James Bond Made the Lotus Esprit a Star

With Lotus offering a four-cylinder option again on the new Emira sports car, its famous slant-four ancestor comes to mind. The original Lotus Esprit was an icon of 1970s styling and Roger Moore drove one twice as James Bond. Here’s a dive into the Esprit’s on-screen run with 007 and its lasting influence.

That Bond movie where the car turns into a submarine

The Lotus Esprit Series 1 exemplified Giorgetto Giugiaro’s “folded paper” design theme. It also became one of the ultimate movie cars in 1977’s James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Screen time for the vehicle begins with a car chase on the mountain roads of Sardinia. Before the action starts, we get to enjoy some nice music from a pair of Dellorto carburetors. While the Lotus 907 engine is no powerhouse by today’s standards, at least it sounds fast.

After evading the first baddie on a motorcycle, Bond is pursued by another minion in a helicopter before launching the Esprit off a jetty and into deep water. Instead of panicking, 007 just pulls a lever and the car transforms into a submarine, thanks to clever trickery from Q Branch. And while a submersible option certainly wasn’t on the Lotus build sheet in real life, the scene is a signature Bond movie moment.

Ski vacation in a Lotus Esprit Turbo

1980 Lotus Esprit Turbo from the James Bond film, 'For Your Eyes Only'
Actor Roger Moore sits in a 1980 Lotus Esprit Turbo in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ | Keith Hamshere via Getty Images

Agent 007 and the Lotus Esprit would rendezvous again in For Your Eyes Only. This time it was in Series 3 guise with a turbocharged version of the 912 engine shared with the Lotus Excel. Bond drives a white Esprit for a short time near a Spanish villa before it gets blown up.

After being repaired by Q Branch, it appears again but is painted in a copper color with gold accents. He uses the revamped Esprit to get around in the Italian skiing town of Cortina. It even has a neat ski rack over top of the louvered engine compartment. The role wasn’t groundbreaking like the first, but did a nice job of showcasing the new Esprit Turbo.

Bond’s Lotus Esprit inspired the Tesla Cybertruck

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk with the Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk with the Tesla Cybertruck | Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Esprit’s screen time with James Bond caught the attention of a young Elon Musk. After becoming rich and famous, he bought the submarine prop car called “Wet Nellie” in 2013. According to coverage by CNBC, Musk even cited it as inspiration for his avant-garde Tesla Cybertruck.

“It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button, and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real,” Musk remarked to Jalopnik, who reported on the purchase.

From its first breakthrough moments in The Spy Who Loved Me to influencing future vehicles, the Lotus Esprit left an indelible mark on cinematic and automotive history thanks to James Bond. Although the 007 of today drives an Aston Martin, it’s not impossible the spy could drive a Lotus again.

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