I felt like banging my head against a wall when I first saw Dean Meeson’s Lotus Esprit, that was at the Retro-Rides Gathering back in August. I’d known of it’s recent completion having seen the car on a forum thread, but as we all know the real world is so much better.
So why was I so keen to bounce my face off a tree? Because what Dean has done is what anyone of us could have done, but didn’t. Some of the finest modified cars out there are the simplest. The ones that rely on a few choice modifications, instead of mind bending suspension modifications, complex engine swaps and bodywork hand designed by an Italian coach-builder. Which of course ironically this one has.
What Dean has also managed to do is tap in to a time that this Lotus sums up perfectly, the late 70s, early 80s. Now I don’t care whether you think punk, Nike Waffles, illuminous powdered dessert, Rambo, the birth of VHS, polyester or spangly stickers were the best thing of that time. Because you’re wrong…
The best thing? Pop up headlights. To me they perfectly illustrate a time just before computers showed up and owned the party. Engineers and aerodynamicists knew they needed slippery shapes and with the engine in the middle the front end could be wedged shaped. Trouble was they only had big, old lamp units to use instead of today’s high intensity, projector style units. I love them because you effectively get two different looks with a car, both stamping a mark on a defined time period. One says slick and chic, the other says, hi… IT’S DARK!
Aside from the fact that it’s fitted with air suspension, quite possibly a unique feature on an Esprit (do you know different?), this is a rare vehicle to start with. It’s what’s referred to as a series 3 and I can not truthfully remember seeing an early generation Esprit on the road in a long time, I mean a really long time.
Lotus used the sales slogan, ‘When you arrive in a Lotus… You’ve arrived,’ which even today rings true. If you own an Alfa Romeo like myself and Jonathan Moore, people look at you and feel sorry, as though you felt obliged to tick an automotive box that they wouldn’t dare. The same goes for Lotus, they’re desirable, look good and performance isn’t bad but they have got a bit of a reputation for being problematic. Lots-Of-Trouble usually serious people say… Yet when you pull up in one, it gets ‘the’ look. The respect.
That second take which reminds you Lotus aimed it fairly and squarely at the Porsche 911, with pricing in 1980/1 hanging at around 15K Sterling. Arguably Dean’s take on things would grab you more than a 911 now, the popularity of the German offering is undeniable, but is it becoming an obvious route? Would we be featuring a air equipped 911 on a set of detailed rims?
To be fair there is so much more to this Lotus than just a few simple modifications…
But it’s the way those modifications have been presented so simply. Dean has a history of doing things his own way, with his previous project to the Lotus being a Yamaha R1 engined Mini. That in itself was destined to be a bit of fun but turned in to a maximum detail build with magazine features to show for it all.
So how do you end up replacing a bike engined Mini with a mid engined 80s supercar? For Dean it was all a matter of nostalgia, as he really wanted a car the same age as him. Initially he also considered a similarly wedge shaped TVR 350i, but when this Esprit appeared at the right price, he picked it up in April 2012.
It needed some work, but this suited Dean as he’s an engineer and after building the Mini we guess it’d be odd having a project that he didn’t turn a spanner on. We’re guessing it didn’t need an Accuair system, so why go for it then Dean? ‘I wanted something individual, something a little bit different and it wouldn’t have worked on coilovers.’ Having been to Dean’s house we can verify he wouldn’t have got it off his drive at the kind of height it starts to look good at…
With the cleverly reworked suspension, Dean can now do as he pleases. True you might think air is cheating, counter intuitive to handling and all other sorts of essentially flawed arguments. However the truth remains, it works for Dean and looks so good.
Taking a look inside you realise that it’s a special place, even before the Alcantara retrimming that Dean did or the Nardi rim he added. It feels like you should be headed for a Monte Carlo casino instead of the corner store, close your eyes and imagine wood, leather and Alcantara working together. It doesn’t quite work does it?
Open them and here is the proof that it can. Note the sill mounted handbrake and small air system remote too.
Dean is a stickler for detail and his wheel choice is pretty much perfect in my eyes too.
He did consider Jaguar XJ220 rims, which are of a slab design but I reckon these Compomotive CXN’s work perfectly. At first they may appear an obvious choice given their period design. But the attention to fitment, with some subtle spacing and well observed detailing make them work with the rest of the car. They’re local too, being originally made up the road from Dean’s Worcestershire base in Birmingham.
When you’re looking to tick the 80s sportscar boxes, the three most important ones have to be mid-engined, GRP and those pop up headlights. In these pictures you can see the slant four cylinder, 2.2 litre Lotus engine that the Esprit would have come with originally. Right now though, that’s out of the way and a 24valve, Alfa Romeo V6 is dangling on a stand waiting to go in. Dean tells me the sump lines up and the engine itself is only a little bit heavier. His reasons for the swap include ‘practicality and reliability’, I laugh when Dean says this as he’s talking about a Lotus and an Alfa Romeo. Two notorious manufacturers, but as he says, “Given Lotus aren’t that reliable, even Alfa Romeo are better…”
With the new engine installed, Dean intends to take in some European road trips next year. Already on the list are following the Tour De France, Nurburgring and Stelvio passes, which sounds like a plan to us, maybe he will get to pull up outside the casino in Monte Carlo after all.
Dean reckons that a lot of people think glassfibre cars are uncool, but it’s plastic all the way for him right now, as he says, “It’s all about the smile factor, most of these just go to shows and back. After the Mini turned out too good, I built this to use.”
To save my head from further potential damage I’m going to make more of an effort to look at plenty of different vehicles, in plenty of different ways. And remember, I drive a stripped out and caged Volvo 240 estate, so I’m not exactly a straight down the line kind of guy. In fact I think we could all learn something from the way Dean looks at things, because the view is ace.
Especially when that view is lit by POP UP HEADLIGHTS!
Lotus Esprit Series 3
2.2 Lotus twin-cam, twin Dellorto DHLA4SE carbs, Magnecor leads, K&N Filters, heat wrapped custom made straight through stainless exhaust, two batteries with split charging system for air system compressor
8&10x16in Compomotive CXn split rims, 25&40mm spacers front and rear, 195/40×16 and 225/40×16 Toyo Proxes tyres
AccuAir VU4 valve block with 3/8 lines, twin VIAIR 400cc compressors, black anodised five gallon air tank, Ridetech shockwave double convoluted single adjustment struts, custom lower front control arms, modified upper control arms, polybushed throughout
Standard aside from deleted side trim
Nardi wood rim steering wheel, wooden Lotus gearknob, dashboard retrimmed in Alcantara, air system control on remote, grey leather seats
Thanks go to SE Davis & Son, Redditch, for the use of their yard as a location
Esprits are so sick. Though, I heard the transmissions kinda sensitive on these.Reminds me of 70's Italian style.
I love the car designs from the 80`s and 90`s for one reason: the designers took chances.
Aerodynamics and other things dictate how the cars look today, they dont take risks on drawing them anymore! But with all those books and magazines about "flying cars in the year 2000", i think the designers from 20-30 years ago were like "ok, they will not fly, we know that, but damn since they will not fly we should make them look like they could! We will draw the sickest rides!" thus we had pop-up headlights and lots of other awesome things.
When i think about the Toyota 86, the Lotus Espirit, the FD RX7... they all had one thing in common, they are being raced and daily driven until today for the very same reason: 30 years have passed, but those cars are still the future!
This car is so cool that I found myself immediately perusing the local ads to see if I could find a nice Lotus to play with. Not much luck. The U.S. is devastatingly slim in quality British sports cars. I like it, and I don't know if it's age or maybe a little more of an open mind, but I find myself being lured in more and more by quirky 80's cars lately. I'm falling in love with the wedge as it were.
Nice photos too, thank you for the new desktops.
I'm sure there's a better way of lowering a car without that silly camber.
In my book that's just dangerous and ruins a good car such as this...but its his car.
Nice build. At first I didn't like the camber in the rear when it's bagged, but I read that that is only when it's bagged, so then I'm okay with it. Good feature and nice shots!
The Lotus has been my dream car since I was 6 years old and saw it at a local exotic car dealer down here in South Africa. This thing is just mental,....I love it. Great images and article Bryn.
Incredible, really a beautiful car, in spite of its issues, and just different enough to be extra special =)
This thing is beautiful, love every line and every detail. Hats off to the owner. Keep it up and thank you for sharing
Just today I was reading about a Lous Esprit with a Ford/yamaha SHO v6 in it on BAT... & now this! I've always loved the style of these early cars & I love the Less-is-more approach he took here
Really?? Take an epic handling Lotus Esprit and ruin it. I can see the point if it looks better, but the lines are all wrong for a "stance" ride.
Hit and a miss.
What about the Airlift system that's sposed to be much less of a compromise on handling - anybody know if it really works?
Personally tho, i reckon it looks better at the ride height in the moving shots... in fact the rear could stand to go even a wee bit higher than that.
Whatever. Gorgeous car & excellent thinking.
That shape, those wheels and that incredible ride height...making a gorgeous car even more beautiful. I have always thought that the early Esprit looked far nicer than the later ones IMO. More wedgy and less soft and round. You can rant all you like that it's a classic and a sports car and airbags spoil handling and I can see that but the fact remains that is one of the most stunning cars I have EVER seen. PLUS,,,pop-up headlights rule. :)
I have a 24V Alfa V6 in my Spider and it was well worth the effort. We stroked it to 3.7 with knife-edged crank, 6 itb's...you name it. It's a beast.
Negative camber aside, whatever. His choice.
Finally some love for pop-ups! Everyone I talk to hates pop-ups, but I love them to death!
You should do a feature on pop-ups and talk about whether they should make a comeback or not.
Also, that lotus is simply beautiful. nothing else to say.
@mbretschneider they all have pop-up headlights too, don't forget that one
@KietaPhillipsThere are different ways of lowering a car, but as you say it's his car. His way. Camber is neither silly nor dangerous, unless you let it be.
@BoostSA_Jason Just saw one on autotrader. Esprit turbo.
pic of my said NA miata :)
@that4AGsound They would struggle to meet pedestrian crash regulations. And I imagine if you were to make a collapse on impact (or something similar) it would make the flimsy. But mainly a lot of people hate them, so why would a manufacturer risk losing half their market? They were being made right up until the rx7 fd stopped production, so maybe in 10 years time when they become really vintage and mainstream society accepts them as "cool" once again.
@that4AGsound An gen1 MX5/Miata would be the cheapest way to pop up ownership right? No excuses... Feel the love.
@brynmusselwhite It just looks silly to have that crazy camber on the back.
@andrewhake that would actually be a great idea if the comment section weren't filled with haters
@K_dawg @andrewhake You're the one hating someone for having an opinion that differs from yours. Hater.