The story of Lotus’ V8 Esprit concept project

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Lotus Esprit rendering

While Lotus’ 2010 Esprit concept never made it past the styling stage, there was a fully functioning prototype of its all-new in-house hybrid V8.

Remembering the Dany Bahar era at Lotus can sometimes feel like recalling the details of an insane fever dream. The vapid ‘brand lifestyle’ magazines printed on paper so glossy it was like trying to read condensed milk. The ‘boutique’ shops selling expensively confected luxury goods while the road car range still hinged on the aged and basic Elise. The 2010 Paris motor show press day when a random grab bag of celebrities including Naomi Campbell and frizzy haired badger enthusiast Brian May pulled the covers off five brand new models while Sir Stirling Moss popped up to proclaim that if he was 50 years younger with one of these cars, ‘well you’d pick up all the girls, wouldn’t you?’ Seriously dude, feel my head, I think I’m running a bit hot.

The minds at Lotus were clearly fevered too, since they honestly reckoned they’d have five all-new cars ready for sale within six years (plus a hybrid city car, made in partnership with then-owner Proton). It was a scheme of such towering ambition that even a well-resourced megacorp such as Toyota or Volkswagen would think twice about giving it a shot, never mind showing their hand by revealing ‘concept’ versions of the entire future portfolio, having designed and built all six from scratch in just ten months.

It seemed like a lot of flim-flam, but there was a small sliver of substance behind it because in Norfolk work was under way on production versions of these concepts, starting with the new-generation Esprit. This one sounded promising, and it got a whole lot more intriguing when Bahar, perhaps still giddy from Parisian afternoons with Brian May, decided to bin its adapted Lexus V8 and instruct Lotus engineers to confect an in-house engine instead.

Plenty of CAD work was completed on its basic packaging and performance, and the designers were adapting the show car’s looks to be feasible for production, but it was all a long, long way from finished. The slick-looking Paris motor show car was little more than a glassfibre styling model fitted with electric motors that allowed it to move (slowly) onto the stage. Whereas the engine did reach the fully functioning prototype stage. According to Bahar boasts at the time, it was good for 425kW in league with optional KERS, and claimed to be 80 kilos lighter and 40 per cent smaller than the bought-in V8 it had usurped. The new motor had been run on a dyno and got so far as to be installed in a hacked-about Ferrari 458 for real-world testing before the roof fell in on the House of Bahar.

The man himself was dismissed in 2012, the magic money tap that was funding his plans ran dry, and the lone powertrain mule was written off in an accident, never to be replaced. With Bahar’s departure, the other Paris cars were quickly declared dead, but the Esprit remained a ‘live’ project until 2014 when new boss Jean-Marc Gales pulled the plug. The promising new hybrid V8 would never get to be anything more than an aborted engineering project.

As a side note, a source tells us that the Esprit revealed at the 2010 Paris show has not been junked and still lives at Hethel, where it serves as a reminder for those working on the Evija hypercar to ‘do things properly this time’.

Richard Porter

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