Exotic Ruin: 1977 Lotus Esprit

1977 Lotus Esprit

It’s a sad day when a former exotic lies torn apart and broken in a dimly lit garage. Even if it comes from an era that wasn’t exactly a bright spot for performance automobiles, it always makes me cringe to see a car that is usually preserved and polished sitting in a dilapidated pile. That certainly is the case with this 1977 Lotus Esprit, which is being sold as a total project on here on craigslist in Los Angeles for $4,500. Are you brave enough to take on this fallen S1, or does your love of new challenges stop short of rescuing this forlorn exotic?

Esprit lacking spirit

The S1 series Esprit was a complicated proposition: it retained its edgy design first revealed at the Paris Auto Show and was a testament to Colin Chapman’s “Simplify, then add lightness” mantra. However, it was choked by stringent U.S. emissions requirements and fell short of delivering on the performance the swoopy shape seemed to promise. In fact, with only 140 b.h.p. on tap, the Esprit was a bit of a bummer in the power department. However, like most Lotuses, the Esprit delivered sweet handling and steering qualities that other manufacturers could only wish for.

Someone has been busy

And while it wasn’t the most powerful version, the S1 is actually quite rare: only 894 were made from 1975 to 1978. Along with its reputation as one of the more significant designs ever penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and it makes you wonder how this Esprit ever ended up in the doldrums it’s in right now. Hagerty’s even speculates that the Esprit is one of the last great classics that’s still affordable, but for how much longer? Despite the fame generated by its appearance in the original Bond films, the first-generation Esprit never seems to surge much higher than the upper teens for a truly decent example.

Unlucky Lotus

The seller of this project Esprit does not waste much breath on details. It’s a shame, because there is clearly a lot this car will need and it’d be great to have a better idea of where to start. The S1 doesn’t appear completely rusty in the photos but it will definitely need a repaint, and the interior doesn’t appear too healthy either in what little we can see. The good news is there are a number of specialists who can help track down the various trim pieces and other bits to bring this car back to life. But without more information, it’s hard to predict just how tedious of a project it will be. What do you think – can it be saved, or will the original production run of S1s be down a member when this one is salvaged for parts?


  1. tom999p

    In that condition it will be parted out. I’ve seen complete Esprits of this era get parted out. It’s all about money nowadays, not about the preservation of a rare car…

    • Horse Radish

      Very sad fact.
      I have noticed that too.
      I always thought of the cars first and saved dozens.
      NOW, I got a long line in front of my house of people who want to make money off what I got.

  2. Chris

    I actually made the trip up to LA this past weekend to check this Lotus out. It was interesting to see but well over my head to bring back. It’s a long way from the MGs, Triumph and Austins I normaly work on. If it had not been so torn apart, it might have come home with me but with parts all over the place, I couldn’f even be sure it was all there.

    • tom999p

      Ya, finding the missing parts is the hard part. Very few of the parts for these cars are re-produced, and used parts suppliers aren’t cheap. This is one of those cars that you would need a second one behind the garage as a parts car, to make two into one….

  3. MikeG

    Sad. Probably should have waited to have a functioning car before the purchase of the engine management system.

  4. Horse Radish

    “The seller of this project Esprit does not waste much breath on details. “.

    You’re not exaggerating there.
    Seller sure was into detail dismantling it.
    This looks like it’s not even good for parts as EVERYTHING has been taken apart to the smallest detail.
    Unless you get a giant bucket with ALL screws and clips along with it (just kidding, of course).
    I am within 100 miles and I wouldn’t even go look at it……..

    • Chris

      My impression was that his plan was to restore each piece as replacement parts were so hard to find. Which I get but if you are going to do that you have to restore one at a time and put them back together as you go. Now it is just a big mess that is near impossible to figure out. It has potential but it would have to be a project of love by someone with lots of time to waste.

      • tom999p

        And also someone who knows S1 Esprits very very well!

  5. Chris H.

    Could be interesting as a resto-rod of sorts. If you’re inventive, you could transplant something a bit more lively for an engine, and go from there. It’s too far gone to properly restore at this market point. Maybe 20 years out that will be another story.

  6. Rancho Bella

    Sounds like Chris is south of L.A, as we down our way always say “up to L.A” and the Radish?………I can’t tell.

    I am within the 100 mile mark as well, but, a “pre” Esprit Lotus guy.
    I reckon someone will buy it for a parts car at a reduce price. Funny, just an hour ago I was removing some Strombergs from a 907 intake manifold……….what are the odds?

    The early Esprit are very light and with Italian design look very racy……then came big bumpers and that really killed it for me.
    The value just isn’t there considering the huge amount of money it needs.
    I’m sure the fellow had the best of intentions.

    • Chris

      You are correct sir, I am in San Diego.

      • Rancho Bella

        Chris, Encinitas………just moved from Point Loma

    • Horse Radish

      I am above everybody , lol…..

      …meaning High Desert north of L.A.

      • Rancho Bella

        Love the desert…….high or low

  7. Danny P

    I’ve seen the Turbo V6 from Buick Grand Nationals transplanted into these. That would waken up the performance to a respectable level. I believe the Buicks were aluminum blocks as well. So light?

  8. RickyM

    That is such a shame to see a great car in that state. That will be too much trouble and expense to complete – stripped down (even more) for spares I think.

  9. Tom

    Unless you’re a 100% concours guy, I don’t see the downside of this car especially if you’re patient and not looking to flip the car. This would be a great father-son project. Offer $3500 and maybe go $4000. Sell the engine and other bits not going to be reused and buy a Ford Ecoboost V6. That’d be one hell of an engine swap. Update the interior and you have a lot of weekends with your son and a really cool (and reliable) project after its all said and done.

    Honestly, I just don’t see this site and BAT as excellent websites to find a car to flip.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      I tend to agree, Tom – but only if you can get the price down a bit. These just aren’t valuable enough (yet) to pay someone for the privilege of putting their mess back together. But I do love the idea of making this S1 an Ecoboost-powered project!

  10. Cameron Bater UK

    This car appears to be mostly complete but unfortunetly needs a full body re-spray, for those of you that don’t know the Esprit was a car with a glass fiber body and whilst this means they’re fairly cheap to repair they do have one major downfall; when being sprayed an explosive build up of static can (and will) occour making them very time consuming and thus expensive to re-spray.
    Its a sad day when a Lotus dies but I’m afraid that this is a parter unless someone with very big kahoonas and/or pockets interveines.

  11. julian

    I think that its already been stripped for parts. otherwise why dismantle so much?
    I see no comment on the frame/chassis which will be the rusty part – if any.

  12. Tom Greenacres

    R; the “glass fibre body,” it is actually expanded urethane, made in a mold.

  13. dantheman

    I like the Buick transplant idea. The amount of unobtanium needed would make a restoration to original impractical. Might as well get some pep and use parts you can find..

  14. GlenK

    I could see this Lotus as a start to a good track car. Someone with Lotus knowledge, all the parts are there ready to mod as desired.

  15. John Engstrom

    Simi Valley project – Big project if you ask me, It would cost a lot more to restore than you could ever get out of it, both in terms of cash and your time. I might consider it, if it came with all the wine you can drink.

    • Robert J.

      OK, but stay hydrated. You’ll have enough of a headache to deal with already.

  16. John Fiskin

    This is a perfect candidate to be turned into a wet Nelly. Toss out all the drivetrain, put on some gadgets and fins, and paint it white. Then sell it at Barrett Jackson for 2 million.

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