Club Lotus Australia is full of interesting people doing interesting things with interesting cars.
We want to tell their stories, and through this develop and preserve a written history of the club, its members and their cars. So once a month we’re going to share one person’s story with you right here on the Club website!
Geoff Winder found his way to Club Lotus Australia like many of us did – searching for likeminded individuals with whom to talk Lotuses.
Finding himself as one of the few Lotus Esprit owners in the club at the time working on his own car, he became the Esprit Registrar to help others. Since the day he joined Geoff’s been an invaluable asset to the club and developed his knowledge of Esprits to an impressive degree. And since 2015 will see the 40th anniversary of the Lotus Esprit, when it came to writing our first Lotus Story, we knew exactly who to turn to!
Take a few minutes of your day to relax and enjoy our first Lotus Story, with Geoff Winder.
What drew you to Lotus cars, and particularly the Esprit?
I was a 14 year old boy when I saw my first Esprit. It was a picture of the recently- announced Essex Esprit in Car magazine. I still have the article with the picture!
It was the most beautiful car I had ever seen. I determined at that moment that I would buy one as soon as I could.
Well, time marched on and I basically forgot about the Esprit, but it must have stayed in the back of my mind because eighteen years later I did indeed make my wish come true. I purchased a Calipso Red Esprit SE.
It was only 8 years old but had not seen any love during its short life and was very much a fixer-upper. I spent the next 5 years restoring and modifying it.
A few years after I “finished” with its restoration (lets face it you never really finish working on a Lotus project). I decided I needed another car project.
I looked around at all sorts of classic, vintage and sports cars at the time, but I kept coming back to the fact that I knew the Esprit quite well. They drive like a modern car rather than the somewhat truck like feeling of many of the classics and they are great value for money. They also look gorgeous and if you modify one you won’t be shunned by the Club.
So I embarked on a two-year project (now in its sixth year). I purchased a 1988 naturally-aspirated Esprit from eBay UK. It was just as well I was not too worried about its condition.. it arrived in my garage costing just under $15K.
The original plan was to install a Lexus V8, however there was just no way to squeeze one in the engine bay. Whilst I was measuring the Lexus engine at the local Japanese engine place, the owner asked me if I had ever heard of a Nissan VQ30DET.
In short, the Nissan VQ30DET is an alloy 3.0-litre V6 with a turbo (only used on Japanese domestic cars).
This engine had the same power output as the Lexus and being turbo a lot more can be easily found. Best of all it was 10cm smaller in every dimension and would fit “without a problem”. And so the journey began again!
How did you find your way to Club Lotus Australia?
Not long after I purchased my Red Esprit, I started hearing a clunking noise in the rear of the car whenever I drove over driveways.
It sounded really, really serious and I spent a lot of time trying to find the culprit. In doing so I realised that if I was going to work on the car myself I needed to speak with like minded individuals. So, I joined the club!
Alas, there were not many Esprit owners who did their own work in the Club at that time, so I became the Esprit registrar to hopefully help others.
The mysterious clunk noise is a common issue with the Esprit. The chassis is bolted to the plywood bulkhead (behind the driver and passenger). Over time the ply compresses and allows the chassis to move. It sounds terrible but is easily fixed.
Lotus changed the design over the years, moving from a couple of large washers up until 1994, to having a large metal plate to distribute the load better. However, even with the plate design, they still need tightening up every few years.
Tell us a little about your journey with your first Esprit – the Calipso Red Esprit SE.
As I said earlier this car had a very hard life. I am the third owner. You know how some people are just hard on cars…. well the second owner was one of those.
I was of the belief that it is better to buy the newest you can afford, rather than a car that may be older, but in better condition. The options at the time were a pristine 1988 model that had the earlier Bosch fuel injection or my car with the GM-based injection and 40KW more power.
I often wonder what would have happened if I bought the earlier car that would only have required minor servicing!
Once you finally owned an Esprit did it live up to your dream?
I always loved the look of the Esprit. I still remember the first time I drove one. I found a good bit of road and mashed the loud pedal to the floor. I think I said out loud with a cheesy grin on my face, “The GO certainly matches the looks!”
Once the car was sorted it was reliable and very enjoyable. I still get that little grin when I drive it hard!
What kind of work did the car require, and did you do it yourself?
I did most of the work myself. The exception was the engine rebuild. I drove the car to Melbourne with the engine on its last legs.
I parked it in Steve Taylor’s (Elan Factory / Lotus Marques) front driveway and took the engine out. He then rebuilt it for me and put it back in.
Along the way basically every bolt in the car has been turned.
What sort of modifications did you make?
I’ve made too many modifications to mention them all! Upgraded brakes, suspension and charge cooler were the most necessary ones.
The most recent upgrade has been the gear selector. Jeremy Clarkson (of BBC Top Gear) once described the Esprit gear change as “like stroking an alligator, it is just errrgh”. It is very vague and quite heavy.
Over the years I have tried to improve the Lotus system but I finally decided to throw it all out and start again. Taking some guidance from the GT40 kit car web sites, I visited my local Toyota wrecker and gathered together gear selectors and translators from various models. I am happy to report that the new setup is considerably more direct and unbelievably light!
When you were looking for your next project, did you have any other cars in mind?
When I started looking for my next project I looked at old classic Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Austin Healeys, Porsches, and even Ferraris. I came back to the Esprit though!
Tell us about the 1988 NA Esprit.
The NA Esprit is described as the ‘starter’ Esprit. It came out of the factory with 170hp, or 100hp less than the SE. I managed to pick it up for about 1/2 the price I would have paid for a Turbo car, so it was ideal for my project.
What condition was it in when you bought it?
It didn’t look too bad in the photos, but… it was in a very bad state. The bad news was that it had a new front grafted on and it wasn’t the best job.
I spent a lot of time repairing the repairs, but it’s now finally nearing completion. That, however, is a story for another day!
You have an interest in modifying the cars – where did this come from?
I purchased the red car because I wanted an Esprit and had to learn how to rebuild and service the cars.
The green car I purchased because I wanted to modify a car after my experiences with the red car. It is interesting how my interests have evolved. Now I do not really enjoy servicing cars, I prefer modifying, creating and engineering. The green Esprit certainly has kept me busy in these areas!
We’d like to extend a huge ‘THANK YOU!’ to Geoff Winder for taking the time to chat with us and share with the club. If you’d like to be involved just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and say ‘Hi!’