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R12 is readily available in the U.S. - what was prohibited was the manufacture of R12 so there is an existing stock which is legal to use.

When I bought my car it had been converted to R134 and it was almost useless. The AC shop immediately recommended going back to R12 which I did and the AC is just fine - and I live in Florida. Definitely stay with R12 if at all possible in France.

Leaks can be detected with dyes or sniffers or both. If it is leaking "everywhere" just trash the old components and build a new system from scratch. As several have mentioned there is nothing particularly exotic about the Lotus AC. You can probably salvage some parts (condenser, evaporator, etc.) and just replace all the hoses, drier, compressor, etc. A properly functioning AC system with R12 will cool the Esprit just fine. And a properly installed system will NOT leak. I have owned vehicles which are over ten years old and have never required any servicing. A new system with new connectors, new compressor, etc. will not leak so don't worry so much about the cost of R12. If you can afford an Esprit you can afford to pay a few more bucks to get the AC right - in the long run the cost is minimal when extended over time.

And unless you are really experienced and have all the proper gauges, vacuum pumps, etc. I really recommend you have a professional re-do your system.
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