Increasing In Value? 1978 Lotus Esprit S1

Raise your hand if you love exotic European sports cars.  Raise your hand again if you love exotic European sports cars and you can afford to buy one.  Lastly, raise your hand if you love exotic European sports cars, can afford to buy one, and can afford to maintain one!  Many of us have long been admirers of strikingly beautiful cars like this 1978 Lotus Esprit S1, but have never seriously considered owning one.  Is now an opportune time to pull the trigger on a car whose value has been steadily increasing over the past few years?  A car that is much rarer and more affordable (relatively speaking) than a Porsche 911?  (Am I the only one tired of 911s)?  This Esprit is listed for sale here on Craigslist in Woodstock, New York with an asking price of $37,500.

I admit, the seller ruined my argument about affordability by blowing the roof off the price.  In recent years prices of S1s have been all over the place.  Lotus produced only 718 S1s between 1976-1978 which makes them quite rare nowadays.  This car is #550 and comes in beautiful, presumed to be original, Oxford Blue.  It’s true, early Esprits weren’t known for reliability and earned the nickname “Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious.”  Many S1s needing repairs were neglected and didn’t survive, which is a bad thing but at the same time, that has added to their scarcity.

The Lotus 2.0 liter 4-cylinder mid-mount engine never struck fear in anyone’s heart, but since the fiberglass-bodied S1 only weighs 2,200 lbs., it is considered adequate.  Horsepower ratings are at 140 for the U.S.-sold Esprit, which is reportedly capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in just under 7 seconds.  The seller claims this S1 runs great and mated to a 5-speed manual, it’s lively on the road and maneuvers with enough grace and agility to match its gorgeous head-turning appearance.  During the 1970s European automakers were in competition to create the perfect wedge-shaped styling design and many will argue Lotus nailed it with the stunning looks of the Esprit S1.

Aftermarket alterations are fairly common in the Esprit world, and although the steering wheel seen in the above photo isn’t original to the car, the seller is still in possession of the authentic leather-wrapped wheel.  Believe it or not, the interior is likely original despite the color and texture of the seat coverings which appear in stark contrast to the dash and console.  The rich carpet-like material envelops the driver and passenger making it impossible to forget this car was designed in the 70s.  The S1 has the potential to reach iconic status someday but if you’re thinking of finally going all-in on an exotic European sports car, the pessimist will remind you of the reliability concerns of early Esprits.  In contrast, the optimist will point out that it costs less to fix and maintain an Esprit than it does a lot of other European exotics.  But unfortunately, at $37,500 the seller’s asking price may already be at the pinnacle of what these cars will be worth over time.


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  1. Francisco

    Does anyone remember when Julia Roberts ground the gears trying to drive a car like this in “Pretty Woman?” She impressed Richard Gere with her knowledge of the car, and even commented about the four cylinder engine.

    Like 3
    • SMS

      Think it was Richard Gere that ground the gears and so Julia took over the driving. Was such a good looking car

      Like 7
    • Jeepster Jeepster

      I do… It was a second generation Esprit (much rounder bodystyle) though, which even came with a V8 as an option!

      Like 1
  2. BarnfindyCollins

    Fellow I went to boarding school with drove a white one like this, sometimes he’d drive his dad’s brown Citroen SM ;another guy had a Porsche 928. I thought at the time they were both the far out sophisticated guys that would get into investment banking to keep their cars healthy. Andrew and Fred, hope you held on to your cool cars.

    Like 1
  3. CJinSD

    When I was a little kid, I thought 007’s Lotus submarine was incredibly cool. When I was a teenager, I spent an afternoon driving around in a Jensen Healey with a very similar engine to the one installed in the Esprit S1. Unless this thing is amphibious, the price is optimistic to the extreme.

    Like 6
    • Russell

      Think how much fun that “sub” would be (not) … the Lotus, as most cars, are designed that when driven the air flow pushes it down onto the road … amplify that effect in the thicker water … and the only direction that thing would have traveled is down. But still, for the time, a pretty cool idea.

  4. SMS

    Comparing this with the Mondial of the other day. My buddy had the Mondial and I was the lunatic with the Lotus. The Mondial QV a well tooled home garage could work on anything. With the Esprit it is almost the same, except some tools you need to make or modify for yourself. The suspension will have you scratching your head thinking of how to do it and if you do any work under the dash or in the foot box it will take you a week for your back to recover.

    The interior of the Ferrari is put together by craftsmen. Unfortunately some of the parts that they were given to work with don’t quite fit well. The Lotus, well the interior just didn’t seem that important.

    My buddy loved his Mondial for the sound, it was a convertible, and it was a Ferrari. I loved the Esprit for the engineering, one part was tasked with multiple jobs to reduce weight and add simplicity, which also added unreliability. The look also is fantastic. Redid the interior with better fabric, one I had looked like they mugged a car salesman.

    The best part though about an Esprit is driving it. They are not fast, especially the series 1 cars. They are light and stiff so they can take a corner. Will never forget the shocked look on the face of the P car driver who tried to follow me into a corner. He had twice the motor, and half again as much weight. Don’t think he understood that having less weight meant that you could take a corner faster, brake later and less.

    Have not followed the prices for Esprits but a S1 is the most fragile and the best driving one of the bunch.

    Like 4
    • Bruce

      Well said SMS. These are amazing cars if cared for properly. They are not great off the line but on a winding road there are very few cars that can keep up. I know because I own both an S2 Europa and a Turbo Esprit from 1989. The design is good and the only thing you need to do is replace some rubber lines with braided stainless steel lines because those become brittle over time and tend to crack over hot engine parts with the resulting fire that destroys the car. I would do the same thing to all the vacuum lines.

      I have driven Maseratis, Ferraris and a host of other English, German and Italian cars of my own and of friends and only the XKE brings as much attention as does the Esprits. All of them are eye grabbers because they are so low and so different. Compared to the recent exotic offerings they are elegant and simple. High stressed and needing frequent care yes but I have taken many long trips in mine with no trouble at all. Join a club and learn and meet all the new people that will gather around you because they just want to know who is lucky enough to own such a machine. I have had that happen often. This looks to be a good one.

      Like 1
  5. SebastianX1/9

    Lotus was always a racing team that made some road cars. That was their charm I think, they were genuinely exotic. In the 80s as a kid, to even know who/what Lotus were was being in-the-know about exotic euro things, or following F1. These 1970s ones are like delicate museum pieces at this point, almost prototypes.

    They’re also tiny inside, even for 6’2/200lbs, the 70s ones are too tight – and I drive a Fiat X1/9 occasionally! roomier.

    Like 2
  6. bobhess bobhess Member

    Agree the price for this early car is too high but like has been said, not too many early cars survived. Our business supported the local Lotus dealer in the mid ‘8Os. Better cars then and got even better when they put the V8s in them. If you own one don’t wreck it. They are a bear to work on and we made a lot of money repairing them. They are probably as much fun to drive as anything on the road.

    Like 3
  7. Michelle H Rand

    For a similar but cheaper driving experience, suggest the Europa.

    I’ve looked at S1s for some time, one with undocumented low miles hit over 80k at Gooding last year in Monterey. Certain of them sport very “Austin Powers” velour interiors. I just can’t live with that.

    Like 1
    • SMS

      The Europa is a fun car and has more of the feeling of a race car. The Esprit is more refined. Funny to use that word on a Lotus. Believe it or not my se7en was more reasonable as a daily driver than my Europa. There were always bits falling off or going sideways on the Europa. Don’t recall the Esprit ever leaving me on the side of the road. I will admit it may have been because the Europa was always full throttle and tossed around a corner. Only thing that matches it is an Elise

  8. Mark Epperson Member

    Lotus vs Porsche 911. I have always liked the styling and I am in the final stages of restoring a 1973 Jensen Healey. The Lotus engine sounds great and really starting pulling above 4000 RPM but I will take the 911 every time. I have owned 3 of those, all air cooled, and they are reliable, can be used as daily drivers and go like hell. Plus their engines are much better with the HP.

  9. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    Back in 2014 a consultant we used at my global pharmaceuticals company had these 2 Esprits for sale (this was a car show, Brits at the Beach, in Wilmington, NC). One of them was a V8 and the other was a turbo 4. He was asking a little over $20K for each of them and they were in essentially perfect condition with very reasonable mileage. I would have loved to buy either of them, but had other issues to deal with at the time. They’re obviously much newer than the instance car, but suggest that the asking price is a tad high.

    Like 1
  10. misterlou Member

    I’m a big fan of this series. George in Dublin decided to document the restoration of his Esprit in stop-motion animation.

    Like 2
    • SMS

      Thanks for introducing this. Looks very interesting.

  11. Paul T Root

    I lived 3 or 4 miles north on 212 of Woodstock back in The late 80s. I would love to get this car out on some of the roads up there.

  12. Dave

    My name is Dave I ended up with the Lotus in the article. Was sold to someone in Brentwood Ca. I live in the Bay Area also. The car was presented as only needing a throw out bearing and ended up being a worn out crank due to the input shaft going forward and wearing a large hole in the end where the piolet bearing goes which is common but very very costly to fix. I assumed that was all that was wrong with the car and got it for $26k little did I know the extent of things wrong with it like no turn or brake lights, bad master cylinder, distributor and module, fuel filet clogged solid, wood in rear engine bay rotted, bad carbs needing rebuild, no smog, headlights not going up or down, valve covers leaking tons of oil, radiator fans 2 of 3 not working, cheap paint job but was original Oxford Blue ca and the list goes on and on. Lucky I repair cars but it was a challenge. For the average guy to buy a car like this the repairs would have been approx. in the $25-$39k range for what I did. It is solid everywhere else and complete and original. But learn from my mistake research before you buy. A BIG Thank You to Joe at JAE and the Lotus forum or I would have been screwed

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