1983 Lotus Turbo Esprit

For a lot of people, when you ask what 80’s exotic car is their favorite, the Esprit doesn’t make the list. The epitome of 80’s exotic is the Lamborghini Countach, which now looks even more ridiculous than it did in the 80’s. Perhaps a few might mention the Delorean DMC-12, made famous by Back to the Future. Of course the Delorean was never much of a sports car (it’s slow and heavy). All those kids who lusted after the Countach have grown up and lust after things a little more reasonable, but my love of the Lotus Esprit never wavered.


You can blame the Spy Who Loved Me for my love of the Esprit. What kid doesn’t love the idea of a car that turns into a submarine? That movie cemented the Esprit in my head. Many years later I had taken up the habit of dutifully watching eBay for Esprits. I would copy down the selling price for cars, because I had the intention of buying one one day.

At 3AM one morning in 2002, with my fiancee at a week-long internship in Chicago, a yellow 80’s Esprit arrived on eBay. I recorded it in my log, turned off the computer, and climbed into bed. A laid there unable to sleep. I decided that if the car was in Connecticut I would bid on it. I hopped out of bed and reviewed the auction. It was five minutes over the border into New York. Close enough...

2.2L Turbocharged 4cyl
2690 lbs
Cost New
$43,000 (1983)


The Lotus was never trouble free, but I drove it frequently. After two years of ownership I noticed coolant in the oil and decided I needed to have the engine rebuilt. So in September 2004 the engine came out.

Then life happened. Getting the Lotus back on the road was always the next thing on my list of things to do, but there was always one more thing to do. Get married, buy a house, and having a child where a few of the small events that superseded the Lotus. Until one day in October of 2011. I carted the engine into the basement and started putting the pieces back together.


I ran out of time in 2012, and the Lotus was pushed back into the garage. Things are moving along nicely though. After struggling to get the car started for a few weeks I was finally able to get the engine started (I had the intake pully reversed on the cam shaft, and luckily didn’t bend any valves). The master clutch cylinder seems to be shot so the plan is to replace the entire hydraulic system for the clutch on the car, once it’s warm enough again.

A little about wheels

At one point I had major modifications planned for the car, but today I just want to drive it. One of the issues though is that the stock wheels are 15 inches tall. No one makes performance tires in sizes that fit the stock wheels. The easiest solution is to get new wheels for the car... except the Esprit doesn’t use a standard bolt pattern and offset.

The rear hubs on the car are inset significantly because the brakes are inboard (the brakes are next to the transmission instead of out near the wheels). This means that the rear wheels have a significant positive offset (most cars have a negative offset).

Luckily the bolt patter is the same as BMWs, and normally you could buy a set of spacers to make up the difference on the rear. One of the things I love about this car, however, is the deep dish, steamroller tires on the back. So I sent a set of BMW wheels off to a company in Michigan that cut the rims and welded in an additional 2 inches of aluminum.

The end product is that I have a set of 17 inch wheels (8 inches wide with a negative offset for the front and 10 inches wide with a positive offset for the rear) with the correct bolt pattern, and I can actually buy tires for the wheels.

Of course it’s not that simple because all the wheels need to be refinished (and I’m going to paint them), and that’s the project for this winter.

Designed and built by Jonathan Sweet in Berlin, CT