Lotus Esprit V8: Simplicate, and add…twin turbos?!?
‘Rolls off the tongue pretty well, right? Now: say it again with a British accent. Oh yeah… just like that.
Ahem…. Now that we have that whole color technicality cleared up, let’s take a look at the machine swathed in that oh-so-sophisticated-sounding hue: a 2001 Lotus Esprit V8 Twin Turbo. Let me say that last part again: Vee-Eight…Twin Turbo. To wit: this is not an Elise.
Taking nothing away from its über-nimble cousin, the Esprit represents something of a divergent strain of Lotus DNA. Sure, in the late ‘80s, it began life as a bantam-weight door-stop with a stout (for the time) 200hp four-cylinder bolted behind the seats. After a few “natural” evolutions though, someone spiked the coffee at Hethel and, circa 1997, we got our first look at this freak.
A departure from the Chapman-esque engineering philosophy most associate with Lotus, the V8 TT proves neither simple nor, at ~3000lbs, light (for a Lotus anyway). The interior, an amalgam of switchgear and fittings from various other manufacturers’ stock (including, Ford, GM, and Renault), while comfortable, lacks the refinement of contemporary supercars. Also, in typical British-car fashion, the electric controls work on their own time, not yours.
…and really, no one cares.
Ask a 5-year-old to draw a fast car; this is what you get: A flat wedge with softened edges, raked aggressively forward, with pop-up headlights and a swoopy wing.
Slide into the supple leather seat, ignore the 1980’s Pontiac steering wheel, and twist the key. A short ring from the starter precedes an abrupt bark from the exhaust that levels off to an edgy growl….something like surprising a Rottweiler, who is now only just restrained from chewing your face off. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the face-chewing still happens, only later….when you mat the gas in 2nd gear.
Don’t trifle with the fragility of the Renault transaxle in 1st gear. Get it rolling, get it into second, and then give it some stick. Eight cylinders punch out enough torque on their own to make the initial surge pretty impressive, but just wait until about 3000rpm and….to quote a bumper sticker I saw somewhere, “When the turbos spin, the bullshit ends”.
This is a righteously fast car.
Normally, at this point, I’d segue into talking about how a generous owner scoured the world for a pristine example of a rare car…..but that’s not what happened.
Nope. He bought it by accident…on E-bay.
A molecular biologist by profession, T.J. McCallum won’t admit it, but he’s also something of a local celebrity. If you’re between age 18 and 35 and have played or followed soccer in East or Middle Tennessee, you’ve probably heard of him.
A stand-out at Maryville College from 2001-2005 (All-Conference 4 years in a row, All South 3 years, team MVP twice), T.J. also took Rookie of the Year and All-Conference honors with the Nashville Metros (in the same season), and started for the Knoxville Force in their inaugural season before retiring (for now) to focus on coaching youth club teams in Blount County.
I played with T.J. back in college (I was not a stand-out), we lived together for a while, and he blames much of his car obsession on me….I probably deserve it.
I got him addicted to Gran Turismo (3 at the time) in between soccer practices, and talked him into buying his first sports-car. It snowballed from there. Next thing I know, he’s apprenticing at RPM motorsports in Mt. Juliet, and building a 240sx for a track toy.
So, given that, I’m not really surprised when, back in March, I get an IM with an E-bay Motors link and a question: “What do you think about this?”
The Lotus thing had come and gone before, along with the Corvette thing, the kit-car thing, the 300ZX TT thing, and the 3000GT thing (how’s that for diverse taste?), so I didn’t think too much of it…but had fun talking it up with him all the same. “Looks good”, I said, “For the right price.”
An hour or so later:
“So, I put a bid on that Lotus….no way it’s winning though”. Eh, “’Got to be in it to win it”, I thought… and after dispensing an appropriate level of friendly heckling, I went to bed, thinking no more of it…
…until around noon the next day, when I got the following text: “So…..you know that Lotus I bid on last night..?”
And that’s how I found myself driving T.J. to the outskirts of Charlotte, NC to look at this car.
The now-previous owner…how do I put this…really got into his vehicles…emotionally. The guy has the Lotus badge and “Esprit” script tattooed across half of his chest, matching the Corvette flags on his shoulder. He planned to add a prancing horse to his other pec’ to match the prancing horse he planned to add to his garage with the proceeds from this sale.
A short test drive revealed a couple of small issues, but all items we had already researched and attached dollar figures to. A few unknowns made T.J. a little nervous, but not enough to deter him.
Some business later, and we found ourselves retracing the morning’s route, only now in separate cars.
Not one to remain an uneducated, “owner”, T.J. has since done his research and can happily fill you in on most of the technical details of his car, including a bit of trivia along the way. Did you know that the Esprit’s V8 shares architecture with the late-‘80s Corvette ZR1 motor (also designed by lotus)? I didn’t until T.J. dug that up somewhere.
After we put the cameras away, we sat down for a quick chat about the car and his other pastime:
FM: So, why an Esprit?
T.J.: Well, I found out about it through Gran Turismo back in college, and just fell in love from there. ‘Just the look and style of the thing hooked me.
FM: What’s your favorite thing about the Lotus so far?
T.J.: Really, from a driving standpoint: the acceleration. My 240 is “fast”, but this thing is really a different animal. The 4cyl turbo [in the 240] feels like it has to work a lot harder, but this thing just…goes. The transition to a mid-engined car has been interesting…and I get a chuckle out of watching peoples’ heads turn when I’m driving, it definitely gets a little attention on the road. I do get a lot of “what is it?”.
FM: So (chuckle): Driving, or Soccer?
T.J.: Uh….Driving to play soccer?! [Touche’ ] No, I mean, I love soccer for the physical aspect and the mental part of thinking through the game. It’s probably something I’ll never give up, even if it’s just recreational. With driving, it’s also mental….it’s fun to cruise around or go for a spirited drive, it’s a little more relaxed, unless you’re on a track.
Currently in the process of solidifying the car so he can better enjoy it, T.J. has replaced some worn components, cracked hoses, and diagnosed a few leaks. He has a rather-industrial looking radiator set to go in the car to cure a hot-weather drivability issue common to Esprits, and he plans to get it out to an autocross or track day at some point in the near future.
In the mean time, keep an eye out for T.J. at local shows and events….oh, and if you end up playing indoor soccer against him remember: guard his left, and if you have the ball, there is no such thing as a break-away…shoot it while you can.
- ECU Updated to “High Torque” map (a Factory reflash later stock on final-edition Esprits in 2004. It de-restricts boost in second gear.)
- C&R Radiator
- K&N air filters
- Carbon Splitter of unknown origins
- SPAX Coilovers
- EBC “Yellow Stuff” pads in the stock AP Racing Calipers
- Possibly a kit to swap in an Elise steering wheel.