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1978 LOTUS Esprit S1

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1978 LOTUS Esprit S1


We’re enjoying a rich crop of Esprits at The Market just now, but this is the only S1 – the earliest and the purest of the breed.

It’s the closest, therefore, to the original concept of what the Esprit should be. The shape was created by Giorgetto Giugiaro for the Turin Show in 1972, all sparked off by an excellent lunch with Colin Chapman some six months earlier. The concept was based on a slightly enlarged Europa Twin-Cam backbone chassis. Indeed, the Esprit was intended as a direct replacement for the Europa Twin-Cam.

Guigiaro’s dazzling concept ensured it would be something much more. But turning Italdesign’s vision into a car Lotus could actually build, and which people could really drive, took another three years.

When the model launched in late 1975 it turned heads like nothing else. Lotus’s resourceful PR Manager Don McLaughlin famously took advantage of this by parking one outside Pinewood Studios until it caught the eye of James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. After The Spy Who Loved Me, everyone in the world knew the Esprit.

And while the production version neither swam nor fired missiles at passing helicopters, it did all the things expected of a Lotus: track-car cornering powers, wonderful steering, fizzing twin-cam energy. It wasn’t supercar fast when compared with exotic rivals, but the later Turbo fixed that. In the meantime, you were so close to the road and so diverted by the car’s dramatic interior that it felt every bit as fast as you expected.

Later Esprits became more civilised, more powerful, heavier and more garnished with skirts and spoilers. Put a stopwatch on them and they’d probably beat an S1 round a track…but that’s not really the point, is it? If you’ve clicked on this listing, you’ve already been drawn in by the charm of one of Britain’s bravest and most exciting sporting classics.

Don’t forget – the Esprit lasted almost 30 years, right into 2004, and gave Lotus a seat at the top table amongst names like Porsche, Ferrari and Maserati. And if you want to find out where the legend began, you need look no further than this S1 example.

The Vehicle

This car is chassis 342; chassis numbers for the S1 started at 100 so this would seem to be the 243rd example built from fewer than 300 right-hand drive S1s. It was first registered on April 20th 1978, a few months before the S2 displaced the S1.

It has only recently been acquired by our vendor. He has three other Esprits already, but when a friend of his found this car and passed over the details, he bought it. Our vendor says the previous owner had the car for 37 years, during which it has clearly been restored, with a re-paint and an interior re-trim. Our vendor also believes the engine has been rebuilt with a different cylinder head; the original head comes with the car.

There is, however, no written history or receipts for this work, or for any aspect of the car’s history barring an RAC Vehicle History Check and a V5C. It was last MoT’d around four years ago and previous MoT history shows it to have done little mileage in recent years. It’s registered correctly as an Historic Vehicle and as such, is MoT exempt and attracts a zero rate of road tax.

This Esprit would benefit from a standard round of servicing or recommissioning work, plus a cam-belt change. It has a few minor flaws but just needs using rather any further restoration. The vendor drove it 70 miles to our premises and says it runs better than the Esprit S1 he already has. As such, and because of the missing printed history, it’s one to buy on condition.

On the Outside

It’s always been red – the re-paint was done in the original shade. It’s rather good, though there’s probably room for perfecting it with a professional flatting and machine polish. The vendor points out that the car’s rear valance is from a Series 2 Esprit – if you spotted that, award yourself ten points!

The windscreen is starting to delaminate in the corners, but probably not to the extent that it would fail an MoT. Still, a job for a couple of years down the line.

The wheels have been powder coated and look very smart and unmarked, but they should really be polished alloy. The vendor suggests having them dipped, stripped and polished up to regain the full 1970s appeal. The tyres, Falken items with plenty of tread left, appear to have a date stamp from ten years ago and should probably be replaced despite their youthful appearance. Each wheel is secured with a locking nut.

Those distinctive pop-up lamps behave themselves, not only emerging on cue but lighting up correctly too. The badges and decals are all good and the rubbery black surrounds to the rear lamp clusters and numberplates are intact, but authentically bendy with age. Unlike the bumpers, which are straight and unscratched – this car comes across as having led a sheltered life since its restoration.

On the Inside

Welcome to acres of excitingly contoured Marcasite, the soft-touch material somewhere between the moleskin of a posh chap’s trousers and the mouse hair of a Lamborghini’s dashboard. Lotus used it extensively after the tartan cloth interiors of the early S1s proved too time-consuming and costly to produce, and it works very well.

This one has been re-skinned throughout, and to a very good standard. The texture of the material shows up every brush or hoover mark, but at least you can tell it’s been cleaned. If anything, the fresh fabric makes something of a contrast with the patina of the switchgear, the steering wheel and so on, but it will doubtless settle even better with more use.

The tachometer needle is stuck against the glass face of the gauge, which is something these earlier Veglia dials like to do – the needle warps over time. It’s not a difficult fix (dismantle, add spacers, reassemble) and it’s worthwhile, as these green-faced Veglia dials are much cooler than the black Smiths items that replaced them in the S2.

The electric windows operate as slowly and fitfully as they always did in Esprits, but they do operate. The carpets are smart and new, the carpets in the boot area have been replaced except for the two which cover the wheel arches, they are still original. The originals on the wheel arches were in good condition so the previous owner left them and didn't fit the replacements. But they are included. In the front compartment is a full-sized front wheel carried as a spare – be aware the Esprit, like many mid-engined cars, uses different sized tyres front and back. In this case it’s 205/60 R14s on the front and 205/70 R14s on the rear. There is no jack, however.


For car with very little use in the last four years and not a great deal in the years before that either, it’s notably well behaved. The vendor says it starts, idles and runs very well, without any popping on the over-run or hesitation, and indeed it conveyed him across 70 miles of British roads without complaint.

The engine bay is impressively clean with fresh-looking red HT leads and some blue silicone hoses that detract a little from the original look, but which will last better than rubber. There is a very sturdy braided steel fuel line with red anodised fittings. It does indeed resemble an engine with a rebuild in its fairly recent past; the car is showing 92,590 miles and we’d assume a small fraction of those have been covered since the work was done.

Peering further underneath, you find more encouraging signs in the form of smartly painted, clean suspension components, brakes and transmission. The chassis structure of an Esprit is hard to assess thanks to the extent of the backbone that’s hidden within the body shell, but what can be seen gives no cause for worry – the vendor says the previous owner was very keen on Waxoyl.

Once again, the impression down here is of a car with few miles under its belt since expensive refurbishment.

History Highlights

Nothing to detain you here – the vendor never received the paper history from the previous owner, so we have only a V5C showing four previous keepers and an RAC history check confirming no nasty surprises in the car’s past.

There are two old tax discs, two pairs of keys and an Esprit owner’s handbook, which at least adds a touch of period reading matter to help you get to know your new purchase.

What We Think

WPC 169S is a rare car. RHD Esprit S1s were never common and the vendor, a confirmed Lotus nut, reckons there are about 50 on the road these days. As interest in Esprits has soared in recent years, so the cult of the S1 has grown too. But this one hasn’t been painted white and given a tartan interior to mimic the first Bond car, this is in original specification and retains that pure appeal.

We think it will sell for between £40,000 and £50,000. Esprit values have been climbing steadily for a few years but it’s the special editions that really grab top dollar – Essex Turbos, S2 John Player Specials, later Sport 300s and so on. That leaves S1s looking more affordable and indeed, rather good value compared to a 308 GTB, a Merak or a Urracco.

If it were up to us? Strip and polish those wheels, get the rev counter working and give it a real birthday as far as service items went. Then use it…a lot. It’s right in the sweet spot: below concours condition but much nicer than anything you’d have to excuse by saying ‘yes, it’s a bit edgy, but it’s a driver’. It’s an appealing, honest car, and it deserves attention.

If needed, please remember we have a network of suppliers we work with regularly including: Classic & Sportscar Finance for purchase-financing, Footman James for classic car insurance, Classic Concierge for storing your car plus we have a list of contacts who can help with transport and shipping.  

BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings available, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles for sale. We offer far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange inspections for each vehicle thoroughly prior to bidding than traditional auctions, and we never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this. We do take a good look at the vehicles delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or the result of a long test drive.

Also, localised paint repairs are common with collectable and classic cars and if they have been professionally carried out then they may be impossible to detect, even if we see the car in person. So, unless we state otherwise, please assume that any vehicle could have had remedial bodywork at some point in its life.

Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.

Please note that this is sold as seen and that, as is normal for used goods bought at auction, return policy does not apply. See our FAQs for more info, and feel free to inspect any vehicle as much as you wish.

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  • Location: Abingdon, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
  • Odometer Reading: 92590
  • Chassis Number: 78010342G
  • Engine: 1973
  • Gearbox: Manual
  • Steering position: RHD
  • Colour: Red
  • Interior: Black marcasite
  • Estimated Price: £40,000 - £50,000

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