Guest contributor: Lauri Ahtiainen on the 1979 Lotus Esprit S2
Some cars can be defined by numbers— you only need a piece of paper or a plain Excel spreadsheet. Those pure facts reveal everything the car has to offer, and that’s all there is. To gain some perspective you have to experience those facts, whether we’re talking about the quarter mile time or something as prosaic as the size of the trunk.
Then we have cars that really don’t shine on paper. The 1979 Lotus Esprit S2 seen here weighs just under a thousand kilos (2,200 lbs) and is powered by a two-liter inline-four. Breathing through two double carburetors mounted on a DOHC-head, it produces all of 160 bhp. The power is sent from this longitudinally-mounted mid-engine to the rear wheels via a Citroën SM transaxle.
All these facts probably give an impression of something a bit like the first generation Toyota MR2. However, as great as the MR2 is, I’m pretty sure driving one feels totally unlike the Esprit. Allow me to explain.
Part of the feeling is courtesy of the 007 connection, of course. Yet it would be a huge underestimation to say the Esprit is just another Bond car— there’s so much more to it than that. Firstly, there’s the gorgeous shape by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Secondly, there’s the lack of height. Even with a relatively high ground clearance, the Esprit’s roof still lies ten centimeters (4″) below the aforementioned MR2’s.
The low, seventies wedge-styled body might very well be the defining element of the Esprit experience. You sit close to the floor, with pedals that are mounted slightly too close to each other at almost the same level as the bottom of the seat. The driving position is further enhanced by a lovely steering wheel that’s positioned just a little too far away. This all helps to create an English interpretation of a driving position so often associated with Italian cars of the seventies and eighties.
It doesn’t take long to get used to operating the Lotus, and at that moment you start to realize how easy the car actually is to drive. The clutch is light, the pedals are well-weighted, and the steering needs just the right amount of exertion. Even the visibility is great after you’ve found the mirrors. Only the gearshift is a bit of a reach away.
Good driveability continues further. This Esprit is blessed with new dampers and is a truly comfortable and quiet car. You can feel the suspension absorbing bumps, while the body moves around ever so slightly on its 70-profile tires wrapped around beautiful Speedline alloys. Nevertheless, the steering remains straight at all times, and the car cruises along the road effortlessly. You can concentrate on enjoying the driving experience and forget just about everything else.
You could judge the Esprit S2 by pure numbers and the outcome would be pretty decent for a performance car of its time. But numbers alone aren’t enough to create legends. If the Esprit makes you feel like you’re driving a genuine supercar, you couldn’t care less about the hot hatch that pulled up right next to you, could you?
Warm thanks to Samuli Sarén for making this article possible and to the owner of the car for allowing me to drive it.
Images © Lauri Ahtiainen
Lauri is a recurring contributor to Motoring Con Brio.