In 1971 at the Turin Motor Show a non – functioning concept car called a Maserati Boomerang was unveiled by the designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro.The 'folded paper' design impressed British designer Oliver Winterbottom who suggested to Colin Chapman of Lotus that he might wish to meet Mr Giugiaro. Despite Chapman's doubts about the idea following wind tunnel tests a full-scale mockup was created and displayed at the 1972 Turin Auto Show; it attracted sufficient attention to convince Chapman that it could be a commercial success.
At a time when American and Continental supercar manufacturers were creating heavy cars with large engines, Chapman took the opposite view; his cars had to be lightweight, with fairly small engines, a belief that gave him a great deal of racing success. The first Esprit, therefore, kept to this tradition; with a steel chassis, a fibreglass body and a two litre four-cylinder 16 valve twin cam engine producing 160 brake horsepower the total weight of the car was less than 1000 kilograms.
The first cars, the Series 1, were delivered to buyers in 1976.They were not a success. there was excessive vibration, drivetrain problems and overheating issues. it was also considered to be underpowered, particularly in the United States, where emission control regulations meant that the engine could only push out a claimed 140 brake horsepower.
The Series 2 which was released in 1978 overcame most of the problems that had plagued the earlier model, and then two years later a supercharged version with an enlarged 2.2 litre engine producing 210 brake horsepower was introduced. This was more like it! Despite the fact that it still had a relatively small engine compared to those provided by competitors, this could still go from nought to 60 in a fraction over six seconds, and hit 148 mph.
The car stayed in production until 2004, which meant a scarcely believable 28 years lifespan! During that time however it was constantly updated and improved. The ultimate Esprit was powered by a V8 3.5 litre twin turbocharged engine of Lotus' own design; the performance of this engine in such a lightweight car was phenomenal, with a claimed top speed of 175 mph and a nought to 60 time of under five seconds! Rumour has it that this engine was actually de-tuned slightly to avoid damage to the gearbox
Despite it's longevity the Esprit was never a mass market car; Chapman was always more interested in racing success than making a fortune out of manufacturing cars! Nevertheless a healthy 10,675 of these beautiful cars were produced before production finally came to an end.