Project Exotic: 1988 Lotus Esprit Commemorative Edition

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The chance to get into a desirable sports car for far less than the going rate is always going to raise eyebrows. If you want to snag a performance icon for a fraction of the price, you’re going to have to make concessions – but how much are you willing to sacrifice? In the case of this 1988 Lotus Esprit, you’re getting a limited-production model for $11,000, but you’re going to push it or pull it onto your trailer – and continue moving it by hand in your garage – because it has no engine or transmission. Is it worth picking up?

The seller had plans to pursue a Renegade hybrid LS conversion when he brought home this Esprit, but has since abandoned those plans. I wonder how many of these stalled LS swaps we’re going to see over the years as enthusiasts get excited about taking on such a build and then encounter the usual assortment of life issues that get in the way. The seller admits that a new job, house, and family obligations are taking priority over this project and therefore, it’s up for grabs. While it looks rough and the interior is filthy, the Esprit also could be a respray away from shining once again.

Now, what’s interesting about the seller’s car is that he may have unintentionally purchased a fairly rare Commemorative Edition. Lotus sent 88 cars to the U.S. with this designation, and the tell-tale signs are there: the badge/plaque on the dash by the glovebox; the two-tone blue/gray interior; the all-white exterior with color-coded white wheels. It is almost certainly one of these special cars, which begs the question: should the next owner return it back to OEM condition with a genuine Lotus engine and transmission? I think so; what about you? Of course, seeing the exposed wiring under the dash reminds us this will be much more than a simple engine transplant.

The assortment of spare parts is helpful but not necessarily game-changing. The seller notes that the Esprit will come with “….engine bay trim, plus hardware, headlight pods, some extra headlight pod motors, extra parts which are not related to this specific Lotus and random fasteners.” This is a bit of a let-down as one would hope some aspect of the drivetrain would have been salvaged (I realize the seller is up front about the fact that none of those parts are included, but still!), so you’ll some work to do. I did check one online parts source for replacement components, and there’s an engine from a ’90 Esprit in South Carolina for $2,500 – who’s ready to rebuild an 80s performance icon? Find the Lotus here on Facebook Marketplace and thanks to Barn Finds reader Ryan for the find.

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  1. Rusty Frames

    $11,000? For this? Is the seller a Carney?

    Like 6
  2. Frank Sumatra


    Like 3
  3. Don

    Run, run away…

    Like 2
  4. David

    Be warned, not all Esprit Turbo’s are compatible with the Renegade Hybrid’s kit. Check with them before you buy an Esprit to convert.

    Like 3
  5. G Lo

    I’d much rather find one that’s complete. The only way you can justify taking on this project is if the price is less than $5k. Paint and interior alone are going to be high dollar.

    Like 6
  6. Mark

    First of all, it’s a 36yo British car . . .
    ‘Nuff said!

    Like 4
  7. Ed Schnurr

    Having worked on these, a few things pop to mind as I look at the photos.
    Wiring on passenger floor is just after market radio stuff plugged into factory harness.
    No sign of the instrument binnacle or gauges in any photos, also no sign of directional and wiper stalks or switch gear around steering column.
    There’s your 5K right there.
    This is a good motivation to start exercising…..start by running away from this car.
    It’s kind of too bad as these interiors were pretty nice when new with the blue leather and blue alcantera [sp?]
    And these were painted in pearlescent paint, either gold or blue base and then the pearlescent white applied. Had a bit of a moving color pallet as you walked around the car.

    Like 7
  8. Ryan K

    Great write up, Jeff!

    I think this car is tempting, personally—how many ratrod Esprits do you see out there? But the price is steep (perhaps fair due to the rarity; sorted Commemorative cars go for $50k), and it would take a special kind of person with deep pockets and lots of patience to finish this build.

    If I had the money and talent, I’d stick the V8 in there and leave the paint the way it is. A trailer park Esprit sounds awesome.

    Like 0
  9. CJC

    Run Forrest, Run

    Like 3
  10. Claudio

    Well, at least i have learned that a ls swap kit has been created for the cars !

    Like 0

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