General Information

The best customer service in the world

Buy another supercar and you may pay more, but you won't get more when it comes to customer service. Owning an Esprit is an experience like none other. Not only is this an extremely exotic supercar with outstanding looks, but the company has one of the best relationships with their customer of any car company in the world. I first realized this even before I bought my first Esprit.

When I was considering buying my first Esprit, I called Lotus Cars USA to get the warranty history on the vehicle. I spoke to a very nice gentleman named Gary Razetti. I provided him with the serial number of the car (65066) and he proceeded to tell me everything about the history of the car. This in itself was pretty amazing I thought. Try doing that with a Ford or Chevrolet. However, my good impression turned to utter amazement when I called him back several months later. I told him that I was calling to thank him again for his help and to let him know that I had bought the Esprit. He said "Oh, 65066?"! I was so impressed that he had remembered the serial number after just one phone conversation.

Since then, my experiences with the staff at LCU has been nothing short of spectacular. I have called the president, Arnie Johnson, on many occasions just to chat and he has always been willing to spend half an hour or more on the phone talking with me about our shared passion for these cars. What other car company have you ever heard of where you can simply call the president "just to chat". Porsche? Ferrari? Lamborghini? I think not. 

The help doesn't end there. There's people like Dwayne Shumate who are always willing to lend a helping hand with his technical expertise. He has been kind enough to provide me with some of the information you see here. Dave Simkin, who provides his vast Lotus knowledge by frequently leaping from his lurking status to help answer questions on the Lotus TurboEsprit mailing list.

When you visit the LCU headquarters right outside Atlanta, Georgia they welcome you with open arms. You are not just a customer, you are a family member. You can peruse through the bins where they stockpile their inventory of Lotus parts and walk though the service bay where the cars are prepped for delivery to the dealers.

The help isn't limited to me either. Many Esprit owners have lauded the efforts of LCU to assist them with their cars. This help extends to people who buy the cars second hand. That is to say that they do not discriminate only to first time buyers. The help has even extended to fellow owners that have been lent Lotus-specific tools that would have been too expensive to buy for one-time use. Furthermore, people like Arnie, Dwayne, and Dave also lend their expertise to do-it-yourself-ers; recognizing that often taking your Esprit to a Lotus dealer may not be physically or financially feasible. At other times, LCU has even done or authorized repairs to be done under warranty after the "official" warranty  has expired.

Finally, they are always willing to sponsor Lotus events like the annual Lotus Owners Gathering or the Atlanta Historic Races. The often provide a free banquet/buffet and hand out awards during the frequent concours.

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Buying an Esprit Having problems finding financing for that beautiful used Esprit you fell in love with? Don't get discouraged and definitely don't give up. It took me about 5 months of exploring every alternative in financing until I purchased my Esprit. Lucky for me, the car was still there after I was done or I would have been very unhappy. I wound up refinancing my house and getting a home equity loan to free up the cash I needed to make the car payment. Also, my credit union had no problem financing most of the value of an '89 car. Have you tried your local credit union?

When you finally sign all the papers and get your new baby home, let me be the first to welcome you into the wonderful world of Esprit ownership!

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Buying a Used Esprit (things to look out for) One of the first things to consider when buying a particular used Esprit is to get a CarFax report. Though it might not reveal everything about a given car, it will serve as a starting ground from which you can determine if the car is worth pursuing.

Here's some other advice that Richard wrote on the turboesprit:

"Well, I went through this process only six months ago. Although I did it in the States, you may find the same problems I did."

"First of all, the choice of reasonably priced Esprits is slim. My price range was $15,000US to $22,000US, and I only found three cars in this range with the paint scheme I wanted (black, which is the only proper Esprit color...uh!). The first had obvious mechanical trouble (heat wouldn't turn off, even with a/c on, power window didn't work, and there was evidence of extensive turbocharger work), second sold one day after being advertised, so I never got to it, and the third I found for sale, I own. This is in two months of hard, geographic non-specific searching."

"I don't think you're going to be able to pick and choose the perfect used Esprit--there are probably only a handful available in your budget, and you're not the only one looking for one..."

"My advice? Check everything out on the car. Heat, A/C, power windows, mirrors, propensity to overheat, clunks from the rear end, brakes, clutch, everything. Then, adjust your price accordingly. The major service is at 50,000 miles, where all belts should be replaced. I was lucky--my P.O. had done that only 2,000 miles before I bought it. I'm sure it cost him $800-$1,000US to do it. If the car has a strong gasoline smell in the cockpit (mine did) rejoice--it means you can beat them up on the price (I did-to the tune of a thousand bucks) and then fix it in 20 minutes with a couple of bucks worth of hose."

"If the heat doesn't work--don't buy it. Trust me. If it burns oil, don't buy it. If the P.O. did all his own work, be wary. Probably a bunch of cobbled up repairs lurking for you at a later date."

"Things to look for:" 

  1. Left rear engine mount bad. This is a lot more common than I thought. Causes a lot of grief, too. It wrecked a $400 exhaust pipe, and a $%#@ coolant hose on my car. 
  2. Worn belts, especially the timing belt. I wouldn't count doing them by yourself; right away-it's quite a job. After you've dug into the car a whole bunch, it' becomes only really, really, hard to replace them yourself, instead of impossible. 
  3. Gasoline smell--very, very common. No big deal. 
  4. Warped front rotors. Check for a pulse in the brake pedal after you've warmed the brakes up a bit. Mine has 'em, but I couldn't tell on the test drive, I guess because they get worse as they heat up. 
  5. Electrical problems. Check EVERYTHING from the blinkers to the rear window defogger. If it has a switch, turn it on. Do NOT assume that if something doesn't work, you can fix it in ten minutes. You'll see what I mean the first time you snake your torso under the dash. Beware of the PECKTRON INVERTER (private joke from a while back). 
  6. Engine being in tune. I would be very, very, wary of purchasing an Esprit that didn't start right up and idle like a kitten. Again, don't assume that you can just "tune it up" in your garage like an old Triumph. Maybe you can...maybe you can't. 
  7. Exhaust leaks. If the exhaust is bad, you're in for big bucks. 
  8. Body damage isn't a super big deal, judging from the guys on the list who do their own fiberglass repairs. I don't, so price accordingly. Expect spider webbing under the paint on an older car. They all have it, and it doesn't bother me a bit. I understand a good, quality paint job on this car can easily cost $8,000 to $10,000 US, so don't buy one expecting to get it repainted for a couple of thousand. 
"A lot of this is academic. There were so few Esprits available when I was shopping, that I didn't really have much choice. I doubt you will either. My car has been so maintenance intensive, I would caution someone against buying a Lotus with pre-existing ailments. You'll have your hands full just keeping it running."

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Do I Really Want an Esprit Recently, a friend on the Lotus List (Edward Avila) told me the story about an S4s that was for sale with less than 400 miles on the odometer. Apparently, a woman bought the car, then was unhappy with the way the car drove. The dealer tried to convince her to give it a few hundred miles, as it would be different from anything else she would have ever driven, but she just thought it was too hard to drive, uncomfortable, and had limited visibility. She traded the car in with less than 100 miles driven and she lost $10,000 in the process.

Obviously, this is the kind of person who shouldn't be an Esprit owner. She probably expected that if she paid enough money, she could buy an ultra-sexy Toyota Camry. A test drive should have proven to her that this was not the case.

That case may be a little extreme, however, there are many cases of people who think they want an Esprit. Many people look at my cars and tell me how they wish they had a car like that. I've come to the conclusion that they simply don't realize what they're saying. They just think it looks cool but fail to understand the demented personality required to be exotic car owner: 

    First of all you have to be a real Lotus Esprit fan. I'm talking a real nutcase for the marque here. Anything less and you'll be selling the car real soon. I guarantee it. It's kind of like being married to a spouse with many idiosyncrasies. If you truly love them, it's easy to overlook these trivial things. If you don't, a divorce may be in your near future. 

    Second, test drive as many Esprits as possible and decide if this is the type of car for you. You may discover that you always have liked the car's looks, but you don't really like how you fit in it. Or that your bad back makes it very difficult to enter the car through the narrow opening doors. Or that your neck is compressed and your thighs rub the bottom of the steering wheel. Or that you can't stand all the stares and attention that you get at every stop light. Believe it or not, there are many reasons not to own an Esprit.

    Thirdly, make sure that you own more than one car. This is almost a requirement. At some point, you will need other transportation. Be it because you're waiting for parts, or you don't want to leave your sexy Esprit parked in a bad part of town, or you need to haul some pine bark mulch back from The Home Depot.

    Finally, it doesn't hurt to have tons of money. As you'll see in the next topic, owning an Esprit can sometimes be deceptively expensive. 

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Can I Really Afford an Esprit I don't want to discourage you, but most people think they can afford a Lotus when they really can't. A Lotus usually requires one of two (usually both) very important expenditures from its owner: 1) deep pockets to take it to the dealer to feed it its periodic diet of extremely expensive parts and service; 2) patience and dedication (along with a certain degree of mechanical skill) to do the repairs and/or maintenance yourself. Both of these demand that you have a certain level of passion for the marque. Most people simply wouldn't put up with the hassle. There-in lies the problem. It's a vicious circle that's perpetuated by people who lack the Lotus passion (or as I call it - disease).

So you wonder why you see some of these cars for sale for so cheap? Here's part of the reason that happens: 

    1) Many people buy the car because they like how it looks and are surprised at how "affordable" they are compared to other exotics. "Wow! a 1987 Lotus Esprit for only $15,000US!" 

    2) They show it off to their friends, take it on a few dates, and generally have a good time with it for a while.

    3) Disappointment sets in when they realize that: 

      a) they can't always rely on the car as their only vehicle because it is impractical for carrying anything but the most minimal amount of groceries. 
      b) British reliability (electrical gremlins, engine fires, roof leaks, etc.) means the car may be out of commission for a while or permanently. 
      c) Parts, unlike in other British sportscars, are in limited supply and cost an exorbitant amount of cash. 
      d) Accessibility to various engine components involves dismantling of 20 unrelated components that just happen to be in the way. 
      e) The nearest dealer is over 100 miles away. 
      f) People at the parts counter ask stupid questions like "Lotus? Who makes that?" 

    4) When something breaks, they don't have the money, time or passion to fix the car themselves or get it fixed by the proper repair facility.

    5) They let the car sit while they save up for parts or tend to "more important" things.

    6) They buy another car to get them to and from work and the supermarket.

    7) Friends, spouses, fiancées and others make fun about how the Lotus never runs or how often things appear to go wrong.

    8) One day they decide to make a cheap "makeshift" repairs just to get the car going again instead of repairing it properly. This is the stage where they start evolving into the PO (previous owner) or DPO (dreaded previous owner) that we like to use as the scapegoat on the Lotus List for much of what ails our cars.

    9) The cheap repair causes something else, seemingly unrelated, to break or makes the car more unreliable. Or, heck, maybe something else breaks on its own, totally unprovoked. Perhaps simply by virtue that it has the words "Pektron Inverter" or "Lucas" on the side of the part.

    10) After much disappointment that the car isn't as reliable or takes much more maintenance than a Camry, they sell the car at a loss.

    11) This major depreciation affects many things. People get the perceptions the cars are junk, because the only examples they are commonly exposed to have been ill-maintained. This lowers the market value. Toss in the SUV market frenzy to the mix and prices plummet further.

    12) You buy the car and start wondering why the heck there's a wiring harness held together with twisty-ties that say "Hefty" on them and the tailpipe is suspended by a coat hanger. 

If you don't believe any of this is true, ask anyone on the Lotus List the story about the "Curse of Chuque"!

Most of the uninitiated public thinks that all Esprits must be over $100,000US. After all, they are exotic supercars just like Ferraris and Lamborghinis and everybody knows how expensive those are.  Frankly, I kind of like the fact that people think this. Not because of any kind of bragging rights or status thing, but because it keeps a great number of people without the Lotus passion from buying the cars because they assume they're too expensive. My take is that those who really do have the passion will have enough motivation to do a little research and discover the truth: a Lotus may be inexpensive, but it ain't cheap! But, because they are infected with the Lotus virus, it all seems worthwhile...

This is why the greatest Lotus slogan is: 

     "Lotus, For the few who know the difference..."
Finally, if you think your 1988 Mustang's parts are expensive, you're not ready for the shock of Esprit parts. For example: 
Wheel lug bolts $17 each
Suspension bushings $19 to $50 each
Spark plugs $27 each
Small window decals $80 each
Throttle Position Sensor $150
Clutch Disc $200
Pressure plate $200
Set of brake pads (1 axle) $225
Steering wheel $700
Alloy wheels $750 each
Non-assisted steering rack $800
Flywheel $1,500
ECM $2,000
Esprit (Renault) gearbox $16,000
910 (4-cyl turbo) Engine $42,000
I'm sure there are many more expensive, ridiculously priced parts as well. These are the only ones I can recall off the top of my head. Parts prices add up quickly because these parts are more fragile than on other cars. These parts are designed for high performance, not reliability.

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Use it or lose it The question of reliability has always been an issue and concern with Lotus cars. Lotuses have a definite personality flaw. They retaliate if they see you drive off in a non-Lotus. Drive them regularly and pay close attention to maintenance, and you will be rewarded by a contented pal!

If a car sits a lot, the electrical push-connectors, contacts in relays, and commutators start to corrode and things mysteriously stop working. Oil seals dry out and take a set... and leak. Carb gaskets, diaphragms and soft mount o-rings dry out and develop leaks. Piston rings and cylinder walls rust. Engine bearings pit and wheel bearings Brinell.

Driving the car regularly will minimize all that. "IF" you end up wearing something out, at least you enjoyed doing it. Replace it and keep going. If the car sits and develops problems, there's no joy in it. It's just frustrating.

If you limit the miles you drive a Lotus out of fear that you might be stranded when it quits, you are contributing to the very conditions that will probably cause it to quit... a self fulfilling prophecy.

Drive it regularly and keep up to date with regular maintenance, and the car will defy it's critics.

Think about it. If a Lotus is underdeveloped, it's in the boring little side-issue areas that are affected by neglect, poor maintenance, and lack of use. Contacts are not gold plated. Electronics are not hermetically sealed. Chatzky parts are pretty ordinary in specification.

Motion is Lotus' schtick. Every finely tuned, leading edge advantage a Lotus has is engineered for motion. Use it or loose it.

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Sitting in the Boot Due to the inconvenient location of the engine, it may become necessary to sit in the boot to perform some of the work. It makes reaching some engine components much more comfortable. Although it looks fragile, the boot can easily withstand the weight of a 250-pound individual. If you sit in it, do it carefully. Try to stay near the edges when stepping in and try to distribute your weight as much as possible once inside. If you don't and it cracks, don't blame me. Also, if you have a X180R or S4s style wing, be very careful not to damage it while climbing in or out. I guarantee you that these won't handle 250 pounds.

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Bulkhead Holes Many owners have expressed a desire to cut a hole into the bulkhead (firewall) behind the seats, in order to gain access to the front of the engine. This would be convenient for jobs such as replacing timing belts, v-belts, water pumps, etc. According to Patrick Peal who used to be Head of Communications for Lotus: 
    "The bulkhead could be called a stiffening diaphragm, and is definitely a firewall. So theoretically if you cut a big hole (2 foot square) it would a) be v. noisy & smelly b) make the shell floppier c) be very bad news if it catches fire..." 

    "However, we get the handbrake cables and other things through, so if you make a sensible size hole and make a seal-able lid, say of ally bolted in place with some sealant and some sound-deadening material you should be well OK. As to making the shell less stiff, that would be hard to do! It's got the torsional stiffness of a lettuce leaf (wet and old) and contributes about 10% of the overall chassis stiffness."

    "Don't modify the steel crossbeam that goes across the top of the bulkhead - that does do something useful! (Like hold the seatbelt and generate some crash protection by linking in to the door beams!)." 

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VIN Numbers Frits van der Veen of the Netherlands created a clever VIN Decoder for his web site I modified it to handle all VIN codes up until the 2003 Model Year. Click here to use the VIN Decoder to understand what all the characters in your particular VIN mean. Alternately, you can use the charts below.

This chart should be used for 1988MY- 1992MY Esprits

This chart should be used for 1993MY- 1997MY Federal (USA) Esprits

This chart should be used for 1993MY- 1997MY ROW (Non-USA) Esprits

In 1998, Lotus consolidated the VINs for USA and Non-USA cars. This chart shows the coding to be used for 1998MY- On Esprits.

This chart shows the engine coding for Esprits.

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Opening the Bonnet It may sound like a silly topic. That is, until you try to do it for the first time. You will sitting there wondering, where the heck the "hood release" is located. But you won't find it, because there isn't one. At least not one that looks like anything you may be used to seeing.

Leave it to an exotic car, or call it British charm, but the hood release is one of the more non-standard pieces of automotive hardware I have seen in recent cars. Once you have found it and used it, it will feel natural. Finding it is the only real problem. Just look for a thin U-shaped piece of wire on the driver's side, underneath the dash. Swing the wire down and forward and the bonnet will unlock, allowing you to open it by lifting from the end nearest the windshield. To close it again, gently lower the bonnet, and then swing the wire forward as far as it will go, then backward until it latches. Don't worry, it really is simpler than it sounds.

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Silly A/C Vents Ventilation was pretty much an afterthought is Esprit design until the '90 SE. My 1989 SE was one of the many Esprits that has those highly efficient knee-cooling vents; not to mention those wonderful upward facing vents that so cleverly frost your windshield and quarter windows.

In 90MY Lotus finally wised-up and moved some of the vents to the binnacle so that they would be truly face-level. I often contemplated replacing my main dash with the newer ones, just so I could relocate the vents. Then I could freeze my knuckles instead of my knees.

In 98MY Lotus redesigned the interior of the Esprit to make it more up to date. In doing so they replaced the a/c vents with face-level units in more conventional positions. An added benefit is that the passenger side vents actually face the passenger now instead of leaving a frosted circle on the surface of the windshield.

BTW: no matter how cool your face (or knees) get, your back still gets sweaty in the wonderful 105(F) degree Florida summers. Some owners have overcome this with sheepskin seat-covers. These really do help prevent you from leaving your outer layers of skin on the hot leather when you're wearing shorts. Unfortunately, they also cover the beautiful Lotus leather seats. You decide.

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