Remember, the nearest exotics may be behind you.

Text by Wooley   :   Photos by Nate Thomas & Andrew Sutter    :   Issue 44

Food for thought: You see some of these older exotic/collector-type cars, and you think, “Man I wonder if I’ll ever be able to afford one of those.”

Meanwhile you’ve sunk 30k+ on a sport-compact over the last 5 years… and never even stepped back a minute to add it all up. I’m not saying that’s a ‘bad’ thing. But it is a thing we do, yeah?


Truth is – some of these un-hyped exotics are not really as expensive as you think yet. Keyword: “Yet”. Because unlike the mass-produced cars, there is a window of accessibility, that will close. Buying something like this takes a little more effort & commitment up front. But let’s be realistic, you’re spending a lot more than you ever thought on that tuner – blowing through different engine swaps, turbos, and ‘rare’ parts every year. So if ‘budget’ is what’s holding you back, it might be time to stop lying to yourself.

Maintenance can be intimidating. And sourcing parts can be tricky – sure. But let’s be real, as tuners, we’ve had practice with this. Yep. If we can keep a 2G DSM or FC RX7 running, we can conquer all. Plus we’ve got a network of friends with torches, welders, and hammers.

I guess the point is: The automotive culture is great & vast. Explore it.


The internet gives us access to the entire world of knowledge, information, and interaction. Yet beware – because often times, we end up using that same internet to brainwash ourselves. Segregate ourselves into little boxes – import, domestic, Honda, Euro, drift, etc. But those categories can limit us.

Tim Neely (of Tim’s Enthusiast Garage) came of age in the hey-days of the import scene. Looking back, he has admittedly spent house-sized money on hatchback-sized cars. But that’s ok, because in retrospect, it was a lot of fun. Plus – it laid the foundation deep enough for a career in the automotive aftermarket industry. So in that, there are no regrets.


But where are those old builds now? Metaphorically, they’re a dandelion. And have long since blown away into the wind… in the form of lost dollars & part-outs.

Over the years, Tim Neely has grown up (some), and realized the value, and RESALE value of a dollar. I don’t know exactly what Tim paid for his Lotus Esprit. But I do know that a quick Autotrader search just found me a few for less than the price of a new Civic Si, Focus ST, or GTI. Like I said… just a little food for thought.

These cars you dreamed about CAN be fun, driven hard and dare I say reliable!.

Tim Neely

I grew up driving VW/Audi products, and actually owned a stage-3 B5 S4 at the same time I had an S4 Esprit. I drove them roughly equal amounts, the Lotus was far more reliable… and parts actually cost less.

It was a serious light bulb moment.


I have had a chance to own/drive most of the cars I fantasized about as a kid. And comparing the Esprit against other cars from the era, there is just no comparison for me. I say all the time, that the biggest problem at Lotus… was that they just didn’t have a big enough marketing budget & no PR liaison during that era. The Esprit is one of the few exotic cars from that era that actually FEELS fast. The 328 or 348 feel slow and a bit dodgy by comparison. Even an RX7 or Supra is stock form doesn’t feel as urgent as an Esprit S4.

So with this new-found revelation of all these cars I had dreamed about actually being within the realm of consideration, I bought this V8TT Esprit. As well as a Maserati GranSport… because… if I was going to tell others not to fear exotics, I felt like I should really jump in with both feet. Both have been bullet proof. Maintenance isn’t much more (or in some cases LESS) than maintaining other cars I have owned.

Right now I am kind of doing some maintenance items on the Esprit so I have a pretty good feel for cost. I just got the timing belt kit, and that was around a grand. Motor mounts were about the same price as performance mounts on my Golf R. So again… no real stress.


I wanted to build the car I had always dreamed about. Kind of like a real life Gran Turismo or Forza. The livery is something I came up with. I wanted accents, but I also still wanted a clean car that didn’t have its gorgeous lines lost in a sea of confusion. I played off the factory JPS pin stripe & placement. I gave a nod to the more recent Team Lotus F1 team by going slightly more bronze with the wheels than with the livery itself.

A lot of people miss that Lotus is one of the worlds most successful manufacturers when it comes to F1. For years, they were 2nd in terms of overall wins. And now, even since Colin’s death, they are still in the top 5. Lotus has amazing & proven heritage… and yet people discount them as being somehow less than Ferrari, Porsche, or Lamborghini. It comes back around to ‘marketing budget + press + PR’ in my opinion. 

The Esprit was campaigned successfully here in the states in the 90’s, and they even had a LeMans program for the V8TT cars. The Esprit GT1 and Elise GT1 cars were both in video games, and that is kind of the impetus that pushed this car to go from my ‘video game garage’ to my real garage.


Finding a fat 5-spoke wheel that looked period correct, yet had a modern sensibility, was a really important part of the look. Matt from Fifteen52 was geeked about the project from the word ‘go’, and really made it happen. They actually made a new CAD file for a Tarmac that was concave for the rear. It had to be forged, because I knew from the beginning that ‘lightweight’ was the ethos I wanted to adhere to. The wheels actually weigh-in less than the OEM wheels… and are 18×12 out back. I couldn’t be more happy about it. 

The car has PUK poly bushings all through the front suspension. And custom valved fully-adjustable KW coilovers (that also weigh less than the non-adjustable Bilstein set up the car came with).

In terms of mods, the car is already so beautiful… so evocative… I really didn’t want to go over the top.



High boost ECU
Muffler delete w/ short-run custom exhaust
200 cell cats
Short shift kit
Later model shift knob
Momo Euro Spec wheel
Hella air horns (dual)
JAE sport 350 motor mounts
JAE new door trim and seals
PUK poly bushing kit
PUK + KW Suspension hybrid coilovers with adjustable height & rebound

Custom upper links for additional tow and camber adjustment
Falken 235/40/17 front & 315/30/18 rear
Fifteen52 *forged* Tarmacs 17×8.5 front & 18×12 rear
PUK + Hawk drilled rotors & HPS pads
Aluminum interior trim (custom cut)
Samco silicon hoses
K&N air filters
APR carbon fiber front splitter (not yet installed at time of photo shoot)
3M and Avery vinyl, cut & installed by Performance Auto Spa
Tinted tails