Esprit History

Well, perhaps the title should be "Giugiaro Esprit History" -  I'm not interested in developments  of the rounded 80s Stevens designed car, other than the mechanical elements that can help update the original (see more in the Early Plans section under Planning) 

The sketches on the left are Giorgetto Giugiaro's original first renderings of the striking new Esprit form. Below is the man himself, pictured somewhat later around the time of his Lotus Etna design. The Giugiaro Esprit shape is an archetypal example of the Folded Paper design; so reminisent of that glorious 1970s period of sportscar production.

As the son and grandson of well known Italian figurative artists, Giorgetto Giugiaro was naturally destined for an artistic future. During his studies at the Turin Art School, he enjoyed drawing caricatures of cars and they were displayed at an end-of-year school show. Dante Giacosa, the Technical Director of F.I.A.T., happened to see them, immediateIy spotted his talent and in 1955, had Giorgetto join the company's Styling Office. In 1959, at the age of only 21, he was offered the position of manager of the Bertone Stylinq Centre and from here he designed spectacular coachwork for Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati and other reputed marques. After sIx highly intense years, hemoved to Ghia but, though he felt the experience was rewarding, he was actually stirred by a need for greater independence and launched his own company, Ital Styling, at the end of 1957. This was changed into Italdesign one year later and is now one of the leading players in the field of automobile design. The importance of Giorgetto Giugiaro's work was acknowledged in 2000, when he was awarded the supreme title of "Car Designer of the Century" by a panel of 120 top motoring journalists worldwide.

Below is Giugiaro's first "artists impression" of the Esprit's Maserati-like profile:

Here is a picture from 1972 of the original clay mock-up of the Esprit from Tony Rudd's book

Here's Colin Chapman, pictured with "The Silver Car" outside some flats in Turin (a meet with Giorgetto perhaps?)

This is the Ital Design (Giugiaro's design house) concept car, known as "The Silver Car" at the 1972 Turin Motor Show:

Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital design first designed the concept car for the 1972 Turin Car Show ("the sliver car") and Colin Chapman added the engineering know-how to turn it into a production version ("the red car" - shown on the left)

Giugiaro Designed Esprit Models
Esprit - 1976 - 77
Esprit S2 - 1978 - 1981
Esprit JPS (John Player Special) - 1978 - 1979
Esprit S2.2 - 1980 - 1981
Esprit Essex - 1980
Esprit S3 - 1981 - 1987
Esprit Turbo - 1981-1986
Esprit Turbo HC - 1987

Gigiaro Turbo Esprit Specifications

The classic original Esprit design is commonly referred to as the Giugiaro Esprit; named after the Italian designer of the car, Giorgio Giugiaro. Giorgetto Giugiaro, as he was usually called, was regarded as perhaps the most talented continental designer of the period, through the influential work which sprang from his famed styling organisation, Ital Design.

In the early 1980's a turbocharged engine and more aggressive aerodynamic styling changes were added to the design, which first appeared at the 1972 Turin Show as a concept car. It was then that Colin Chapman,'s flair and vision truely combined with the Giugiaro's creativity, to produce a real world-class Supercar.

Turbo Esprit (Lotus Type 82)

Production started in 1980 and ended in 1987.

Production milestones

The hand-built Turbo Esprit bears many of the hallmarks of a Grand Prix manufacturer of the period, including mid-engine layout with the main masses centered low and well within the wheelbase, rear wheel drive through tyres of significantly wider section than those at the front, low-nose bodylines combined with down-force aerodynamics from a front air-dam and rear lip-spoiler , in-board rear disc brakes (a la Lotus 72 GP car) for added reduction in unsprung weight etc.

Giugiaro Esprit History

It's incredible that the Esprit came into being at all. In the early Seventies, Lotus dropped all its established models to move upmarket with the totally new Elite, Eclat and Esprit, all to be powered by new all-Lotus engines. The idea was to produce a range of supercars at bargain prices by employing modern manufacturing methods.

As Lotus got stuck into the practical work of this very ambitious new era in its history, it became increasingly clear that the new generation of cars wouLd have to cost much more than planned. Meanwhile, income was interrupted and with the general economy far from healthy, Lotus was frequently on the edge of financial disaster through those years. Only the determination of Colin Chapman and his team, kept the company alive. After launching the Elite and Eclat in 1974 and 1975, they had great difficulty in finding the means to turn the third new model, the Giugiaro-designed Esprit, into a practical road car but the Italian stylist's personal commitment helped to keep the project moving.

A key point of the lasting appeal of the Esprit must be the mixture of passenger car engineers and race team personnel who worked on it. This produced a remarkable machine and right from the start it had the vital ingredient of being exciting, both to those within the factory and to the world outside. In the gloomy days of the mid-Seventies it was invigorating to see such a fresh, boldly executed, utterly modern sports car. It was very close to Colin Chapman's heart: he was determined to produce it, whatever problems Lotus faced.

  Roger Becker (Group Lotus Senior Consultant Vehicle Engineering) and also the driver of the S1 in "The Spy Who Loved Me"  Esprit Development (wmv 652kb)

Esprit Design

Lotus racing cars had long been mid-engined when the Europa appeared as the first such Lotus road car in 1966. The idea was to offer an exciting level of technology to enthusiasts at well below supercar prices. The basic design of the Esprit, with a steel backbone chassis and in-line mid-engined layout, may have been broadly similar but the overall concept was quite different. Aiming for the big league, the Esprit was therefore 13ft 9in long and 6ft 1in wide, making it 7in longer and no less than 9in wider than the Europa. Furthermore, the exotic Esprit was styled by the rising Italian star, Giugiaro.

The Esprit's chassis differed from the Europa's in that the backbone stopped behind the seats. In place of 'tuning fork' extensions to carry the engine, the Esprit chassis was joined to a tubular structure at the rear. The rear suspension, with fabricated radius arms, single lower links and fixed length driveshafts, was partly mounted on the gearbox. It was low in weight but it transmitted noise and vibration to the interior. Spherical joints were used in the rear suspension in the first few cars but that proved unsatisfactory: bushes more suitable for road use were adopted and all the cars were subsequently converted. Double wishbones were used at the front, which was based on Opel Ascona parts. From the start, Esprit bodies were made in two halves, joined at the waistline, but further problems in 1976 had meant that the early ones could not be made by the celebrated VARI system (Vacuum Assisted Resin Injection) and were laid up by hand.

Long-term supplies of the so-called transaxle gearbox/final drive from the SM were secured from Citroen; a good move, as Lotus could not have afforded to develop its own transmission. Crafty machining enabled the inboard rear brakes to be fitted too - the discs were solid all round, with no servo-assistance at first, though that was changed before long.

Lotus built its own engines at last, moving upmarket and away from the old kit car image. The Esprit was always intended to be offered with a choice of in-line four and V8 engines. By the time the Esprit arrived, the slant-mounted four-cylinder, double-overhead-camshaft, aluminium engine was well proven in earlier cars. As first installed in the Esprit in 1973cc form, it ran on twin Dell'Orto carburetors and produced 160bhp at 6200rpm, with maximum torque of 140lb ft at 4900rpm. The S2 Esprit marked an improvement in many areas: the main features were wider wheels, bigger radiator with improved airflow and ducts behind the rear windows (nearside fed the carb and demisted the rear window, offside cooled the engine bay). An engine enlargement to 2.2 litres, announced in May 1980, increased the peak torque to 1601b ft at 5000rpm and gave a useful performance improvement. Also announced in 1980, after the forced abandonment of the V8, the Turbo Esprit brought real performance at last. This engine had been developed successfully and more cheaply in parallel with the ill-fated V8.

The rest of the car was also substantially re-engineered. There were changes to the appearance but the most important developments were under the skin: a galvanised chassis with a wider front box section and suspension mounting points: new engine mountings to reduce vibration; pure Lotus parts to replace the Opel elements in the front suspension; improved rear suspension with lower wishbones and a new upper link. Torsional rigidity was well up, vibration was down and relieving the driveshaft from functioning as the upper rear suspension link also gave a reduction in transmitted harshness.

The production Turbo was probably over-engineered, even by Lotus standards, as the photo below shows (exhaust manifold and turbo, glowing cherry-red with heat during extended engine testing). From the outset, it was the intention of the Lotus engineers to develop a turbocharged engine with good low speed performance and top end power, combined with immediate throttle response throughout the rpm range. A blow-through pressurised carburation system was employed, with a Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger feeding smaller twin 40 Dellortos. The modest maximum boost of  8.0 psi (0.55 bar) at 5,500 rpm, corresponding to a peak turbine speed of 110,000 rpm, is controlled by a wastegate exhaust gas bypass system, which limits turbine speed. The wastegate commences opening at 2,500 rpm, under influence of the inlet manifold pressure, and discharges into a separate small bore outlet, which meets the large bore pipe at the large-capacity silencer box. This low rpm operation combined with a specially shaped diffuser inlet pipe and small plenum chamber, combine to give excellent low-end torque and virtually no throttle-lag and effectively mimicing a larger capacity, multi-cylinder unit.

The exhaust manifold is cast in high-silicon molybdenum iron,with a 4 into 2 tract configuration. Pre-turbine temperatures and pressures of 1000 degrees C and 12.5 psi have been recorded. The specially developed Dellorto carburetors are sealed to allow air to feed at boost pressures from the plenum chamber and, in order to maintain petrol vaporisation, the fuel pressure is maintained at a constant 4.5 psi above the inlet pressure by means of a regulator valve. A number of improvements in design were made to the 910 turbo engine to cope with the increased thermal loads: these included sodium-filled exhaust valves with hidurel guides and Stellite valve seats. The pistons had a reduced crown height and enlarged dish, giving a compression ration of 7.5:1, along with lower ring packs and modified skirts to combat higher cylinder temperatures. Early Turbo engines had dry-sump lubrication to aid oil feed under high lateral loads.

The fully redeveloped 910 engine produced 210bhp at 6,250 rpm and a massive 200 lb/ft torque at 4,500 rpm. Perhaps more significantly, the turbo engine produces 100 lb/ft torque at a mere 2,000 rpm, which is more than it's normally aspirated cousin achieves at maximum revs! This truely endowed the Turbo Esprit with rocket-like pickup from a standing start and  excellent over-taking performance in the higher gears. 

All these design changes, plus lavish new trim and luxuries such as electric windows all added expense, so that, at £20,900, the Turbo Esprit was actually more expensive than the rival Ferrari 308GTB, Porsche 911 SC Sport etc. but it was also, at last, the quickest among them.

Making the Esprit

The Giugiaro Esprit (and indeed, the current Esprit) GRP bodies are made in very large molds in the Lotus factory in Hethel - the only real difference between a current shaped Esprit and a Giugiaro shaped Esprit is the mold that is used (and the fact that the Giugiaro shape now looks cooler again - 80's curves are out!)

The bodies are made in 2 sections: upper and lower - these are then glued together. Here's a Giugiaro top section just coming out of the mold

Here's several Giugiaro shells nearing completion

The finished product!

Building the Esprit (wmv 1.2mb)

Driving the Esprit

" As a driver, it's hard not to love this car; in true Lotus tradition it became a great driving machine, with extraordinary roadholding and an unusual subtlety of handling. There's a strong feeling of 'real racer' about it."

Here's the opinion from "Classic Car":

Before anything else is said, let's be clear about one thing: the Lotus Esprit became one of the greatest drivers' cars ever made for the road. That is the simple truth of it.When the Esprit first arrived it was considered interesting but not fast enough to deserve the tag of 'supercar'. The earliest Esprits had phenomenal roadholding and simply astonishing traction but the steering feel was below Lotus standards; worse, the noise was enough to drive you mad. But few British drivers ever experienced an S1, as virtually all of them went abroad. Fortunately, the energy within Lotus was such that the Esprit rapidly became good enough to own and live with. Performance was steadily improved: the normally-aspirated 2.2 achieved 0-60mph in 6.5sec. with an estimated 135mph top speed.

The Esprit was greatly improved with the introduction of the S3 and Turbo: the original Essex Turbo managed 0-60mph in 5.6sec, with a claimed 152mph maximum. Furthermore, the Turbo had unexpectedly excellent torque from low rpm, with no sense of a 'step' in the curve as the turbo came in; yet all Esprit engines are happy at high engine speeds, too. The quickest Turbos were rather 'fussy' but all blown Esprits are firmly in the supercar performance league.

More first hand experience:

"Once you get behind the wheel it's genuine supercar pleasure. Everything that really matters is evident: serious performance, great steering, incredible roadholding, powerful brakes with good feel, an unexpectedly good gearchange and the lithe feel of a well sorted racer. It's not a 'sensible car: it's an escapist's dream, and a fine one, too".

" The experience of handling a mid-engined car with its engine mounted longitudinally is rare enough: in an Esprit, the sense of balance, surefootedness in the wet and feeling of control when driving fast are strong sources of pleasure. You need to be something of an expert to explore its high roadholding limit - but only because it is so high. The ride is unusually good, too: with no lump of engine ahead of you, it's uncanny the way the front wheels handle bumps and irregularities in the road. Lotus was always superb at showing that lightweight, pure sports cars can be made to ride well and the Esprit is an outstanding example".