Home » This Is What A Lotus 4-Door Sedan From 1987 Could Have Looked Like

This Is What A Lotus 4-Door Sedan From 1987 Could Have Looked Like

James Bond Lotus Sedan Ts
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“What does your car do?” The question was put to me by a friend’s four-year-old son, who was clearly struck by some sense of purpose the car managed to impart to his newly car-observant eyes in a way my adult peepers could not appreciate. Indeed, I don’t even remember the car in question – only the question itself.

I wasn’t sure how to answer, but I realized the question was not childish at all, but rather an important one. What the toddler wanted to know was if this machine was made for going off-road, or to perform like a sports car, or swaddle its occupants in luxury, or perform some other role only a four-year-old would imagine.

Vidframe Min Top
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I’m not sure how I replied, but if you’re a car company you sure as hell should have an answer to such a query. If the car you’re putting before consumers doesn’t clearly register as sporting, or luxurious, or rugged, or sensible, or some other resonant adjective that allows potential buyers to quickly appreciate that the machine aligns with their wants and needs, it just isn’t going to find buyers.

If I had been standing next to a Lotus from years past, I could have answered the kid immediately. “This is the ultimate car for driving enjoyment. It’s meant for someone who wants to experience a car that satisfies with precision and handling. If you want a car just to be seen in, or heard, this is not the car for you.”

The kid would likely have just given me a perplexed look, being four and all, but that’s a pure mission statement there. The question is, could Lotus have applied that mission to sedans and been better known as a brand that made more than two-seat sports cars? Yes, and I wish Lotus had done more back in the day. Let’s see what might have happened if the brand did just that.

A Lotus For More Than One Pretty Woman

With the impending launch of the Emeya and Eletra, some might be disappointed to see the Lotus of today ostensibly attempting to become more of a status symbol brand and expanding into things beyond sports cars, but when even Ferrari is about to make an SUV you know that such a turn is inevitable. Also, it’s not an entirely new territory for the brand. While known for their sports and competition cars, the late founder Colin Chapman was not one to ignore a lucrative market. After creating the stretched wheelbase Elan +2 with a rear seat, he launched two sport/luxury cars in the early seventies that were quite different from anything available at the time. The sort-of-funeral-coach-looking Elite (Type 75) was paired with the fastback Eclat, both full four-seater machines that offered comfort with road manners that really no other GT car of the time could match.
Loyud Elite 4 13
Lotus
The Eclat had a lid over an enclosed trunk; the Elite appeared to be a shooting brake but there was, in fact, a second fixed back window in place and the vertical gas tank behind the seats. This seems like a strange solution, and designer Ollie Winterbottom passed away not too long ago so it’s not like I can ask him.
Former managing director Mike Kimberly was at Lotus at the time; he was arguably the primary person who kept the company alive after Chapman’s death and spent much of his career at the firm, retiring as CEO in 2009. He’s on LinkedIn, but it’s not like I can DM a person to whom I’m not connected with a random question, saying that I contribute to a website run by a guy who eats spaghetti in the shower, and have him answer, right? Wrong:

“We designed and packaged the M50/M52 to provide a safe, quiet cabin free from fumes and luggage smells, (e.g. wet Golf bags/ clubs, shopping, etc.) wind noise, with lowest possible NVH but mainly with meeting our own primary safety as well as new up-coming USA federal crash/crush regulations. Hence the fuel tank was positioned in the safest possible position over the rear axle and protected by the surrounding structures and hardware of the rear suspension, diff, chassis and rear mounted spare wheel. It should be born in mind that the proposed regulations involved not only 30mph front, rear and also side impacts but then the car is suspended and turned on its side, then upside down for a period, and then the other side and must not leak fuel. The Elite passed all with very good margins of safety which is why it won the Don Safety trophy-beating Volvo.” (LinkedIn Message)

Good Lord – a response! What a great chap! You should really read more about Mr. Kimberly since he’s an unsung hero who also headed Lamborghini for a spell and is hands down just as important to the history of Lotus as Chapman himself. To think that he was almost fired during his first year at Lotus by Chapman for flipping a Bond Bug the company had bought.
Anyway, there’s your answer. It proves once again that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t judge car design and engineering decisions until you know the truth.
That wasn’t the end of “luxury” Lotus proposals. More recently, Lotus paraded the Eterna sedan concept in front of us with a V8 up front under the hood. Unlike the Elite/Eclat, it never saw production:
34694361 Eterne
Lotus
The Eterne resembles a facelifted and improved Tesla Model S, or maybe an Aston Martin concept; it looks like it might have been a nice four-door sedan had it been produced (and I like it more than that heavy-looking upcoming  Emeya). Here’s the thing, though: when was a Lotus supposed to be conventional and “nice”? When your six-year-old self saw a white Esprit racing down a mountain in a commercial for The Spy Who Loved Me, or when an Elise passed your family’s Cutlass, did you say “oh, that’s a nice car”? No, your eyes got big as saucers, and you couldn’t sleep; what the hell did you just witness? The Vauxhall Carlton that Mr. Kimberly was instrumental in modifying was not even remotely close to being a “nice” car; a 55-mile-an-hour maximum in the first of six gears, anyone?
Lotus Famly 4 13
Lotus
Lotus, as the late Tina Turner sang, “never do anything nice…and easy”.  Challenging. Mind-blowing. Thrilling. That’s what Lotus was all about. Fiberglass as a load-bearing structure? Make the engine a stressed chassis member to get a few pounds of weight savings? A hole pattern drilled into a gas pedal to lose a few ounces? Sure. Lotus didn’t care if it cost twice as much for a one percent gain; the goal was to create the ultimate uncompromised handling machine for buyers who could tell the difference (and didn’t sweat about the inevitable reliability and durability price they’d have to pay beyond the steep entrance fee). Chapman had gone on record as saying that any car not built to win was a waste of time, space, and money.
The tuning Lotus did on the aforementioned Carlton did indeed create an awesome sedan, but if seventies- or eighties-era Lotus were going to make a new-from-the-ground-up sedan, would they really slap the badge with Colin’s initials onto a traditional, front-engined three-box sedan? Back in the day that would have been unlikely to achieve Chapman’s standards. If it was going to carry more than two people, Lotus of the era would have put Elite/Eclat type of out-of-the-box thinking into the solution for a car worthy of the Lotus name. But could the often cash-strapped firm afford to do it?

A Savior From The East

A Lotus owner once told me that compared to other cars he’d driven, Chapman’s cars sort of transcended handling; the line between “machine” and “driver” sort of blurred to the point that you became one with the machine you were operating. He admitted that it sounded like an adman’s cliche, but it was true. Surprisingly, while many car makers equated “handling” with “no suspension travel at all,” Lotus cars of the period offered a rather comfortable ride on the street for something with competition-car-like limits. Speaking of competition: take a look at the badge that Chapman stuck onto the cars he sold in the late seventies. Seven car Formula 1 constructor championships (the last with Mario Andretti as driver) and the first mid-engined car to win at Indy with the fabled Jimmy Clark.
This is not exactly People’s Choice Award cred there, is it? Thankfully for Ferrari’s racing team, Lotus ran flat out of money in the early eighties, with a mere 380 cars sold in 1980. The company was able to stay afloat by offering its world-class chassis development abilities to clients such as an infamous would-be cocaine dealer and Toyota. Well before you saw HANDLING BY LOTUS stickers on things like Isuzus, Lotus even helped fine-tune the road dynamics of the second-generation Celica Supra, a personal favorite of mine.
Supra A60 4 13
Toyota
The best part of this Supra wasn’t even the crazy coolness of the design or the twin-cam straight six; it was the fact that it would never die. I saw an insanely clean example for sale when I was in LA a little while ago, and had I purchased it there is no question in my mind that I would have canceled my flight home, hopped in without so much as opening the hood, turned on the radio, cranked up the air conditioning, and driven 90 mph all the way back to Chicago. It’s a Toyota, you just assume it will all still work. How many other forty-year-old cars would you consider doing that with? Not a Lotus, that’s for sure.
Lotus as an acronym for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious is a common jibe, and the brand could certainly have used a helping of Toyota dependability in its cars – and for a while, Lotus had just that. In the early eighties, Toyota acquired a 16.5 percent interest in the firm, and Lotus even used Toyota components on the Elite/Eclat replacement, the Excel. Take a gander at those rims- look familiar?
Lotus Excel 4 13
Webb’s (car for sale)

Ultimately, General Motors stepped in to purchase a stake in Lotus, and while both Toyota and The General ran the firm for a few months, eventually the giant American company took over entirely. General Motors seems to have had the goal of making more affordable, higher volume cars such as the front-wheel-drive Isuzu-powered Elan. In retrospect, that might not have been a good direction to go; Chapman reportedly once said that building mass-market cars would result in them becoming “busy fools.” What if Toyota had bought Lotus instead, and really tried to expand the customer base of their cars while still maintaining their values? Volkswagen had Porsche, Fiat had Ferrari; why couldn’t Toyota buy some real high-end street cred?

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If unparalleled handling is the goal of your car, it’s almost a given that the motor needs to be in the middle of the car, or at the very least as close to the back as possible. This type of layout is great for a sports car but it’s absolutely a nightmare if you put value in fitting more than two passengers and a lunchbox-sized suitcase. Few companies attempt it; who would bother making such compromises and demands on engineering and design to get the potential benefits many drivers wouldn’t even notice? Lotus would, or at least the Lotus of four decades ago. The new-for-1987 Escala would be just such a no-compromise four-door. The firm Chapman started had a reputation to live up to, and sadly, for much of this time, they were so down and out that they had nothing to lose by trying something different.
In my alternate reality of around 1986, Lotus and Toyota would take the soon-to-be-released 3VZ-E V6 engine, add an intercooled supercharger, and put it at the opposite end of the car from where it would go in the upcoming Camry it was destined for. (I’d add twin cams as well, which Toyota didn’t do until a few years later.) A backbone chassis similar to the Esprit would run down the center of the car, elongated to allow four seats to just barely fit in the space; “cab forward” is the key to getting passengers as close to the front as possible. It’s a bit like an upscale Fiero, though rest assured that we’re not talking a Camry subframe with the steering arms welded straight as on the Poncho. Something like this:
Escala Schematic 4 14
The styling of the Escala would possibly be an Ital Design creation not unlike the Etna show car that Lotus showed in 1984, a proposal for the next Esprit that seems to have set a direction that Peter Stevens took when developing the 1987 X-180 redesign of that iconic Lotus.
Asking if the Escala would be a wedge shape is almost like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Mind you, besides the additional length we need to raise the roofline from where it is on something like the Esprit. Like the Etna, the sharply raked beltline starts below the side mirrors and rises to the rear over the engine compartment to the body-colored “C” pillars. A similar, parallel line runs from the base of the windshield forward; the hood doesn’t drop as low as the Esprit since that would look at odds with the visual mass of the back of the car, and more importantly, the frunk would be too shallow to carry much luggage if we went to an Esprit-style point. The more blunt nose is not unlike the one seen later on that later Elan which needed such bonnet height to clear the Isuzu motor up front.
Lotus Escala Ad 4 13 24
The wheel choice is non-negotiable. In 1972, Giugiaro penned the Maserati Boomerang concept, a wedge show car where the salient features were some of the most bonkers-looking alloy wheels I have ever seen. These rims never saw the light of day on any production car, and that’s a sin. We’ll proudly bolt these Ital Design masterpieces (with darker-painted insides) onto our Escala to add just the right amount of drama to our sleek but restrained shape. Aero covers could be an option based on the aesthetics and leanings of Giugiaro at the time, but you can keep them in the trunk on mine, thank you.
Boomerange Concept 4 13
Ital Design
In back, a glass backlight is used instead of the exposed “flying buttresses” of the earlier Esprits. I tried a wraparound glass rear pillar as on the Etna but all of the character was lost. Trim bands across the back help to break up the visual mass of the rear and to sort of disguise the 1982-3 Supra taillights Toyota will grab from the bin.
Lotus Escale 4 13 24 Rear
Inside, a gauge pod similar to an Esprit is utilized, but it moves up and down with the steering wheel like on a Porsche 928. Toyota parts would fill the leather-bound dashboard binnacles. I don’t know about you, but I’d be praising Jesus, Allah, and any other God if I saw control stalks, radio, and climate control components out of a Cressida or Supra instead of Leyland cast-offs on the dash. As always, when I scribble these lower volume cars that need to dig into parts bins, I design around those pieces first so that the only thing that looks out of place is your typical late eighties Motorola car phone.
Escale Front Seat 4 14
With the glove box, I’m addressing some pet peeves I’ve always had. First, the lid lifts up instead of being a drop-down thing that I can’t grab stuff out of in the pitch dark of the garage with the door half open against the wall. Next, I’ve put in set spaces for the crap that will always have to go in there anyway; note the dedicated binnacle for the leather-bound owner’s manual and things like a tire pressure gauge, pen, and flashlight; you know, items that usually end up in a rat’s nest of shit in your ‘box. Finally, cars with steeply raked windscreens always force the visor so far back that it’s awkward to use, and if you open the vanity mirror it’s right at your nose and OH MY GOD I LOOK OLD. Here we’ll put in a flip-down vanity mirror on the underside of the glove box lid to solve that; in addition, I might have slide-down visors instead of flip-down so they stay out of your face when pivoting.
This is strictly a four-seater with the gas tank located in the console separating the seats. Don’t expect S-Class level legroom in back, but as long as you’re not an NBA player it’s not like your knees will be in your face either. Also, all four door windows roll down unlike on a G-body Cutlass sedan. Notice the “spine” type seats that not only employ Chapman’s “add lightness” mantra but also offer additional legroom for the space-challenged rear occupants. Another trick is that the rear seats sit forward of the trailing edge of the door opening; the longer doors don’t help with getting in and out but they visually help reduce the mass between the rear doors and the back wheels.
Escala Back Seat 4 14
You get two trunk spaces, and neither is cavernous in the expected compromise you get with a mid-engined layout, yet that’s a compromise that Lotus of the day would be willing to make. Up front, the raised-up hood lines give a bit more space:
Escala Frunk 4 14
I wanted to keep rear overhang to a minimum, but that might need to change to allow the trunk to get a little larger. You can see the Esprit-style engine cover and the extra rear window, as would likely have been requested by Mr. Kimberly:
Escala Rear Trunk 4 13

Simplify, Then Add Doors

Lotus of today has the cash of Geely behind it, so there’s really no limit to what it can do. I was most impressed by the Lotus of half a century ago that practically had to dig coins from the reception area couch cushions to keep the doors open but still managed to create cars that looked like they were from outer space, and you dreamed of having even the Corgi scale version. With help from a deep-pocketed partner in the eighties, Lotus could have created a new genre of precision-handling four-door supercar that was more than just a toy. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine any other sports car maker doing it.
Over the years, Lotus pioneered everything in competition cars from monocoque chassis to ground effects to active suspension. Chapman demanded such innovation in his street cars as well; after his passing, Mr. Kimberly’s presence would have ensured that something such as the Escala absolutely would not be some “nice car.” It would have been exactly what was expected out of Lotus: something totally unexpected.

1987 Lotus Escala Sedan

Vehicle Type: 4 door 4 passenger mid-engined sedan
Base Price: $82,650
Price As Tested: $84,230
Options On Photo Car:  Metallic Paint (Tuscan Olive), Motorola Cell Phone
Engine: Alloy Toyota V6, 2958cc; twin overhead cams and Rootes supercharger, 262HP
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
Front Suspension: Unequal length control arms, coil springs
Rear Suspension: Trailing arms, coil springs
Brakes: Front/Rear vented discs/vented discs
Steering: Rack and Pinion

Performance:

0-60 MPH: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 166 MPH
Roadholding: .88g
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Andrew Pappas
Andrew Pappas
3 months ago

Why do older futuristic british cars look a bit french but with surprisingly boring mechanicals.

Torque
Torque
3 months ago

” In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine any other sports car maker doing it.”

Ahem a certain company from Stuttgart would like a word… 🙂

Sadly a 4 door Porche (minus the Mercedes E500/500E) wasn’t approves until of course the excuse of “car that can go and quite well offroad” aka the Cayenne

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
3 months ago

I once sort of imagined a 718LWB with four doors, but my executive function shut it down half imagined. I’m glad the Bishop’s imagination has so little supervision.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
3 months ago

the Don Safety trophy-beating Volvo

That makes it sound like the Volvo is in an abusive relationship with the Don Safety trophy.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago

This article made me want to buy another Lotus. Well done, damn you.

Torque
Torque
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Specifically This imagined 4 door Lotus… that unfortunately was never built…
I do think an excellent successor
as an innovative, mid-sized, 4 seat, excellent handling, sports sedan is the Porsche Taycan*

*biggest caveat is weight as the Taycan’s largest Achilles heel, though from all the reviews I’ve seen / read Porsche has done a pretty incredible job making the Taycan an excellent handling car despite its substantial weight

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
3 months ago

Honestly this looks better than most if not all studies they’ve done back in dhe day. Genuinely attractive car. Great work Bishop!

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

That’s a beautiful and thoughtful design that shows how much you love Lotus, Mr Bishop.

The Etna reminds me of the Subaru SVX a bit.

Torque
Torque
3 months ago

Re: “Reminds me of the Subaru SVX…”
Yes and from the exterior design language perspective many of the 70s/80s wedge designs…
Lotus’s own Esprite of course, Subaru ‘s XT, Lamborghini Diablo, Vector W8…

Torque
Torque
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

That’s right, good point

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Oooohhh

Rupewrecht
Rupewrecht
3 months ago

Weds in Japan did make a very similar wheel to the Boomerang wheels, back in the early ’80s. Google ‘ELSTAR High Jet’

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

A heavily Toyota backed/owned Lotus…be still me heart…

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

I have to say, you always capture the period details so well, it has to be extremely challenging to draw something totally new that looks exactly like something that could have existed 40 years earlier but didn’t. I’d say you should do production design, but movies and TV shows don’t have the budget to build a whole street full of fake 80s cars

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Most of my interior design ideas are permanently frozen into what they were doing on This Old House in the 80s/early 90s, so I can sort of relate. What do you mean people aren’t using polished brass switch covers and quarry tile floors anymore? When did that happen? Is track lighting still cool? I don’t understand

Space
Space
3 months ago

How many doors can we do for a sports car? Would science have gone too far if we did 7?

Space
Space
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Maybe we could call a door any exterior glass or metal peice that has a hinge attached. So a split gate could be more than 1.

Torque
Torque
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The mustang started as a (attractively styled) hair dressers car, then became a muscle car, then a melase Era joke, then again a muscle car, later in the late 2000s the gt version became a muscle car that could handle as well as a BMW m3
Now w/2 wildly different models again a muscle car and a heavy ass electric cross over

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
3 months ago

I thought the Aston Martin Lagonda was what a 4 door 80s Lotus should look like. Just add a bunch of lightness.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
3 months ago

The Matrix/Vibe is the Lotus Elise Wagon 😛

It is available with 2ZZ-GE (also, non-US market Elises were available with the 1ZZ-FE from the base Corolla and Celica)

The Matrix/Vibe was light at 2700-2800 lb, not too heavy for a crossover wagony thing with lots of space 🙂

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
3 months ago

Bishop, you’ve been using the Ioniq 5 as a base for photoshopping other cars lately, and while I don’t think you did that this time, it kinda looks like you could have. Not a bad thing—I like the Ioniq 5, and I like this.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Makes sense, it seems like a few sports car companies were toying around with sedan concepts in the ’80s, but nobody went as far as actually pulling the trigger for production, except Aston-Martin in the prior decade. And sort of Avanti in the early ’90s, but they were more of a glorified kit car by then

Prizm GSi
Prizm GSi
3 months ago

So, a weird looking Mazda 323F.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
3 months ago
Reply to  Prizm GSi
Last edited 3 months ago by Urban Runabout
Prizm GSi
Prizm GSi
3 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

I was thinking the previous ’89-93 generation, but that’s an Asstina indeed.

BenCars
BenCars
3 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Exactly!

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
3 months ago

I think the rear wheels could be brought forward maybe 4″ to tuck under the curve of the rear door a little better. Something about the current proportions look a little off, and shortening the wheelbase and simultaneously lengthening the rear overhang would address that (I think).

Awesome work as always, Bishop. In the silver color of the rendering, I can even imagine a stainless steel body, which would make this a terrible Lotus but the most brilliant DeLorean.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
3 months ago

I would only have one possible suggestion: make it a hardtop with suicide doors. With the backbone chassis and a properly designed body shell, it might be reasonably strong, but also feel more open.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Full.
Length.
T-tops.

Pure, unmatched 80’s decadence.

Acd
Acd
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Remember the Lotus mantra: To increase performance add lightness. As cool as that would be wouldn’t there be a weight penalty?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

So, like the Citroen SM Espace.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Hmm, all I could find was this T-Roof concept, but I don’t see how it is automatic? Looks like a traditional t-top.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

Holy shit where did you find that? Between the SM Espace and the DS Décapotable Citroen was on fire.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago

IIR, I was looking at Citroens on Pinterest and the Espace showed up, and then naturally, down the French automotive rabbit hole I went.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

I always wanted Lotus to name a car Egad. Look! That’s a Lotus Egad! I was fortunate to have driven both a Europa and an Esprit back in my youth and as a pure driving experience, they were sublime. Never had the wherewithal to actually own one beyond a poster on the wall. Your Escala design seems a worthy extension of the Lotus marque in that it holds fast to all that is Lotus and I’ll never be able to own one of these, either. Good show!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

In Piedmontese, actually, and while it’s colloquially used as an expression of amazement, its literal translation is plague or contagion. The Lamborghini Contagion, kinda has a nice ring to it.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I had a lotus Egad. It was not a lotus really, ’twas a Westfield seight, with added boost. So named after a gentleman came over at a zebra crossing “Egad young man,is that a Lotus”. It was difficult to sell, deeply unsuitable for anyone under 30, deeply stupid for anyone over 30. I sold it to Damon Hill.

Acd
Acd
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Egad would be a good name for their ugly new truck suv thing.

Defiant
Defiant
3 months ago

“Looking good Billy-Ray!”

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
3 months ago

Ooo. That is beautiful. I definitely would have wanted that. Plus that interior is one of my favorites that you have created!

This thing in the Lotus Green. Mwa. Chef’s Kiss

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