1st June 1995 I raced up to Peter Smith Sports cars in Derby and chopped
the Elan in for this little beast. Mileage was around 4K and asking price
£41,000 - a 1994 registered car but actually the Birmingham motor
show car with 1995 specification (wood dash, new dials). Azure blue was
a new colour for 1995 and although I still think an esprit has to be in
yellow, I went for a change with the pearlescent blue - stunning in dark
or bright light and rare at the time. I did drive a TVR Griffith 500,
Chimeara and 1994 911 Porsche Carrera 2 beforehand (lovely noise, ditto,
beutifully screwed together) but could not be remotely swayed by any.
This was a very exciting moment. I remember travelling back to London on the M1 and could hardly believe that I was in Britain's best loved and well know supercar. Volkswagon Corrados and similar vehicels were overtaking me then slowing back behind me, circling to get a good look at this sleek blue shark. Other quick cars egged me on and when I could not resist the temptation any longer, I floored the gas at 80mph. Thing was, nothing seemed to happen, there was no drama..... until I looked at the speedo and in the rear view mirror. In a matter of seconds the proverbial spaceship had gone to 130mph and the red VR6 Corrado was just a mere dot on the horizon. That is the S4, no drama, no fuss - just efficiency. It is not a car that feels immensly quick or raw in the TVR Griffith 500 sense. No, the S4 is modest about its performance and at 100+ speeds it is so aerodynamic that it just cuts through the wind and tricks you that nothing has happened.
Lotus esprit needs little in the way of an introduction. Alongside the
Porsche 911 it is the longest running sports/supercar on the planet. Even
today it is enjoying its umpteenth rebirth with the all Lotus V8 engine.
As ever it is up there with the quickest, topping 175mph and out accelerating
equivalent (but more expensive) offerings from Porsche and Ferrari.
After my first session over my favourite country roads I was extremely surprised just how agile the car was. It certainly shrinks in size and is very chuckable across the twisty stuff. Like all Lotus's, being born and bred on the abysmal roads of Hethel in Norwich, it handles bumps incredibly - just exuding a feeling of even greater stability and grip. In fact I always seek out out quite bumpy and undulating roads for driving as this is where the Lotus truly lives. In those early days, I soon discovered just how friendly and progressive the S4 was on the limit giving you plenty of warning and allowing bags and bags of adjustability. (click on the thumbnails above)
Very soon I was taking all those 2nd gear tight bends with a boot full of throttle and the rear swinging round then tucking back in with a touch of opposite lock - glorious. The steering of the esprit is exquisite and the long geometry was a joy to feel after the elan. The S4 saw the introduction of the saginaw power steering set up and according to the press, for an assisted wheel it had no peers at that time. Feel is fantastic and placing the car is an act of laboratory precision. This car is not a fast sports machine - it is an exacting instrument and rewards best when driven like one. After my first few weeks in the esprit I was overcome with the belief that although just twice the price of an Elan SE, it felt like 3 or 4 times the car.
|The Love Affair|
the Elan has a special and very personal emotional place, the esprit for
me, was the definition of what a car should be like (until I owned an
elise that is). It is not a sports car - its a supercar with gobsmacking
looks to match. Walk round one when its parked up and you'd swear its
still travelling at well over a ton, its gorgeous curves and sculpted
ducts looking very purposeful and really meaning business. Travel 300+
miles in a day and you will want to be in an esprit - its performance
can annihilate huge queues of traffic with one squeeze, its driving position
is fabulous and all the time you'd swear you were inside some 'intergalatic
The esprit has presence, every drive is an occasion and along with the diablo and one or two others it is the last of a dying breed: the supercar, the super fast, flat, wide car which is to be feared, to be overcome and held in awe. Performance cars these days are no longer supercars, they have gone all soft and GT and have merged with the general market and the wishes of the mediocrity. With a few exceptions, The Porsche BMW and Ferrari etc.. of today are not real supercars but cars which carefully do not exclude the majority. They can do the shopping, the long trip abroad, the swift country run and the odd trackday - for me that just isn't focused and specialised enough.
I am not interested in cars that do everything well and are loaded with gagetry and electronic driver aids. For me a car should hold a sense of occasion in the styling department and above all, combine performance and handling in the most uninterrupted, focused manner possible. By definition, this firstly requires that nothing obstructs the cars dynamics from the driver's senses, secondly, that the car is very light weight and thirdly, that it probably has a chassis and suspension built by Lotus (sad but true). Finally, it is important that the engine has character and is deeply satisfying both in terms of the nature of its power delivery and its vocalisation. Sadly only one Lotus that I have driven lives up to that last expectation and that is the motorsport elise 190.
An interseting historical point concerning the esprit is the rear wing. Opinions rage about the different styles over the years but I vastly prefer the 1995-8 wing on the S4s, Sport 300 and early V8 models. The arching and leant back nature of this swooping hoop lends the car a very balanced and seductive quality. The wing of 1992 was very striking as well, flat and wide and supported by 2 arms either side like a suspension bridge. Many people hated this look and it only lasted for a year on perhaps 40 or so cars before the introduction of the S4.
|Problems and mishaps|
|I owned the azure esprit for exactly a year and sadly was banned from driving for 6 months during some of that time. On a summer trip to Newquay in Cornwall I was tailed by a police motorbike and was averaging around 125mph. The road is very straight and visibility to the horizon is excellent so its not one for the 60mph potter. The old bill had other ideas however and took my license away after spotting the existing 9 points. Although he knew I was topping 135mph in places, he kindly logged the offence as a 90mph transgression. In court I tried to uphold the Lotus philosophy and explained that esprits were built to be driven at speeds up to 165mph but the council were sadly, none too impressed.|
covered around 16,000 miles in the esprit but never experienced any problems.
I changed the odd tyre but apart from that just routine servicing.
Once, in the dreaded suburb of Epsom in Surrey, I was literally attacked by a neighbouring truck who quite clearly failed to see the low stingray-like presence next to him. He scraped the front wheelarch a little and ripped off my wing mirror. The arch luckily came clean with some Auto Glym and the mirror was replaced for £80 or so.
the Elan, I found the S4 very costly to run. One rear tyre was £240
and economy figures regularly hit the sub 20mpg mark. The only consolation
was that insurance was the same as the Elan ! Sadly, my trip to Italy
in the esprit never came about and although I went far and wide in the
UK, it would have been nicer to have travelled more and gone on a few
1996 my financial situation changed quite dramatically as I had
switched careers the previous year. I figured that it would be a good
idea to get shot of the S4.
Exactly a year after purchase I sold the car for a deathly £8800 less than I paid for it. I took the cash and bought a peugot 1.6 gti for a runabout and put my Lotus history on hold. I knew that the Elise would be next - it was just a question of when. It was a sad and desparate day but that is now the past - read on to the Elise page to catch up with the present.