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LEW meets 'The' Esprit Author
LEW gets an exclusive interview with Jeremy Walton,
Author of 'The Complete Story' and 'The Official Story'

Lotus Esprit World get's an exclusive interview with Esprit author Jeremy Walton a few weeks before the launch of 'Lotus Esprit The Official Story'. The book is the inside story of Britain’s best loved supercar from it’s development in the early 1970’s right through to the 21st century. Jeremy is well known in the Esprit world after writing 'Lotus Esprit The Complete Story', which I'm sure most owners and enthusiast already own.

In our interview we ask Jeremy all about his experiences when writing both books, his thoughts on the Esprit, it's future, Lotus and much more. We've also got exclusive images from the forth coming book that launches in March at the ClubLotus Show at Donington Park. The book is so hot off the press we couldn't even get a copy to review before it's launch, so you'll have to wait for that. Judging from the images we have, it'll be a must for every Esprit enthusiast.

Jeremy Walton was employed on the staff of Motoring news and Motor Sport in England when he first encountered Esprit, at Lotus in 1975. First got involved with Lotus when he built a Lotus 7 with friends in 1970. Has written over 30 marque books and two biographies.

Walton (59) was employed by Ford Motorsport before setting up his own journalism and book business in 1977-8. A former competitor he has been a national British class champion in saloons twice (1971 & 1991) and was one of the pioneers to race Caterham Seven for Graham Nearn when it was admitted to UK motorsports gain in the early 1980s.

Q. What is your background with regard to writing about cars?

A. Trained as a journalist and worked as a warranty clerk in a local garage

Q. Have you ever owned, or do you own an Esprit. If not a Lotus?

A. Lotus 7 for a year 1970-1, never owned Esprit, but road tested all 4-cylinders, road to race and now have V8 experience.

Q. How did Lotus Esprit 'The Complete Story' come about?

A. It was the follower of an earlier Esprit title published by Osprey, 1982.

Q. What were your first impressions of the Esprit (before and close up)?

A. Tremendously exciting, because it was about a year before launch. Colin Chapman authorised us [I got the test drive through Denis Jenkinson of Motor Sport magazine: the man who won Mille Miglia with S. Moss] to try this new Lotus around Hethel Track and talked us through background, plus made sure we got to see key members of the team even as they did the final developments before 1976 on sale dates.

Q. What sort of research was done before the book was written?

A. I have kept files on Esprit since 1975 and Lotus since 1967. My first Lotus test car was in 1968, a Holbay 7 and I drove every model including Esprit until 1993, then followed up with V8 and turbo comparisons.

Q. Which Esprit did you drive before and during the writing?

A. All 4-cylinder models including SCCA 1991 racer/Sport 300 and then back to back with Lotus development ace and current consultant Roger Becker with a mid eighties turbo hc and Esprit V8, at Hethel, 2004.

Q. Any interesting stories about your time researching the Esprit?

A. The highlight for excitement was the Becker day at Hethel and subsequently playing with the V8 solo on a wet track!

Q. How was your relationship with the factory during this time?

A. The best it has been in any of my work with any car factory, because these are officially blessed titles. So Lotus cooperate far more than in my experience of either earlier Lotus or other car makes.

Q. What was your impressions of the Esprit after the book was written?

A. Different to my original perspective, because that family is now finished, and can be regarded in classic, rather than current light.
Looking back I believe the Sport 300 and the Esprit SE intercooler were high points in the 4-cylinder line along with final GT3, and they more than compare with Porsche and Ferrari if maintained accurately.

Q. What was the reaction to the book when it was released?

A. It was very gratifying initially. Still complimented and selling long after title was obsolete and that was annoying for buyers and myself, because the book became 13 years out of date as Esprit continued in production long after Complete Story was published. Thus the need for a later Esprit title..

Q. Do you know how may units were sold. We have one, so that's a start?

A. You should check with the publishers. Over 3 editions published, so more than 8000.

Q. How did you feel about the title 'The Complete Story' considering the model continued for another decade?

A. Unhappy and I have commented on that in introduction for Official Story.

Q. Who would you consider was the most help during your time writing the book?

A. Brian Angus, Michael Kimberley and Lotus PR.

Q. Did you come around any interesting information that couldn't be published?

A. Things I really didn't know were mostly found in the Confidential M70 briefing document and I couldn't quote all of that, because of space rather than secrecy. I did get some insider hints on the V8 engine development period that showed problems that would not have occurred had the same internal engineering review process been followed as Elise. But because I was fully occupied following Elise at the time, couldn't follow them up or find a basis for publication. Not relevant now anyway.

Q. Lotus were hitting hard times around this time, how did that affect the book and it's writing?

A. Lotus were always on the brink of what Chapman called the 'financial abyss, ' so little change there! Today's Proton ownership seems to have stabilised things, but it is harder to write intelligently and compassionately when key contacts are at risk, or simply leave before research is completed. This was not a major problem with Esprit – except that so many had left or died that I originally worked with, so I could not update as much as I would have liked in respect of their contributions.

The biggest loss for me was Tony Rudd, who really fathered the project initially and said 'yes' to the US racers in the 1990s which extended Esprit's commercial life in America beyond Europe.

Q. How did you hear and what did you feel when you heard that Esprit production would stop?

A. As a journalist there were many tales of Esprit ending long before it did: same was true of Ford Capri, Audi quattro and TT, but UK market kept them alive. The same process – but with US buyers – prolonged Esprit beyond prediction, and the factory openly admit they told suppliers Esprit would cease on at least three occasions before it actually ceased production.

I did not really believe it until Lotus ratified the official ceremony, and even then I thought they only stopped because there was not a complete set of parts left in the building...

Q. What did you get up to between writing the first book and starting the second?

A. Raced a variety of V8 and turbo saloons, attacked the American market and got a publisher plus a magazine column and regular features. Divorced a second time and found it no less expensive than the first...

Q. How did the follow-up 'The Official Story' come about?

A. Official Story is not a follow up. I started from scratch as you'll see looking through even the early chapters. For example I had to revise just about every aspect of early development stories in the light of that M70 document which only came to light when I had finished first draft of Official Story in 2005.

Q. What sort of help did you get from Lotus second time around compared with the first?

A. Better – and they are more open than any of the mass manufacturers. Best contacts are the engineers, who just make that company what it is, especially the ride and handling aristocrats from Roger Becker through John Miles and many more.

I have a particular regard for Tony Shute [Eagle chassis Esprit and more], who remains enthusiastic and knowledgeable even when the work/financial environment pre- Elise/Esprit V8 was far, far worse than today's upbeat consistency.

Q. How easy was it two condense the first book into the second and did that make it an easier job?

A. That was not the process. I just started over again. Then we started uncovering a lot more information, right from the early years onward.

Q. What people helped with the information in this book?

A. I think I answered this before--above. Brian Angus, Michael Kimberley, eBay [!--we had to buy in some of the old documents offered for sale by former employees or relatives!] and Lotus PR were just about daily contacts over the research and writing period.

Q. Did you have much contact with actual Esprit owners, both now and during the writing of the first book?

A. Talked to dealers and owners, also scanned web sites and magazine surveys.

Q. How would you sum up the Lotus Esprit?

A. Supercar soul survivor

Q. How do you feel the new book will be received on it's launch?

A. Enthusiastically, considering how long it is since the subject was covered in any detail And this is the most detailed yet.

Q. Did you notice much difference between the 'Esprit Community' now compared with when writing the first book?

A. The web is the biggest change, plus more respect for the car as it aged. Quality had obviously improved to moderate some of the scandalous earlier tales.

Q. With only just over ten thousand Esprits made, what sort of sales units are you hoping for?

A. Probably sell one copy for every two Esprits made because the owners are so keen compared to mass production car owner-drivers.

Q. What is your favourite Esprit model and in which colour?

A. 1989 Green Esprit SE Intercooler or the 1991 racer, but in traditional Lotus race colours.

Q. How do you feel about the new Lotus being possibly called the Esprit? Could there be an 'Complete Story II'?

A. I am still not sure the factory are going to use Esprit name again. Just returned from Geneva show and a full Lotus stand including new Europa and they are still talking of new super car, not Esprit. They sound very confident of newcomer, say the engine has been selected [but will not say which one] and predict a 2008 debut.

I'd like to see the name continued. IF they call it Esprit, I'd think that it is most likely we'd have to consider a new Official Story, but my guess is that the owners will be so different to existing customers that a new book would be needed, not an update.

We, Coterie and myself, talk to to Lotus just as much about future cooperation as history. So whatever the Supercar is called, it has to make a worthy story. Personally I prefer to see cars out on the market before writing marque histories so as to judge what the public make of them, rather than all pre launch hype.

Q. Is there anything you'd like to add?

A. Yes, I am concerned that you seem to see this large scale, high quality, format Official Story as a mere update of what went before. The two books have no link save the subject and author.

If you look at the production standards at Coterie and appreciate the Lotus knowledge of the proprietor you know this will be a totally different approach. That is why I did not write Elise immediately after I had attended the factory over a 20 month research period, because I could not get a public sale perspective, or a publisher who could see beyond cheap production values.

Aside from presentation and publisher knowledge, much of the improvement in Esprit text is allowed with the aid of that magic they call 'Hindsight . It could not have been written this way before production ceased.

Lotus Esprit World had not received it's copy of the new book at the time of the interview.

Jeremy signing copies at it's Doningon Launch, where it SOLD OUT on Saturday. LEW now has a copy and will be reviewing it soon.

Lotus Esprit World would personally like to thank Jeremy for agreeing to this interview and giving up his valuable time.

Glad to, thanks for giving me the opportunity to put my view and let's all hope the Esprit story is far from finished!

ISBN: 1-902351-24-X
Foreword by: Mike Kimberley (former Lotus Director)
Size: 30cm x 30cm Hardcover
224 pages with over 500 images
Price: UK £ 34.95 US $64.95

Lotus Esprit: The Official Story is available to order at www.coteriepress.com and will be launched at the 2006 Lotus Show at Donington.

The views contained in this page are those of Jeremy Walton and not of the Lotus Cars Ltd or Lotus Esprit World.
None of the information above can be taken as official information.

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