1986 Lotus Esprit Turbo – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Everyone loves a Lotus, right? Sure, they can be a tad… temperamental, but what old car isn’t? Plus, models like the Esprit Turbo have the handy advantage of looking just as good standing still as they do at full chat. It was the car that arguably shaped the success of Lotus. Sure, it had cars like the Elan, the Elite and of course, the Seven, but there is little denying that the Esprit is what launched the profile of Lotus to hitherto unseen heights. It might have had something to do with the car’s appearance in a little British film about a spy called Jim. Maybe. Hard to be sure.

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The original Series 1 Esprit is of course the ‘holy grail’ model, especially in white. Though don’t dismiss examples in a more urgent hue – we just sold an orange one for £67,000 over on our auction platform. However, the later models are not without their charm. The essence of being long, wide, low and fast never went away. Nor did the outstanding handling ability. Plus, they got much, much more powerful as the years went on. Early cars were carb-fed, despite the best efforts of Q Branch. Later cars, like the Series 3 we have here, were treated to forced induction care of a turbo. Furthermore, the Series 3 was again driven by Bond, this time in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. So you still get the MI6 bragging rights.

What is it? 

The Lotus Esprit Turbo came about in an unusual way. The first Esprit to get a blower was the Series 2, in the form of the Essex Turbo Esprit, built as a special model in conjunction with Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation, the then sponsor for Team Lotus. It featured a dry-sumped 910 Lotus engine with 210bhp. It was hot property, to such an extent that Lotus introduced the Turbo Esprit model with the Series 3. Now wet-sumped, it had the same engine and power, and the same body modifications like the Giugiaro-designed body kit featuring a new rear spoiler, deep chin spoiler, side vends and louvred rear hatch. All of which are still present on this 1986 model. This version also has a slightly more spacious cabin thanks to a redesign, resulting in more (Moore?) headroom and more space in the footwells.

This car is a 1986 model, putting it towards the end of this model’s production run (1981 to 1988). It’s covered a mere 18,686 miles according to the vendor, and while the body and interior are a little… ripe, the engine has been rebuilt and it runs like a champ. It just needs someone to sort out the visuals, the other mechanical parts and of course, the interior. Once done though, this will be one truly magnificent machine. Just try and bring it back in one piece, please.

Why is it a project? 

As is evident from the pictures, this Esprit Turbo is a tad down at heel in the looks department. The vendor states that they bought the car with the intention of restoring it, which would suggest the bones are good. The vendor also goes on to state that they have rebuilt the engine, it has all new gaskets and belts, they have fitted a new high pressure turbo and the whole lot is back in the car and running. Sadly for them though, other projects seem to have pushed this one back onto the market, but that’s good for you. The engine is done, you just need to make it look a little better.

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The body is faded, with the lacquer having come away in several places, the rear louvres are heavily sun-bleached, and there are various marks and imperfections across the body. Then we have the interior. It’s all there, which is good as it means you have something from which to work/measure etc, but it looks like almost none of it is salvageable. The seats are stained and ripped, the dash has split, the headlining looks to be coming away and the carpets are stained in some areas. The door cards, however, look like they might be salvageable. Small victories, like. Really though, it’ll all need replacing, but that’s not too much of an issue as there are specialist companies out there that can sell you everything you need. And as we said earlier, it’s all there, so you know how it should be.

Five things to look for:

1) Chassis

There is no mention of the chassis in the advert, so you’ll want to check that. The chassis can and will corrode, and is the literal backbone of the car. That said, if the vendor was planning to restore it, combined with the fact it’s done 18k, we would like to think the chassis is in good fettle. But still, have a look for yourself to be sure.

2) Interior

As we mentioned above, the interior is shot, but have a good look around anyway. There are things you’re going to want to save. Fixings, handles, the dash binnacle, lights, switches and so on. Check the condition of all that kind of equipment, as it will be good for the old bank balance if you can reuse them after a bit of TLC. ‘

3) Engine

The engine has been removed, rebuilt and is in fine fettle. However, you should always check the engine of a potential project car for peace of mind if nothing else. Have a look for leaks, listen for any deep down grumbles and groans, and look for any smoke. Also, as the car drives, see what the transmission is like. Is that going to need work, or does it still grab the gears with gusto?

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4) Wheels

The wheels are very special on any Esprit, given the deep dish, staggered nature of them. The wheels on this car are going to need refurbishment and new tyres, of course. But are they damaged, have they ever been welded/repaired in the past? You need to know they’re decent, as a replacement set will not be cheap.

5) Body

It’s fibreglass, so obviously rust isn’t a concern. However, you should always check for damage. The smallest knock can send waves through the body, resulting in cracks elsewhere. There are specialists out there who can repair it, but it is a more specialised job than traditional metal bodywork. Best to know what you’re going to need to sort first.

What should you do with it? 

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You could restore this Esprit Turbo back to original specification. If you did, it would be a worthwhile restoration resulting in you being the proud owner of a very special car indeed. Or, you could take the somewhat weathered aesthetic and treat is as an excuse to do something completely different. Say, paint it bronze, fit some split-rim wheels and get yourself a ski rack for the back. Just like in For Your Eyes OnlySure, Bond’s was an ’81, but don’t let that stop you. You could backdate it easily enough. And just think, you’d then have a proper Bond car. It might not give you a licence to kill, but it would give you a… ahem… licence to thrill.

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