Lotus celebrated the launch of its first-ever turbocharged supercar in a rather bizarre manner. They named the special edition after Britain’s most maligned county, Essex...
There was good reason for that though. Lotus was trying to cash in on the glitz and glamour of Formula 1 so they linked the Esprit with their sponsor, Essex Petroleum. Maybe calling it the Petroleum Esprit Turbo would have been better, but regardless of the moniker, this particular successor to the Europa was brilliant.
Finished in the same blue, red and silver Essex Petroleum livery as Mario Andretti and Elio de Angelis’ Lotus 81 racers, it made its debut in 1980 at an extravagant party at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It sure looked the part — and it also had the performance to match its splashy image. The Esprit’s 2.0-litre twin-cam four-cylinder which made 160 horses was ditched for a larger 2.2-litre unit (mated to a five-speed manual) with a Garrett turbocharger that fed twin Dell’Orto carbs. This force-fed motor had a 7,000rpm redline, a far greater output of 210 horses and sure gave the Essex Esprit some much needed grunt. It could hit 100kph from rest in an impressive 5.6 seconds and it had a top speed of 240kph.
The handling of the mid-engine Lotus had never been in question however Lotus even improved this. Its unique backbone chassis was mated to a wider front box section and a new space-frame engine and transmission section at the rear. A race car-like independent upper-wishbone/lower-transverse-link suspension up front paired with unequal-length transverse links in back blessed the Essex with incredible agility while the four Girling discs brought robust stopping power. It looked great with the 15in wheels, deeper front spoiler, NACA ducts, a louvered engine cover and larger rear spoiler.
Just 100 were built which makes finding one today almost impossible.