Lotus was working with Chrysler in the mid-1980s/early 1990s on a number of programmes. The only one to make it to production was the DOHC cylinder head for Chrysler’s 2.2-litre inline four. Best known for its appearance under the bonnet of the Dodge Spirit R/T (below), the combination of the free-breathing head, Garrett turbocharger, and intercooler helped the balance-shafted engine produce 224bhp and 218lb ft. of torque. It was mated to a five-speed Getrag transaxle, and made the Spirit the fastest volume-produced four-door saloon available in the USA upon its debut in 1991. It also was all that was left of plans to have Lotus build a Chrysler Esprit.
What most people don’t know is that Lotus was doing a lot of work for Chrysler at the time. In 1985, Lotus was tasked with designing a DOHC version of the 2.5-litre four, which produced approximately 150bhp and had a 7500rpm redline. It was one of the motors that was to be offered in the Dodge Daytona, with the turbo from the Spirit R/T planned as the only engine for the all-wheel drive Daytona.
Audi’s Coupe Quattro was the target for that vehicle, and John Miles was the chassis development lead for Lotus on that car. Word was the car was quite close to its target, and that Miles worked closely with Roger Becker on this and other Chrysler vehicle dynamics projects. Unfortunately, the AWD Daytona was cancelled in late 1987 after Chrysler joined forces with Mitsubishi to produce what became know as the ‘Diamond Star cars’ (Plymouth Laser, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Eagle Talon) built at the Diamond Star plant in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois from early 1989. Dodge was scheduled to get is own version of the car, but it was shifted over to the Eagle division to give it a vehicle that would increase showroom traffic.
Building a Chrysler halo car out of Lotus
Money was tight at Chrysler, and the lifeline from Mitsubishi allowed it to upgrade and update its lineup with what effectively was other people’s money. Sadly, however, no attempt was made to revive another project that had succumbed to the budget man’s axe, the Chrysler version of the Lotus Esprit.
Lee Iacocca was nothing if not a salesman, and knew the effect a halo car like the Esprit would have on the Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth/Eagle lineups. Lotus, struggling with budget crises of its own, also knew the effect a deal like this would have on its bottom line. The transverse powertrain found in the Spirit R/T was originally created for this car, where it would be placed in a new, purpose-designed chassis, and clothed it in modified Esprit bodywork. The change in engine orientation reportedly liberated five inches of interior room, some of which was used to increase seat travel, while the rest was commandeered for a padded, leather-covered luggage tray.
There were even plans to develop small jump seats to give the car 2+2 capability, but it’s unclear how far, if at all, this proposal progressed. There also was room for a cargo container behind the engine and gearbox. Either this box or the interior luggage tray was said to be capable of holding a pair of golf bags. Reportedly, an engineering prototype of the ‘Chrysler Esprit’ was made, but it’s unclear what happened to it upon cancellation of the programme.
So, does anyone have a picture or more details? We’d really love to hear from you!