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Lotus Europa

Worth the Dough Published: 5th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Europa

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Twin Cam Special
  • Worst model: Renault model
  • Budget buy: S2 TC
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive unconverted
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3980 x W1551
  • Spares situation: Reasonable
  • Club support: Pretty good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Yes, better than an Elan?
Panel fi t was never great but should be okay. Handles etc sourced from variety of carmakers so easy to find Panel fi t was never great but should be okay. Handles etc sourced from variety of carmakers so easy to find
Gear linkage usually deteriorates, needs rebushing. Five-speed ‘box preferable but is most fragile Gear linkage usually deteriorates, needs rebushing. Five-speed ‘box preferable but is most fragile
Twin cam Lotus engine best bet but you can slot in modern Ford Zetec unit that’s faster, more frugal! Twin cam Lotus engine best bet but you can slot in modern Ford Zetec unit that’s faster, more frugal!
Original breadvan slab sides are matter of taste and cut down drastically for the better S2 range Original breadvan slab sides are matter of taste and cut down drastically for the better S2 range
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Don’t let that quirky ‘breadvan’ styling put you off an Europa – the Lotus Elise of the 1960s!

Pros & Cons

Purist mid-engined design, frugal Renault engine, value for money
Acquired taste, lack of civility, cars on offer, those ‘breadvan’ looks?

The Europa was actually Colin Chapman’s intended replacement for the phenomenal Seven. He wanted a cheaper sportster than the Elan that was Seven simple enough for regular garages to work on it, yet also be a competent weekend racer like the earlier car. The result was Europa: a mid-engined, twoseat enclosed sports car with a fi breglass body that tipped the scales at barely less than 700kg and was so low it could challenge Ford’s GT40 at limbo dancing. Sold alongside the iconic Elan, the Europa was stripped-out Lotus-motoring for real drivers. Never mind that the initial engine was a 1470cc Renault unit putting out less than 80bhp (about the same as the 1500cc Ford Cortina GT unit), the slippery design with its bread-van rear styling and sheer handling exuberance care of a mid-engined layout (highly radical for its times) put the Europa right up there in the pantheon of great Lotus sports cars, past present and future. It still is… but Europa is almost the forgotten Lotus these days meaning continued good value for money and exclusivity.


Lotus had a problem with the Europa. It had to be cheaper than the Elan so fi tting the excellent but expensive Lotus-Ford twin-cam engine to the car was a non starter, so another unit was needed. Inspiration came to Colin Chapman while wandering about the Paris Motor Show where Renault was proudly showing its all-new 16 hatchback. That was powered by a 1470ccall-alloy four-cylinder, which captured Chapman’s imagination. He did the sums, reckoned it would fi t and bought it in. Renault was keen with the arrangement too so specially tuned the engine for a useful 78bhp. The fi rst Europas, called the S1, were born in 1966 (the original brief was three years earlier) and were mainly sent abroad to Europe at the expense of UK custom because the company was worried about harming Elan sales. These fi rst S1 cars were a real oddity in that they had no opening windows, but relied on a pressurised ventilation system (that being a Lotus never worked of course!). The seats were also fi xed, so you adjusted your driving position by moving the pedals. Today the S1 is the preserve of the seriously dedicated, mainly because the plastic body is bonded to the rust-prone chassis (which gave it a completely smooth underside; ground effect thinking by Chapman a decade before it was used in F1).

Only around 650 S1s were built, because in 1968 the more conventional S2 was born. It kept the same peppy engine and major underpinnings, but now the windows (electrically) opened, the seats moved and the body could be removed from the chassis. Over in America “Federal” versions got a 1565cc version of the Renault engine but, as ever, emissions regulations stifl ed it back to a paltry 80bhp. A popular race car which always used Lotus- Ford power from the outset it was a logical step in 1971 to offer the 105bhp unit in the road cars. A year later the Europa Special came on stream with a big valve head to pump out 126bhp, which gave this fl yweight supercar pace. Hardly a cheap car at £1960, yet Specials outsold the lesser TCs by 2 to 1, with around 4500 fi nding homes globally. But it wasn’t just the engine that was changed. The Lotus stylists had chopped down the rear sails on the back to give better rearward visibility and remove the ‘bread-van’ stigma. If that wasn’t temptation enough, the John Player Special version in black was launched to lay claim to the title of Sexiest Lotus Ever before the Esprit took over in 1975.

Driving It

Entering a Europa is a bit like getting into a bath only you’ve got further to go (although as with any Lotus of that era you will get wet…). It’s not as bad as the Elise mind but not by much…. Once you’re there though, it feels just right. Performance was never electrifying in the Renault engined cars even in its day but it’s still quick enough thanks to the ultra-light weight. Contemporary road tests clocked the car at around 110mph with 60mph in a shade under 10 seconds. For sheer performance you need the later twin-cam cars, which took the 0-60mph down to a tad over seven seconds for the normal S2 and an astonishing 6.6 seconds for the superb Big Valve Special. But all Europas sound great and can achieve around 25-30mpg. Of course Lotus knew how to make the Europa handle, helped by that very low centre of gravity: some even claim they’re more nimble than an Elan in the dry. In the wet however the light-nosed car tends to understeer with predictable lift-off oversteer, although naturally the Lotus-powered cars are easier to induce tail out motoring. Really, despite being four decades old an Europa still impresses with its sheer poise and agility. Purists will say the earliest S1s drive the best because the bonded body gave them greater stiffness, but good luck fi nding one and living with it! Really, the closet you can get to driving an Europa is an early Mk1 MR2 – and that about says it all really.


The desirability of the later TC/Special versions over the Renault-engined S1/S2s are refl ected in the prices. A good S2 will fetch up to £8000, but a similarly immaculate TC/Special can fetch anything up to £16,000 (especially for the Commemorative car), which is good Elan territory. For the enthusiast, average ones fall to about £6000 for the later cars and £4000 for the S2, while resto jobs start from around £2000. The ultimate uprated Banks models (a leading Europa specialist) have been known to cost up to £40,000.


There’s a fair bit you can do to an Europa to make it ‘Q-roupa’. That mid-engine design with a spacious engine bay means a wide variety of different engines can be fi tted with ingenuity, including V8s (a special Rover V8-powered car by engineering fi rm GKN was made soon after the car’s launch) although more popular fi ts are the latest Vauxhall and Ford (Zetec) 16-valve units which are cheap, plentiful and punchy. Bear in mind that the Renault engine was quite tunable in its day and period Gordini/Alpine/Else tuning parts can see as much as 150bhp extracted whilefor the Lotus T/C 160-180bhp is attainable for reliable road use. Handling?The front suspension is Elan, which in other words is Triumph Spitfi re. The rear set up is well sorted (f the geometry is correct) and Europas really only need uprated springs and dampers (the latter wear out very quickly) withwider modern rubber to keep this classic up with the best of them on today’s roads.

What To Look For

  • “Check the chassis! The original Y-shaped folded sheet-metal will either have corroded or fatigued, so if it isn’t a new galvanised version (most are), you’ll probably be in trouble. Some owners, particularly in the 90s, swapped it for a Spyder-made spaceframe that’s not for the purists but a fi ne design all the same.
  • The fi breglass body won’t rust of course, but the paintwork will craze or microblister with age. As anyone who’s had to respray a plastic-bodied car will know, it’s a long and expensive job to rid the bodyshell of the old paint and gel coat (which gives a smooth covering over the fi breglass).
  • On the other hand, cracks or scrapes don’t mean you need a whole new body. Damage only goes so far in the fi breglass, and you can buy different sections of the body to repair it from Lotus or specialist parts suppliers.
  • The Lotus twin-cam is a tough engine, but it does need rebuilding. Some say every 50,000 miles, others reckon they’ll do 70,000-80,000 miles before needing specialist attention. The Renault engine is long lived, if you look after it.
  • The rear suspension is a problem area. The diffi culty is that drive-shafts to the rear wheels are connected to the aft-mounted gearbox, and specialists talk about badly fi tted or non-existent shims ( that’s a thin packing strip) between the inboard drive yokes and the gearbox. This has consequences for the differential bearings and the gearbox oil seals, so check for play in the rear wheels while jacked up and look for leaks (although most have a small leak). The front suspension is a Triumph-based double-wishbone layout (which must be oiled and not greased).
  • Check that the insulation behind the seat hasn’t rotted. This bit of fi breboard is all there is between you and the engine, and if water has crept in there, the material can dissolve to make a real mess.
  • To change the water pump on the twin-cam is an engine-out job, so a new one is always a good sign. Overheating is a problem on the Europa, but some owners say that airlocks (trapped air) in the system are the main reason for the overheating. This is down to the radiator, which sits in the driver’s side wheel arch, being lower than the engine, meaning you have to jack up the front of the car when changing the coolant…
  • The gear linkage in the Europa famously works quite loose, mainly because it has to travel so far to the back of the engine. Famous specialist Richard Winter at Europa Engineering (aka Banks Service Station) in Lancashire offered a fi x for this, but some owners get used to it and say they can still handle the sloppy change. Twin-cam fi ve-speeders used a 365 Renault-derived unit, by the way.
  • Lotus specialists sell new chassis frames for around £1200 while a new body retails at £1600. Lots of different engines can be fi tted, including V8s, but today’s popular fi ts are the latest Vauxhall and Ford 16-valve units.
  • Because the Europa has played second fi ddle to the Elan, many cars are bodged and hardly worth restoring. There’s plenty around still though, especially in Europe where the car was destined.

Three Of A Kind

Toyota MR2
Toyota MR2
Has a similar DNA to the Europa but is far more modern and durable. Shark-nosed Mk1s are the best driving but rot lake mad; Ferrari-looking Mk2 is best all rounder but not so satisfying to drive. T-roof models most in demand while Grey imports can boast turbo power and real pace but need careful vetting. MR2s are still strong value for money and there are many good cars around still. A true modern classic that’s worth a look at.
Lotus Esprit
Lotus Esprit
Successor to the Europa and indeed the Esprit relies upon the former’s modifi ed chassis. Fantastic looks and superb handling but early cars were rough and noisy plus badly built and not as quick as a TC Europa. S2 cars are much better sorted. Values are starting to rise from banger-type money but there are many ropey cars around so check with care while dud Lotus engines are frequently dumped for Rover V8 power.
Porsche 914
Porsche 914
An interesting one this. Introduced during the Europa’s heyday the VW-Porsche 914 was similar in concept and in many ways showed Toyota the way for the MR2. Simple VW mechanicals are low on speed but durable (Porsche-powered versions are available) while the vast majority of cars are left-hand drive. But the 914 handles well, has a certain cachet plus can be fobbed off as the daddy to the Porsche Boxster – yes really!


The Europa is the Lotus Marmite; you either love it or hate it! With a mid-ships format it’s more thoroughbred than an Elan although it doesn’t really equate on the road, plus the Europa is far less civilised. But as a classic buy this underrated Lotus has lots going for it. Who needs an Esprit – or indeed that Elise?

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