With or without the deep nose and tail spoilers which distinguished the Turbo from the plain Esprit, the chisel shape was one of the most striking on the road, then and now. A beautiful and simple form in itself, the Giugiaro design may have been over a decade old when the HC was released, and it certainly looked like a product of the Seventies, albeit one which had lasted well.
Underneath the squat and angular GRP shell was a folded steel backbone chassis of very compact layout, cradling the longitudinal engine and transaxle at the rear. A transverse box-section with two coil-sprmg turrets took the loads from the unequal length wishbones at the front, while each rear hub was located by an upper and lower transverse link plus a radius arm forwards to where the backbone forked for the engine.
There was a disc at each corner, the plain rears being 10.8in and the ventilated fronts slightly smaller at 10.2in. An unassisted rack and pinion controlled the front wheels. By tweaking the long-serving inline four, the Lotus engineers were able to obtain a higher compression ratio, filling out the torque curve and cutting in-gear acceleration times significantly. Not only did the 215bhp unit now dispose of 220lb ft of torque at 4200rpm, but even at a coasting 2500rpm something like 190lb ft was available, giving the Turbo HC that relaxed flexibility which its stablemate the Excel SE was so noticeably lacking.
By the 1980's it was increasingly rare to see carrburettors on performance cars, and it was an even rarer thing to find a blown engine using multiple carbs, but the canted Lotus block was fed through two twin sidedraught Dellorrtos pressurised by the turbo at the rear of the block. It felt punchy and powerful, but hardly silky: it rumbled at lower speeds, winding up to a busy roar with the exhaust noise of, say, an RS2000
rather than a sophisticated pedigree.
During gearchanges in full-throttle acceleration, the waste-gate chuffed and puffed cheerfully as the by-pass system kept the turbine spinning for those moments when the throttle was closed. Naturally there was a big difference beetween low-rev performance and what happened when the blower was cramming air through the big Dellortos, but unlike many a turbocharged car, the Lotus would pick up immediately the throttle pedal was depressed, surging ahead at a mild but respectable rate until the tach needle was passing the figure 3, when the surge expanded to a rush, accompanied by a mild hissing from behind the ear.
This sort of willing response was available at all revs and in all gears, although the enthusiast would probably be choosing his gearchange points to keep within the exciting stretch between the twin peaks of torque and power - 4200 and 6200rpm. But there was room for manoeuvre - if a tight overtaking place demands both hands on the wheel for a second or two longer, the needle would happily wind around to 7000 before demanding attention.
A comfortable spherical black knob (showing 1,2,3,4 and OD, oddly enough) controled the gearshift, which had a weighty feel to it; metal rods could be felt clanking back and forth, and the result was not a quick change. Road testers of the day commented that the lever did not seem to respond well to a bit of force during full-throttle upshifts, and overall a relaxed change worked best, especially when heaving the lever through the double-bend for fifth. And reverse was quite an effort to engage, needing an awkward lift and shove.
There was not too much room around the pedals, but Lotus made the best use possible of what there was: a sliver of footrest took the weight off the clutch foot while cruising. A pleasantly-shaped steering wheel was fitted, which pointed noticeably but not uncomfortably towards the centre-line of the car. Somewhere by the driver's right ankle was the hand-brake. Straight-forward BL column stalks controlled the usual flashers and wipers, and the horn, too, although there was a perfectly good horn-push available in the centre of the wheel. Lights and the heated rear window were operated by slide-switches on the wing-tips of the flying binnacle, which housed the fuel gauge and voltmeter outside the wheel-rim, with oil pressure, coolant, revs and speed ranged each side of a central boost gauge. All of these were small and indistinctly lit.
Ahead of the gear lever and a little close to it was the radio/cassette, easily reached, though a rapid shift up to third was likely to switch radio stations. Below this were three rotary knobs for temperature, fan and airflow which were simple to use and produced adequate ventilation. Power windows were standard, with the rocker switches on the centre panel, which provided a padded armrest.
Visibility was unimpressive in any direction: rear three-quarter view was negligible over a wide sector, the door mirrors were well out of the normal sight-line, the interior mirror was too small, shuddered constantly, and did not dip properly, the slats over the rear window cut out much of the view, and even the windscreen suffered from terrible glare reflected from the pale-coloured dash. There was a shallow glovebox (containing a fire-extinguisher), but that apart, the only interior storage space of any description whatever was a shallow pocket on the rear bulkhead.
Squeezed into the tail of the vehicle, the irregularly-shaped boot swallowed more cargo than you would have expected. A single long hatch uncovered luggage and engine, and was released by tugging a lever behind the driver. A subsidiary and thicklylated cover, secured by a couple of rather cheap metal clips, opened up to give fairly limited access to the engine, whose simple contrast to the supple and refined four-pot bulk was livened up with bright red cam-covers and intake manifold.
Handling Of A Go Kart, With Gut-Pounding Suspension To Match
The overall response from the steering was superb: lightning twitches of the wheel were followed implicity by the car's nose, giving the whole chassis an accuracy and confidence well in tune with the racing history of Lotus. Bumps and holes could be seen as well as felt, the rim flicking back and forth under the driver's palms. The Esprit certainly handled like a go-kart, but unforrtunately it also had about the same amount of suspension movement. Spring rates were stifffened for the HC, and the effect was crashy and tiring, only smoothing out at speeds which were well above the speed limit.
This was quite a contrast to the supple and refined deportment of the Lotus Excel, with its lovely power-steering. Stability, however, was excellent. With 215 horsepower and lots of torque, it was to be expected that this light and low machine would constantly be looking for a way round slower traffic. With its blistering acceleration and precise, adhesive grip, the Esprit cried out for sweeping backroads, preferably smooth-surfaced, to exploit its impressive abilities. It coped remarkably well in the city too, where the strong engine reduced the number of gearchanges needed.
The Esprit was seen as a Ferrari or Lamborrghini rival, which it was in dynamic and visual terms, but it was way behind these in mechanical refinement and practicality, even by mid-engined standards. At either end of the scale there were more useable mid-engined cars: a Ferrari Testarossa or a Toyota MR2 both enjoyed better visibility and more convenient cockpits, though neither was as impressive to look at as the Esprit.
And then of course there was the Audi Quattro
, Jaguar XJ-S
, Porsche 944
or Mercedes 380SL
, all offering more creature comforts, but again not in the same league for street presence. If you were prepared to sacrifice a little comfort and practicality, the Esprit HC was perfect.
Lotus Esprit Turbo HC Quick Specs
Esprit Turbo HC
Lotus Cars Ltd, Norwich.
2174cc 16-valve dohc 'four cylinder. Two twin Dellorto carburetors with turbocharger, electronic ignition.
215bhp at 6200rpm.
220lb ft at 4200rpm.
Rear-wheel drive, five-speed transaxle, hydraulic dutch.
Front: double wishhbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: upper and lower transverse links, radius arms, coil springs,· telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rack and pinion.
Discs all round, ventilated at front, vacuum servo.
Wheels and Tires:
Front: 7JK alloy rims with 195/60 VR15 tires. Rear: 8JK alloy rims with 235/60 VR15 tires.
0-60mph, 5.7sec. Max speed, 152mph.
Optional extras available:
Leather upholstery, Blaupunkt radio/cassette.