The Esprit was launched in October 1975 at the Paris motorshow, and went into production in June 1976, replacing the Europa in the Lotus model line-up. These first cars eventually became known as S1 (or Series 1) Esprits.
With a steel backbone chassis and a fiberglass body, the Esprit was powered by the Lotus 907 4 cylinder engine, as previously used in the Jensen Healey. This engine displaced 2.0 L, produced 160 bhp (119 kW; 162 PS) in European trim (140 bhp (104 kW; 142 PS) in US/Federal trim), and was mounted longitudinally behind the passengers, as in its predecessor. The transaxle gearbox was a 5 speed unit, previously used in the Citroën SM and Maserati Merak; it featured inboard rear brakes, as was racing practice at the time. The Series 1 embodied Lotus’ performance through light weight mantra, weighing less than 1,000 kg (2,205 lb).
The original Esprit was lauded for its handling and is said to have the best steering of any Esprit. However, it was generally regarded as lacking power, especially in markets such as the United States where the engine was down-rated for emissions purposes. Lotus’ claim of 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph (222 km/h) may be thought of as optimistic - actual road test times indicated 0-60 mph in 8 seconds and a top speed of around 133 mph (214 km/h).
The car gained fame through its appearance in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) where it was featured in a long chase sequence, converting into a submarine.