It’s probably the most famous car scene of all time; the sight of James Bond emerging from the sea in his Esprit in the The Spy Who Loved Me will live long in the memory. It helped the Lotus attain iconic status — but even without the big screen exposure it would have done pretty well as it was one of the best sportscars of its day.
Designed to replace the long-in-the-tooth Europa, the Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned Esprit (he had help from Colin Chapman and Lotus stylist Oliver Winterbottom) was first seen as a concept car at the 1972 Turin motor show in Italy and then a road-going version stole the headlines at the Paris motor show three years later. Production began in 1976 (S1) and enthusiasts couldn’t put their deposits down on the new car quick enough. It retained the Europa’s chassis (but was longer and wider) and packed a mid-engined 2.0-litre four-cylinder Vauxhall-derived 16 valve motor, which made 160bhp and 190Nm of torque. It was mated to a five-speed manual, and performed admirably — if a little underwhelming compared to its exciting looks. But, even though it may have lacked a bit of power, it more than made up for that in the handling department.
The S2 arrived a year later with a host of changes such as better noise insulation for the cabin, a new front splitter and new rear suspension, but the biggest difference was the more potent 2.2-litre engine.
This was succeeded by a small run of S2.2 models in 1980. And then came the 210bhp Turbo, which improved performance and driveability, and the S3 — taking the updates to the Giugiaro car to four before Peter Stevens redesigned the model in 1987 making it look softer and rounder than the razor-sharp original.
The Esprit had a near 30-year run from 1976 to 2004 and 10,675 were built. If you’re looking for one today it’s best to select from cars made after 1980 as their chassis were galvanised and don’t rust as badly as the S1. Prices range from Dh50,000 to Dh80,000, the latter will get you a really well-maintained model.