It’s pouring with rain. I’ve got a WRX transmission in my kitchen and a backlog of stories to write. I make the hard call and decide not to drive down to Lotus Day Japan at Fuji Speedway.
I missed out that day for sure, but luckily I got my dose of Lotus last month. In fact, I got a triple injection of the lightweight British sports car.
It’s all thanks to Masahiro Yamada, the owner of this green 1988 Esprit Turbo HC. “Wouldn’t it be cool to get a few generations of the Esprit together?” he asked me. “Does James Bond always get the girl?” I replied in my head as I typed the answer: “Absolutely!”.
I wasn’t sure where exactly to shoot this iconic car, but I knew it had to be classy and a little glamourous. Like a Bond villain, I lured Masahiro-san to an alleyway under the old railway bridges that lead to Tokyo Station. There isn’t much old stuff in Japan’s capital city accessible to the public, but these bars and shops nestled under the arches make for a nice backdrop.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, because shooting a dark green car in a dark alleyway at night was probably not one of my best creative decisions. It’s the photographic equivalent of swimming the English Channel with a Great Dane on your back.
Nonetheless, as Masahiro-san and I made our way through the narrow streets, I immediately fell in love with a car that has been in my subconscious since I was very young. The soft leather interior made me feel more intellectual than I am, and the sound of the vent-to-atmosphere blow-off valve hissing whenever Masahiro-san came off the gas made me feel like my lack of intellect is somehow OK.
As a child, I can remember one day having a flu and needing to stay home from school. My dad was home to look after me, and together we watched two films. One was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and the other was The Spy Who Loved Me. The Lotus Esprit submarine car in the James Bond film was the coolest thing I had ever seen. And quite honestly, it may well still be.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find an S1 Esprit like the one in The Spy Who Loved Me, but Elon Musk has the original submarine car, so I’ll keep sending him emails until I get a reply.
After I had grabbed my shots, we set off to Tatsumi Parking Area to meet up with the other two Lotus Esprits. On the way there, we stopped at a pedestrian crossing where a young lady stood waiting to cross, but was totally engrossed in her phone. Masahiro-san stopped like a gentleman, waiting for a moment, then beeped his horn three times to awaken the zoned-out lady into crossing the road.
This sums up the Lotus Esprit perfectly for me. It’s sophisticated enough for Bond to drive, yet is a bit of a yob when you poke it with a stick.
Heading up the expressway to the parking area, the car pulled surprisingly well for something 10 years older than its driver. But given the Esprit only weighed 1,067kg from factory and made 218PS from its turbocharged inline-four engine, it’s no wonder it feels spritely. You can knock a few more kilograms off Masahiro-san’s car thanks to the carbon fiber composite roof panel a previous owner installed.
‘Simplify, then add lightness’ continues to be the ethos of this car, long after Colin Chapmen coined the phrase.
Despite being 35 minutes early to Tatsumi, the other two Esprit owners were already there with their cars. This is Japan of course, and 10 minutes early is five minutes late. What a sight to behold. It’s just a shame one of them wasn’t white.
Lining the three cars up alongside each other, it was nice to see the different evolutions in design, starting from the two earlier S3 Turbos and ending with the later S4 model. We’ve skipped the oddly-numbered X180, and not only could we not find an S1, we couldn’t get our hands on a V8 either.
The two silver Esprits are mostly stock, but that doesn’t stop their young drivers from enjoying them as a gentleman might appreciate a fine single-malt whiskey.
Masahiro-san’s Turbo Esprit is sporting some classic Panasport G7 C5C-L wheels, a brand which suits the Lotus to a tee. I think James would have found them rather dashing, don’t you?
The Esprit may not be as revered by Bond fans as the Aston Martin, but I think it has more than earned a place amongst the best.