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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?