Most would say the change was for the better.
The Excel entered production in 1982 in the form shown above, though its lineage traced back to the Seventies. Excel was a replacement for the Éclat coupe in production since 1975. Éclat was a sister car to the Elite shooting brake and was designed for people who wanted the sensibility and form factor of an actual trunk. Both cars were phased out when the Excel arrived.
These foundations are important because the new Excel was a rework of the Éclat it replaced. Fittingly its name at launch was Éclat Excel, which changed simply to Excel from 1984 onward. Penned by Peter Stevens of XJR-15 and McLaren F1 fame, the new, modern coupe was one of only two cars on offer from Lotus for 1982 alongside the Esprit. Both cars were a continuation of Lotus’ 1970s attempt to go more upscale and appeal to a different sort of buyer than they had with their lightweight, stripped-out cars.
Around the time the Excel was in development, Toyota bought lots of shares in Lotus, and enlisted Lotus engineers to help with development of their new sports car, the Supra. Part of the deal saw Toyota make parts available for use in Lotus vehicles, to which Lotus happily obliged. When the Éclat Excel debuted it used a Toyota five-speed, and the driveshafts, differential, wheels, and door handles from a Supra. The engine was Lotus, however, a 2.2-liter inline-four (160hp) from the Esprit. Excel’s body was made of plastic, in two halves that were joined together and mounted to a steel chassis. Engineers at Lotus were careful to give it a 50:50 weight distribution for driving enjoyment.
Over the years visual revisions were made to keep the Excel looking fresh. Several changes on the exterior occurred between ’84 and ’86 and included new wheels, hood, and front-wheel arches. 1986 also brought the more powerful S.E. performance variant, with a high compression version of the same 2.2-liter engine for 180 horsepower. There were more mechanical improvements in 1988 and even more visual changes in 1989.
But the changes didn’t help the Excel become a sales success. The company decided early on it wasn’t worthwhile to edit the Excel for American emissions compliance, and customers elsewhere were not very interested in an expensive Lotus coupe that wasn’t the Esprit. The Excel ended production in 1992, without replacement. In 11 years, just 2,075 Excels were built. The Esprit soldiered on as the famous car it was, and Lotus took a new approach with its other offerings. The Elan roadster introduced for 1989 signaled the brand’s return to lightness. From there, Lotus continued with smaller cars like the Elise, Exige, and Evora, and left its luxury aspirations in the past.
Today’s very clean Rare Ride is an S.E. trim in luxurious red over white. With 94,000 miles, it sold recently for $9,769 in England.