I’m not a reporter. I don’t even pretend to be one. What I do is tell stories and sometimes, if I am fortunate, they resonate with people. So when guy name Joe here in Buffalo contacted me and offered me a ride in his 1995 Lotus Esprit I was torn. Naturally, I wanted a ride, who wouldn’t? Still, I had to tell him up-front that I didn’t know if that a ride would generate a story good enough for the illustrious readership here at TTAC. Luckily for me, he invited me over anyhow and I got my ride, but in the end it turns out I was right. A ride, no matter how exhilarating, really wasn’t enough for me to create an entire story. That’s fortunate though, because Joe’s story about his almost lifelong connection to this one specific car is better than anything I could have invented.
To an ordinary guy like myself, the Lotus Esprit is one of those legendary cars that only live in posters on the walls of kids’ bedrooms. It is a low wedge of a car built for speed and handling and the car I found waiting for me in the driveway next to Joe’s house looked painfully out-of-place in the working class Buffalo neighborhood. The fact that it occupied a space next to a Renault Alliance, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year back in 1983, blew my mind, but the truth is that both cars are perfectly representative of the amazing person that their owner is. The Lotus is what Joe aspired to when he was a child and the Renault is where he comes from. The fact that he has both says something good about the man.
The car was low and difficult for me to clamber into, but once inside it felt surprisingly roomy and comfortable. The engine behind me hummed with pure energy as Joe put the car out onto the main road near his house, the pop off valve hissing impressively every time he switched gears. “This is one of those cars that gets a bad rep,” said Joe, “I don’t think that reputation is deserved though. A lot of guys take them out, flog them before they get fully warmed up, don’t rev match when they downshift and they generally beat on them. It’s a hand-built car, after all, I mean back in 1995 they only built 46 of them. TThese things need a little more TLC than your average sports car, but they are damn good cars” We continued up the rutted street, Joe using the car’s superior handling to dodge manhole covers and, as we drove, Joe’s amazing story trickled out.
When he was a kid, Joe was fascinated with the Esprit. He studied the specs in the magazines, read about them in books, admired them in film and photo and decided that one day he would own one. So intense was his desire that as a 14 year old riding with his mother, when he saw one on the road he forced her to turn around and chase after it. “I believe in the code of exotic car ownership, “Joe told me as he grabbed third gear, “One of the rules is that when kids come up and ask about your car that you encourage their interest. I know exactly what that means.“ The owner, it turned out was of a similar opinion and he encouraged the boy’s interest. The two soon became friends.
Eventually the cost of speeding tickets and insurance became too much and Joe’s friend sold the Lotus. Joe mourned the loss of the car, but continued his friendship. Flash forward almost a decade when Joe, a recent college graduate, decided to make his lifelong dream of Esprit ownership come true. “I got on-line and looked at dozens of ads for used cars.” He told me, “I knew exactly what I wanted, a 95 Esprit S4 like my friend’s and it took a long time to find one. On the very last page of the classifieds I finally found the perfect one. It was in Texas but I knew right away that this was the car. There was only one made in this color combination, it was my friend’s – the same Esprit I first saw when I was 14.” Joe contacted his friend and flew him out to Texas to check out the car. It turned out his suspicions were right. “I sent a check and had my friend drive it back to Buffalo. I have had it ever since and I’ll never sell it.”
As we headed home we passed an old steel mill, now shuttered and dark. “My dad worked In that building for 38 years.” Joe said over the growl of the super car’s engine. “Buffalo is changing and those changes have taken a lot of jobs with them. This town has been on a downward spiral for a lot of years but I think we’re past the worst of it, though.” He said hopefully, “The industry is gone but the people have always been what made this town special. They still do, Buffalo is the city of good neighbors, you know?”
Back at home the Lotus slipped into its spot next to its polar opposite, the battered Renault. “I always wanted this,” said Joe from the seat of the Lotus, “But I grew up in that.” He said waving to the small car. “My dad was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and I got that so we have something to work on together when he gets better. I had to spend a lot of time finding one like he had, but I finally got it. I think we’re going to have a good time with it.”
The childhood dreams that most of us have fade away over the years as we grow into adulthood so it’s nice to know that sometimes people make those dreams a reality. It’s nicer still, to know someone who lives those dreams but remains firmly grounded. Joe knows who he is, where he is from and what is really important in life. It was my honor to meet him and to tell some of his story. That’s all I can do, I hope it resonates.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.