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Fast Masters
These cars all starred in earlier eCOTY competitions.
Now we revisit them as used buys
Evo December 2004

'It's the most beautiful car in the world, it sounds exactly like a racing car, goes hard enough to keep the hairs on the back of your neck in a permanent state of erection and it will make you then envy of friends you didn't know you had. It is quite simply exquisite.'

The year was 1998, the historic event was the inaugural eCOTY and this gushing praise was spoken by David Vivian way back in issue 003. The car in question was the Ferrari F355 F1 and, although it narrowly lost out to the ubiquitous 911 and the dazzling Elise 135, it is still remembered with deep admiration and affection.

For us, eCOTY is more than a gathering of our favourite performance cars from the previous 12 months, its' a rare opportunity for the whole team to get together and share a beer to two. At some point the talk will turn to tests of yore and how the current youthful crop compare to some of the much-loved oldies (I mean cars, not journalists).

With depreciation having worked its magic, the F355 F1 has dropped in value from £105,000 new in 1998 to a tempting £50,000 second-hand today – and it's not the only eCOTY hero to reach bargain status. In 1999 the Lotus Sport 350 made it to the second eCOTY, held in Scotland. At the time the range-topping Esprit would have set you back a wallet-wilting £65,000, but now they can be snapped up for as little as £30k. If that's still not cheap enough for you, why not try the original VX220, another mid-engined contender, this time from the third eCOTY in 2000? They cost £22,995 new, but just 12 grand will secure one now.

Are they as good as we remember them? And if they are, can you find them without hassle and huge expense? We've spent the last month chatting to owners, specialist and clubs to get the background and we've been reminiscing and driving them too. Tempted? You'd better read on.

Lotus Esprit Sport 350
To be honest, the 350 felt old-fashioned even when it was new. It may have been the '90s, but the Esprit still had its roots firmly in the '70s, and you only had to sit in one to know it was an old-school supercar. The scattered, cheap switchgear and off-set pedals were an ergonomic nightmare, while visibility and comfort were poor (particularly for those over six-feet tall) by today's standards. However, dismissing this car before firing it up would be an error of epic proportions.

The Esprit was all about driving dynamics, and it still is. The handling and steering feel are so pure they are still a match for anything available in 2004 – front-end bite is still peerless, cornering speeds border on the absurd – and then there's that ferocious twin -turbo V8 engine. It doesn't sound like a V8 and it doesn't feel like a turbo because there's no lag, but boy, does it get the job done. The sprint from rest to 60mph takes a scant 4.3 seconds, 100mph comes up in less than 10, and it'll keep on charging at the horizon until it reaches 175mph.

It's not a car for the faint-hearted. Despite being the fastest road car Lotus has ever built, it's got no ABS (not true, LEW) or traction control, making it a real handful in the wet. In effect, it's a GT racer with a tax disc, which means that at least half the time it's irritating, frustrating and awkard. However, when you hit that sweet-spot on the right day, on the right roads, it's nothing short of astonishing.

Lotus built just 50 of these monsters and, due to the number of Lotus enthusiasts around, it's possible to accumulate a detailed history of every one. All UK 350s had blue cam covers instead of red, a restyled front spoiler, a carbon rear wing on aluminium uprights, OZ alloys and AP Racing brakes and, other than cars built for Lotus directors, all were sliver-grey.

Engine: V8, 32v, twin-turbo
Displacement: 3506cc
Max Power: 350bhp @ 6500rpm
Max Torque: 295lb ft @ 4250rpm
Weight: 1299kg
0-60mph: 4.3 sec
Top Speed: 175mph

Check Points

At the start of the engine's production run it soon became apparent that there was a serious problem with leaking cylinder liners. This effectively required a complete rebuild at the cost of around £6000. Most (but not all, LEW) of the engines were repaired under warranty, but you need to check that your car has had the work done or you could be left waiting for a financial time-bomb to explode.

Apart from the liner problem, there are a few points to be aware of. The cam belt needs to be replaced at 24,000 miles, and you must ensure that everything is warmed up properly before using big revs (if you don't want the V8 to die young). Fan failure is common (We have no knowledge of this as a common failure, LEW) but easy to fix, just so long as you don't continue driving and cook the head gaskets. The chargecooler water pumps are a common failure (This is a 4-cylinder problem not V8, LEW), but the turbos will last well. If they do break they can be exhanged for around £300 (This would be from a specialist if you're lucky enough to find someone with them, LEW). The manifolds have been known to crack (This again is a 4-cylinder problem not V8, LEW) due to the extreme temperatures after long running periods, and putting this right can be a long and therefore expensive job.

The Renault gearbox was never the slickest unit (it's actually a real pain around town), but all the internals are still available. Be aware that the casings are no longer made and are consequently difficult to come by. Clutch replacement is expensive, as the gearbox has to be removed, taking around 11 hours. The clutch has to be replaced at the first sign of slippage to prevent further costly damage to the flywheel.

Very strong. Springs and dampers have lasted as long as 80,000 miles, so there's little for concern here.

The large front wheels put high stress loads through the small steering rack, which wears (This is a non-power steering 4-cylinder problem not know on V8's with power steering, LEW). However, it can be replaced with an exchange unit. The brakes are impressive and rarely suffer fade, even on trackdays (You will get fade on the track if used hard, LEW).

Bodywork and interior
The cabin architecture may look dated, but it lasts well and all electrical systems are usually reliable. However, if there is a fault it can be difficult to rectify, as the system is very complicated and awkward to get at. The bodywork should be clean and examined carefully for any signs of crash damage repairs.


Ken Baird
'I bought my Sport 350 in 2000, when it was only ten months old, and by doing that I saved £18,000 on the new price. I'm a big Lotus fan. I have a James Bond Esprit and a Sport 300. The 350 is the ultimate though – it's the car the V8 should have been. The GT is too soft and the 300 has massive turbo lag, but the 350 has all the power and handling you could ever wish for'.
'I used it daily and it now has 34,000 miles on the clock. On trackdays it blows everything else away. It seems to be reliable and I've had no real trouble. The carbon rear wing began to yellow, so I had it lacquered, which looks terrific. There are loads of knowledgeable Lotus enthusiasts, so if you're thinking of getting one, pop along to your nearest meet.'

Ken's Sport 350, Sport 300 and S1 can been seen on the LEW Owners pages.


Lotus Esprit Sport 350
Any example of a Sport 350 that's been looked after will come in at around £30,000, irrespective of mileage and upgrades. Most cars that have been upgraded have been modified with track work in mind, but don't worry about this – the Sport 350 is designed to be used in this way and most have been on the track at some time in their life.


1999 Esprit Sport 350 (car worth £30,000) £766.99 with £320 excess.

Useful Contacts

Paul Matty Sportscars 01527 835656
Esprit Engineering 01725 514449
Lotus Cars 01953 608980

Too Many Errors

On reading this article in Evo, we felt as others did that it showed the Esprit Sport 350 in a less than favourable light. Also the amount of glaring errors in the article, just made the whole thing not really worth reading and would give people new to the Esprit completely incorrect information.

The final straw was that www.lotusespritworld.com was mentioned at the end of the article, which with all the errors in the article, doesn't exactly shine a light on the site. LEW and Sport 350 Register founder RobC, both emailed the editor to complain about the article. Evo apologised and issued a printed apology in the next issue of Evo.

Remember, what you read in Automotive Magazines isn't always the truth and their research can be non-existent. So don't believe everything you read. You can believe in Lotus Esprit World, as we don't publish article without researching our information first.

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