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Lotus Europa: Buying guide and review (1966-1975)

Lotus Europa: Buying guide and review (1966-1975) Classic and Performance Car
Lotus Europa side Lotus Europa side Lotus Europa side
It’s a curious car, the Lotus Europa. When we’re asked to think of mid-engined pioneers, the usual Italian suspects are at the top of the list. It’s the same with significant cars from Lotus – Elan, Esprit and Elise will be up there. But who – honestly – would think of the original Europa? 
 
And yet Colin Chapman’s vision of a mid-engined sports car for the masses is one of the most interesting cars ever to have emerged from Hethel. The engineering that made the Europa feasible was fiendishly clever – in effect, the Elan’s backbone chassis was turned round, and the front-wheel-drive power-pack from the Renault 16 was installed behind the driver’s head. 
 
It was packaged in a sleek glassfibre body that stood at a mere 1067mm (42in) tall, and slipped through the air with the minimum of fuss to make the most of the original car’s modest 78bhp. But straight-line speed was never the Europa’s raison d’être; instead, it was all about F1-style handling. A well-driven Europa will reward the driver with effortless acceleration and roll-free cornering. 
 
Sadly, it wasn’t as cheap as Chapman would have liked, and that led to unfavourable performance comparisons with its similarly priced counterpart, the Elan Sprint. But to compare the Europa with the Elan was to miss the point entirely. Here was a mid-engined sportscar – the most exciting and visionary layout at the time – and it could be had in a car the size of an MG Midget. The problem with this however, was that in 1969 Chapman’s mid-engine maverick cost twice as much as the Midget. At £1667, the Europa was only £3 less than Elan coupe. Market positioning has fogged perceptions ever since.
 

Which Europa to buy?

 
Undoubtedly the later 105bhp Twin Cam is the car to have, but that’s not to downplay the honest charms of the Renault-powered cars. In short, they’re all gems. Just make sure you buy a good example. 

Series 1 cars that were only offered for sale in Europe have all but disappeared, with many of the Renault-powered cars having had their engines replaced by twin-cams for many years. Realistically, S2s represent the entry point, and for usable cars. The more sought-after Twin Cam is a step higher in terms of budget, but is a much better car.
 
The Europa that still continues to attract the most interest – and therefore commands a healthy premium – is the Special, especially when in black and gold JPS-style paint livery. Be careful to make sure any JPS you’re looking at is original though. The only way to be sure is to cross-reference the chassis number either with the factory or Club Lotus.
 

Performance and specs


1972 Lotus Europa twin-cam special 
Engine  1558cc four-cylinder, DOHC, twin Dellorto carburettors 
Power 126bhp @ 6000rpm 
Torque 113lb ft @ 5500rpm 
Transmission Four-speed manual 
0-62mph 6.6sec 
Top speed 127mph 
Insurance group   n/a 
Fuel consumption  28.2mpg 
Price when new  £1667
 

Dimensions and weight


Wheelbase              2311mm
Length 3994mm
Width 1638mm
Height 1067mm
Weight 711kg
 

Common problems

 
• If you want to buy a Europa, then the first thing you need to do is work out what state the chassis is in. If the car is unrestored, and has what you suspect to be an original chassis, then you need to take extra care to inspect for corrosion. A car with tidy bodywork can hide all manner of horrors, turning an affordable Lotus into a huge restoration job. 
 
• The best option for peace of mind in the future is a new chassis. There are three desirable types to look for – Spyder Engineering, Banks Europa or a genuine Lotus one. For investment value, the Lotus item is the best one to have. It’s interesting to note that Spyder now sells a chassis to suit a modern Ford Zetec engine conversion, too. 
 
• Places to check for corrosion are the fuel tanks, seatbelt mountings, front and rear chassis mounts, and the rear trailing links. And anywhere where the body is in contact with the chassis.
 
• Don’t under-estimate the importance of good paint, and doors that haven’t dropped. There is no way of properly repairing a glassfibre body without significant expenditure (often more than for a steel body), so watch out for stress cracks and crazing in the gel coat. Dropped doors are repairable thanks to the availability of new hinge pins from Banks, but it’s a difficult job to sort out.
 
• Suspension requires regular maintenance – oil at the front – but is not expensive to put right if there are issues. If there’s play, and the suspension has been rebuilt, it could be that it’s not been put together properly. All assemblies must be Loctite’d in place. 
 
• Ride height, damper quality and steering alignment are absolutely essential for the best ride and handling. A rose-joint conversion is a positive bonus. 
 
• The Lotus-Ford twin-cam is a well-known quantity and all parts are readily available, with extensive specialist support. Do listen for noisy cam chains and tired bottom ends, and watch for oil leaks. 
 
• Parts are not so readily available for the Renault engine, but it’s a tough old unit, and most 1470s will have been replaced by 1565cc units. Cooling is critical, so check for signs of overheating and the condition of the radiator. 
 
• Gearboxes can be weak and need regular care and attention. Be warned though, it will never feel like a modern ’box, even with everything aligned. Linkages take a tortuous route through the car, and sometimes adjustment can drastically improve change quality. 
 
• Earlier S1s and S2s benefit from the fitment of the Twin Cam’s driveshaft set-up – again a bonus if it’s been done. It’s certainly a worthwhile upgrade to undertake if it needs any work in this area.
 
• Interiors are prone to damage from leaking windscreens, so look closely at the wood veneer dash and under the seats. It’s also worth remembering that a recent re-trim is a positive, as this is a surprisingly expensive job.
 
• Electrics can be fragile too, but that’s mainly down to poor earthing. Test everything you can, but bear in mind that most things can be repaired with a bit of patience. 
 

Model history

 
1966: Lotus Europa is launched, initially for sale in European markets only. Powered by the well-proven Renault 1470cc engine and clothed in a GRP body bonded to a steel chassis. The following year sees the arrival of the S1A and B, with removable windows and a wooden dashboard.
1968: S2 goes on sale, with the same 1470cc engine but also electric windows, new interior and dashboard, and a bolt-on body (which makes restoration easier). In UK from 1969.
1971: Europa Twin Cam hits the market, with the 105bhp, 1558cc Lotus-Ford engine. Re-designed body with better rearward visibility and new Renault gearbox introduced. Twin fuel tanks and brake servos are now part of the spec. 
1972: Europa Special introduced. Big Valve cylinder head increases power to 126bhp, with a five-speed version of the new Renault gearbox fitted. A total of 3200 Specials are built. 
1975: Production ceases after a total of 9230 Europas of all types have been made. 
 

Owners clubs, forums and websites

 
• www.clublotus.co.uk – Club for Lotus enthusiasts
• www.paulmattysportscars.co.uk – Lotus specialists
• www.lotuseuropa.org – Europa info and community
• www.banks-europa.co.uk – Specialist parts manufacturer and supplier
 

Summary and prices

 
Being something of a forgotten hero in the Lotus back catalogue, the Europa’s values lag behind those of the Elan. Club Lotus chairman Alan Morgan cites a factor in pricing: the cost of restoration. ‘In the UK, the bottom line for an engine, chassis, interior and body restoration on a Europa is £10-15k, so it’s understandable why there are still a good number of projects around – and why the good cars out there still command such a premium.’ 
 
Series 2 cars are the most affordable Europas. As little as £6000 could get you a project, but as we’ve said above, unless the chassis is sound it’s going to be a very expensive rebuild. Better cars range from £10,000-£15,000 although for something in top condition, be prepared to pay north of £20,000. A good Series 1 is potentially worth a fair premium due to its rarity, however if you intend on actually enjoying the car, there’s little reason to go for the earlier machine.
 
Finding a good twin-cam will be easier, and more rewarding in the long run. Projects can still be picked up from around £6000, but usable cars can go from £15,000-£24,000. Obviously the best examples, especially in Special JPS trim, sell for around £36,000. 
 
The Europa rewards keen drivers with excellent handling and uncorrupted steering. Once fully sorted, it shouldn’t be any less reliable than any of its mid-engined opposition. The main advice is to buy the very best you can afford, keep on top of its maintenance… and enjoy. 
Lotus Europa side Lotus Europa side Lotus Europa side
Last updated: 27th Jun 2017
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Lotus Europa cars for sale

5 Search results
Lotus Europa
14950 24950 GBP
  • 1971 Lotus Europa S2

    £13,000 - £15,000 est. £13,000 - £15,000 est.
    Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0DE
    Auction Date: 25 Oct 2017
    RESERVE PRICE
    • Engine size: 1.6
    Auction Date: 25 Oct 2017
    Brightwells
    01568 611122 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • Lotus Europa S2 '70

    €14,950(£13,359.32) €14,950(£13,359.32)

    The Lotus Europa was built from 1966 to 1975. In 2006 Lotus began production of a totally new, Lotus Elise-derived design, a mid-engined GT coupé named Europa S .The original Europa used Lotus founder Colin Chapman's minimalist steel backbone chassis that was first used in the Lotus Elan, while also relying on its fiberglass moulded body for structural strength. The Europa was based on a design sketch by Ron Hickman to compete for Henry Ford II's contract to build a Le Mans race car in the early 1960s. The Europa was designed and built to be an embodiment of Chapman's oft-stated philosophy of automotive design: "Simplify, then add lightness." Owing to the rubber suspension bushes used to isolate engine vibration from the car body, the true Chapman strut's use of the drive shaft as the lower locating link could not be followed whilst still giving the precise track and handling desired. The forward radius arms were increased in size and rigidity, to act as a semi-wishbone. A careful compromise between engine mounting bush isolation and handling was required, culminating eventually in a sandwich bush that was flexible against shear but stiff in compression and tension. The car's handl

    • Year: 1970
    • Mileage: 99867 mi
    For sale
  • Lotus Europa Twin Cam

    POA POA

    An amazing find! Freshly shipped from being dry stored in California this Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special has covered just 5,536 miles from new and is in a totally original and unrestored condition, even down to the original tyres although we will of course be advising new tyres are fitted prior to delivery! Surely a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase a barely run in Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special resplendent in Lagoon Blue with Oatmeal interior that drives in a most fabulous way with the Big Valve engine producing a wonderful soundtrack and great performance. This car must be seen to be appreciated. *Viewing by appointment only*

    • Year: 1974
    • Mileage: 5536 mi
    For sale
  • LOTUS EUROPA TWIN CAM SPECIAL

    POA POA

    Description An amazing find! Freshly shipped from being dry stored in California this Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special has covered just 5,536 miles from new and is in a totally original and unrestored condition, even down to the original tyres although we will of course be advising new tyres are fitted prior to delivery! Surely a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase a barely run in Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special resplendant in Lagoon Blue with Oatmeal interior that drives in a most fabulous way with the Big Valve engine producing a wonderful soundtrack and great performance. This car must be seen to be appreciated. The Lotus Europa was the first mass produced mid-engined road car, and the handling was considered by the motoring journalists of the time to be the closest thing to that of a Formula 1 car. With a very low kerb weight (c. 650kg) and plenty of power, the Europa is a fabulous and involving drive. *Viewing strictly by appointment only*

    For sale
  • Lotus Europa S

    £24,950 £24,950

    The Lotus Europa S was originally marketed as a more refined and grown up alternative to the popular Elise and Exige. Built with composite body panels mounted on a lengthened variation of the extruded and bonded aluminium chassis Lotus is so well known for. Being a derivative of the Elise and Exige ‘111’ range they were given a model code of ‘121’. Using a 2.0L turbocharged GM based engine, early models left the factory with 197bhp, however a factory upgrade was performed to some cars upping power to 225bhp. This update also re-set the engine mapping, giving a far more linear power delivery. Despite the longer chassis (built specifically to house the larger engine and gearbox), the extra sound deadening and the significantly plusher interior the Europa remains true to its Lotus roots weighing just 995kg. Due to our continued development as well as owning several Europa’s ourselves we have become the UKs leading Europa specialists. Thanks in part to their low numbers these rare cars are already beginning to appreciate and without doubt are set to be future classics. The Lotus Europa S offered here at Hofmann’s is a 2009 ‘09’ plate finished in Silver Metallic with Black leather inter

    For sale
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