espritdrive4.4.14

This months’ featured car is a very special and very early Turbo Esprit that has been the subject of much discussion and debate over the past few months since coming in to the ownership of Jonny Pittard, aka “The Pits” on the forums.

I was chatting to Jonny at the recent Mercedes Benz World meeting, in my role, along with “Bazza”, as a concours judge. During the course of the conversation, it slowly dawned on me that I actually knew the car, having been asked to facilitate its’ sale for a previous owner, some three years ago. To my delight, I was, therefore, able to fill in a few of the missing gaps for Jonny, as my friend had owned the vehicle since it was just twenty months old.

Let’s wind the clock back to 1981, 29th September, to be precise, the date that our car, chassis number 1108, was signed off by Lotus Cars. The original build record confirms that the car should be built to the full specification to which the preceding “Essex” specification cars had been built. Ticking all of the options boxes ensured that the vehicle received a full leather interior in the same “Essex” red, air conditioning and a curious roof mounted Panasonic Radio-Cassette, the positioning of which betrayed Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s love of flying and sailing, when aircraft and boat cockpits regularly featured roof mounted communication equipment. There were, in fact, just three vehicles built to this specification in Monaco White during the whole of 1981, according to official factory information acquired by the current owner. A specific request relating to this vehicle was that the silver and red “Essex” stripes should be applied to the vehicle but with the petroleum company’s name to be omitted, possibly due to some, shall we say, irregularities that were surfacing within the Monaco registered organisation that would see their name removed from the Lotus F1 cars shortly after.

Just two days later, the vehicle had been dispatched to Pat Thomas at Kelvedon Motors and registered, on 1st October 1981, to its first owner, a company close to Pat in Spalding, Lincolnshire.

The first owners’ tenure was a relatively brief one as just twenty months later, it had found its’ way back to Kelvedon Motors, albeit with a healthy 13000 miles recorded in the relatively short period of ownership. It was at this time that a Lotus collector was looking to enhance his collection and was hugely attracted to SAV 176X because of its’ slightly more understated colour of Monaco White, whilst still being an absolute “state-of-the-art” offering from Hethel. Following a cordial cup of tea in Pat’s kitchen that evolved into Lotus related chat until the late hours a deal was struck for the vehicle to travel just a few miles away, to its’ new home in North Lincolnshire. Forming part of a multi-Lotus collection, the vehicle led a charmed life for many years being used very sparingly but always being carefully started and maintained at regular intervals. Shortly into this phase of the cars life, the silver Essex-style decal started to peel on a corner. Fully intending to replace the offending item, the whole decal was removed. However, preferring the look of the car without the broad silver flash, the replacement item was never fitted, hence the appearance of the car in some of the accompanying images.

Fast forward to 2011. With a further mileage of just 9500 accrued in the intervening twenty eight years, it was decided that the vehicle should be passed on to a new owner. A call was taken from the agent of a mystery buyer who was looking to purchase a definitive specification car for his collection. With the deal agreed the car was immediately placed into storage without the vehicle even being used.

Within two years, the car was again offered for sale, this time through long-standing Lotus dealer, Paul Matty, in Bromsgrove. It was at this time that Jonny realised it was time to scratch the itch and to fulfil a childhood dream. Jonny, like many of his generation, had become transfixed by the car seen in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and that interest was heightened further when, at the age of eleven the first Turbo reports made their way into the motoring press, marvelling at the significant increase in performance and wondering at the futuristic roof mounted stereo! He vowed on that day that, one day, he would own one. Whilst it was few years coming (although, of course, Jonny has owned other exotic cars, including two later model Esprits), when the time came to look, Jonny was most definite about his requirements. A fruitless search for one of the thirty four Essex vehicles had confirmed that the car must at least be built to the same specification as the elusive limited edition car. The one hugely desirable pre-requisite was that the car had to feature the roof mounted Panasonic stereo that was placed in a more conventional, centre console position shortly after #1108 was built. Given the low mileage, short ownership trail and the ideal specification, it was inevitable that when Jonny visited Paul Matty, he would not be leaving without a deal having been struck. And so it was that, last December, Jonny became the new custodian, only the fourth, with the vehicle still displaying just 22500 miles. During its’ short period with the preceding owner, the remaining Essex stripes were removed, to be replaced with more conventional “Turbo Esprit” graphics as seen in the later gallery images.

So, how does Jonny sum up his new acquisition? It is of course still early days with the vehicle having covered just 300 miles, a majority of which were undertaken driving the car to Mercedes Benz World and home again to deepest Hampshire, subjecting the poor car to its’ first sensation of rain in many years. Jonny is of the view that it certainly outperformed his expectations of a vehicle whose design roots are now over forty years old and it is certainly more comfortable than the Exige S Cup that it is garaged alongside. The drive in the rain has persuaded Jonny that a new set of tyres will be in order and possibly a swap from the BBS wheels that it currently sports to the rare and hugely desirable Compomotive alternative although this swap does present a few engineering challenges along the way and may not, therefore, be that simple to achieve, even if a correct set of wheels can be located.

It is of personal delight to me that SAV176X has met with another good and proper owner that is going to enjoy and cherish the ownership experience. The mileage will remain low but the levels of care will remain high with everything bestowed upon the vehicle to ensure that it is preserved as an outstanding example and a lasting tribute to the early Turbo Esprit. As Jonny “The Pits” is a regular forum contributor, I am sure we all look forward to learning more of the cars adventures over the coming months and years.

Guy Munday.

Click any image to view gallery.

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