No two-seater, mid-engined sports car in the world has had a longer life than the Esprit, on sale from 1976 to 2004. The car came about when Lotus founder Colin Chapman decided to update his Europa. But, instead of using his own stable of designers, Chapman chose a young Italian he met by chance, Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Caught out by the fuel crisis of the mid-1970s, US carmakers simply did not offer the right cars. They could only look on aghast as economical Japanese imports snatched their sales. The panic to compete sired some terrible emergency products, such as the Ford Pinto, which developed a tendency to catch fire in rear-end collisions.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Italian coachbuilder Zagato was a byword for motoring excitement—a dream factory making strikingly styled sports cars. So no wonder visitors to the 1972 Geneva Motor Show were shocked at the company’s display. It’s new car was 77in (196cm) long, and could manage 25mph (40kph) in eerie silence.