LONDON: After a 26-year run, it’s the end of the road for Lotus Esprit, the sports car made famous by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Wednesday’s announcement by Group Lotus plc, owned by Perusahaan Otomobil National Bhd, that production would cease at the end of the year was timed to coincide with the Los Angeles Motor Show, which opened the next day.
For the fans of the 175mph, £50,000 Esprit, long regarded by many as the classic supercar, the news has been greeted with nostalgia.
“The Esprit is a British icon, exciting to look at and exciting to drive,” Graham Arnold, president of Club Lotus whose 10,000 plus members own more than 11,000 units of various models, told The Star.
“It’s like a beautiful woman. After parking the car, the owner turns around to admire it again. And the Esprit generates enormous loyalty among owners.”
But like any beautiful woman, time takes its toll and the allure of the Esprit is fading.
The Esprit was being phased out because it was reaching the end of its sales life, said a Lotus HQ spokesman, ending its illustrious presence in mid-2003 in Europe and early 2004 in the United States.
It was unveiled in 1972 as a styling concept at the Turin Motor Show and the first model rolled off the production line at Hethel in Norfolk four years later. Since then, 11,500 units have been built.
The Esprit became a Bond car when Lotus founder Colin Chapman had it parked outside the office of Cubby Brocolli, the producer, in order to catch his attention. It paid off, and the Esprit shot to fame.
At its peak, the car sold about 800 units a year, and in recent years sales have averaged 250 units, most of which are sold in the US where it is priced at US$89,000.
Though Lotus plans to roll out 140 units this year, Arnold will not be surprised to see a big rush – while stocks last - for the latest Esprit, which is powered by a 3.5-litre turbo-charged Lotus V8 engine, producing 350hp at 6,500rpm.
Its niche in the American market will be replaced by the popular Elise which, according to the motoring editor of Financial Times, has transformed the fortunes of the British subsidiary of Proton in the six years since the £25,000 car was launched.
Two years ago, the production output at Hethel was about 6,000 units of the Elise and the Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster built under contract for General Motors, compared to 800 when Proton took over Lotus in 1996.
But the global slowdown in the motor industry and what many analysts saw as over-ambitious targets then forced Lotus to retrench 100 of its consultancy engineering staff and 250 assembly line workers.
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