Jake Kamphoefner, who lives near East St. Louis, Ill., and I have become close friends over the past 10 years through the car enthusiasts community. When the Lotus Esprit debuted in 1976, few would have expected the platform to last nearly 30 years. However, Lotus continued to refresh the model periodically, updating the mechanicals, exterior panels, interiors and continuously adding power.
By 1995 Lotus had managed to push 300 horsepower out of the tiny 2.2-liter I-4 turbo engine, but it was about to lose a huge market for the Esprit as U.S. emissions regulations became more restrictive.
The solution came in a brand-new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-8. It was introduced for the 1997 model year and was fully compliant with the new regulations for emissions. While the dual overhead camshaft 32-valve engine shared some similarities with the Lotus-developed LT5 V-8 found in the original ZR-1 Corvette, the Esprit V-8 was a completely separate platform with an F1-style flat-plane crankshaft.
The engine was easily capable of 500 horsepower, but Lotus restricted the power to 350 due to torque limitations. Nevertheless, weighing in at barely 3,000 pounds the Esprit mid-engine V-8 offered blistering performance and a top speed of nearly 180 mph.
Owning an Esprit can be costly if it isn’t properly maintained. Certain parts are difficult to source, and many are expensive, having to come from England. As with most limited-production exotics, finding an experienced mechanic can be a challenge. After Jake purchased his 1998 model it suffered from several issues because of untrained dealer mechanics incorrectly performing repairs.
Finally, with the support and expert mechanics at Gator Mortorsports in Indianapolis, Jake’s Esprit is running at peak performance and is worthy of being a true exotic sports car. After being given the opportunity of driving this car in the heartland of Illinois, I can assure you that it is scary fast! Prices for Esprit V-8s have risen in recent years, with decent ones selling for between $40,000 and $60,000 or more. Until next time, happy cruisin’!