CRAZY V8 ESPRIT / LOTUS ESPRIT / PUNK AND DISORDERLY
If you want to annoy the purists, what better way than a #V8 #Lotus-Esprit-S3
running on air ride and Jap wheels. A lot of people don’t like this Lotus. It’s got the wrong engine, the wrong suspension, the wrong attitude. But this Lotus doesn’t really care what you think, it’s got its own stuff going on… Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Chris Frosin.
It’s a matter of pride here at Retro Cars that we seek out cars which don’t follow the welltrodden path; the mavericks, the outlaws, the oddballs – the cars with a bona fi de punk ethos that thumb a nose to authority and cock a snook at the naysayers. There are plenty of people within the traditional classic car scene who’ll tell you that there is a correct way of doing things, and to deviate from the norm is to invoke their ire. But screw them.
Where’s the creativity in building a car that dozens of people have built before? Where’s the sense of achievement? The lifestyle we celebrate is one of brash weirdness, and they certainly don’t get a lot more brash or weird than Rob Howard’s Series 3 #Lotus-Esprit
. We’re talking gruff supercar power, scene-friendly altitude, down-with-the-kids rims fresh from Japan… this is the polar opposite to a pipe-and- slippers concours resto. This is a punk collage, a scrapbook of ideas pasted together from all corners of the modifying world, and we couldn’t be more in love with it.
Now, we know what some of you will be thinking – ‘Oh, it’s another old Lotus on air-ride’. Sure, there are a few of these on the scene these days, and we’ve featured a couple of ’em ourselves; Dean Meeson’s Esprit and Luke Gilbert’s Elite. But if a surfeit of bagged Lotuses is the biggest problem you encounter today, then you should probably take a few minutes out to consider how damned lucky you are. Besides, this is very far from ‘just another old Lotus on air-ride’ – this is nothing short of a work of art.
“I’ve always been into cars, even when I was a kid,” says Rob. “I started working on cars when I was about fourteen years old, always wanting to change them, to fi t bigger engines and bigger wheels. I guess it’s in my blood? Anyway, the Esprit was my childhood dream car – James Bond driving into the sea had me hooked! Someone in my town had one when I was growing up, and I knew I just had to have one… one day.”
While Bond’s Lotus may have been modified to cope with the salty rigours of sub-aqua mischief, Rob’s would eventually end up taking an altogether different turn – but, of course, he had to find one first. And that sort of thing doesn’t always go as well as you might think.
“This is actually my second Esprit,” he explains. “The first one I had was a yellow Series 1, which had a Rover V8 already fitted. But it was crap – horrible to drive, and the 130bhp P6 engine was really underpowered. They do say ‘Never meet you heroes’, and I was just so disappointed with it.”
As you’ve probably deduced, however, Rob is not the sort of man who gives up easily. Having harvested the V8 conversion parts and squirrelled them away, he waved goodbye to the disheartening yellow cheese-wedge and went on the hunt for the car he’d really wanted all along: a white Series 3. “These have a much better chassis,” he explains, “and an improved rear suspension setup. Much better for sticking a V8 in there!” And, naturally , there’s that spectre of 007 lurking in the broad rear aspect, ready to indulge in racy espionage at the drop of a Martini glass…
“I found the car for sale on a Lotus forum, totally stock and needing a little work,” Rob recalls. “The exhaust manifold was cracked, and the interior was horrible; very faded and turning green! It ran crap but was perfect for my needs – and it was white! I had no use for the four-pot engine anyway, I already had an engine lined up to transplant into it. V8 power was, of course, at the top of the list for the project. I just love the sound. There’s no stereo in here, it doesn’t need one! And another high priority was the wheels; I hate stock wheels, very boring. This car needed to have something unusual. The Esprit is a tricky one to change wheels on though, and it can look horrible if you choose the wrong type or size. I got lucky, I think my wheels look killer – maybe I’m biased? But lots of people that see it also agree the wheels look great! Anyway, after the V8 and the wheels it was all about making it better and faster, and a tad lower…”
Heh. ‘A tad’. Rob really does run a masterful line in understatement. Being an avid fan of American hot rod shows of the Fast ‘N’ Loud ilk, air-ride was increasingly permeating its way into Rob’s subconscious as a viable option. Having experimented on various previous projects with lowering springs, coilovers and what-have-you, he knew what he wanted and, more importantly, what he didn’t want. There would be no crashy ride or smashed sumps here, this was going to be a suspension setup done right and done well. “I thought air-ride would be the best of both worlds,” he shrugs. “Any height I like, and any spring rate? What’s not to like? OK, it’s not quite as simple as that, and the ride is still fairly harsh, but it’s way lower than I could have got it by other means.” The most cunning part is that Rob’s combination of coilovers and Universal Air bags is managed by AccuAir’s E-Level system, which keeps the car at whatever height you determine regardless of external influence – so, say, if you tell it to run at a particular height, then stuff the boot and passenger seat with bags of cement, it’ll still run at that height you’d told it to. Isn’t it great living in the future?
The ride-height’s taken care of then, so let’s talk about that engine. It’s a Rover V8, like in his maligned old yellow Lotus, but in this instance it’s a pukka TVR unit. What’s more, it’s been stretched yet further into the realms of motorsport excess; the already-formidable 4.3-litre TVR Griffith engine has been reworked by V8 developments into a rumbling 4.5-litre monster. “I found a hillclimb car for sale that had this engine fitted, and I knew it’d be perfect for my Esprit,” Rob grins mischievously. If you cast an eye over the spec box, you’ll see why he’s grinning. The motor really is a monster, with a torque-rich spec designed for propelling light things up tall things at alarming speed. Just the job!
“Fitting the V8 was actually quite straightforward, using the gearbox adaptor I had kept from the Series 1,” he says. “I had to make new mounts and carry out a lot of cutting to the rear body to make room for the big-bore 3in twin exhaust, and things kept changing throughout the build as parts got altered and made better; more often things wouldn’t work out how I planned, so had to be reworked or changed completely. The exhaust was re-done three times before I got it how I wanted! The air-ride was a nightmare to fit too - getting it to go a lot lower than Lotus ever intended meant that, with a car that’s well over thirty years old, a lot of the suspension parts were a pain to remove due to neglect and rust. Jobs take a long time to do as it’s all done on my driveway; the car has spent most of its time on axle stands and in bits since I’ve owned it due to always changing things and waiting for parts. And I still have plans to improve the car, it’ll always be evolving and getting better. Working on cars is like childbirth - you forget the pain until you get the spanners out…”
Thank goodness Rob’s enthusiasm lies in modifying old cars rather than delivering babies, we’re a bit concerned about where he’s planning to stick his torque wrench. But thankfully his skills are entirely well suited to Esprit rebirth, as the results you see here demonstrate; sure, he says it’s unfinished, but that’s true of pretty much every feature car owner we speak to. We particularly love his choice of wheels, too – that James Bond influence of international mystique has led him to source a set of three-piece Super Star split-rims straight from Japan, the rears arriving 9in wide apiece and being rebuilt to a meaty 11.5in girth using Image 5in lips. That’s the sort of forthrightness that gives the car proper supercar presence, something that the old-school wedge always deserved.
“I like to get out in it as much as I can – when it’s working, that is,” Rob laughs. “It’s a Lotus, so something generally needs fixing, but it’s fun to take it to work and there’s always a buzz around it wherever it goes. My colleagues are always saying ‘I saw someone taking pictures of your car again’! And yeah, I know it’s annoyed a few Lotus purists, but who cares about them? It’s my car.”
…and that’s exactly the right attitude. This badass Esprit doesn’t care what you think, it just does what it wants. It doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t matter either. The Low-tus exists on its own terms, and that’s enough.
Monster 11.5in wide rear wheels transmit the 4.5 litre V8’s torque to the tarmac.
“Working on cars is like childbirth - you forget the pain until you get the spanners out…”
“The Esprit was my childhood dream car – James Bond driving into the sea had me hooked!”
James Bond eat your heart out, you can keep your submersible Esprit, we’d rather have this!
Thumping great V8 soundtrack means that Rob has no need for a stereo install.
ENGINE: 4.5-litre #TVR
, fully balanced, forged 93.5mm bore #Cosworth
pistons and #HRC1037
rods, cross-drilled and balanced #HRC1400
Iceberg crank (80mm stroke), high-volume oil pump, Stage 3 big valve heads, stainless steel 42.8mm inlet and 36.8mm exhaust-valves, fully ported and gas flowed, uprated valve springs ( #VSSV8
), Piper steel vernier timing chain set, #Piper-BP270
camshaft, Rhoades anti pump lifters, John Eales billet rocker posts and head stud kit, #Edelbrock-Performance
inlet manifold - fully ported and gas-flowed to match heads, Edelbrock Performance 1404 (500cfm) 4-barrel #Weber
turbo plenum with large K&N cone filter, #Mallory
Performance billet distributor with electronic ignition, #Mallory
Pro 8mm plug leads and high output coil, TVR big bore exhaust manifolds reversed, twin 3in bore custom stainless steel exhaust system, Rover SD1 sump, Esprit Developments engine conversion kit, custom mounts and turbo rubbers, Sierra Cosworth 60mm core alloy radiator, twin electric 12in rear-mounted fans, Davies Craig EWP 80 pump and controller, extra cooling booster pump fitted at rear, Mocal remote oil filter and oil cooler rad, alloy header tank and swirl pot. 289bhp @ 5500rpm; 300lb/ft @ 4500rpm
TRANSMISSION: Esprit/Citroën SM 5-speed transaxle, alloy bellhousing adaptor and custom input shaft, lightened race steel flywheel, uprated clutch
adjustable front alloy coilovers, #Protech
rear alloy coilovers, Universal-Air Aero Sport airbags, #AccuAir-E-Level
quad air pressure and tank gauge kit, twin seamless alloy 3-gallon air tanks, front top and bottom suspension arms modified, uprated polybushes, hubs modified to 5x112 PCD and 66.6 centre bore, Canley Classics forged front uprights (trunnion free)
BRAKES: Front: Audi 100/200 314x30mm cross-drilled vented discs, custom fitted to rear of hubs, Porsche 996 Brembo 4-pot alloy calipers on custom billet mounts.
Rear: Mondeo 280x12mm cross-drilled and slotted discs custom fitted to rear shafts, Esprit rear calipers, carriers modified for larger discs, stainless braided hoses
WHEELS & TYRES: 8x17in +25 (front) and 11.5x17in +20 (rear) Super Star 3-piece split-rims with 205/45 Yokohama Parada Spec 2 (front) and 315/35 BFGoodrich Comp T/A (rear)
EXTERIOR: Side scoop ‘ears’ widened and modified into quad intakes, rear hatch locked ajar with flush-locking bonnet pins, modified front air intake and revised radiator location, rear bumper drilled to improve airflow output, rear engine bay floor removed, extra spaceframe chassis brace fitted with alloy heatshielding
INTERIOR: Stock ‘teddy bear’ cloth refreshed with black dye, #Nardi
Personal 350mm steering wheel, MX-5 suede gearstick gaitor, leather #Lotus
gearknob, Stack wideband lambda gauge, #Dakota-Digital
air pressure gauge, SJ Sportscars black carpet set, Accuair Switchspeed controller
THANKS: “ #Gerald-Moors
for all the machining work - A4 Engineering, Unit 7 Manor Park, 35 Willis Way, Poole, BH15 3SZ, Tel:¬01202 676047”