CC Capsule: 1987 Lotus Excel SE – Brutish Ricing Green

Did you ever wonder who buys Lotus cars? Aside from the Brits, I mean? Well, I’m starting to think it’s the Japanese. Last month, I caught three (an Elan, an Europa and an Esprit), and I’ve seen a few Elises about on occasion. That’s a lot of sightings for such a small specialist marque. And then last week, I happened upon this one. There’s something going on here.

And I’ll be very frank, as always: I’m really not a fan of the Chapmanmobiles. Plastic sports cars with dreadful reliability and questionable styling (except the Elan, styling-wise) are not my cup of tea, and Mr Chapman’s obvious skill at designing chassis was matched by his well-documented deviousness in business dealings (see Jensen-Healey and DeLorean for more details). But still. A violently green wedge like this shows up, you take what pictures you can and ask questions later.

The Excel came out in October 1982, a couple months before Colin Chapman died. According to what I’ve read online, these are not half as terrible as their immediate forebears in terms of reliability, chiefly thanks to Toyota’s involvement.

I admit I was not too clear on Excels when I photographed this one. The Excel was basically an Eclat with added Japanese bits, such as the gearbox, the rear suspension and brakes, which were shared with the Supra, or the pop-up headlight motors, which came off the MR2. Also, the chassis was galvanized. In fact, it was so much like a revamped Eclat that Lotus called it so for its first model year.

Then, in 1984, the front wings grew a slight bulge and the bumpers were painted over. A rear spoiler was also added. Wheels seen in this particular example seem to have been directly shipped over from Toyota. Our feature car’s wheels are more interesting, as they are model-specific.

Our feature car is an SE version, which premiered in 1986 with a bigger rear spoiler and a high compression engine churning out 180hp. There was also an SA variant with a 4-speed ZF automatic. Then, the Excel plateaued for a few years, until it got a facelift in 1989. But by this point, the front-engined Lotus was getting on in years and production slowed to a crawl before quitting altogether in 1992.

I’ll let this 1991 brochure excerpt do the talking for the Excel’s vital statistics. This “Hethel Celebration” special edition (40 units made) is pretty much equivalent to the SE.

Given the car’s English provenance and its current location, I was not expecting a left-hand drive, but there you go. Looks like the leather trim option box was left unchecked. That seat fabric is about as uninspiring as it gets, though. And the burl walnut on the dash, which is kind of hard to make out in this photo, has no business being here, in my view. You’re a Lotus, not a Jag.

I didn’t take a picture of the rear seat, but as luck would have it, Lotus did. Nice place to sit if you’re shaped like a Lego guy with a square ass.

The ultimate origami Lotus may be the Esprit, but the Excel was the last new model launched by the marque’s founder and the last front-engined RWD model they ever made. And they didn’t make too many of them, either – only 2074 came out of Norfolk, of which something like 10% were left-hookers like this one.

A rare beast, this one, then. But is it worth anything? Well, intrinsically, not very much. It’s incredible how cheap these are, in the UK anyway, compared to what they cost when new: a standard Excel cost £18,000 in 1983, but you can find a decent one for less than £10,000 today. The SE was even more expensive. But if you like green…