We enthuse over Hethel’s unique wedge-shaped sports car
Driving a Lotus Europa is quite an experience. As period advertising admitted: "The Lotus inflames passions. Some love it, some hate it."
From the outset, you are cocooned in a small but practical interior with a superbly responsive throttle thanks to a lightweight flywheel. The result? Bliss for some drivers, a feeling of claustrophobia for others.
Steering requires very little effort and the mid-mounted engine buzzes behind you like an angry wasp. Series 1 cars are considered to be the better handling, since they were constructed with a backbone chassis, which meant that the plastic body was bonded to it, adding rigidity.
Later cars may not be quite so sophisticated in design, but they were given much more powerful engines, so it’s a swings-and-roundabouts situation. Whichever Europa you select, you’re assured of getting plenty of attention, and loads of rear-wheel drive fun, while the overall lightness of the car makes for a true Lotus experience.
Series 1 (Renault engined)
Power (bhp@rpm) 82bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 79lb ft@4000rpm
Top speed 116mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Special editions like the John Player Special are rare, and therefore generally more expensive. However, be aware that there are a number of fake JPS editions on the market.
The only way to fully check what you are buying is to cross-reference the chassis identification number with Club Lotus or Lotus itself. You’ll find the unit identification plate on the left-hand side of the bulkhead in the engine compartment.
Look out for rust, because even a clean-looking Europa hides its corrosion surprisingly well. Rot spots include the rear trailing links, chassis mounts and anywhere the chassis is joined to the body – corrosion on the chassis can be incredibly expensive to fix. And bear in mind that a new chassis can affect prices when it comes to selling on the car, as many Lotus enthusiasts are very particular about originality.
The exterior is one of the reasons this car is so special – nothing else looks quite like it. Made from glassfibre, it can be expensive to fix even minor body damage. Sagging doors are a common complaint from Europa owners, so it makes sense to check that the door hinges are solid, gapped right, or have been suitably reinforced.
The seat belt mounts are made from mild steel, so check the chassis. If there’s any corrosion, chances are the belt mounts will be in a much worse state, as their position means they don’t get any protection from the elements.
Engine parts can be pricey if you buy an early Renault-engined Europa. Although the Renault lump is reliable, parts are hard to come by, so listen out for lumpy rattles and check for oil leaks. The Lotus twin-cam engine is also reliable, but parts are much more readily available, and therefore cheaper. Remember to check the radiator as cooling is essential in a car as quick as the Europa.
Gearboxes can need attention with the Europa, often requiring maintenance due to the manner in which the linkages are placed in the car. Kits can be bought to improve this, although these can be expensive and fiddly to fit. A wide gearbox gate might feel unusual and a whining from it can be disastrous as it could mean bearing failure.
Lotus is not famed for its interior fit and finish, and it shows in the Europa. Original windscreens are prone to leaks which can result in the wood finish swelling and cracking.
Check if the windscreen has been replaced otherwise you may have to steel yourself for wet instruments and ill-fitting wood trim. Other potential headaches include electrical faults caused by poor earthing, as well as water ingress through badly bonded windscreens.
The Lotus Europa has always been something of an acquired taste. While the car has its supporters, the unconventional bodyshape means that it never quite achieved the more conventional widespread popularity of the Elan and +2.
The original Europa was produced between 1966 and 1975, with styling by a pre-Black and Decker workmate Ron Hickman, at the time a director of Lotus engineering. Not only was the boxy shape radical for its time, but with a drag coefficient of just 0.29cd, it was wickedly fast. Series 1 cars were powered by a 82bhp Renault-derived engine, but serious fun could still be had since it only weighed 610kg. Series 1s are rare these days, but Series 2 cars are more readily available. There are also special editions such as the John Player Special models, which commemorated Lotus’s Grand Prix campaigns.
In total, almost 9000 Europas were eventually produced, with many cars being sold in the US. This means the car is a relatively rare sight in the UK.
The Europa has aged gracefully, and while it isn’t classically beautiful, there still nothing else like it on the road. Looks go an awfully long way with sports cars such as these. Luckily, the car comes with bags of character as standard.
Taller customers may have to look elsewhere, as the inside of the Europa is bestdescribed as being ‘condensed’. Being mid-engined, it handles superbly, but be prepared to sacrifice storage space for performance. But who buys a Lotus with practicality in mind anyway?
While not super-rare, Europas are still pretty uncommon, with prices for even the worst examples heading into five figures.
A perfect Europa comes at a hefty premium.