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The Lotus Etna Was A Stillborn 1980s Hyper-Esprit, And The Drivable Prototype Is For Sale

Lotus is about to hit the big time. No, really, it is. We know you’ve heard it before, but with the financial and organizational support of Chinese parent company Geely, Lotus has got its crosshairs set firmly on Porsche as it prepares to wheel out a whole suite of electric sports cars and SUVs.

It’s great to see Lotus finally get to prove what it’s capable of, but it’s not like the British marque behind classics like the Elan, Esprit and Elise lacked ambition. Check out this Etna concept car for proof of that.

Introduced at the British Motor Show in 1984 when Lotus was still squeezing the pips out of the then-seven-year-old first-generation Esprit, the Etna promised some incredible technology for the day, including traction control, active noise cancelling, and a new 4.0-liter V8 in place of the Esprit’s turbocharged four banger.

That’s “promised”, rather than “delivered,” technology, because although Lotus’s engineering arm was actually working on those features, the one-off show car was just a styling model, not a running car. And when Lotus was sold to GM any plans to progress the project were shelved.

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But in 2001 it was bought by a Dutch collector who discovered it came supplied with one of those rare experimental 4.0-liter Type 909 motors that Lotus claimed would have had 335 hp (340 PS). That collector then set about turning the fantasy show car into a fully drivable road one using an Esprit chassis.

The Etna is currently for sale for €125,000 ($143,000) at Metropole Classics in the Netherlands, but any Lotus fans thinking of heading over there to throw down a deposit for this mythical mid-engined on-off might be left in a spin by the presence of a second Lotus concept car in the dealer’s showroom that’s being advertised for exactly the same money.

M200 Speedster

Called the Lotus M200 Speedster, this bright yellow two-seater was the star of the Lotus stand at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show. It’s also fully drivable, but that’s less surprising in the M200’s case because it’s not a one-off, but a modified version of the front-wheel drive Elan sports car Lotus had launched a couple of years earlier.

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the lotus etna was a stillborn 1980s hyper esprit and the drivable prototype is for sale 190c4c9

Showcasing the kind of speedster styling that’s become popular with supercar makers in recent years, and a revolting interior that designer Julian Thompson admitted was upholstered with material from “a lady’s swimsuit”, it also claimed to promote Lotus’s rear-wheel steer and variable valve actuation technology, though it’s not clear if the car actually had (or still has) that tech fitted, or it was just a case of make-believe motor show boasting.

The production Elans of the period came with a choice of naturally aspirated or turbocharged 1.6-liter engines from the Isuzu Impulse making 130 hp (132 PS) or 162 hp (164 PS) respectively. Under-hood shots reveal this one is packing the turbo’d setup, which should be good for zero to 60 mph (96 km/h) in around 6.5 seconds, providing a bug doesn’t take you out halfway through second gear.

They’re both interesting cars, and in a way they’re linked, because the Elan was the project Lotus chose to pursue during the 1980s when the Etna was canned. But to our mind the Etna looks like a much better buy and we wouldn’t be surprised if its value shoots up in a few years if Lotus’s brand expansion proves a success under Geely. Which would you take?

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