Maintenance (is this normal?) Esprits, as with most supercars, are built mostly for performance, not reliability. It takes patience and very deep pockets to keep one of these machines running properly. Do not be fooled by the low price you can buy a used Esprit for. If you can't afford to maintain it, you can't afford to own it. The purchase price is only half the story. I won't lie to you: parts are very expensive.

I've been accused of owning the "perfect" Esprit. To which I responded: Do you mean "perfect' in the sense that it falls within the typical range of high maintenance and unreliability? In the short time I owned my SE, I had to replace the steering rack, tie rods, ball joints, clutch, timing belt, suspension bushings, Fuel filter, TPS, MAP sensor, flywheel sensor, ECM, and the list goes on and on... Other things I've experienced include: 

  • My front tires getting "chopped" from steering rack problems. 
  • Oil dripping down the side of the rear left shock. 
  • Numerous Check Engine lights. 
  • Freon needs recharging about once a year. 
  • The passenger window has a mind of it's own. It gets "tired" during its travel, comes to a stop, only to continue closing or opening a few seconds later even though the switch is no longer being pushed (?!?) 
This is what happens when you get the fever and you buy a car that doesn't have all the service records and history. When buying a used Esprit, try to find an example that was:

a) Owned by only one individual. Not like mine where I didn't know how many hands it had been through.

b) Has all the service records so you know what work has been done.

Either that or buy a brand new one. The first time I ever saw my SE it looked sad. It was almost begging me to take it home and take care of it at it deserved. I couldn't resist. I did. During my years of ownership, I have been very kind to it. On a 1 to 10 scale, I think I've brought it back from about a 5 to about a 8.5. Maybe it would be easier if I started with one that was already a 8.

Newer Esprits from 1995-on are very reliable. My mechanic tells me that they hardly ever break and my personal experiences with my car seem to verify this. They are no more likely to leave you stranded on the side of the road than a Ford or Chrysler. But you can improve the reliability beyond that of these more mundane vehicles by simply making sure that you follow all the recommended maintenance.

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Timing Belts My advice has always been to check the timing belt and replace it whenever it looks worn or the maintenance schedule recommends it, whichever is sooner. I realize that replacing the belt is not an easy task and can be very expensive. But if the belt should happen to go, you will send valves and pistons on a collision course that will test the stratospheric limits of your bank account. Pistons can cost upwards of $1200US a piece! For this reason, I have always considered the timing belt replacement as an insurance policy.

However, since about 1995, Lotus has started using a new timing belt that is supposed to be good for 100K miles. The interesting thing is that the manual says that you're supposed to replace it every 3 years or 36K miles, unless you live in California. The maintenance schedule says that California cars should have their belts replaced every 100K miles regardless of age. Keep in mind that cars that used the older belt recommended that you change it every 25K miles during your "C" service.

The thing is that the new belt is the same in all markets, so there unless there is something special about the California smog that makes the rubber last longer, replacing it prematurely may turn out to be a waste of money. Also, the old belt is no longer available, so my assumption is that once the belt in an older car has been replaced with the new style belt, you could follow the new maintenance schedule. I asked my friendly Lotus-certified mechanic about this and he agrees. He says you should inspect the belt very often and adjust the tension if necessary, but don't replace it unless it shows signs of wear.

Adjusting the timing belt tension is a critical part of the replacement process. Proper tension for the Esprit is 95 lbs. To measure it, you can use the $500+ Lotus Boroughs Gauge. If you don't want to spend quite that much money on a tool you only use once every 8 to 10 years, there is an alternative. The timing belt's manufacturer, Gates, sells a tool called the Krikkit 1 that will do the job and only costs about $11US. A friend has compared the readings from this gauge with those from the Lotus, Porsche, and Ferrari gauges and has found it to be just as accurate.

Esprits with the V8 engine have a different process for measuring belt tension. These cars use a new electronic tension gauge that use the vibration of the belt and actually uses frequency as its unit of measure.

I had my timing belt replaced on my SE. Regardless of what you may have heard, it is not necessary to remove the engine to change the belt. Labor for the job was 10 hours at $45/hour.

Jim J Seippel went through the process of replacing the timing belt on his own and took the time to write a very detailed list of steps for the procedure. Since this is a lengthy document, click here to see the steps on a separate web page.

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Removing the Instrument Binnacle You may find that you need to remove the instrument binnacle from the car some day for who knows what reason. To do so, you need to sit inverted in the seat so that your head is in the footwell. As you look up, you should see the heads of 4 long bolts with 13mm heads. There are two on each side. Look for a pair of them near the hood (bonnet) release lever. The other two are symmetrically located on the opposite side.

Once you remove the bolts, the binnacle will be loose. You then need to lift it with one hand, while you disconnect about three wiring harness connectors, an a/c vent hose that goes to the top of the binnacle, and the speedo cable (unscrews to disconnect). Be careful not to scratch your leather.

In newer cars with a/c vents in the facia, the removal of the binnacle is slightly different. You will find a couple of small screws that hold down the front binnacle cover. Remove these first, then remove the single 10mm bolt underneath the dash. Lift the cover off and disconnect the vent hose to the top of the binnacle. Reach in and disconnect the two a/c hoses. Complete the removal of the instrument pod by loosening the screws visible from the top. For a step-by-step guide to the process, click here.

Believe me, it sounds a lot more difficult than it really is. I had never attempted it before and I successfully removed it in 10-15 minutes.

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Removing the Seats This is an extremely easy task. There are four bolts attached to the bottom of each seat. The bolts protrude throughout the bottom of the car and are fastened with four hex nuts. Simply remove these nuts and carefully lift the seats out of the car, making sure not to scratch the leather. 

Replacing the seats is a little more difficult because you have to align some washers used as spacers. Still, it shouldn't be to time consuming to do.

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Cleaning the Paint When my SE sat in the shop for a few months (ECM know the story), it was uncovered for at least half of the time. During that time, my beautiful Monaco White paint finish managed to get some tiny, microscopic black particles embedded in it. Most likely, they were brake dust or something similar. The problem is that they became fused to the paint job. You couldn't see them from more than a distance of 1 or 2 feet, but if you ran your hand over the finish, it felt gritty.

I tried using many different cleaners without much success. If I used a highly abrasive rubbing or polishing compound, they would finally come off after a lot of scrubbing. The only problem is that then I had to follow that with an application of Meguiars #2 Fine Cut to remove the surface scratches left by the compound. This can't be good for the finish, I thought.

Then, somebody on this list mentioned that they had some success with a product called Clay Magic. I recently bought it from Pep Boys. It was amazing! What took major amounts of force and scrubbing to remove came off with relatively light pressure.

I started off by removing my roof panel, bringing it into the house and working on it while I watched television. Later, when I was cleaning the rest of the car, I put the bottle of wetting agent that comes with the product on the roof panel, which was back on the car, and it started sliding right off! The car wasn't at an incline and the roof panel barely has an angle from horizontal. I was impressed!

What I liked the most was that, although the product was removing the same stuff that the compounds could, it was a much kinder, gentler, easier process. I must admit that at first I was a bit skeptical and even cautious about rubbing clay over my car. I'm a believer now. If anyone ever has similar problems, give this product a try.

BTW: This is an honest product endorsement. I have no connection with the product's maker or anything. OK?

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Cleaning the Engine First, regardless of what you may have heard, there are many benefits to keeping a clean engine. 
  1. It looks better. 
  2. It improves the resale value of the car. If a buyer sees the engine clean, he/she will assume it was well maintained. 
  3. It is more pleasant to work on the car without getting all grimy. 
  4. It will be easier to spot any fresh oil leaks and their sources. 
  5. It helps the engine run cooler - that oily grime actually retains heat. 
I learned the following engine cleaning from an Eagle-1 rep that wrote an article about it in Sports Compact Car magazine. The procedure can give you that "new engine look". However, the following technique involves using water in the engine compartment and I can assume no responsibility for any damage that occurs. Here are the steps I use: 
  1. Protect all electrical components on the engine by covering with plastic sandwich bags and tape or whatever. 
  2. Spray engine metal and rubber surfaces with Eagle-1 Tire Cleaner. PLEASE NOTE that I said "Tire" Cleaner and NOT "Wheel" Cleaner. Although both products exist, they are not the same. Avoid getting the cleaner on painted body surfaces. If you do, clean immediately by diluting with water. 
  3. Scrub particularly dirty, oily areas with a small brush (toothbrush) to loosen the dirt. You will notice that the solution turns blue-ish when it contacts the dirt. 
  4. After the dirt has loosened, rinse away all traces of the solution with running water from a hose. Avoid high pressure which could force water into electrical components or connectors. 
  5. Start the engine and let it idle for a few minutes to accelerate the drying process of the engine. 
  6. You will notice that rubber surfaces in particular look white and very dry. Almost as if they are dying for moisture. 
  7. While the engine is still warm, use "Son of a Gun" protectant spray and literally "douse" the entire engine in the solution. NOTE: If I were you, I would try to keep it away from your timing belt. 
  8. Let the engine soak up the protectant for about 1-2 hours. 
  9. All your engine components will look nice, shiny and new. Wipe any excess protectant with a rag. 
I have tried this procedure on several cars and they all have come out looking better than new. The new look lasted a couple of months. Afterwards, additional cleanings were easier since the worst had already been done.

WARNING: On my RX-7 I had a coolant hose and a relatively-new V-belt break a few months after I did this procedure. I don't know if the protectant accelerated their wear. I don't think it would, but I thought I would warn you of the possibility. Again, I assume no responsibility for what happens in your car.

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Interior Care It is said that there is the equivalent of five cows-worth of leather in the interior of the average Esprit. 

For care of the acres of the soft, delicate hides, forget anything I've said before in this section of the Esprit Fact File. The only product you should use to clean, restore, and protect the fine leather in your Esprit is called "Leatherique". All other recommendations go out the window. Leatherique is endorsed by the Rolls Royce Club of America as well as many Lotus clubs. I have been using this for some time now with excellent results and I'm happy to recommend their products.

Leatherique is actually a line of products including Prestine Clean and Rejuvenator Oil. These are the best products on the market to restore old "cardboard-hard" leather and protect any  leather in your car or home. You first work the Rejuvenator Oil into the leather with your hands and let the car sit for several hours in the sun so that it can be absorbed. You then finish the job by wiping on Prestine Clean and then wiping it off with a soft cloth. Your leather will look great and will have that new leather smell again.

To purchase Leatherique products, visit their website at: or call them at: (904) 272-0992.

A word of warning: If you decide to use other products, test them first in a small inconspicuous place like behind the seats. Some owners have used products that have left some sticky goo on the surface that may be difficult to remove. This seems to be caused by some combination of cleaners and leather color stain. So, check it first.

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Black Trim Most car owners have, at one time or another, been witness to the harmful effects that age and sunlight have on the many black trim pieces that car manufacturers insist on putting on our cars. The plastic turns gray or white and looks dull and faded. Many products like Black Again, Armor-All, Son of a Gun, or silicone treatments will restore the look of the plastic, but all become gray again within a few days. A product I have use with much success is Meguiar's Tire Gel. Although it too will fade in time, it seems to last longer than the other products.

Samir from the Lotus Mailing List decided to see if (ordinary cooking) peanut oil would work. According to him, it did: 

"Got rid of all the wax streaks on my Alfa rubber and plastic parts, and made them dark and shiny. I used it on the rubber bumpers, wipers plastic spoilers, door strips, some plastic trim inside, etc. Over a month now, and everything is still dark!" 
Elephants are often seen chasing Samir's car around town...

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Wheel Repair If your alloy wheel are in need of repair, Brian Buxton recommends the following places: 
Ernie's Alloys
13640 N.W. 19th Avenue #9
Miami, FL. 33054
Ernie will completely fix any rim for $150.00

10390 Alpharetta St. Suite 620
Roswell, GA 30075
$130.00 + $15.00 for complete rim repair.

On a recent trip to the Atlanta Historic Races we were on a caravan of Esprits down I-285 when we all hit the same massive crater of a pothole. Since my front tires are lower profile than most Esprits, only my wheels suffered rim damage. The rim had only a minor bend on it, but it was enough to cause it to lose about 1-2 pounds of air per week. I took it to Transwheel in Tampa, FL where they repaired it within one day. They did a perfect job and you can't even tell where the bend was. I highly recommend them. Give them a call at 1-800-892-3733.

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