This was the meet to end all meets. Arranged by Bibs from the Lotus Esprit Forum with Tony Kimberley's help (which was important as Tony is Lotus Chairman Mike Kimberley's son) this was never going to be a simple trip to the Lotus Factory at Hethel, Norfolk. The buzz has been huge on the forum and the 200 places went quick!
Meeting at the Wensum Valley Hotel Golf & Country Club in Taverham Norwich on Sunday afternoon, LEW arrived in our SE at 1pm. The carpark set aside for the meeting was pretty fully with about 50-60 Esprits. Bibs had already broken the Europa Lotus had lent him, with water pouring out! Still it was a Day for Esprits and he managed to find a seat in one!
After a quick chat we were off to Great Yarmouth's front to collect money for McMillian Cancer Charity.
Around 65 Esprit made the 45 min journey to Great Yarmouth. Quite a sight on a Sunday afternoon in Norfolk.
Bibs found a seat in a Silver V8! Which kept it's water, maybe the Esprit is more reliable than the Europa, or maybe it's bibs! The local council kept a carpark near the beach free for the meeting and it was full of Esprits by 3pm.
Quite a sight for any Esprit enthusiast!
A Star Wars Stormtropper and Tie-fighter pilot in full kit were on hand to collect for McMillian's. Great sports and great fun! Two Esprits, including Rob's V8 all the way from Switzerland moved down the front to carry on collecting for such a great cause.
Bibs and Kimbers get friendly in Great Yarmouth (we heard the Kimbers asked for the pink shirt and it's just a rumor bibs did it for a joke). We counted 63 Esprits, with more turning up during the afternoon. The convoy returned to the hotel around 6.30pm. Most people Signed in for the factory day and track time before the food. £20 for the day, £10 to get on the track. Priceless! Time to feed the masses! Kimber keeps his favourite T-shirt on for the buffet at 8pm.
With everyone seated the evening continued with a couple of people from the Charities talking about the sort of thing they do with money raised. Unexpectedly Mike Kimberley, the newly appointed chairman of Lotus was there. He spoke to the group about Lotus, the Esprit and the future. The floor was then open for questions and Mike spoke at length about Colin Chapman and Lotus' future in Motorsport. Could things get any better?
Mike and Bibs have a chat on the top table before Bibs gets the Auction underway. The auction was a great success with plenty of interesting stuff for people to bid on. A Lotus Drivers Day went for over £600, a large F1 print signed by Jenson Button went for over £500. Some futuristic Esprit pictures made nearly £500 between them. There was also T-shirts, manuals, DVD's, Books and a life-time membership of ClubLEW making more money for charity. Mike also spent a lot of time signing stuff for both the auction pieces and for owners. The LEF Factory Day ended up raising over £3,500 for charity. It just got better!
Rob Cunningham came all the way from Canada (as did Wayne) and donated the Esprit pictures for the action. He got to meet Mike at the auction and was a happy man even before getting to the factory. Owners came from Canada, Switzerland, France, Germany, Finland and all over the UK for this event. LEW hit the sack at 1am, Bibs was up until 4am, which was a bit late for a 8.30am start in the morning!
Leaving at 9am dead for the factory, the 30 min journey to the factory was amazing! 90+ Esprits driving through the Norfolk countryside. The second two pictures are all the cars lining up outside the factory waiting to get in! We had models from one of the very first S1's to a 2003 V8, which was one of the last to be sold in the UK.
Lotus' Carparks normally looks like the first picture! Full of Elise's and Exige's. We turned it into this!
Nearly 100 Esprits parked up inside the Lotus factory.
LEW was allowed the take a camera onto the site, but had a Lotus employee with us at all times. Other than the official photographer, these are the only other pictures from the day. Taken to record the events for everyone who couldn't attend and for those that will look back with very fond memories!
Lotus had a full day planned for us. From 10am when we arrived until 4.40pm we were kept busy! On arrival everyone signed in and were given badges for 16 different groups for the day. With around 200 people this took a little bit of time. Bibs and Kimbers looked very happy with the way things were going!
An Essex F1 car was kept in the Marquee for people to look over, along with a Lotus track car, which you'll see a bit further down. Lotus also supplied a few of their new Europa's for people to test drive. This was pretty popular as a blat in a car that as far as we know isn't with customers yet (remember, we don't know too much) was too much to miss.
Lotus Motorsport were also offering to do work on Esprits the whole day. Quite a few people took them up on this offer in advance to get some servicing, wheel alignment and other stuff done. Others needed a little bit of help when they turned up and Motorsport did all they could to sort out any problems people had on the day. A great service from the factory. Rob who'd travelled from Switzerland had a service done and LEW later saw it out on the track to check everything out! Whoelse has a test track outside to make sure everything's ok!
Factory Day Itinerary
Lotus had arranged everyone into 16 group as mention above, who'd move around between the different events they'd arranged for us throughout the day. The longest was the tour of the production line of the Elise, Exige and Europa. LEW wasn't allowed to take any pictures inside the production line unfortunately (no Esprits to be seen, so not too much of a problem). The tour started at the panels (pre-paint) where they're glued together before painting, right up to the final checks. Quite a process. Our group then had a buffet lunch supplied by Lotus before carrying on with the day.
Next for us was a forum on Suspension with Geoff Davidson. This was great, as all the details on the new suspension were explained in detalis and information on new poly bushes Lotus are working on. The rears have been ok'd and should be available, as is the suspension for models from 85 - 04 with just the 300 and 350 sets waiting to be done.
On from that was a forum with Brian Angus on Esprit Engine Development. A inside history on the Esprit powerplants, right from the first 2.0l Lotus engine to the V8. Ever wondered why the V8 engine is so difficult to service! It was design for another Lotus car which was front engined. That project was scrapped and they ended up cancelling the end of Esprit produciton to use it as a home for the engine. The S4s should have been the last Esprit made!
On from that was a GT3 forum, where Lotus showed off the Elise GT3 racer, which as been beating Porsche in it's first season. The history of the race car was take up from the end of the Esprit GT1's last season. Time then to take in the Lotus Shop for some bits to remember the day.
LEW snapped away to show you the shop and some of the stuff in it. Plenty to spend your money on, including clothing, hats, books, dvds, watches, sunglasses, models, umbrellas, posters, key rings and even car parts!
The famous Lotus Bike that helped Britain win an olympic gold medal! We also spy the new suspension, which you can now order from Lotus Motorsport and sent directly to your door! A Gearbox at the enterance with some soapbox racers in the background.
Time then for some laps of the Lotus Track! Mike Kimberley was on hand for to sign more autographs, as was Roger Becker who made a quick appearence. With Matthew Jones and Clive Dobson on hand most of Lotus top men made an appearance. PR Manager Alaistair Florance was staying tight lipped on the 2009 Esprit Replacement. We also spoke to the owner of the very last Esprit. Hopefully we'll have some stuff on that soon!
Leading out each group of 10 Esprits was Lotus new track car. Very impressive piece of kit. The Esprits were sandwhiched in by one of the trackday Elises.
Parade lap was a bit of a loose term and everyone of the 60 Esprit that took to the track enjoyed themselves fully. In one of the sessions we had two Sport 350's and a Sport 300 on the track at the same time. Quite a sight! LEW managed a very wet session second from last. But with an engine being run in and new brakes bedding it, it was just as good! We hit 80mph on the straight before our 3,500rpm limit.
The day came to an end with a few thanks and gifts for the Lotus staff that helped out on the day. Brian and Geoff got a bottle of something nice, as did Marie, who organised the day and worked very hard and her helpers, Anette and Lisa (forgive me if the names are slightly wrong). Bibs and Kimbers got a little something for making this a day to remember.
Nothing to be said! Wonderful event and a great thanks to everyone at Lotus and Bibs and Kimbers for organising it. If you aren't a member of the Lotus Esprit forum, maybe it's time you joined. You don't want to miss out of something like this again. Plus there's 100's of great Esprit owners on there!