I'll start this concept car story off with a question: Do you consider the Lotus Esprit to be a supercar? Applying the supercar label is always a contentious process. We could literally sit here all weekend long fighting over what is and isn't a supercar, and why.

If you believe the Lotus Esprit was not a true supercar, you're about to be mad at Lotus because they came close to doing a true one back in the 1980s. Had they built it, it's a good chance it could have been considered the first true British supercar, a kind of McLaren F1 or Jaguar XJ220 a decade early.

The car in question is the Italdesign Lotus Etna concept from 1984. Despite considerable acclaim upon its debut, it was not to be because Lotus was in a state of turmoil at the time, like always. Is the sky blue? Then Lotus is on the brink of doom. It's just how things are.


Anyway, the Etna would have been considerably more badass than the Esprit, which was already a decade old at that point. (It still managed to charge on until 2004.)

The website Classic Driver says it incorporated a new active suspension system from the company's Formula One cars, plus traction control, anti-lock brakes, active noise canceling, and a 4.0-liter "Type 909" V8 engine derived from one of their racing motors. It was said to have 335 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, impressive numbers for its time.


That was the plan, anyway. The Italdesign concept wasn't a running prototype but a styling model made of clay and wood and fiberglass. Sadly Lotus' financial troubles and sale to General Motors (remember that?) put the kibosh on the Etna permanently. The world got the front-drive Lotus Elan instead.

There's kind of a happy ending to this story. The Enta concept was bought at auction in 2001 by a Lotus collector who found, of all things, one of just two Type 909 motors inside the model. Using an Esprit chassis he had it built into the proper, working car it was always meant to be.

Should they have built the Etna? I say heck yeah, they should have built it! Granted, it's not the best-looking concept in the universe — I think it looks like product of an illicit affair between an Acura NSX and a Subaru XT, even though it predates both — it sounds like it could have been one of the most potent performance cars of the 1980s. And no one would have doubted its supercar credentials.


Photos credit Italdesign, Bonhams