketing.

The debut of the Lotus Esprit model took place at the Turin Auto Show in 1972 as a concept car, and in 1976, serial production began. The series existed until 2004. The “folded paper” (polygonal, chopped style) design was developed by none other than Giorgietto Giugiaro – a cult figure in the world of car design. The Espirit is a rear-wheel-drive mid-engine coupe, and although the engine is located at the back, it is situated within the wheelbase. The engine layout undoubtedly placed this car in the sports car category. The powertrain was first applied to Lotus’s own development and production – it started with a straight-four with a two-carburetor system and ended with a V8 engine at the end of production.

The model could not have achieved commercial success and wide recognition if not for good marketing: the car repeatedly appeared in famous films. The first time the car appeared was in the 11th episode of the Bond series – “The Spy Who Loved Me,” where Espirit played an amphibian. In the movie “For Your Eyes Only,” the Espirit brought Bond skis, and later, it became almost the main character in the movie “Pretty Woman,” where the plot revolved around it.

From the beginning of production until 2004, the model underwent four major restylings, and today we will talk about the last body version – the S4. The S4 model was introduced to the market in 1993 and was equipped with a Lotus 920 “turbo four” with a capacity of 2 liters (1997cc) and 250 hp. Working volume restrictions were due to Italian tax legislation, where engines up to 2 liters were subject to a lower tax. The cars were equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox, and nothing else could be in it, given its sporting roots. In 1995, the S4s version appeared, which had an engine that produced 300 hp, but it was still not enough! The market has changed, and now sports cars required more power. Even more power! In 1996, the last attempt to increase power was made – the Lotus 918 engine was implanted – a V8 with two turbines and a capacity of 3.5 liters producing 355 hp. However, even this did not allow the car to outperform competitors from Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese.

However, it allowed drivers who were ready to handle a real, unrefined sports car to experience great emotions. The steel frame connecting the suspension subframes and the engine turned out to be stiff, and thanks to the fiberglass body, the weight of the car at 1320 kg remained quite acceptable for those years and the level of use of composite materials. Although the engine could not be called the most powerful, its location provided good traction of the rear wheels with the road, an unusual balance and weight distribution along the axes of the car. S4 stopped being blatantly Spartan, as it was before, and in favor of the consumer, it was equipped with air conditioning, power steering, anti-lock braking system, and power windows. Now this list of options seems like a necessary minimum, available even to Lada in basic configuration, but at that time sports cars strove to remain lightweight and few people thought about the temperature in the cabin.

This green car, named by the owner as “Krokodil” or Gennadiy, was produced in 1996 with a Lotus 920 engine with 250 horsepower. Such cars are not very common, and Gena was purchased after a 3-year downtime with a mileage of about 26,000 km. The sad part was the flip side of British engineering – the reliability of nodes and units. That’s why the car already had a generator that needed to be replaced and an engine that refused to start. But this did not prevent the purchase! After all, it was the realization of a youthful dream that arose after the movie “Pretty Woman”.

Repair, let alone tuning, such a rare car is always difficult. Difficulties in finding parts, difficulties in their cost, difficulties in their delivery. So here it was necessary to find people willing to delve into the depths of the British automotive industry of the 80s in Moscow and come out of the dive as winners.

The engine and transmission, surprisingly, were in good condition. The engine purred nobly after replacing the spark plugs, and the clutch began to work normally after replacing the clutch drive hydraulic line with a reinforced hose.

To order parts, it was necessary to establish friendly ties with an American distributor of Lotus parts. Over the ocean, they were generally surprised at the fact of the existence of such cars in Russia. Later, the owner found himself in the USA by the will of fate and exported many spare parts from there.

But the car was not supposed to remain in its standard configuration! The previous owner had already installed a ProTec coilover suspension. Since the original fuel tanks were made of steel and began to corrode, they had to be replaced with custom aluminum ones. The car’s brakes were not particularly phenomenal from birth, so 4-piston calipers were installed at the rear and 6-piston calipers at the front.

The engine itself was not significantly modernized, but more efficient RC Engineering injectors, a larger intercooler, a blow-off valve, and a new ECU were installed, which increased power to 300 hp. Although the transmission was in order, it was replaced with a straight-cut 6-speed manual gearbox, improving both acceleration and top speed.

It turned out that the wheels couldn’t be bought on eBay – the engineers came up with too complex parameters. Therefore, the wheels had to be custom made, and they were forged by Work Wheels!

The appearance of the car corresponds to its time. At that time, many sports cars sought to look similar, since the wedge shape was considered the most aerodynamic. But the hidden headlights add a special charm – a headlight design that allowed them to be hidden when not in use. And the Esprit became one of the last cars to use this design – it’s no longer relevant due to advances in lighting technology and pedestrian safety requirements in the event of a collision. The paint is no longer original – it had to be updated, but it only benefited the “crocodile”.

The slots and air ducts in the bumper are not just for show. The coolant and oil radiators are actually located at the front of the car – so the Esprit is sensitive to the quality of the fluid pumps, as if something fails or one of the leading pipes bends – the entire engine dies!

Inside the car, everything is very simple. Wide door sill, as befits a sports car, low driver’s seat, as befits a sports car. Huge instrument panel, which was so necessary before the appearance of electronic dashboards. Since there are almost no options, there are also a minimum of buttons and various knobs. Everything is simple, everything is at hand! By the way, the handbrake lever is located on the left, not on the central tunnel. There is no rear seat row in principle – the engine is located there. Right behind the driver!

Of course, you can talk a lot about why such cars are no longer made. You can buy a faster car, you can buy a more reliable car. You can pay many times more and buy a car even without electronic assistants, but the spirit of the car, actually invented in the garage, is no longer found in modern cars. Once upon a time, cars were invented by designers for racers, not managers for drivers, but these times are now only reminded to us by the “crocodiles” that have survived everything.