1985 LOTUS Esprit S3

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1985 LOTUS Esprit S3


Launched in 1976, the Esprit was designed by Giorgetto Guigiaro alongside Colin Chapman. The Series 1, or S1 Esprit, was fitted with a 1,973 cc four cylinder engine, producing 160 bhp. The wedge shaped fibreglass body was mounted to a steel chassis, with the engine directly behind the occupants. This drove the rear wheels via a Citroen C35 5-speed manual gearbox. Praised for its handling, the S1 was a force to be reckoned with on the twisty bits, although it did receive some criticism for being underpowered.

The S2 was launched just two years later, with a revised body that included cooling ducts behind the rear quarter windows, and the rear lights from a Rover SD1. There were also changes inside, with wider seats and individual gauges giving a more racey feel to the cabin. The bhp remained the same, but there was an increase in torque.

It was in 1981 when this particular model we have here was released, the Series 3 or S3, with a new 2.2 litre 912 engine. The engine delivered 160 bhp and 160 lb-ft of torque, and this propelled the Esprit from 0-60mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds.

The body was refined again with larger bumpers, more aerodynamic. The underside was not left untouched, with a new galvanised chassis and suspension set up - shared with the contemporary Turbo Esprit - that gave the S3 its impeccable handling.

The Vehicle

This Lotus Esprit S3 was sold by Station Garage in Taplow, Berks on 3 October 1985, less than two weeks after leaving the Hethel factory. The first owner specified a Calypso Red exterior and a half-leather interior with both air conditioning and a glass roof.

It stayed with the first owner in Ashton Keynes, Wilts - an area now known for the Cotswold Water Park - for less than two years. It was sold in March 1987 - through Malmesbury Specialist Cars who had looked after it for the first owner - to a gentleman who lived near Basingstoke. Despite the 150-mile round trip, he continued to have the Esprit maintained and serviced in Malmesbury.

In July 2000, he sold it to a neighbour who kept it largely unused for a further nine years before it passed through Plough Garage in Farnham to its fourth owner, our vendor, from nearby Farnborough.

Despite owning the car for barely 18 months, the first owner put nearly half of the mileage on the car - clearly it was his daily driver. Subsequent owners have been more cautious and it now shows 46,440 miles on the clock.

The latest owner bought the car on seeing it at a nearby garage, as it was his then wife’s favourite car growing up. They used it for short commutes in the summer months and for local shows and days out. Sadly, but amicably, they’re now going their separate ways and as it hasn’t had a great deal of use lately, the Esprit is for sale.

On the Outside

Calypso Red is the most common but also one of the most desirable exterior colours for a Lotus Esprit S3. The paint and bodywork looks in good condition overall with a few nicks in the paint here and there on exposed edges as well as stone chips on the nose and on the side bodywork behind the rear wheels.

This Esprit has a factory glass roof panel, which is quite desirable and can be tilted at the rear or removed completely. In the latter case, it can be stowed in the boot in a protective vinyl sleeve.

At some point in the car’s history, it was fitted with the front spoiler and sill trims from the contemporary Turbo Esprit, along with gold decal stripes and gold painted BBS wheels. The embossed LOTUS script on the rear bumper has also been picked out in gold. There is speculation online that fitting these could have been a factory or dealer option when new, but there seems little evidence of this and it isn’t listed on the provenance certificate. Nonetheless, giving the car a partial “Turbo look” will have some appeal.

The 15-inch BBS cross-spoke alloy wheels look in very good order and all are shod with Pirelli tyres.

On the Inside

The interior, as factory-specified, is half and half. Half “champagne” coloured leather, which actually covers most of the interior, and half beige cloth which covers the lower sections of each door, the central tunnel sides and the seat facings. All appears to be in good order, clean and undamaged.

The seat and gaiters on the gear shift and handbrake have the creasing and patina to suggest they are the original leather. The hide on the door cards and across the dash and binnacle are also original. The original Momo steering wheel is also in good condition.

The centre console is fitted with a Pioneer radio cassette player fitted in 1989 and underneath are the controls for the factory-fitted air conditioning. Aft of the gear shift are the controls for the electric windows and the lever for the choke.

According to the vendor, the electrical equipment such as windows, door mirrors and cigar lighter are working as they should, and he believes the air conditioning is also functional but couldn’t swear to it.

The original carpets are clean and intact with fitted aftermarket floor mats providing additional protection.

Due to the full-width glass roof panel, there isn’t much in the way of headlining, but the header rail across the front and cant rails along either side look in reasonable order. The foam-backed material on the sun visors, though, is starting to deteriorate.


Under the front-hinged bonnet, released and secured by a handle resembling a wire coat hanger under the dash, there is secondary stowage, although mostly for dirtier items rather than luggage. The brake servo is looking a little corroded but functional and the lightweight steel spare wheel is present, fitted with older Goodyear rubber, along with the jack and tool roll.

Carrying a spare wheel in an Esprit provokes something of a discussion in the forums. Some drivers remove them for lighter handling at the front of the car. Others remark that they are superfluous as, having fitted a spare wheel, there is nowhere other than the passenger’s lap for a punctured road wheel to go, especially if it’s a rear!

Opening the tailgate, released by pulling a t-handle in the driver’s door shut and then lifted manually, the fairly generous luggage space can be found, hidden underneath a stud-fastened cover. The carpeting around the luggage area is in a reasonable condition but as boot floor carpeting was something of an afterthought for Lotus (earlier S3s had zipped boot bags), it isn’t especially pretty and there are sections coming loose.

Under the clip-fastened engine cover forward of the luggage space, the engine bay looks in a tidy and honest-looking condition. By which we mean that it hasn’t been steam cleaned for sale to hide anything untoward. It is what it is.

Being a fibreglass-bodied car sitting astride a galvanised steel backbone chassis, there is rarely any issue with structural rust on an Esprit. There’s a surface bloom across the steel steering and suspension components but otherwise everything looks in good order with no apparent damage.

History Highlights

This Esprit comes with a large history file - more a box really, in faux crocodile-skin if you please! Inside, the bulk of the weight is the Service Notes and Service Parts List folders for the model - these are not the widely available reprints but original Lotus-supplied items which are harder to come by.

There are also numerous printouts of buyer’s guides, articles and parts lists, as well as brochures and other Esprit-related bits and pieces including the official Certificate of Provenance from Lotus.

Of more importance, there are also plentiful past MOT reports and garage bills, including the sales paperwork from some of the changes of ownership. Of primary importance is the original owner’s handbook folder, in very good condition with what seems to be all of the booklets inside, including the one containing the service history.

There are entries in the original book and a later booklet for the following services:

Jan 1986 - 6,343 - Station Garage Taplow

Jun 1986 - 8,675 - Malmesbury Specialist Cars

Nov 1986 - 14,488 - a/a

Sep 1987 - 19,477 - a/a

Aug 1988 - 23,364 - unstamped but signed C Hicks

May 1993 - 29,927 - Malmesbury Specialist Cars

May 1999 - 33,971 - a/a

Jun 2002 - 36,414 - a/a

Jul 2009 - 37,268 - Plough Garage Farnham

Feb 2010 - 39,652 - a/a

Jul 2011 - 43,079 - Wiltshire & Sons, Farnham

Feb 2013 - 43,643 - Esprit Engineering

Mar 2019 - 45,742 - Bell & Colvill (incl belts changed)

There are numerous other invoices for work done in current ownership - a lot of it by Bell & Colvill, the world’s longest-serving Lotus garage. Highlights include:

Sep 2019 - 45,829 - Bell & Colvill - Gearbox rebuild, new clutch and flywheel

Nov 2021 - 46,246 - Max 500 - carb balancing and tune up

The car has a current MOT valid until October 2022. The combination of MOT and servicing records validate the current mileage of 46,440 - very low for a car well into its fourth decade.

Also with the car are a few new parts such as door mirrors, road springs, windscreen wiper blade, oil filter and sundry other items.

What We Think

Thanks in part to a starring role in The Spy Who Loved Me and cameo appearances in For Your Eyes Only, the Esprit remains a sought-after car for those of, or approaching, a certain age. Even without their 007 outings, the Lotus Esprit represents the plucky British sports car industry taking on the Italians of Ferrari and Lamborghini with their own lightweight take on the mid-engined wedge.

Whilst S1 prices have gone beyond the reach of most nostalgia-fuelled buyers, and the S2 and Turbos also selling in the high 30 thousands, it is down to the S3 to be the Esprit of choice for anyone hankering after a true Giugiaro wedge.

S3 prices have been rising steadily over the last decade and only fully restored examples tend to start with a 3. Most, like this one, are very tidy and usable examples that will always carry a bit of a “to do” list - but these little jobs can be done in between taking the car out to shows or just out for the fun of driving.

We think this low mileage and above average Esprit S3, with a comprehensive history file, will sell for between £22,000 and £27,000.

Don’t listen to the tiresome folk who like to chortle about LOTUS being an acronym - neither the vendor of this car, nor the writer of this listing (who also owns an S3) has had to deal with anything remotely “serious”.

Viewing is always encouraged. This particular car is located with us at The Market HQ near Abingdon; we are open weekdays between 9am-5pm, to arrange an appointment please use the Contact Seller button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

If needed, Footman James classic car insurance and Classic Concierge offer storage options plus we have a list of contacts who can help with transport and shipping.  

BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings available, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles for sale. We offer far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange inspections for each vehicle thoroughly prior to bidding than traditional auctions, and we never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this. We do take a good look at those vehicles which are delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or the result of a long test drive.

Also, localised paint repairs are common with collectable and classic cars and if they have been professionally carried out then they may be impossible to detect, even if we see the car in person. So, unless we state otherwise, please assume that any vehicle could have had remedial bodywork at some point in its life.

Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.

Please note that this is sold as seen and that, as is normal for used goods bought at auction, return policy does not apply. See our FAQs for more info, and feel free to inspect any vehicle as much as you wish.

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allan larby

  • Location: The Market HQ Abingdon, United Kingdom
  • Seller Type: Private
  • Odometer Reading: 46,440
  • Chassis Number: SCC085912FHD12243
  • Engine: 2174
  • Gearbox: manual
  • Steering position: RHD
  • Colour: Red
  • Interior: Cream/ half Leather
  • Estimated Price: £22,000 - £27,000
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