The Esprit Story.

Well, now that Brian is back home in one piece, with his Lotus, I can share a few of the stories surrounding said car.

I am, indeed, the friend with some pretty strongly held ideas about what constitutes a well lived life. Most of them involve pulling 8,000 revs in an exotic car on a dark highway in the middle of the night, enjoying the yowl of some hand-built engine of note as much as the risk of being caught, which in retrospect, is at times only eclipsed by sharing said experiences with good friends and good food.

The concept is simple: If you don't have a few memories and stories to share with friends over an adult beverage and some lightly grilled cow, your life sucks. Often, I've found, a lot of people bust their butts day in and day out, only to be left wondering why the hell they're doing it. The accumulation of things? The security of financial independence? Those are all well and good, but unless you have a few things stored in the 'ol grey delco to which you can look back on during the nose to grindstone hours and proclaim, yes, this is worth it, well, what's the point?

Now, being a gearhead has served me well in collecting those stories. I mean, after all, in the grand file of things to talk about while tossing back a few, pulling 140 down the highway in a Lamborghini with a girl in a g-string hanging out the door is a few steps up the evolutionary ladder from heading to Macys to buy socks.

So, when a friend regales me with the all-too familiar woe of a life without much hot sauce, I suggest they buy something fast and loud, and go chase down a few stories. This is easier with some friends than others. I could go so far as to say that some need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the land of turbochargers and rev-matching. With Brian, it was more an issue of finding a car that he'd be happy with, that still met my criteria of being cool.

To review, a cool car must have:

Whereas the Esprit has: Eight cylinders, two turbochargers, rear wheel drive, a real gearbox, and 350 ponies out of the box. It's actually a few steps cooler than my base-line cool requirements, and the fact that it looks naughty, has scoops, and is black-pearl rare helps it pass the Brian criteria. That, combined with the fact that they cost somewhat less than the net worth of a small industrialized nation as is the case with most italians, resulted in a random eBay link I expected to be waved off like the rest turning into something black and growly.

The first step was to drive down to South Jersey (read: a few feet from Philly) and inspect the car. It passed my thorough evaluation, and so it was into the dealership to hack away at the price, which fell to me, as I have a bit more experience in the art of haggling. Starting out at 10 grand below their asking price, and using the "may I help you?" riff on the 355 they had in the showroom might have indeed been pushing it. But after some IMing back and forth on my Treo, and some good 'ol horse trading, we arrived at a figure slightly above invoice. And so the deal was made, I would pick up the car in a few days once the paperwork was in order.

Now, I had driven a V8 Esprit before, but there's a subtle difference between taking a friend's car for a blast down the road and becoming intimately knowledgeable of one. I found the best way to accomplish this was a four-wheel drift onto the Jersey Turnpike. You see, the rear end had to be accessed for stress fractures. It is made by Renault, after all.

Not wanting to tax the car until I had time to give it a more complete once-over in my shop, I kept it under 150 for the rest of the journey home. One thing I will say about the Esprit, like all other Loti, is that they tend to build a car around the suspension. I hit the on-ramp to the Garden State Parkway, and didn't even notice I was doing a buck twenty until I happened to glance down at the speedo. The Pretty Woman tag line of cornering like it's on rails holds true to this day.

Upon getting it home, it was time to get my paws into the car, and order whatever parts it might need, which turned out to be precious few, as from a mechanical standpoint, it's one of the best put together cars I've ever put a wrench to. First, the car had to be pretty, so out came the buckets and sponges and wax that costs more than a Honda. Net result: Sparkly.

Now looking the part, there were a few things of which the car needed in order to meet my standards of automotive rightitude. First, I cleaned and detailed the beautiful Connolly leather interior, which is one of the best put together I've ever worked on. There are absolutely no fasteners visible throughout the entire interior, which is really something you don't see today in the era of Audi plastic and snap-clamps. After some rubbing and general TLC, it looked as above, just about entirely perfect. From there, I swapped out the marginally effective original spark plugs for some iridium units, taking a moment to shake my head at the fact that the depth of the plug wells is exactly that of your average 3/8" drive socket extension. I really wish Lotus still built their own engines, as the 9 series V8 is one of the best I've ever put a wrench to.

The next step was to fit a pair of Forge blow-off valves, which Lotus neglected to provide from the factory given the relatively low stock boost the turbo system provides. However, given the significant impact on turbo life that compressor stall can have, I tossed a few in, which will also keep the system much happier should higher boost be run in future. This was actually the first time I'd used Forge's BOVs, but hey, they're red. And British. So it's kind of a no-brainer. In preparation for beginning the BOV installation-- an operation which was relatively simple and straight-forward except for the frackin' eco-tard mandated EGR setup that made my life hell for a few hours-- I pondered getting reasonable access to the engine, only to find that the whole rear cargo area floor pops out with a few bolts and some yanking. You can then climb into the rear of the car, and have full access to the whole exhaust and transmission. As I noted while doing it, I do believe this is the first car made in which changing a clutch would actually be fun.

As I would soon find out, the honeymoon with the engine bay would soon be over, as I moved on to replacing the air filters with some free-flowing K&N units. Oh, and by the way, if you're trying to order some K&N filters for your Esprit V8, and can't find the model number for love or money, I ran into something completely obnoxious and annoying. It would seem that the few independent Lotus parts dealers guard the secret, magical part number for the V8 as closely as possible, so that they can sell the filters with their own happy little markup added in. They even go to the length of cutting the frickin' model numbers off the boxes they ship to you. Well, eff them, the K&N filter number you want for the V8 Esprit is: 33-2547. So stick that up your google and smoke it.

So, on to the pain. The Esprit V8 filters are housed in these happy little necelles that live beside the valve covers, and in turn connect to the two side scoops, and eventually the turbos. The problem: There are five 7mm bolts holding them in, and two of them are on the bottom of the housings. And there's about an inch of clearance between them and the valve covers. So, unless your hand, wrist and arm are 1" thick or less, you've got a problem. And by "problem" I mean three hours of cursing and swearing with a short 7mm socket and a 1/4" drive knuckle, a lot of tape, and even more swearing. Eventually, however, one can swap them out, and the pain need not be faced for another 30k miles or so. If I ever get one of these things, which is quite likely, I'll be ripping the air boxes out and going to a custom cone filter setup before the ink on the title is dry.

After the filters, it was time to replace the anemic AC Delco battery with a considerably more beefy Optima Gel-Cell, and the cabling and hardware to go with it. I also ran the 4-gauge power and ground cables required for the audio system, which were about as much fun to do as a root canal with an oil drill. But, once done, the previously marginal delivery of juice to various electronics were much improved. While ripping half the car apart so that I could run said power cabling, I found a few screws and nails in both rear wheels, so it was time for some new rubber. Fortunately, through my various connections in the automotive world, I was able to get a set of in-stock Bridgestone Potenza RE050A Pole Positions for considerably less than most mere mortals pay for what amount to the best tires in the world.

With the mechanicals "sorted" as the Brits like to say, it was time to move into the interior and deal with the alarm and audio system. Or, to put it simply: Bring the pain. Now, the Esprit has a pretty small cockpit. Not so bad to sit in it and drive, pretty far from good to contort one's self into for the purposes of getting at the dash wiring. Especially if you're 6'4 and change. So, the interior was stripped, and the audio went in, starting with an Alpine head unit that is specifically designed to play with iPods. Actually, more than one, as with some gratuitous wiring, it's able to control both a 5th-gen-and-up 'pod via USB, and any older 'pod via the audio out on the dock connector. Short of dealing with some ground loop issues thanks to the kevlar and fiberglass construction of the car, installation was fairly painless. An Eclipse amplifier was hidden away under the front hood (or "bonnet", if you must), which powers the JL Audio XR653-CS 3-way separates in the doors and dash, as well as a pair of JL Audio 6W0 subwoofers installed in the rear firewall.

Now, the V8 Esprit technically doesn't have rear speakers, however they conveniently left the enclosures from the S4 Esprit in there, so all I had to do was hack out the foam and carpet in the way, and make a few MDF fit rings. And presto, subs, which make a reasonable amount of bass given their tiny size.

With the audio system "sorted", it was time to move on to the boost gauge and alarm system. The boost gauge was fairly straight forward, once I had located a unit that I figured would meet Brian's fairly specific tastes. (e.g., that it match the rest of the dash lighting and gauge faces, more or less, and not be obnoxious in its orientation). I settled on Defi's Defi-Link series, as I've used their gauges before and know them to be of astounding quality, and as well, as they're networked gauges with a central management computer, it's easy to add more gauges and daisy-chain them in future if need be. The gauge comes with a large slab of metal that's designed to be double-face-taped to a given location. This was ugly. So I fabricated an internal bracket into the console button cover out of aluminum, so that the gauge appears to "float" above it with no visible bracketing.

Finally, it was time to get into the hell that was the alarm system. Now, I decided to go with a Clifford Matrix paging alarm for the Esprit, with all of its battery backup and anti-bad-guy goodies hidden throughout the car. I've installed a lot of these suckers in all of my cars, as well as those of friends. They are awesome. Unfortunately, Lotus felt the need to put an alarm in from the factory, made by Cobra. I've been thinking for a good ten minutes, while sipping my scotch, exactly how I should define the stock Cobra Alarm. Say if you were locked in a movie theatre, in which all of your favorite movies were to be played back to back for 24 hours, only every seat was filled with a crying, screaming child, you'd have some concept of how much fun it is to work with a Cobra alarm.

The most... interesting, is the factory immobilizer device, which prevents the car from being started should the alarm be activated. Aside from being hidden within the bowls of the car, it is completely undocumented, and all the wires are the same color. This makes discovering the pins required to make the starter and ignition coil packs work an exercise in smashy smashy with a BFH, after using one of which for about an hour, one can free the immobilizer circuitry from its epoxy tomb, and finally figure out which wires are connected to the relays. And, hey presto, a Cobra-free running car.

From there, installing the Clifford was fairly straight-forward, save for a few Lotus-isms like connecting the signal light circuits together so that applying alarm power to them causes both lights to flash when either circuit is energized. But, that's nothing a trip to Radio Shack and a few diodes won't fix. A few reverse-engineered pieces of alien technology, and everything tucked up where it was supposed to be. And, presto, the car was finished.

Exactly four hours before a certain someone's plane landed.

All in all, a fun project, even given the steep learning curve and various idiosyncrasies of the car. Perhaps the most significant, though, if I don't mind saying so myself, is that all of the above was accomplished in less than a week.

posted by Mr. Lion | 05/12/07 @ 00:11 | comments (7)