1981 Lotus Esprit S3


  • Highly original specification
  • One owner since 1988
  • Engine rebuilt in 2017
  • Optional 15-inch BBS alloys
  • 70,309 miles on the clock
  • Will be offered with a fresh MOT

The Appeal

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro during his spell at Ital Design, the distinctly wedge-shaped Esprit was a huge success for Lotus. From the stunningly angular period design to the lightweight design and powerful 2.2-litre engine, the Series 3 car offered many marginal improvements and upgrades over previous models.

We are delighted to present this fine example for auction – having been in the hands of its current registered owner since 1988. Clearly cherished and loved, it has been kept as much as possible in stock, factory specification. It benefits from having had an engine rebuild in 2017 and is offered now in fine condition with a lovely, gentle patina.

For anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, the Esprit is a proper “bedroom poster” car, and this smart example would be a very fine way to take that childhood hero and park it neatly in your garage…

The History and Paperwork

  • First registered in August 1981
  • Seven owners from new
  • Current owner since July 1988
  • 70,258 miles on the clock
  • Complete with the owner’s handbook, parts manuals and some invoices
  • Current V5c present and correct
  • We are told that the car will come with a fresh MOT

The Interior

  • Black leather and grey fabric upholstery
  • Period Hitachi radio/cassette
  • Original wooden gear knob
  • Full complement of period Smiths gauges

Probably the thing we love the most about this Esprit is the genuine and warm patina. It’s the kind of light, gentle wear that you only get from decades of careful ownership. The seats are trimmed in black leather with dark grey fabric centres and exhibit some light cracking and wear to the leather – especially on the driver’s side. But this is perfectly in keeping with the car’s age and mileage and, in our opinion, a key component of the car’s appeal. All of the fabric looks to be in good condition, with a few seams that may require some attention.

Red carpet decorates the cabin, neatly echoing the exterior hue. It all looks to be in good order, with no significant wear or damage apparent. Similarly, the light grey headlining looks to be in nice condition, with no damage, sagging or staining we could identify.

That chunky, block-like dash design is unmistakably of its time and well matches the wedge design aesthetic. As far as we could see, all of the instruments and controls are in fine fettle, with some wear from use and some gentle weathering, but nothing that would concern us. Everything still appears to be eminently usable.

Underneath the bonnet, a full-size spare wheel is present and correct.

The Exterior 

  • Red fibreglass bodyshell
  • Zinc galvanised steel backbone chassis
  • Pop-up headlights, in good working order
  • Optional 15-inch BBS alloy wheels

The Esprit is one of those cars that looks great in almost any colour, but in the bright red of this example it really does pop – especially with the gold coachline and colour-coded wheels. Overall the paint looks to be in nice original condition, with some marks, small cracks and blemishes in a few places, but nothing we would worry about.

Of course, as the bodyshell is fibreglass, corrosion to the body isn’t an issue. And the body does look to have been nicely preserved, with no obvious cracking, warping or damage we could see. Fit and shut lines look consistent and even, and the car’s lines are crisp and straight.

All of the trim and badging appears to be present and correct too. The only issue we noted was some flaking or peeling to the rear bumper around the inset ‘Lotus’ lettering, but looks fairly minor. The vendor also notes that the original electric aerial has failed and been replaced with a manual unit. However, the original electric unit can be supplied with the car, should the new owner wish to get it refurbished.

You’ll have noticed that the car is riding on the optional 15-inch BBS alloy wheels from the Turbo model. These have had their centres colour coded to match the bodywork and present in reasonably good order, with some bubbling and corrosion evident to the silver barrels. They are shod in a matched set of Goodyear tyres.

The Mechanics 

  • 2,174cc inline-four
  • Engine rebuild in 2017
  • Five-speed manual transmission
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Stainless steel exhaust system

Following closely to Chapman’s original “simplify then add lightness” mantra, the lightweight Esprit features a relatively small 2.2-litre engine. This DOHC, 16-valve naturally aspirated unit is more than enough to provide thrills though. Putting out a perky 160hp and 160lb-ft, it drives the car from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds on its way to 138mph. Great numbers for 1981 and still more than enough to provide plenty of entertainment.

The history file shows that the engine was rebuilt in 2017, as were the carburettors, while the brake servo and master cylinder were also refurbished. A stainless steel exhaust has been added, although the original back box is also supplied with the car.

The Appeal

The perfect encapsulation of its era and Colin Chapman’s design theory, the Esprit S3 is quite rightly held up as a classic. This example is a very lovely thing – highly original, well cared for and in a very attractive specification for collectors and enthusiasts alike. Just don’t try and drive it under water. Please.

Notice to bidders

This item is sold on an ‘As is Where is’ basis. The condition of this item is the opinion of the seller and may differ from your own opinion. Photos and listing descriptions are for guidance purposes only. Car & Classic do not warrant listing accuracy. Full inspection is recommended. Viewings are at the seller’s discretion. Buyer is responsible for delivery and collection of any item purchased.

UK-registered cars and motorbikes on Car & Classic are run through an online HPI check. On the HPI report, this vehicle shows no insurance database markers for damage or theft. It is currently not covered by a finance agreement.

A non-refundable buyer’s deposit is payable on this item, refer to FAQs and T&Cs for the applicable percentage.

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Vehicle specification
  • Year 1981
  • Make Lotus
  • Model Esprit Series 3
  • Colour Red
  • Odometer 70,309 Miles
  • Engine size 2174
Auction Details
  • Seller Type Private
  • Town Poole
  • Location Dorset
  • Country United Kingdom

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