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The legendary il Maestro, Giorgetto Giugiaro, created yet another one of his masterpieces when he penned the extreme wedge Lotus Esprit in 1976. However, so did Peter Stevens when he updated those revolutionary lines 11 years later.

It is of course Giugiaro who is deemed the genius of the two. Probably rightly so too; as we all know, he created everything from the gorgeous Alfa Romeo “Bertone” coupé to the original VW Golf, and so much more across several decades of automotive design. It can almost be difficult to comprehend the extent of his talent. An absolute genius – no doubt!

The Series 1 from 1976: Only 718 were manufactured between 1976 and ’78. Such a simple and delicate sportscar design.

So was his treatment of the flat plain surfaces on the mid-seventies Lotus – genius that is. It’s presumably the most true-to-form wedge which ever reached mass production. Practically every line on the Esprit is so ruler-straight, that it could just about have been folded in paper. Which explains why the Esprit kicked off a new design language which was – and still is – aptly referred to as Origami Styling. There’s no denying that the Esprit was rather extreme, yet it was still well received by both the press and the public, as it was just so striking and so right in its own angular way. I have always held the original Esprit in very high regard.

The S2 with a better integrated frontspoiler those funky seventies Speedline alloys.

Which I must confess, I didn’t do initially when Peter Stevens attempted to bring Giugiaro’s seventies Esprit into the late eighties. Back then, I found it somewhat bland and uninspiring (relatively speaking of course, for a 114cm low mid-engined sportscar). It just didn’t challenge us like the original Esprit had done – it wasn’t pushing the boundaries. But then, Stevens’ philosophy had deliberately been to remain true to the original. He didn’t want to change it – only update it a little. And he did so very softly and with great care and respect. As such, it’s claimed that the facelifted Esprit doesn’t divert from the original design by more than an inch in any one place.

The facelifted Esprit from 1987: Unmistakably Esprit – just brought up-to-date rather than clinging to its by then somewhat dated seventies design.

Even so, Stevens managed perfectly in keeping the original seventies concept bang up-to-date well into the nineties, which surely must be regarded as a very successful reinterpretation of the original. Admitted, as we entered the naughts, the Esprit started getting a little long in the tooth. When compared to its period competitors, this might have been largely down to Lotus continuing to utilise their 4-cylinder twincam engine, which despite heavy force-induction, just couldn’t match the newly developed flat-6 and V8’s of the opposition. Eventually, Lotus did manage to shoehorn their own V8 into the Esprit, but by then it was both flawed and dated by the ever growing and steroid-fed spoilers and flared arches. The purity was lost.

The later versions of Peter Stevens’ facelifted design became more and more desperate in their attempt to please the sportscar enthusiast. This is the V8-powered Sport 350.

But recently I meet both variants – original and updated – together. This time I could view them both as classic cars. The original Giugiaro design has obviously been a true classic for a while, but so is the facelifted Stevens design now. It has passed through the youngtimer stage, and it’s even a rarer car than the extreme wedge upon which it is based. Surely the Stevens Esprit is about to enter its prime as a proper classic car?

I feel quite certain of that. And this is where I’ll probably ruffle a few feathers among the establishment, as I confess that I actually prefer the later Stevens facelift over the original Giugiaro design! Granted, the original possesses more drama and edge (quite literally) in all of its wonderfully undiluted Giugiaro-ness. But the Stevens Esprit retains almost the exact same dimensions while being a more rounded design (again, quite literally), and thus comes across as a more mature and better executed concept.

The one thing which I invariably prefer from the old Esprit is the interior. Those green Veglia instruments from the earliest cars have simply not been bettered since their conception.

In broad terms though – and not withstanding a few ultra rare versions such as the Essex Turbo and the Sport 300 – most model years of the Esprit are currently available at largely the same price. So when choosing your own personal favourite Esprit, financial constraints don’t need to be a deciding factor. And so it wouldn’t be for me either: I would choose the facelifted Stevens Esprit.

But what say all of our feinschmeckere ViaRETRO readers?


5 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    Apologies Claus, but I can’t possibly agree with you on this one.
    Well, I suppose I can partially, as I too really like the Stevens facelift of the Esprit. While Giugiaro has of course been widely heralded for his super sharp Esprit design (and rightly so!), I feel that Stevens hasn’t really been given due credit for his update. Very rarely do I have anything positive to say about facelifts, but I’ll happily make an exception for the Esprit.
    Still, with all that said, my personal Esprit would simply have to be either a series 1 or early series 2 car in perfectly unadorned and original condition. Oh, and with a bit of colour to it as well – yellow, orange or a vivid green would suit me very well indeed… :-)

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    Well I DID say sorry, didn’t I, @anders-bilidt ?

    To be honest I am happy you disagree: Now we both drive Reliant Scimitar GTE SE6a’s I suppose it would be almost scary if we both drove Esprits S1 OR the facelifted Peter Stevens-version too…

  3. Anders Bilidt

    Very true @claus-ebberfeld.
    I’ll get my Esprit S1, you get your Stevens Esprit, and despite our shared passion for the Scimitar, things still won’t get too silly… ;-)

  4. Kim Christensen

    I race a Jensen Healey, which had the “fortune” to be testbed for the 1973 cc Lotus twincam in the early Esprit. The engine was part responsible for the JH’s somewhat troubled image. Upgrades are now plentiful and addresses most of the flaws like leaking oil over the manifold and many more issues. It`s a relative inexpensive engine to fix and can be made quite reliable so if the engine’s reputation is holding anyone back, I will be happy to share some contacts.

  5. yrhmblhst

    Gonna hafta go with the earlier design myself – preferably S2.2 .
    Like em both/all, but the early one is more distinctive. Have always wanted an Esprit; couldnt afford them new and am put off by the typical Lotus maintenance headaches and costs on teh Esprit are worse than others. Some day when i get rich and famous tho…


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