My thoughts on buying a used Lotus Esprit.
Since I've had my web page up, it seems that some of the search engines have grabbed it, and now I get about 1 to 2 e-mails a week, mostly from people who are looking to buy similar Esprits, and want to ask me what to look for. So heres my personal thoughts on how to buy a used Esprit.
First off, its the type of thing you should research as much as possible. I generally do this with any type of car that I'm looking to buy, but when it comes to an exotic, its all the more important. With the popularity of the web, its all the more easy. The fact that you're reading this shows that you're already doing this and well on the right track.
I've wanted an Esprit since I was 12 (thats 15 years now for those counting), so when I finally decided to do it, I wasn't in a rush. I started looking in to what it was going to take to own one. The two best resources that I've found on the internet are the Esprit Fact File, and the Lotus mailing list. If you're thinking about buying an Esprit, and haven't read the Esprit Fact file, do so. Read it from start to end. Its probably the most complete set of information that I have found on the Esprit anywhere. Its the standard to which other Esprit sites are compared. The Lotus mailing lists are equally as helpful. Click here if you're not familiar with how a mailing list works.
The list that I first subscribed to was the Lotus-cars mailing list. This covers all models of Lotus (Esprit, Elise, Europa, Elite, etc), so not all the discussion will be of interest to you, unless you own other Lotuses. Since the time that I first started looking for Esprits, a new list was born for Esprit only discussion. This is now my preferred list, although I still subscribe to both. The new list is at www.onelist.com, and the name is email@example.com.
Once you subscribe, its best to 'lurk' for a while first, so that you can get a feel for the tone of the list, and even learn from the discussions.
After I had been researching for about 2-3 months, I decided that what I wanted was a 89-93 Esprit SE. I had a price range all set, and began to check the internet. I had several websites that I would check daily. I would spend about 1/2 an hour every night before leaving work to see if any new ads had been placed. I was so familiar with all the ads, that a quick glance would tell me if there was anything new. I searched the internet for 4 months like this.
Here were my favorite sites to check.
World Wide Wheels
United States Esprit Classifieds
I also bought copies of the DuPont registry, but found the cars to be overpriced. After about 2 months of shopping, you can get a good idea of what a good price is. I wouldn't recommend buying anything without looking around for at least that long. There was one car that I saw within the first month of looking around, that I later realized was a fantastic deal. I let it slip by, but I'd rather let a deal slip by, than get in to something not knowing enough. I would periodically save and print all the listed Esprits for sale, so that I could keep the ads and compare them with the ones currently on the market. If you do this long enough, you will begin to see trends and you can start to recognize the good deals. There was another Esprit that I saw in about my 4th month of looking that I called on after the ad had been up for 3 days, and it had been sold. Sometimes the good deals go fast.
I had actually found 2 Esprits that I was seriously considering. I had about narrowed it down to one that belonged to a list member that had toyed with the idea of selling his car. The price was good, but not a fantastic deal. It was probably a very fair indication of what his car was worth, seeing as it was very well cared for. In any case, there I was, doing my daily searches on Esprits from 88 to 95. I searched a bit above and a bit below what I was looking for, just to see what was out there. Thats when I saw the ad for the S4. I had never considered the S4 before, but here it was, only slightly above my budget. It dawned on me that although it seems that most SE owners have the typical Esprit problems that go along with Esprit ownership, that S4 owners don't seem to have as many problems. And with 6000 miles, as opposed to 30000 miles like the other ones I was considering, I didn't have to worry about a clutch or timing belt replacement within a year of purchase, or at least it was less likely.
I called the seller in Florida (1200 miles away) and talked with him about the car for about an hour. He had only had one other call, and the guy was 'very interested'. He also had other parties interested from the local paper. I made him an offer on the phone. He agreed to it, but said that he would not hold the car until he had a deposit. I sent him $5k that day. Perhaps this was not the smartest thing to do, and I was heavily criticized by my friends for doing this. The seller needed a deposit that indicated that I was serious, and thats what I sent him. I made an arrangement that I would send him the deposit, and that I would have 3 weeks to contact his mechanic, call Lotus-USA and do what ever research I like. If anything in my searches or a visual inspection turned up anything out of the ordinary, or anything that contradicted our conversations, I would be able to negotiate or retract my offer and get the entire deposit back. I was able to talk at length with the mechanic, and even talk with Lotus cars USA and get the info that they had. From the information they gave me, I was able to track down the original owner as well, and talked with him at length. When I got to Florida, the car was exactly as he described. It had 3 minor scratches in exactly the places he mentioned. He had all the records that he said he did, and everything checked out. I gave him the remainder owed, and headed out for a 1200-mile weekend in my new car.
In my searches for Esprits, I had come up with a list of questions that I would constantly refine as time went on. The more questions I asked, the more I thought of. By the time I was done looking, it was a minimum of an hour I would spend with each prospective seller. It was a fairly thorough list. Having a list like this is also helpful in conveying to the seller that you're serious. Selling an Esprit, I'd imagine you get a lot of dreamers calling asking questions, just for the sake of asking. A list like this separates you, and moves any discussion to a more serious level.
To me, after learning what I had learned from lists and from the EFF, the most important thing I was looking for was a well cared for car. If someone had a real detailed history of what the car had done, they had all the records, and very thorough servicing by a competent mechanic, that was what I was looking for. If someone kept good records, I assumed they probably made a better owner as well. Sometimes I would discuss the records that they had and see how complete their servicing was. Next, I placed my opinions of the seller as the next criteria. For instance, a few people I called, and they said things like "Man, this car is f**king fast!!!". I'd reply by saying "Right, its an Esprit, I expect it to be fast, do you have the service records?" I wont buy a car from someone like that. I wont buy a car from a dealer in fears that its been owned by someone like that. I like to buy a car from someone I feel has taken very good care of it. Especially with 30000 miles. When the S4 had 6000, it made me even more comfortable.
The bottom line is that you need to figure out what is important to you. Perhaps you want a specific color. With such a limited production car, you might really be limiting yourself to something overpriced, or in poor condition. But if thats your criteria, then thats going to be your first priority. For me, my criteria went in this order.
1. Service records/ Car history
2. Perception of the owner. (Does he know a lot about Esprits, Does he sound responsible, How much does he know about the history)
3. Mechanics Opinion of the car.
Now that I've written this up, I will probably get less e-mails, but please mail me anyway if you've enjoyed anything on this site. I like to hear peoples comments or criticism. I'm also not opposed to telling people what I paid for my car, its just not something I feel the need to publish.