The 1987 Lotus Esprit Turbo HCi is Hugh Grant

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Rants

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I have a friend who’s a peculiar dude.  In addition to housing four rescue parrots (I’m sure I used the wrong technical term), he also owns a a Lotus Elise, Delorean, and a Lotus Esprit.  The day before he decided to put his Esprit away for storage, he offered to let me drive the car.  I of course obliged by letting him drive my 911, but this post isn’t about ass-engined Nazi sleds.

This is about his Esprit.  It’s a 1987 with a turbo, no intercooler.  The HCI I believe stands for high compression injected or something.  Apparently the test cars were blow through carburetors.  They fit Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection for production (thank you?).

So, the car weighs 2,400 lbs and it makes 210 horsepower.  More on all of that later.  The first thing you notice when you approach this thing is, wow, it is really small.  It also looks like a wedge.  Just like all of Giugario‘s cars.  I showed a picture to my son and he said “That looks like a BMW M1.”  Which is pretty cool. – not the fact that it looks like an M1, the fact that my 6 year old knows what an M1 is.

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So anyway, the car is gorgeous.  I mean, it screams 1980s.  I definitely would play Easy Lover on endless loop if I owned this car.  But keep in mind, it’s an 80s supercar that is tastefully restrained.  Exotic, yes.  Obnoxious, no.  It’s British, and it has British sensibility.  Of course, what fun is driving a supercar if it doesn’t look like a supercar?

One thing that really struck me as I got into the car was an apparent schizophrenia behind the design of the car.  You sit low slung, and the seat has no adjustment for angle, just distance from the pedals.  It’s a very raked seat and my arms were pretty far extended given the position – pretty much like a race car.  Visibility is also shit (standard 80s supercar fare here).

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Well, it looks like a race car.  And the seating position is pure race car.  But then you look around and the thing is covered in wood trim and swathes of leather.  For a company trying to “simplify, then add lightness” adding in Rolls Royce quality leather and wood doesn’t necessarily follow that philosophy.  Is it a luxury car?  Is it a sports car?

Yes.

With that out of the way, on to the drive.  Ok, your feet (and hence body) point toward the center of the car due to the pedal arrangement so you have to pivot your head slightly to the left to actually look straight.  You’re leaning way the fuck back and your arms are jutting out in front of you.  You can’t see a god damned thing out the back or the mirrors.

And the car creaks.  It groans as the suspension and engine warm up.  It feels like waking up at 6 a.m. to get to the gym.  But then, once the blood is flowing, once the car is warmed up, it truly develops into a nice athlete.  The chassis is a wishbone design, which was pretty cutting edge for the time.  You’ve got mid-engine, you’ve got light weight.  You’ve got a double a-arm suspension.  It really does move wonderfully once it warms up.

Power delivery is not as bad as I thought it would be.  Without an intercooler, the 9 psi of boost doesn’t have very far to travel.  On the flip side, the gearing in first and second is so tight to render them almost useless.  Third gear is where the car will really stretch her legs and pull to 100 mph (if the 1980s era British speedometer is to believed).  The power isn’t voilent or overwhelming.  It’s enough for the chassis to handle (and apparently the Citroen transmission can’t handle any extra).

You’re not going to confuse this for a modern car, but that’s also the fun of driving it.  It is an event.  It is charming.

And that’s why it’s the Hugh Grant of cars.  It might not be the most capable, most competent, or balls out craziest sports car on the planet, and especially not from the 1980s.  But, it’s a wonderful, delightful, almost addictive car to drive.  It’s a special experience, and one you’re not able to get from anything else.

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