The NEC Birmingham Motor Show
1984 Lotus Etna V8 Berlinetta operational concept car Styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro/Italdesign
Anyone who attended the 1984 NEC Birmingham Motor Show could never forget the star of the Lotus stand: the Italdesign-styled, V8-powered Etna concept car. Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro's then top-of-the-world team, the Etna used his production Lotus Esprit as its basis, adding race-bred cutting-edge technology to present what could well have become the British industry's first genuine mid-engined 'supercar'.
With a claimed drag coefficient of 0.29 and Perspex upper body the Lotus Etna achieved huge and instant public relations success. 'Car' magazine's front cover headline declared: 'The magnificent Giugiaro-designed Lotus V8 sets out to show the world that Hethel can build a world-beater. Buy it in 1988!'
Lotus saw fit to modulate such public acclaim by explaining subsequently that it wasn't about to make bold claims for a model so far from production, yet still dropped seductive hints about what the Etna would offer technologically.
It was to feature computer-controlled active ride, embracing anti-dive, anti-roll and anti-squat. Adjustable height setting and self-levelling promised to make for consistent handling and performance in all conditions. Given that Lotus was in the early stages of developing such a computer-controlled Active system for Formula 1, and had recently shown the world its JPS-liveried Grand Prix car using the same system to be driven by Nigel Mansellall was entirely feasible. But there was even more, because the Etna electronics package would add traction control, anti-lock brakes (still a supercar rarity in 1984), engine management, even active noise cancelling.
And the Etna's engine was very special too, and actually far closer to production reality than the rest of the project. In 1978, Colin Chapman had detailed Tony Rudd the famous World Championship-winning ex-Chief Engineer of BRM - with creating a Lotus quad-camV8 engine. The brief was to achieve 320bhp and 300lb ft torque. It was to include as many parts as possible in common with the existing 16-valve slant-four engine of the Esprit, Elite and Eclat. Above all it was to be a lean-burn design capable of exceeding US emissions requirements.
In effect Tony Rudd combined two slant-four Type 907 top ends upon a new V8 block was designed, but while the double-overhead-camshaft heads were conceptually similar to the original four's, they were not identical. Maximum Lotus DV8 or Type 909 engine power was eventually quoted as 335bhp at a modest 6500rpm.
But Colin Chapman had just died, and with Group Lotus battling the deep economic recession of that difficult period the Etna had been built, as a beacon of hope for the future. In 1986 General Motors then bought Lotus and had no place for the Etna in their plans. The one-time headline grabbing V8 concept car sat silent in storage within a Hethel hangar until 2001 when it was offered with some of its sister projects for sale in an auction sale at Silverstone.
Lotus specialist Paul Matty was the successful bidder and he eventually sold it to Olav Glasius. While the car was being trailered down the M1 Motorway its Perspex 'greenhouse' blew off and was destroyed, rendering already demanding restoration even more arduous. Mr Gasius called in Ken and Neil Myers, the father-and-son Lotus restoration specialists in Northampton, England, to work their magic on a one-off Etna minus its Perspex glasshouse and wheel trims, in generally poor condition, with tatty interior. Neil Myers recalled: "I started hacking around to see what was underneath, and soon realised there was more to the car than the shell. I cut through the decking, only to find the engine and the gearbox!"
They had discovered that Lotus had sent the Etna's underpinning lengthened Esprit chassis to Italdesign with the Type 909 V8 engine included to help Giugiaro package his sleek design the engine's presence having apparently been forgotten! The project became a real labour of love as the Etna was now to be completed to running order.
Quite apart from building up the 4-litre V8 engine to useable form, working transmission and suspension had to be incorporated while just rebuilding the all-encompassing perspex canopy was a major undertaking. Rebuilding the Etna took Neil Myers about a year and is by any standard a remarkable achievement. Olav Glasius has twice displayed the finished car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and it survives today as a stunning testimony to what might have been. As Mr. Glasius says, 'It's not really representative of how the Etna would have been. It's really powered for demonstration purposes...' but merely the sound of the 4-litre Type 909 V8 engine will send a shiver down any Lotus enthusiast's spine.
A full feature story from 'Octane' magazine detailing the car and its incredible completion to running order can be found on the internet or in the March 2011 edition of the magazine.
This extraordinary Giugiaro-styled Lotus concept car occupies a unique place in any motor show prototype Valhalla. It is, above all other considerations, a fondly-remembered landmark model which is now 'runnable' thanks to a combination of enthusiasm, dedication and sheer perspiration by some of the motoring world's most committed and capable Lotus lovers.