This is the absolute worst car I’ve ever driven.
There are a couple different recipes for this dish. Some take a full cup of grotesquely overpowered engine, and saute with a chassis made of balsa wood. Others like to take a perfectly mundane drivetrain, and marinate it in ten-years of neglected maintenance. Some do it by just unapologetically not installing seat belts, air bags, or crumple zones and replace those items with the alleged prestige of being “custom”. But no matter the recipe, they all are an unruly dog on a leash that’s trying to lead its owner to inevitable death.
And I had to drive them all. None of them so much as raise an eyebrow for me any more. Getting into a hopped up Corvette with ungodly amounts of hill-billy tuned horsepower, on tires that, having been on the car for 7 years, provided the same amount of traction as a mysterious canola oil spill on mom’s linoleum kitchen floor, was just another boring day at work at this point. You just mumble through your day, wrestling each overpowered, under maintained, mystery of a car across town the same way a prison guard leads each new drunk and unruly inmate to his new cell. After being detailed and prepared for sale, I’d repeat the whole process over again, all the way back across town, ignoring it’s loping cam at idle, the annoying tire squeal when threading a gap in oncoming traffic, and the fact that if some pimple faced tweenager decides to finish their “NO, I love youuuuu more!” text instead of looking where they’re driving, their modern Toyota Corolla with it’s advanced crumple zones will plow directly through the side of this stupid fiberglass bodied monstrosity, and through my face.
But after about 8 years of mundanely muscling all likes of death instruments back and forth across town in the world's most boring taxi cab with no passengers, there is one car, that I answer with zero hesitation whenever someone asks me “So what’s the worst thing you’ve ever been in?”.
It’s not the barely running C4 Corvette with the brakes that only worked on a single rear caliper (and even that one just barely). It wasn’t the 1,000 hp Viper that had a clutch that felt like pushing a thick log into a pit of mud, while shaking like a speed boat at idle and reminding you at each application of the throttle that it’s rear tires were from China’s “Endurance” line. And it wasn’t even the 1970’s Chevy panel-van plastered in hippie murals, shag carpet and the indistinguishable scent of dust and dried sex sweat.
No, it was a twin turbo Lotus Esprit V8. The Lotus Esprit V8 is fuck all garbage.
Settle down. I know you’re excitedly frothing at the late 80’s and early 90’s warm memories of England’s stab at the Italian exotics of the day. You’re remembering the power of a twin-turbo V8 (TWIN TURBO!) combined with precision handling of a Lotus inspired chassis, and the 90’s pop star goddess you’d inevitably have in the seat if you owned the car. You’re excitedly reminiscing over the Car & Driver cover photo’s of one of your favorite childhood cars, maybe even cutting the covers off and pasting them on your wall, because you were too poor for posters (like me).
And if you’re losing yourself in this day dream, I’m here to tell you, “Don’t ever meet your heros.”
It starts when you first see the car in person. You think immediately, “Yeah, that is so fucking 90’s cool! I love it just as much in person as I do from the photo’s I looked at as a kid!”.
You’re then surprised by the fact that the car is much closer to you than your depth perception would lead your eyes to believe. I say this because it looks like the size of a normal exotic sports car, but for some reason, the engineers took those initial drawings, gave them to accounting, and then received word back from that same stodgy accounting dept that, “We can only produce this car if we reduce costs to 85%”. At this point I imagine the stubborn chassie and body engineers looked at each other, sipped some warm tea, looked at each other again, and gave a knowing sigh as they said, “No problem.” Instead of sprinkling in some cheap switch gear or skimping on the leather, as any proper automotive manufacture would do, they took all of their plans for the car, and simply sent them through the copy machine at “85%”.
Nothing fits, “quite right”. You walk up to the car and run into it sooner than you thought you would, because it’s physically closer than your eyes are telling your brain it is. You reach for the door handle and only 3 of your usual 4 fingers fit into the door handle. The door only opens up 85% as wide as you’d want it to in order to comfortably fold yourself into the small coin purse of an interior. You fall into the small rabbit hole that is the entrance between the A and B pillars to find yourself trying to stretch back into a general human-like shape only to find that your feet have fit the floorboard and back is bent up against the rear firewall much sooner than your orthopedic doctor would recommend.
None of this is unusual. This is all par for the course. A course of unfunctional, uncomfortable, unfathomable cars that are the corner garage spot trophy items of small collectors everywhere. A course full of terrible cars that most people dream about, but that I have to begrudgingly drive back and forth every day.
But this one is exceptionally bad. A turn of the key starts a choke of attempted ignition met by defeat. The quiet moment after a failed start are the few brief most depressing moments in any car-guy’s life. Anyone within ear shot gives a casual glance over one’s preoccupied shoulder to recognize the identity of the person who hasn’t worked hard enough in life to afford a properly working car.
But this isn’t the worse part. A few more attempts, a plume of grey smoke from the rear, and the assurance that “Oh no worries, they all do this when they’ve been sitting a bit” and I give the usual casual nod of someone who is communicating that they hear you, but doesn’t particularly care and I’m off on the usual journey across town.
This is the worst car I’ve ever driven. The throttle is linked to the engine by a gathering of threaded bamboo reeds. The engine, when it finally receives that message from the repurposed sardine can that is the throttle pedal, is apparently a combination of left over concrete, iron, some antique wood bound together with tightly woven twine. This smorgasbord of different parts and materials all holds in what I can only assume is one-billion pounds of boost provided by two “let’s see if we can make these work” turbochargers.
The first 20% of throttle is useless. It decides to receive your input when it feels like it, and completely ignores your hopeless collusion at other times. This makes the low speed modulation of parking lots and heavy traffic frustratingly impossible. After you trudge through this area of throttle that is as reliable as an ex-girlfirend with a coke problem, you’re then met with the next area of the tachometer I call “tea time”. Go warm a kettle. Go knock out a sudoku puzzle. Go do a bit of hot yoga. Go do whatever you want but no matter what you do, do not expect anything from the engine to actually happen. This mid range of the tachometer is where the engine spins at what seems like a constant rate while it communicates through messenger pigeon to those first gen turbo’s, that it’s considering possibly doing something interesting later on. In the meantime though turbos, finish up your lunch at your pace. We’ll see ya when we see ya. No rush.
It doesn’t matter what you do with your foot during this area of no man's land. As exciting as the movie Mad Max was, you have to realize that in between moments of action, there surely were long stints of boring, endless, trudging through the desert, and that’s what the Lotus Esprit’s engine is doing through the middle of its rev range. Nothing is happen. Just a quiet, non dramatic, humming along.
And then those turbo’s, a few hours late, but with a 12-pack of beers in their hand, show up to the party. The age-old addage of “turbo boost” or the “woosh” brought of by a “waterfall” of power are flower-lined make believe wishes of what the stupid Lotus engine creates. Instead, it’s just an abrupt wall of chassis-disrupting chaos. And not in a good way.
The useless rear tires immediately break loose, and not in a fun slippy-slidey, way, but rather in a, only-the-left-half-of-the-limited-slip-rear-differential-showed-up-to-work-this-morning-way. Unpredictable, unrewarding, and unsafe all paint a wonderful picture of the disaster that is taking place. The turbo wallop also has over-run. This ensures that when you realize that you’ve Mad Max’d through the boring part of the desert that is the mid range too long, reached this area of chaos and want to return home, abruptly chop your foot off of the throttle, the Esprit engine has decided you’re not off the ride yet. The party continues whether you like it or not.
The engine won’t wind down for a few moments and, despite your foot being off the throttle, instead continues to rev with it’s left-hook-to-the-face of uninvited power despite you begging for forgiveness. This send you into an immediate panic loop. This is the split second that you’re quickly reminded of a couple intersections earlier where you tried to come to a gentlemanly stop, only to be met with a brake pedal that felt like you were pressing a burlap sack against a spinning pottery wheel. Your brain italicizes that moment and then reminds you that the chassis is a bunch of Tinker-Toys glued together with a new, experimental prototype resin.
The whole chaos of this panic situation is much like having eaten way too many edibles and now you’re strapped into a roller coaster you don’t want to be on anymore, but have no way to get off.
And if you’re lucky enough to live through a single “acceleration pull” in a Lotus Esprit V8, and come to a stop, somehow miraculously, you’re still stuck sitting in a seat that has your legs, spine and neck shaped like a forward leaning horse shoe. You can see the stop light ahead of you because of the low roof line. You can’t change the climate controls because they designed the body and chassis in two different departments, and when they married the two, no one cared to mention that the shifter blocks all the controls. But it doesn’t matter anyways as the A/C on full blast is about the equivalent of being stuck in a sweaty man’s underboob on a humid day only to have your friend remind you what cool, refreshing, ice cold air would feel like if you actually had it.
The car is garbage. And you can argue all you want that “Oh you had one that wasn’t maintained” or “Naw bruh, that was just a bad example of one.” But I digress. I’ve muscled these under maintained and unruly inmates from cell to cell for years and years and years. This is the one, that 8 years later, I still remember as the absolute worst I had ever had to deal with.
Never again. Never.