Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Thinking outside of the congested box that is today’s car scene is absolutely crucial when choosing a project car.. I mean, why would you want to imitate what everyone else is doing? Usually the more out-of-the-ordinary it is, the more remarkable the build will be (if it’s executed correctly that is). Today’s feature car is as extravagant as they come, a Lotus Esprit S3! This is an 80’s classic rarely seen on the road today, let alone one that has been slammed on air ride, but what a perfect combination it has turned out to be. Along with a set of gorgeous split rims, interior re-trim and an Alfa Romeo V6 engine swap to top things off, this car oozes nostalgia with a modern twist. It’s a car that will no doubt be admired by all sorts of automotive enthusiasts, plus thanks to being recognised as the ‘underwater car’ in the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, the average joe public. There’s something sensational about slamming a classic car, so simple yet so phenomenal.
Dean Meeson has spent the last eight years of his life building all sorts of cars, from lightly modifying his first ever purchase, a Peugeot 306, followed by a Ford Fiesta turbo, which led to a massive leap to his first major project – a mid-engined Yamaha R1 powered, paddleshift, 4.8 second Mini which took three years to build. After enjoying it for just a year, Dean sold the Mini for a big lifestyle change which saw him move to Sierra Leone to work as an engineer at an iron ore mine.
It wasn’t until 2012 that he made his return to the UK. Naturally, after being away from cars for so long, he knew he had to find something new to start tinkering with. “I wanted something preferably close to my age for a bit of nostalgia” he explains, “A wedge was a car of the 80’s and an obvious choice”. After a few months of searching for something wedge-shaped, two cars popped up that caught his eye, a TVR 350i and a Lotus Esprit. After being disappointed by the 350i due to the amount of chassis work it would’ve needed, he was left with the Esprit.
Dean took a trip to Telford and arrived at a dusty cement factory “with James Bond’s car hiding in the corner” he jokes. After one glance, and a bargain price to help sway him, he knew he had to buy the car even before test driving it. The Esprit required some attention mainly due to several small issues… a dash full of scotch locks and numerous oil leaks. But overall, the Lotus was in good shape, so Dean drove it home the same day after striking a deal. “The missus had no idea until I drove up the drive in a 80’s classic, genius.” he laughs.
It wasn’t long before Dean was measuring and searching for wheels, because as we all know, wheels can transform a car. After lots of searching, he came across a stunning set through the Wheel Whores forums, Compomotive CXN’s in 16×8 and 16×10, which were then powder-coated in gunmetal grey that compliments the car’s body colour.
The wheels have been spaced 25mm up front and 50mm at the rear with 195/40 and 225/40 tyres for the adequate fitment. The car was going to be low, so getting the fit right was crucial. “The plan was to have it hard-slammed, but I thought my driveway would never allow it to be quite as low as I wanted it” he explains. A bagged set up was on the horizon…
Unsurprisingly with a car of this age and rarity, ready-made air suspension is a thing of dreams. Dean had to custom build everything, starting with RideTech ShockWaves all round, which meant custom fabricated ‘V’ lower control arms were created to allow for the larger shocks. The top control arms were also switched out in favour of rosejointed items. After some measuring and clever thinking, everything came together. Dean opted for digital air management with AccuAir’s e-Level system which makes for a hassle-free experience.
With the all-important stance and fitment nailed, Dean turned his attention to the engine, which had been a little smokey ever since he picked up the car. He had an urge for Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) in addition to an alternative sound to the Lotus’ stock lump. He considered everything from an Audi 5-cylinder, a V8 or even a Rotary 20B, however as awesome as any of those would’ve been, Dean didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money or modify the chassis to get an engine to fit properly.
One important aspect that Dean had in the back of his mind throughout the build was that he wanted to be able to put the car back to standard at any point. With that, ultimately deciding the engine possibilities.. a V6 seemed a logical solution. Plenty of power, a suitable sound, and a tasty soundtrack, ideal.
Although Alfa Romeo are known to be unreliable, their V6 was “80’s looking but modern, and just looked right” Dean explains. A 3.0 24v from an Alfa Romeo 166 was sourced and rebuilt with the usual new parts ready for insertion. The main battle he had with the swap was with the sump, after two attempts Dean decided the best thing to do was to fabricate a steel one from scratch.
At the same time, Dean fabricated new engine mounts, a modified cooling system, and a custom adaptor plate to fit an original Citroen C35 transaxle which was used. The power steering was also deleted and he had to work out a new route for the ancillary belt. New inlet tubes were fabricated to allow for some gorgeous Triumph 955i throttle bodies and modified ITB fuel rails.
“I love seeing the downdraft trumpets in the rear view, it makes it all worth while” he smiles. And as if the throttle bodies weren’t enough, Dean enlisted the help of Immy at Torqueflow for a custom manifold back exhaust, which sounds mega. The engine is running off an Emerald ECU, with an additional swirl pot, high pressure pump and AN-8 fuel lines.
The interior of the Esprit had seen better days, in fact it was completely shot according to Dean. “I spent time over the winter having a go at retrimming everything myself. It’s a great place to be, but I’ll probably do it again as it was a first ever attempt” he explains. That said, he has done a stunning job, with the grey suede and leather combo working great with the 80’s feel. You’ll also notice a beautiful wooden Nardi steering wheel in there to finish it off.
On something of this age, paintwork is something that will make or break the car.. Dean’s Esprit was originally red in colour. A previous owner resprayed it over ten years ago in something very close to Glacier blue – Dean says it’s been a difficult colour to replicate as he’s unsure of the exact paint code. At that time, the side body trim was also deleted and smoothed which modernises the car nicely. The respray appears to have been done to a high standard as the bodywork looks very good indeed.
Dean’s latest upgrades to the car include uprated 280mm Wilwood brakes along with braided lines, which massively improve the outdated standard Lotus items. Other than that, the car has actually been around for quite a while now, and Dean is thinking about changing up the look slightly, possibly adding a rear window louvre… “for cooling and because they just look so cool” he explains. He’s also working on producing a custom set of Lotus Speedline wheels which will be turned into splits, which sound awesome!
Dean has absolutely smashed this build.. period correct but with modern suspension enabling him to slam it on the floor, which is extraordinary seeing as the Esprit is such a short car anyway. “Owning this car since 2012 has had its ups and downs, but I’m glad it’s out there rather than being another locked away classic” Dean tells me, which is very true. I can imagine that any other Esprit’s in the country are garaged and barely driven – Dean’s is quite the opposite, which is why I love it. It’s no surprise that the car is praised wherever he takes it. I can’t wait to see the changes that are coming in the near future, be sure to keep your eyes out for the lowtus.