- Unfortunately I wasn't able to insert the relevant photos at the relevant points in the text. You'll figure it out
This is all of the info I amassed over a number of years searching for a Lotus branded radio cassette unit for my Esprit S2. I won't touch S1 cars save to say there was a Philips unit [not rebranded for Lotus] in the mix at least during some part of S1 production as far as I know, and there seems to have been some radio/cassette cross over between S1 and S2 production. I'm saying some S1's may have also had Motorola units, idk for sure.
When I got my car I was happy to see a period Sharp radio cassette in it, and it being old, I assumed it was factory. Then my certificate of provenance landed and the accompanying letter states that the car had been full spec, which meant it had metallic paint, leather upholstery and a Lotus branded radio cassette. It also mentions that the unit was manufactured by Motorola. 'I'll find one of those then', I thought. Wrong.
Well kind of wrong, I just got one. It took four and a half years though, and I was extremely motivated* in my search. Which means nothing really in a sense, but it means I have now have a little file of my findings during that search. There's so little info on these units out there, I figure it might help someone else.
So you've likely been all over TLF and you've found a few references to the Motorola model numbers of the two units that were allegedly fitted to S2 Esprits. The model numbers often stated; LT551 and LT558. I say allegedly, not with contempt, but because whereas a photo may surface of a unit [resembling those below] fitted to an Esprit, I have never found proof that a radio/cassette with 'Lotus' printed on the facia, actually bears either of those model numbers. I'd urge any owner who has a car with a Lotus branded radio to gently pull the unit out far enough to read the model number [usually on the label on the top surface of the unit], and post it here. These units are incredibly rare and won't be any less so for info shared. It's not so easy these days to stump a Google image search, but the phrase; 'Lotus Motorola radio cassette' comes very close. A photo of my unit, having been on a recent auction listing, is the sole relevant result.
Before I get into the details, let's address the elephant in the room; these are not set the world on fire units. Motorola are a brand steeped in history and world firsts, and they build quality items, but this is not a particularly good looking unit, nor is it particularly advanced. It has a charm though that in my eyes is coming around, with it's uncluttered UI, '70's type face, sporty colouring and 'U' marked FM band.
This is I believe the only photo of a Motorola produced, Lotus branded radio cassette on TLF, until now.
- SEE PHOTO #01 -
Unfortunately I can't remember the thread it's from, possibly a member's S2 build thread, but the unit passed between two TLF members for what would certainly be considered mate's rates now, and I think the photo being on a weighing scales, was taken by the original owner but uploaded by the receiver. I've also read at least two other posts here of owners who's cars still have the original Lotus branded unit, and another by a lucky owner who randomly found one for £10 at a car boot sale. This unfortunately is one of those items that no one posts photos of.
After seeing that and periodically trying every related search term for a unit, I have seen photo's of three cars that were clearly fitted with a Lotus Motorola unit. The first was a bright blue Lotus Eclat that appeared on Car and Classic. Someone had attempted to make it a cabriolet and cut the roof off. It was listed at stg £650 and changed hands twice during my search, ending up on the continent I believe. The original seller wouldn't part with the radio cassette separately.
The second was again an Eclat, red this time and in what seemed like good original, and useable condition. Offered on ebay by an independent dealer in the greater London area iirc, again the seller wasn't willing to remove the unit.
The third was in an Esprit S2 in the United States. It was listed [and presented] as an original car but had no engine or trans. I had no more luck with this gent than the last two. Unfortunately whilst I can find the remnants of these three ads, I don't seem to have taken screen shots of the cars, or the units. The radios looked identical to the one I have received.
The LT Family.
The Motorola unit fitted to Lotus cars seems to have been part of a small range of models that consisted of at least three specs; a two band radio, a two band radio cassette, and a three band radio cassette, the latter being our target. The two lesser specified models appear semi-regularly on the auctions, and can usually be had from £15 to £50. These can be found unbranded, branded for Motorola, or for a number of the British Leyland marques. Our three band radio cassette seems only to have been fitted to Lotuses. Do I need to mention it's rarity? Interestingly, and infuriatingly the BL units wear only BL model numbers, so there are no more clues to be had there.
Unit #01 - The two band radio
- SEE PHOTO #02 -
Unit #02 - The two band radio cassette
- SEE PHOTOS 03, 04, 05, 06 -
Unit #03 - The three band radio cassette
- SEE PHOTO #07 -
My unit is not an LT551, nor is it an LT558. It's an LT648. This likely means that it's an updated model in the same line. Whether the earlier model numbers were radios which looked similar or not is anyone's guess. Perhaps the LT551 and LT558 are the two band radio, and two band radio cassette pictured above. There may never have been an LT551 or LT558 in a Lotus, perhaps they were part of the original deal between Lotus and Motorola, but by the time the order was fulfilled the models had been superseded, who knows. It's heartening at least that it the three band Lotus emblazoned unit bears an LT prefix.
I'll leave you with some of the BL model labels, and some detailed photos of my unit. I hope this helps someone, or at least provides some reference for what is a funny little item to be one of the rarest parts of a late 70's Lotus Esprit.
SEE PHOTO #08, AND REMAINING IMAGES -
* By motivated I mean that for three years I treated the search for the radio unit as a weekly exercise. I contacted all of the main Lotus indy specialists, who each will tell you they've a list as long as their arms of owners desperately looking for a unit. I contacted Lotus who have no information about the units, outside of some cars being fitted with Motorola made radios. I contacted Motorola Heritage, who usually don't engage with Joe public but who were intrigued, as they also had no record of the models or of any dealing with Lotus cars. Unfortunately some sort of data error means I've lost the emails from Motorola Heritage, but since receiving my unit I've contacted them again to update them, and if I hear anything back I'll post it here.
If you're looking for inspiration it's worth noting that most of my efforts produced little more than the information contained in this post, the radio ultimately came from a simple saved search on ebay. Here are some ideas I employed that helped in my other searches for rare items.
set saved searches on ebay & local online classifieds [as in automatic search notifications, there were no other bidders on my radio ]
politely contact people selling period correct Lotus parts
politely contact people selling Lotus project cars with the radio in tact
ask anyone you've just purchased a related item from
attend auto jumbles & car boots
place a wanted post here [in the wanted section]
remember to mention it to any car guy or Lotus enthusiast you talk to
offer for barter other rare items you may not now need, in exchange