350 V8 Powered: 1988 Lotus Esprit SE

When considering that the Lotus Esprit is an attractive, mid-engine sports car built in the United Kingdom, most folks who stumbled upon this article probably wondered to themselves, “why does an article about a British sports car have a title with one of Chevrolet’s most popular ad campaigns?” If you guessed that this particular 1988 Lotus Esprit SE that’s available here on eBay features a Chevrolet V8 engine under the hood – you are exactly correct!

This Lotus is available in Fair Lawn, New Jersey with a clean title. The seller purchased the vehicle from an estate sale in Florida and believes that the engine swap occurred in the mid-1990s.

At some point about a year ago, the exterior of this Esprit received a paint respray in the original red color, and some exterior graphics were also applied at the time. The vehicle features the factory staggered wheels that use Hankook Ventus V12 Concept 2 tires; the front wheels have 205/50/15 size tires, and the rear wheels have 245/50/16s.

The interior has a tan leather theme with some changes, such as aftermarket floor mats and an Alpine stereo. This past February, the seller replaced the tachometer, and other gauges include a 170-mph speedometer, an analog clock, fuel level, coolant temperature, oil pressure, and oil temperature. Unfortunately, the fuel gauge is inaccurate when the tank is below a quarter full.

As previously mentioned, the original 4-cylinder engine was replaced by a 350 cu.-in. Chevrolet V8 engine, which pairs to a 5-speed Renault transmission to power the rear wheels. The odometer was reset after the engine swap and shows approximately 18,000 miles, and the engine has upgrades such as an aluminum intake manifold, a four-barrel carburetor, headers, and more. Additionally, the drivetrain received maintenance this past February, as well as an alternator and a “general tune-up.”

At the time of publication, bidding is at $10,225 and the auction has no reserve. What do you think of this Chevrolet-powered Lotus?

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Great combination of chassis and running gear. Was the go to shop for paint and body work on these for the dealer in the ’80s. Paint was never a problem with these cars but the fussy 4 cylinder, especially the turbo, was a challenge. The last version has a V8 in it but the 350 small block for the earlier cars changes the whole feel of driving one for the better.

    Like 10
    • RayT Member

      I’m not sure the Renault gearbox was up to the task, though. I put one in my R16 and it was happy with ~ 85 bhp, but surely the SBC is more powerful….

      Did Lotus beef up the chassis and brakes for their own V8? I’d be surprised if they didn’t, and I’d certainly want to know what the builder of this car did to accommodate the bigger engine. And I think I would at least replace it with an aluminum-block version nowadays. “Add lightness,” you know.

      Like 19
    • Tim

      @bobhess wrote: “the 350 small block for the earlier cars changes the whole feel of driving one for the better.”

      I beg to differ. On an open road like a freeway, the Esprit V8 as the flat-out acceleration to run away from an Esprit S4s with it’s 2.2 4-cylinder. Anyone could get into an Esprit V8, step on the pedal and go fast. But get into a tight twisting road where you need to know what you’re doing and work at it, and a well driven Esprit S4s has no difficulty keeping up with a V8.

      The ethos of a Chapman era Lotus is it’s light weight, balance, steering that talks to you, effortless good handling, and ‘momentum driving’. If you don’t have to slow down going into the corners, then it doesn’t matter how quickly you accelerate out of them. Anything that compromises all that… is not an improvement. I have a hard time believing that plunking a 5.7 liter iron-block lump into the middle of that balanced handling changes it “for the better”.

      A friend owned an ’88 Esprit like this one, but stock. We were at a track day, and I was riding shotgun. Toward the fast end of the very long straight, he says, “I need to sell this car!”. =8<0 I said, "What!?" He continued, "I drove a guy's Mustang this morning, big engine, massive horsepower, pinned you to the seat under acceleration. It was exciting because it scared the crap out of me. This Esprit is super competent, it does everything I ask it to do without getting out of shape or making a fuss. I really don't have much sense of how fast I'm going until I look out the window and realize everyone else is going backwards. That last car we just drove by… that was the Mustang from this morning."

      He was right, we were flying down the long straight, not braking for sweeping turn 1 at the end, comfortable, having a conversation without raising our voices. And everyone else was going backwards.

      A Chapman-Lotus was a driver's car! Light, well balanced controls, and amazing handling. Anything that takes away from that, even if it makes your eyes bleed under straight line acceleration, is not a change 'for the better'. If you want a drag racer, buy a big-horsepower Mustang.

      Like 8
  2. Walsh

    Thats CHEAP.

    Like 4
  3. Blueprint

    Went RNM on BaT recently

    Like 7
  4. Goober

    No worries about changing motor? Put a Chevy 350 in a Mopar and watch minds go…..sideways. nice car, just keep em running.

    Like 2
  5. DayDreamBeliever Member

    Anyone besides me wonder if any air at all is drawn through those two fancy air filters? Has me scratching my head……

    Like 15
  6. sparkster

    Time for a EFI system or a nice aluminum LS conversion. Much easier for a cold air intake rather then that goofy “air mask” type their using now.

    Like 6
  7. KEVIN L HARPER

    It doesn’t look bad, but I wouldn’t touch it.
    Transmission will not last.
    Lotus spent a lot of time getting the Esprit balanced, that is all gone.
    I just drove an Alfa Montreal and was reminded how much balance matters. An alfa 105 GTV is an excellent handling vehicle and a joy to drive. The Montreal is a 105 chassis also but with a v8 and it is a pig.

    Like 8
  8. beaudog

    Might want to read the comments on BAT, seems to be a lot of questions about history, VIN’s and the seller’s honesty…

    Not trying to flame anyone, just mentioning.

    Like 9
  9. Mark Haigler

    Sometime in the mid-1990s, I purchased a nearly complete project Esprit S2 that had a Ford SHO motor installed. I learned a lot from that project. First was the gearing was completely wrong, 1st gear was worthless and the handling suffered from the extra weight. At considerable expense, we were able to change the final drive and made some improvements to suspension with stiffer springs. The one thing I really learned was it is impossible to out-engineer Lotus. The transmission in this car has a lot of power to deal with, it might be a problem. My suggestion is, if you want an Esprit, get a stock one.

    Like 12
  10. Yorik

    Hoo boy. Any perspective buyer should read through the BaT comments on this one! I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

    Like 11
  11. Ken Jennings

    I can think of many 4 cylinder power plants that would be inexpensive and powerful, plus easier to live with rather then the original. Chryslers 2.2 turbos for one. Lots of reliable power and the balance and room to work in the engine compartment still there. I have big hands, but even my wife couldn’t work on this one.

    Like 4
  12. grant

    Derp dee dee. Let’s put a tree fiddy in it Bubba.
    Ruined.

    Like 7
  13. luke arnott Member

    Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious!

    Like 1
    • Tim

      Countered by…
      Leave Out The Usual Stereotypes,
      Less Of The Usual Stupidity,  and…
      Chapmanesque:
      Leave Off The Un-necessary Stuff.  (ie, “Add lightness & simplify”)

      And all the rest:
      Lots Of Thrills, Usually Sideways.
      Lots Of Tickets, Usually Speeding.
      Lovely On Twisties, Unbelievably Sporty.
      Lots Of Thrills, Usually Sensational.
      Lots Of Testosterone, Usually Sensational.

      Like 3
  14. Bruce

    I have a 1989 Esprit sitting in my garage as I write this and I can assure you without hesitation that this will be an evil handling pig of a car that will trash the transmission in short order. It is not the power but the torque that will chew up the transmission and they are no longer made. Parts are getting hard to find (read in really expensive) as well.

    The Esprit is all about balance and there is a considerable weight difference between the two engines. That extra weight will also mess up the braking.
    One of the big problems with my era of Esprit is that the factory put foam below the gas tanks and over time that foam pick up moisture and will cause the gas tanks to leak. I am almost certain that the builders of this did not pick up that problem and a total rebuild to replace the existing tanks with either Stainless Steel or Aluminum tanks will be a massive job but one that will be required. In case you do not believe that this is a problem there is a company in England that is making new ones on order that exactly meet the specifications and dimensions of the existing tanks to be replaced but in a much more expensive material.

    I have had little or no trouble with my car. While there are some faster cars out there now it is so much fun to drive who cares. As for looks it is as good as the newest Ferrari or Lambo’s to the general public. But the operational costs are just a fraction as much.

    I had only one electrical problem over the years with the ignition and that was a GM part. I am beginning to smell some gas fumes so I guess I will be pulling the engine and replacing the gas tanks on mine but before you purchase this one, drive one that has not been modified. You will understand why a company that has designed and built many successful Formula One cars over the years kinda knows what they are doing. I would stay away, this is not just a dog but I suspect a rabid one.

    Like 13
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      The other issue with torque is managing to get it to the transmission. If you watch a video of the subject car, it appears as though the clutch can’t transfer the power properly, even at moderate throttle.

      This is a “Fright Pig” for sure.

      Happy to read that you are enjoying your ownership of an Esprit. And that you are wide awake regarding what it takes to continue that experience.

      Like 3
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      This car certainly goes against Chapman’s mantra of “adding lightness”.

      Like 6
  15. Bret Wills

    It seems like Bring a Trailer is now short for ‘bring a trailer full of cash’!

    Like 3
    • Tin Box

      Nah, just short of people wanting to pull a pin on a hand grenade lol

      Like 1
  16. JS

    Boat anchor.

  17. Gerry Slotkin

    If the previous owner wanted a Chevy engine, why didn’t he just buy a Chevy truck. It’s really absurd. Wouldn’t touch this, and good luck to anyone who does.

  18. DayDreamBeliever Member

    Kevin’s link does not work anymore, but the car is still on eBay:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/1988-Lotus-Esprit/233585051310

    Bid over $15K… Could be that someone will be buying a bit of trouble….
    And I’ll be wondering whether it may wind up relisted very quickly for any number of reasons.

  19. Patrick Anderson

    Images of Richard Gere scratching gears in a Lotus in “Pretty Woman “. If you can’t find ’em, grind ’em, baby!

    Like 2
  20. Tim

    @RayT — The Esprit SE-onward used a Renault transaxle, it just wasn’t the same one that was in your R16. The Renault UN1 in the SE was rated for 232 Lb-Ft of torque. It was later massaged a bit, and the torque rating was bumped up to 295 Lb-Ft. I don’t know what this Esprit’s Chevy 350 puts out, but a 1967-68 with 4 barrel carb put out 380 Lb-Ft @ 3200 rpm. Not a perfect match.

    The Esprit V8’s chassis was basically the same as that of the S4 & S4s. The tubes that formed the lower part of the rear bulkhead ‘hoop’ were re-shaped to make room for the dual exhaust and twin turbos, but the structural strength was about the same.

    I’d be more concerned about the plain old dead weight of the iron block 350, and what that has done to the stock Esprit’s balance and great handling. There’s more to ‘performance’ than a kick in the back when you step on the throttle, and Lotus has built it’s reputation on stellar handling. I suspect that handling has probably taken a hit due to the installation of the heavier 350 V8.

    Like 4
  21. Victor Anderson

    The weight of the chevy motor will ruin the cars handling, the transmission will fly apart in bits first time you punch the gas, and this will all happen in the 5 minutes you will have to drive it before it overheats.
    I saw an early Esprit with a corvette motor in it once before in the mid-80’s. The guy ended up putting tiny little skinny tires on the front of it and using it as a drag racer because it was useless as anything else. Really a more logical transplant would be to put a aluminum rover v8 engine in it. No extra weight and you’d be able to match the torque and such better to match the car, but you’d still get yer nice rumbly v8. (if you can keep it from over heating).

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