Bertone had lost its way a little by the time this long-forgotten concept car broke cover at the Detroit International Auto Show in January 1991. The glory days of the Marcello Gandini era and wedge-shaped projectiles resplendent in highlighter pen hues had long been consigned to history. It had taken a turn for the, well, ordinary. That, and perhaps a bit cut ’n’ paste. Purportedly based on a Lotus Esprit platform of indeterminate age, the Emotion wasn’t originally intended to wear Lotus badges, either.
First seen publicly in Europe at the Geneva motor show two months later, the Turinese styling house stated in its typically random promotional material: ‘The rapport with Lotus is something new for Bertone despite the fact that both firms have for dozens of years been pacesetters in the conception, design and manufacture of mid-engined sports cars… [The] Emotion sets out to take a second look at the Lotus image and interpret it freely in a more modern key…’ Not that it was the first Italian-shaped Lotus, Frua and ItalDesign having got there first.
While notionally powered by a turbocharged 2-2-litre four-cylinder unit, and purportedly capable of more than 170mph, in reality the Emotion was a non-functional show car. 4060mm long, 1900mm wide and standing 1080mm off the deck, it represented a bold design statement on behalf of its makers, with cab-forward styling and finely chiselled flanks, while the integrated rear spoiler was also speed-adjustable. The one and only prototype was subsequently mothballed in the Bertone factory museum until 2015, when the collection was sold following the firm’s bankruptcy. During the intervening period, its original metallic grey-green hue was changed to bright yellow.
According to an Exotic Cars Quarterly article from the period, the Bertone Emotion was first mooted in 1990, the aim being to show a ‘plaster’ in Detroit, and a ‘runner’ in Geneva. Bertone’s long-serving press manager Gian Beppe Panicco told the US title: ‘Soon after, we had the realisation that to make a runner would have cost at least $1m and we were not in a position to invest as much as that.’
Could the Emotion have enjoyed success as a production car? Who knows? Lotus’ reaction to the car remains unrecorded. What has become clear subsequently, however, is that the design – or at least part of it, was first pitched to Bugatti when it set about creating what in time became the EB110. According to some sources, when Bertone’s offering was rejected in favour of one by former design director Gandini (whose design was modified later by a third party), the mock-up was given a light makeover and a few Lotus badges. Et voila, a new concept car…