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I’d like to talk about what it is actually like DRIVING an Esprit. The experience itself, to my reckoning has had 4 primary evolutions, the first being the addition of turbocharging, second, the Stephens revision, third, the addition of power steering, and lastly the extra cylinders. That’s not much for a car that from concept to last model enjoyed a 32 year life span. The funny thing, and I have driven several of each, is that provided the chassis is unmolested by an ambitious owner (I don’t think a Lotus suspension can be improved unless someone named Becker is involved…) they all feel remarkably the same.

The most honest reaction I have ever heard to a first drive came from my good friend Gatsby. (Gatsby isn’t his real name, but he is the kind of guy that can get away with saddle shoes and a bow tie, and anyway, if you are cool, one of your friends should have that nickname …)

Anyway, when you give Gatsby seat time in a car he has never driven, the test drive usually lasts half an hour or so. He’s pretty quiet while he is driving, save random observations about the experience. When he is done, you give him 2 fingers of good whiskey on some ice, and wait for the considered opinion.

The first time he drove a V-8 Esprit, after a spell, his summary was “that is a Sweet car”. With “sweet” being used in the literal sense of the word.

I think he is right.

So here we go. You push a button on the key fob. It enables the ignition. You get in, no, you plop onto the car (it’s low…) and are kind of surprised by how comfortable it is when you settle in. You can’t see much out of the rear window, and in the drivers seat, you will never actually see the hood line of the car due to its downward slope. Your feet cant toward the center line slightly because the wheel well intrudes. The shifter is a little forward of where it typically sits in a car, and you give it a little wiggle to make sure a gear isn’t engaged. The key goes into the ignition and forward one click. There is a whirring sound as the fuel system pressurizes. Then one more turn and the starter kicks on for a second or two.

The writers that wax endlessly about how English cars purr has never heard a 918, because…

BOOM!

The engine fires. It is an angry bark, which settles into an odd percolating sound, with the occasional pop from the exhaust. When the idle sets in, and the engine is finally at operating temperature, you can hear the valves over the other noises. It reminds me of the soft jingle of Christmas bells. Esprits, more than most cars, enjoy being woke up before you drive off.

You push the clutch in, (actually quite an easy effort unless its worn) slide the shifter into the first gear slot, and off you go. I always surprises me how much throttle you need to use to move away smoothly. First time drivers are always caught out by that.

The gear change is unfairly maligned in my opinion. Once you get to know it, it’s fine. It just doesn’t like to be hurried, but then again, neither does the transmission, and since you can break pretty much every speed limit in the world in second gear, it’s a moot point…

I should mention, again the noise the car makes when it is actually on the road. It is a deeper, bellow. The exhaust pops between shifts. It sounds angrier than you imagine a car of this elegance should, and louder. I really like that. The funny thing is that if you take the muffler off, it doesn’t get any louder, just “Fartier”.

The brake effort is firm, and the harder you push, the harder you stop. That can catch you out in traffic, as the people that follow you don’t have near the stopping power.

Speaking of other people, they generally don’t see you because of how low the car is, and when they do, invariably, they kind of drift into you because they are staring at you rather than what is ahead of you… …And everyone wants to have a go. Grannies in mini vans included. You learn to tune that out, and anyway, Esprits are best driven on quiet roads anyway.

The only way to truly get how fantastic an Esprit is, if you are lucky enough to pull it off, would be to drive one for a while. Long enough to let the quirks become unnoticeable, and then drive another manufacturers sports car. Over the same road it is astounding how the Esprit manages being both supple and responsive. Bumps and bruises on a road surface that would unsettle a normal car are mentioned by the Esprit, and then forgotten. When you lean on it into a corner you can feel the outside wheel slowly load up and the back of the car warns you that the limit is approaching. They are honest, direct, and confidence inspiring.

You can do all of the low speed throttle hopping gymnastics you would expect from a mid engined car, and because there is some wheel base here, the car is fairly easy to catch. But my favorite way to drive it is smoothly, listening to the tires through the seat and the steering wheel (I’m older now…)

It’s hard to say which passes more quickly, your fuel, or the time. The Esprit has a tendency to want to consume them both. In fact, when I first became an owner, it wasn’t uncommon for me to travel to a different state… …for eggs…

I always used to roll my eyes when car magazines compared the Esprit to other cars. This is a car you nit pick only of you haven’t a clue about driving. Most of the long time owners I know don’t really pay much attention to other cars, and neither do I.

So there it is, drive over. You coast to a stop, idle it for a few seconds to let the turbos slow done, and turn it off. The hard part is waiting for the excuse to have another go.

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