Lotus Esprit S3 (1981 – 1987)

The Lotus Esprit s3 was now in its third revision but luckily managed to maintain most of its original Giugiaro’s styling of the series 1. Body styling as well as chassis and interior revisions that were introduced a year earlier on the Essex Turbo model were now being used on the Series 3 model and with quality and reliability upgrades including sound insulation and lower profile rubber the Esprit S3 was the best of an already great car.

The Lotus Esprit S3 despite larger bumpers and air-scoops still had the familiar superb handling and grip as you would expect from a Lotus but with the 2.2 four cylinder engine added torque was the key and improving acceleration by nearly 2 seconds on the series 1 & 2 0-60 mph times without a turbo charger.

Vast gains in torsion rigidity were key to the improvements of the Lotus Esprit S3 model along with tailor made suspension instead of Lotus part bin rejects. This is how the Esprit should have been created in the beginning but they did get there in the end.

Buyers Guide

The Lotus Esprit S3 Model is probably the best model to buy if you’re looking for an Esprit, but remember they may not hold super car prices but will have to be carefully maintained with regular servicing and fluid changes and so they prove expensive to maintain.

Let’s see how the tough fibre glass compare to steel in the real world. Well the Lotus has a vacuum assisted resin injection system which is difficult to repair correctly so accident damage and severe stone chipping can be spotted. Take the nose area of the car for example check for cracking and splitting as this seems to take the brunt when it comes to stone chipping. Scars can be invisible mended by a specialist but it is a highly skilled job so don’t try it yourself. Any unevenness in the body is probably down to accident repair poorly done so check the whole car.

The Lotus Esprit SE has a 2.2 four cylinder engine known as the type 912 which requires servicing every 6,000 miles or 6 months to keep it running smoothly. Cam-belt changes should be made every 2 years or 24,000 miles to ensure the history is accurate. Listen for rumbling when you start the Lotus as this can be big end bearings. The key to engine durability is regular oil changes with a fully synthetic lubricant. Check for misfires as you accelerate through the gears this could mean oil in the spark plug recesses the culprit is the gasket between the cam covers.

The heating and cooling cycle can actual crack the exhaust manifold so check out for any blowing from the manifold. Failed head gasket can be evident by checking the oil and seeing a white substance inside the oil filler cap and the radiator can leak so check low down.

Steering racks don’t last that long and need replacing every 48,000 miles. If the steering doesn’t self center properly then the steering column has seized and also check your hand brake as these tend to seize as well, park on a hill and see if it will hold the car. The BBS wheels were standard on the Lotus Esprit S3 so make sure it’s got them on, they are hard to source if not impossible.

Electrics are good for a car that is essentially plastic but check all switch gear to ensures it’s fully functional. Just remember to have your wits about you when buying a Lotus Esprit as repairs can be expensive, good luck.

Lotus Espirit X180R Turbo


Years Produced1981 - 1987
Performance0 - 60 mph 6.5 sec / Top Speed - 135 mph
Power & Torque160 bhp / 160 Ib ft
Engine2174 cc four cylinder / 16 valves
Drive-trainMid engine / RWD
TransmissionFive speed manual
Weight1020 kg



Interesting Fact

The Lotus Esprit was built entirely by hand with just 21 employees on the production line. Each car took 584 man hours to assemble. Once complete each Esprit is taken to the test track to drive, it is then re-inspected and test driven again to make sure it is perfect.

Mark Wilkinson, Managing Director Says:

“The Lotus Esprit S3 managed to keep the good looks of the Giugiaro original for the last time in its evolution and various suspension changes in the car made it as good as it could possibly be for an economical budget super car.”

mark says

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