Buyer beware! I bought a bargain Lotus Esprit S3 and now you can too

by Nik Berg
14 February 2023 3 min read
Buyer beware! I bought a bargain Lotus Esprit S3 and now you can too
Photos: Charterhouse

A Lotus Esprit, a barn and a bargain price. These are words that are all-too familiar to me having bought my S3 on eBay in 2021, and now someone else may be about to have a similar experience as one comes up for auction in March.

The 1982 Esprit S3 offered by Charterhouse Auctions is still covered in six years’ of grime, and needs recommissioning, while the estimate is between £14,000-£18,000. To put that in context, the Hagerty Price Guide shows an average price of £12,800 for a ‘condition 4’ Esprit S3, so keep it in mind. For a little wedge-shaped slice of sports car with overtones of James Bond about it, that Hagerty figure is far from silly money.

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What does the auction house have to say about the garage-find Lotus? “Today it looks slightly sad covered in a film of dust and dirt in the barn but that is only superficial and I am sure the lucky new owner will have this Lotus back on the road in no time,” says Charterhouse’s Richard Bromell.

Speaking from personal experience, I’m not quite so confident.

It’s hard to see under all the filth just what the Monaco White paintwork is like, but if it does need a top to bottom respray then, based on my experience with my 1982 S3 project, as soon as a respray is involved you can effectively double the cost of the car, because doing it properly won’t leave much change from £20,000.

In good news the car obviously hasn’t been covered while stored, which often leads to nasty blisters appearing on fibreglass cars, so it might be that this example has escaped, but it’s too hard to tell from the photos. Anyone contemplating buying really needs to inspect the car in person.

The Esprit was fitted with a galvanised steel chassis and, since this one has been dry stored, hopefully rust is not an issue. It hasn’t had an MOT since 2017 which showed kinked front brake pipes (mine also had to be rerouted) and play in the steering dating back to 2015.

Checking back through past test reports reveals that the odometer was changed in 2011, so you can add at least 69,000 miles on top of the 6,000-odd that is currently on the clock. There doesn’t seem to have been anything too worrying in the advisories up until 2017, but six years of standing won’t have done it a great deal of good.

Expect to have to overhaul the engine, clean up or replace the carbs, and change the cambelt at the minimum. If the belt jumps or fails then you’re looking at five figures for a rebuild. Fortunately, that’s not something I’ve been faced with, but fellow Esprit enthusiast Stewart Longhurst had exactly this issue and has documented it all on his YouTube channel.

Sitting with ageing fuel, soaking up moisture for year after year won’t have done the fuel tanks any good. The standard steel tanks (yes, there are two) are known to rot, and replacement alloy ones cost £300 each. Luckily for me the previous owner had already swapped them on my car.

Assorted work to bearings and brakes was done over time, but may well need doing again. The wheels look in decent shape, although you’d be wise to change the tyres which are probably a little square after standing so long.

There a few straggling wires visible in the photos so the electrics will certainly need looking at, but on a more positive note, the interior looks like a good clean and fresh carpets would be all that’s needed to restore it.

Any Esprit dreamers out there may also be pleased to learn spare parts aren’t horrifically expensive with specialists such as SJ Sports Cars carrying most items and now Classic Team Lotus beginning to provide support as well.

Yes, I have had lots of trouble with mine but, so far, it hasn’t been that serious. The costs have been high because I’ve paid for labour, being not quite inept, but not wholly confident with the spanners.

And let’s remember, when I bought mine I wanted a car that I could go on a journey with, literally and metaphorically. I enjoy hugely driving the Esprit, the crisp responses of the precise steering and well-balanced chassis making it a joy to thread along a nice stretch of road. I also get a kick out of answering questions about the car, wherever we stop – and it attracts kids and big kids in equal measure.

As for having a project, it gives me something to sink my teeth into, trying out DIY where practical, finding my way around the Esprit scene thanks to help and advice from fellow owners and specialists and generally spending my spare time in an enjoyable, satisfying way.

So anyone who is brave enough to take this on could well end up with a wonderful wedge and (crosses fingers) an appreciating classic. Or not. It’s a Lotus lottery.

Read more

I bought a Lotus Esprit – and broke every car-buying rule in the book
There’s no such thing as fast fibre when painting a fibreglass car
Browse the values of all Lotus Esprit models in the Hagerty Price Guide

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  • Stewart Longhurst says:

    Thanks for the mention Nik. Although my “trouble” could be categorised as “serious”, the high costs are – like yours – largely because of the specialist labour. There are many things I’ll have a go at, a bit of tinkering and improvement here and there, but open heart surgery on an engine is probably best left to people who know what they’re doing.

  • Tony carter says:

    I used to own this car and sold it in 2010, it was in really nice condition. The interior had been redone by the previous owner, I rebuilt the engine, new liners, piston rings and a top end rebuild. Then a trip to a rolling road. Such a shame to see it in this state.

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