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In a move that was wildly expected and still completely stunning, Ferrari confirmed Kimi Raikkonen to a 2 year contract from 2014. I sort of wish I could have observed Fernando Alonso’s heart rate when he was made aware…

It s relevant to a blog about Lotus cars because it comes at the expense of our own team…

This news, while stirring to the bold of ANY Grand Prix fan, is less likely than the new engine regulations to end the soul destroying reign of that unlivable Sebastian Vettel, but it can’t hurt .

I can’t recall Ferrari management EVER recalling a decision, especially one as public and brutal as his sacking a few years ago. They literally paid him $20mm NOT to drive their car.

The last time the two best drivers were on the same team was the McLaren pairing of Prost/Senna pairing of the late eighties. Additionally, they had the services of Gordon Murray who, was the Adrian Newey of the time. It made for some dry entertainment…

As much as I love Lotus, and this IS a massive loss for them, Kimi belongs at Ferrari. In the other hand, Nico Hulkenberg is rumored to be Kimi’s replacement, and he is, along with Paul DiResta the best of the new drivers.

Let the fireworks begin.

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I had a quiet drive on Sunday. It was a half hour out and back. The temperature was in the low eighties, it was late afternoon and there was blissfully little traffic.

It was the first moment I was completely absorbed by this Esprit.

I should explain… …a car is a car, but in a car like this, there is a lot of other “stuff” happening while you are driving it that you don’t get in other cars. There are noises it takes getting used to, constant comments, and other reactions to the car from strangers, the disorientating way it cocoons you, the ride height, and the power to name some. It takes a while to sort of filter it out to the point that its just you and the machine.

Well, that has happened, and it is as I remembered it. In a word: sublime.

It’s funny how Lotus managed to combine the raw visceral violence of the 918 engine to such a polished chassis. I know to this day Roger Becker still whines about the V-8 being an “engine too far” and on some level I agree with him, (after several years in an Exige) but taken without regard to any other motorcar, the Esprit is a fascinating experience. I don’t suppose any other manufacturer has ever managed to combine supple ride quality and communication as successfully.

Anyway, more than anything else, the Esprit makes the physical act of DRIVING a car rewarding. I find now that I have enough “seat time” to disenfranchise myself from the fact that it is an exotic to get that now. Is funny, the car has been trying to have a conversation with me for almost a year, but this was the first time I actually listened…

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I’ve been driving.

It’s silly to people who are used to terrestrial cars to think like that, but to those who have had their eggs scrambled by an Esprit it’s saying something, and it’s thrilling. The car is behaving except an Ac fuse that keeps popping, a suspicious puddle that has formed under a coolant line, and a minor vacuum leak I have yet to suss out. My friendly Field Engineer Dave isn’t kidding when he says Esprits need a little “looking after” from time to time…

I have developed rhythm with the car, but I don’t suppose I will ever get “used” to it. The switchgear was familiar to me almost immediately, but it took some time to develop synchronicity with the machine. I am coming to know it very well. Ultimately, I don’t think I will have as complete an understanding of it as I have with my other Lotus cars. I am not tracking it, and only through driving a car at your limit do you ever really “get” it. Having said that, it’s devotion to business class travel, and the occasional spirited drive are really thrilling. I’m glad I have it in my stable.

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We have a VW SUV. It’s a great auto. In many ways much more complete a vehicle than the Esprit. I am “used” to it, and what I mean by that Is it can be piloted without much thought. You get in, synch your phone, select the sat nav destination, your xm radio station, climate, and before you know it, you are at your destination. It’s almost like it was designed to make travel comfortably forgettable.

With a sporting car, it isn’t the destination that matters, it’s the travel. After driving many more sports cars than I have a right to, and quite a few exotics, I can honestly say that only a few make the act of travel from point a to point b as entertaining and memorable as an Esprit.

I think that was the point of the exercise for Colin Chapman.

I am looking forward to the final service call of the year. It will feature tires, a radiator (bigger because I am paranoid, not because its necessary) a cat back exhaust, timing belts, and a couple of minor issues I have been living with. You never want to curse yourself by declaring a car like this “sorted” but at that point, I will be as close an a human can get with an Esprit.

I plan on running it this fall until the roads are too cold to support the horsepower.

There will be no “lack of use abuse” on my watch.

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I was in a rathskeller in Indianapolis a few years ago at a Lotus Owners Group ( http://www.lotuscarclub.org/ ) event hosted by the remarkable local club (Club House For Indianapolis Lotus Lovers, or CHILL for short… http://www.indylotuscars.com/home.html ) waiting for friends to show up and I noticed an older fellow sitting alone in the crowd. He looked familiar, so I walked up, stuck out my hand, and introduced myself. He smiled and confirmed my suspicion that he was, indeed, the legendary Lotus Racing mechanic Bob Dance.

I immediately asked him if he would like a pint, and to my amazement, he agreed and the hour and a half of occasionally extremely funny stories about life with Team Lotus remain a highlight of my ownership experience. (I mean, how many people can say that A.J. Foyt threw them out of his garage at the Brickyard…)

The story makes a couple of things obvious to me. First, if you aren’t active in a Lotus club at some point, you ought to be. I was a board member for a spell, and the people I met, and things I participated in will stay with me for the rest of my life. Second, how the predominantly “Elise” crowd could let a guy like Bob sit there unattended is way beyond me. Sadly, at the moment, the biggest asset Lotus has is nostalgia, and car owners are the curators of that. It seems to me like there is a pre Elise and post Elise culture that really haven’t come together, and that’s sad.

I’m sure I’ve blogged about it before but being a part of the community is a huge part of the ownership experience. There isn’t a company more open to its enthusiasts and that’s an offer sadly underutilized.

Anyway, I believe that Bob will be back this year at LOG, and I hope there are people there as passionate as the history of the company as I am, or, at least as willing to pop for the pints.

He deserves so much more.

There was quite a bit of driving yesterday. A business trip of almost 150 miles in 90 degree heat, with a cooperating cooling system,

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and dropping Nancy off, (yes, the same woman that vowed never to ride in that car again…) at a girls night. My field engineer Dave was praying for me. Oddly, his phone was not receiving calls while I was out and about…

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There was a betting pool in the office which made the arrival at my meeting small odds. It’s like these people know Esprits… But we proved them wrong.

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I’m still getting periodic small emissions leak fault codes, and I am still blowing ac fuses, but the miles are starting to add up. It’s little stuff, but the list is getting shorter. I’m getting more used to the size and, relative to an Exige, the insulation from what’s happening. (I.e. power steering, and dampers that actually move…)

My seller appears to have vanished. It’s fine. I’m having fun at the moment.

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Another summer weekend, another memorable time with the Esprit. For the moment my buyer has vanished and I am not entirely displeased.

I effected a decent repair to the chin spoiler that will do until the new one comes, (thanks for the help, Nancy) and spent Saturday chauffeuring my father in law about the suburbs in search of a new car.

It was a good test, because it was hot, and I wanted to see how the cooling system reacted, post bleed, for extended stop and start driving in summer heat.

In short, it was fine. I even ran the air conditioning with no issue save a wonky idle until the car learned how to manage it again. A few more weeks like this and I might start to trust it.

I suspect that the car, now known as “Christine” (after the Steven King novel) was aware that she could create the most amount of havoc by running. You see, if its me and or Nancy and I, her play is to fail and inconvenience us with the misery of a broken car, but if she can scare the life out of another passenger, she decides to run well. Having an ex-wife has hardened me to this type of malice…

I should also mention that when Field Engineer Dave found out what I was up to he told me he was shutting his cell phone off. With strategists like that, it’s still a wonder the British lost in Yorktown.

On the way to pick poor f-i-l (Al) up I let the car off the chain a bit while merging onto the expressway. I’m still shocked by how the car adds speed, and even though it is a much bigger car than an Exige, it has that connection between the steering wheel and the front tires that can only be described as “lotus-like”. It’s directness still amazes me, especially when I have been driving other cars for a while.

The rear end of a V-8 esprit is another matter entirely. They don’t listen nearly as well, but if you know it’s going to happen, you can plan for it.

In a nutshell, that’s the biggest difference between the Esprit and the Exige: in the former, you plan your moves for maximum speed (and in order to stay out of the hedges…), and the latter simply reacts to whatever you are doing at any given moment. I suppose that’s what a thousand pounds and several standard deviations more chassis flex leaves you with.

In fairness, my Exige never effected the rotation of the earth when I stepped on the gas pedal…

For the duration of the car shopping venture with Al, I basically drove like a car thief. I haven’t done that in a while, and it’s pretty cool to feel the loads that an angrily driven supercar can supply. I have no idea how people manage the modern beasts with their capabilities, I suspect a lot of it is computer related, but I can honestly say I have my hands full with this car.

When Al finally got out of the esprit for the last time, I asked him if he knew “why the English put leather on their seats?”. He didn’t. I chuckled, and said “because when a passenger shits them self you can clean it up with a soapy rag”.

He vowed never to ride along again.

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The damn car ran perfectly all weekend, and I actually went a few places.

I was struck by three things while I drove around the suburbs.

First, people still stare at it, talk to me about it, and take cell phone pictures of it. From the guy at a gas station with the SCCA course Marshall stickers all over his van, to random teens on the interstate, it still captures people. I think I could live without that.

Second, the ride quality is much more supple than our VW Tiguan. Lotus really is magical over bumps. How they do grip AND ride compliance is one of the great mysteries of life… (Thanks Roger…)

Lastly, the ruthless way this car puts speed on still catches me off guard. It is next to violent, and extremely seductive. I suppose it’s elemental that a passenger riding in a supercar should be uncomfortable under full throttle, and this beast qualifies.

I am finishing up the odd jobs necessary to complete its recommissioning. Then I am hoping for that golden period where I get to enjoy it for a while.

I haven’t heard from the prospective buyer. I suspect he was using my car as leverage to buy another one. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that, but the chorus of people telling me NOT to sell it is pretty large, including, astonishingly, Nancy…

Dave the Field Engineer was confound by that one. He ask me to rush her to the emergency room to be tested for delirium, and I myself don’t think she could believe the words blowing through her teeth, but there it is.

Anyway, more to follow…

A funny thing happened this weekend. The Esprit ran perfectly. No codes. No temp. No flat battery. When they are working, they really are sublime.

It was awkward.

My friend T.J. has a buyer for it. Apparently some brave soul was looking at another car and demurred. My aggravation has turned to fatigue and its being considered.

The decision to let it go is massive.

Bizarrely, the one person most against selling it is Nancy. Ether this is brilliant reverse psychology, because I know in her eyes the car is completely unloved, or she remembers the incessant whinging from the last time I was Esprit-less.

I need to wash it in order to take pictures. If nothing falls off it will be tough to let it go. I’ve given myself the afternoon to boil.

Watch this space.

Electricity-gate seems to be well sorted. I had the battery tested and it had a blown cell. It literally boiled out the side. Even though the nitwit at pep boys could see that, she still made me have it tested. It scored worse than I did in high school geometry (that was time I will never get back anyway…). Battery exchanged. Once replaced, I tested the volts for a few days and all is good with the charging system.

Is never easy. on the test drive, I had a fault code. The dreaded P1460, which is the relay for the ac motor. I replaced that, and I still had the MIL come on, so I went crying to T.J. Waszak who, acting partly as a tech, and partly as my Lotus shrink, walked me through the “dummies guide to the ac circuit”. It was a fuse. Score one for the power probe. Replaced. then I went on a short hop to check. Ac blasting. No code. Fantastic.

Do short drives to check repairs count as summer driving miles?

Anyway, T.J. Is a god among men for having the patience to work me through that one. If you have a chance to work with him, do it. He really is fantastic.

I was euphoric. the car was really doing its thing, and i envisioned a summer full of driving, until I noticed the temp gauge creeping…

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Now, let me be clear as a glass of gin about this, I would NEVER let a v-8 overheat. Ever. I have seen how that movie ends. I was close to, CLOSE, to 110 and waiting for the fans to pull me back down.

Since I JUST replaced coolant hoses, my suspicion is the crappy little plastic line from the top tank to the spare in the wheel well. I’ll proof that tonight. I’m not so concerned about the radiator since I intend to replace it anyway.

My wife, and chief critic Nancy, asked me how it was going, and I told her it was great. When she was done raining on me for bullshitting her, and digested the facts, she told me that the cars name was “Christine”, after the car in the Stephen King book.

I can tell that I am making progress with her because that’s actually more funny than vicious. In another 30 or so years, she may actually agree to ride in it again.

The funny thing is even though it has been kind of a problem child, I have driven it more to this point in the year than I would have driven the Exige.

Le chemin de la bĂ©atitude est longue…

The web is a funny place for Lotus. Since its such a small manufacturer, the number of people that spent time developing a presence for them is negligible. Since the Esprit has been out of production for some time, the majority of fan sites devoted to it are antiquated.

Take Karl-Franz Marquez site: http://www.espritfactfile.com
It hasn’t been updated since 2009, however, it does a generally good job of describing the buying and owning process in the early part of the decade. It also has a cute “code of ethics” for exotic car owners which is fine if you are into that kind of thing. He spent some time on it back in the day, but it’s more of a time capsule at this point.

Another one that makes me chuckle is: http://www.metalasylum.com/evilyn/main.html

That one has a story about a 112 day stretch in the pokey for speeding, a car with a name, and a heavy metal soundtrack. Not really updated in 7 years, though.

There are also a number of sites documenting people taking a number of ruined cars and combining them into one running one. It would be mildly disturbing to realize that is where your car came from, but it’s really none of my business, and I sure as hell can’t cast stones at “problem child” Esprits, can I?

The car clubs, SELOC, Lotus Limited, Lotus Corps, etc all have sites too, and they do a functionally good job of managing club affairs online.

Www.lotusespritworld.com is really the monster site for Esprits. It aggregates owners sites, archives press coverage, has a useful classifieds section, technical section, buying and operating section, and generally tries to stay updated. I particularly appreciate the dialog they have with the factory about cross referencing out of production parts. (And their support of this blog…)

The two main online forums I tend to visit (mostly as a stalker these days) are the yahoo group “turbo esprit” which has been around forever, and lotustalk.com which was founded by a pretty cool guy named Randy Chase (massively quick autocrosser too). Culturally the difference between the two couldn’t be more stark. For instance, a cursory scan of posts on the yahoo list reveals these topics:

“New speedo cable, how do you remove the old one”
“Poor running 89se, code 65 help”
“Speed bleeder size for v8 Esprit, AP brakes”
Or, “does anyone know this car” (good one, that)

On lotustalk, you find stuff like:

“What mods would u get it u win powerball.”
“Anyone wear earplugs while driving?”
“Elise versus Evora, which turns heads more?”
Or my favorite, “OMG friend wretched my week old Lotus”

I think that kind of speaks to the type of guy that buys an Esprit or an Elise at this point. However, as a matter of course, there are a list of things that identify you as a tugger there too.

If your car has a huge stereo, you are a tugger. If it has a name that is a made up word, you are a tugger. If your car has neon, or graphics, you are a tugger. Lamborghini style doors too. Huge rims, Supplemental body work, racing seats and harnesses, (unless you actually track the car), unnecessary gauge clusters, and snarky vanity plates all qualify too.

Sadly the kind of person that believes they can actually improve on the work Lotus Cars does is also the kind who makes web sites about it. The people that work on them and drive them are just not that interested. So it’s kind of skewed.

And then there’s me. I’ll leave it to you to decide where I fit.