May as well write this down. Who knows, maybe my children will be curious about their dad some day and want to read it . . .
As a young child, about four years old in the late 1970s, I was with my family at my aunt and uncle's house for a holiday (pretty sure it was Thanksgiving). While waiting for dinner, I was sitting in the living room watching the color TV. At this point in my life, I was already a car nut. Loved cars. There on the TV was a white car. In beautiful scenery. I loved how it looked. It looked faster than all the other cars. I really liked the shape. I was mesmerized by this car. It was perfect.
I didn't quite understand when the car went into the water . . . really, to a young child it was kind of confusing. I liked it better with wheels . . . was hoping to see more of the car after that, but there was only a little bit. Then it was time for dinner. Never forgot that car.
Later that year for Christmas, my brother and I received a slot car set as a gift. It had a yellow car and a white car. The white car looked exactly like this:
This photo is from eBay (not my actual car), but I still have the original actual car.
As I grew up, I saw Lotus Esprits here and there on television. Rockford Files. Knight Rider. Miami Vice . . .
Then in video games, like Test Drive and Rad Racer:
(That's an Esprit on the left. Unfortunate that in playing the game you had to drive a 328...)
By the late 1980s, I was reading car magazines like Car & Driver and Road & Track. Couldn't wait to read reviews that included the Lotus Esprit.
When I was a freshman in high school, in our Public Speaking class, I managed to include the slot car as a visual aid in a speech, in saying that I hope to have a *real* Lotus some day, not just a toy one. Total car nut.
As I read the car magazines in high school, I became fascinated with the technical aspect of the Esprit, and with the ethos of the car. In the 1980s and ealry '90s, it was a very advanced car -- 16 valves, DOHC, turbo charger, later a chargecooler, aerodynamic, and the body was made from some kind of a composite, not just boring old-fashioned steel. And of course it handled better than anything. And it made all that power and speed from just a 2.2 liter four -- that was impressive technology compared to the others who needed six, eight, ten, or twelve cylinders to go fast. It was cool. And the nature of the car as I understood it was a good fit for my personality; if I were to express my automotive values in a car, it would be the Esprit.
I dreamed of some day owning a Lotus Esprit. Not long after getting my driver's license, I bought the "poor man's Esprit." "This is the closest I'm ever going to get to a Lotus," I thought:
I had also been fixing things my whole life -- clocks as a small child, motorized toys a few years later, radio controlled cars, mini bikes, and then at age 15 I started learning to fix cars. I had owned about ten cars before even finishing high school.
While I was in college, in the 1990s, the whole world changed. Pretty things, happy music, electric guitars and synthesizers, beautiful people, bright colors, and cool cars were out . . . and a general disdain for beauty, miserable "grunge" music, "unplugged" coffee shop culture, and olive drab were in. Affluent kids at colleges across the country went to Salvation Army and Goodwill stores and bought old clothes to try and look like they lived in hard times. And most of all, cars were very, very uncool. Especially sports cars. Especially exotic cars. If you liked or owned an "impractical" exotic/sports car, it meant you were a simple minded, insecure, egotistical jerk who was "compensating" for his three-inch thingy. Pop culture had taken a complete 180-degree turn from the halcyon days of Miami Vice and Cannonball Run. I never cared too much what other people were into, though. I still wanted a Lotus Esprit, and still liked my cars. I probably owned another dozen or so cars through my four years in college. All of them were uncool -- mostly sports cars. Did not care.
I was browsing a news stand at a big box store one night in college, looking at one of the magazines where they sold exotic cars (Robb Report or DuPont Registry), hoping to see a Lotus Esprit. Found a few. Strange, though, I thought -- there must be some mistake on the price; they cost no more than a new Lexus or Infiniti. On subsequent trips to the news stand, I began to realize that those were the actual prices. The Esprit SE that was $100K when I was in high school had fallen to $24K-$35K.
At this point in my life, I had already been involved in a few car clubs. When I started to ask car people I knew about the affordability of a Lotus or other exotic car, the line I most often received was "It's one thing to buy them . . . but servicing them is where it gets expensive..."
I thought to myself . . . "People who do well in college and get good jobs can afford new cars like Lexus and Infinity . . . . so if I do well in college, I should be able to get a good job and afford that kind of car . . . and I've been fixing things my whole life and taught myself to fix 'regular' cars; I don't see why I can't teach myself to fix a Lotus . . ."
So I decided that the dream of owning an Esprit was a lot more within reach than I had thought. All I had to do was work hard and get a good job . . .
So to motivate myself to study and do well, I bought one of these, painted it white, and put it on my desk:
I also bought books and buyers guides about Lotus and Esprits, and read them cover to cover multiple times. Still have all of them.
When I finished college, I got an entry level operations job at an investment firm. I started saving for my dream car, a Lotus Esprit.
I invested and saved, and also bought more broken "regular" cars and fixed them and sold them. Like these, for example:
As an intermediate step on my learning curve of teaching myself to fix cars, I bought a Porsche 944 in mediocre condition and needing a clutch to learn from and use as a daily driver:
That was the first of about ten 944s I owned, racking up over 350K miles driving them daily, and servicing dozens of them for others.
Then, after about a year at my job, I sold 2 or 3 Fieros, added some cash I had saved, and bought my first Lotus:
In the months leading up to it, I couldn't decide between a Turbo Esprit or an S1/S2. Every buyers guide at the time (late 1990s) told you to avoid the S1 at all costs, and that you should only buy something S3 or newer. Buying a notoriously unreliable, rare exotic car that everyone says to avoid, at the age of 23 on an entry level salary -- what could go wrong?
On the other hand, I thought it would make a good first Esprit, as it was simpler and might be less expensive if I did have a catastrophe. And while not fast like a Turbo, it did fulfill the imaginations of my young childhood, of that magical white car that I saw on the television so many years ago.
Indeed I had every catastrophe that S1s were known for. But by this time I had been fixing cars for 7 or 8 years, I received some good guidance from a few club members, and I understood that with something like this you have to be careful, not heavy handed, and most of all READ AND FOLLOW EVERY WORD IN THE WORKSHOP MANUAL.
So I enjoyed every moment of it. I enjoyed every moment of servicing, fixing, improving, washing, waxing, and most of all driving my Esprit S1.
That was twelve Esprits ago, twenty years ago, sixty-five thousand miles ago, many journeys and adventures ago, and most of all it has been through many great times with the many great people I have come to know and call my friends along the way.