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In my 10-plus years as a car writer and 30-plus years as a car lover, I’ve made an observation: People love sticker packages. I like them too — a little visual flair goes a long way on an otherwise modest car. And on a vehicle that’s already cool-looking, some well-placed stripes can accentuate fine features quite nicely. But the simple decorative treatment on this 1981 Lotus Esprit Turbo is cool on a whole other level. Partially because it matched its contemporary Formula One racing car, but also because the story behind the “Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation” sponsor was apparently pretty wacky.

  • Car: 1981 Lotus Esprit Turbo Essex Commemorative
  • Location: Jolly olde England (presumably)
  • Photog: Unknown
  • Camera: Unknown

The car in this picture is for sale at Silverstone Auctions as of this writing. It popped up in my Twitter feed (thanks @midnightdorifto) and I found myself thinking, “well if that ain’t the most quintessentially 1980s sports car ever.” These early Esprits are some of my favorite cars to look at ever, so I set to writing it up and sharing it with you when my casual research turned up this gem of historical context from the Goodwood Road & Racing website:

“Colin Chapman [Lotus main man] might have been a giant in terms of leadership and innovation, but his judgement of character wasn’t always the best… And his head was certainly turned (not for the first time) by David Thieme and his grandly named Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation.”

“The company turned out to be a one-man operation run from a room in Monaco’s Hotel de Paris, but during 1980-81 the eye-catching Essex colours at least gave Lotus a striking new look. An extravagant team launch at the Royal Albert Hall enhanced the charade – which came crashing down in ’81 when Thieme was arrested for fraud. His instant disappearance from F1 was met with bemusement, but little surprise – not least by Chapman himself.”

Goodwood

Hah! Wow, no wonder Lotus didn’t carry this design onto later models.

Still, aesthetically, it looks awesome. And from the perspective of a car collector, that bizarre backstory makes this particular vehicle considerably cooler. Funny enough, apparently the auction house disagrees, as that aspect of the “Essex” connection isn’t mentioned. Anyway, I’m going to have to revisit this and learn more about the David Thieme story. Meanwhile, you can peek at more images of this exceptionally clean Esprit Turbo on Silverstone’s site.

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