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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
17000 29995 GBP
  • Lotus Europa

    £17,000 £17,000

    This rare Lotus Europa S is available for a negotiated sale around £17,000 which is in the middle of our estimated sale price. See TradeClassics.com for a full write-up and over 300 images and videos and meet the owner. EXTERIOR Finished in grey, this fibre-glass bodied car is a real head turner even today. Ultimately it looks like a lotus, but at the same time it has it’s own distinct styling compared to the Elise and Exige models that were produced in the same era. Wheels & Tyres The car sits on 17inch original alloys all round, and is wearing a set of Bridgestone Potenza wheels. This is a car that Mark used in Hong Kong, and so this is shown with various scuffs and nicks across the wheels, take a look at the exterior video where we have detailed these. Bodywork Being a fibre-glass bodied car, there’s no rust and rot to worry about on this. We went over the car with the camera catching reflections at a variety of angles, and from our inspection the bodywork looks great. The panels all line up correctly and shut-lines look good too. Take a look at the detailed video. Paint No rust to worry about, and there were no visible signs from our inspection of any blistering in the paint. Colour looks consistent across the panels. Glass and Trim The glass across the car is good with the exception of a small chip on the drivers side lower part of the windscreen, which is not impacting field of vision. The being lightweight does not feature much exterior trim at all, and all looks to be good. The door seals as seen in the interior review video need reapplying, Rob should be remedying this. INTERIOR The Europa S was built to be a GT car compared to the rest of the Lotus range, and so the interior featured things such as a sound system in a Lotus for the first time! Seats and Carpets The car has very slim bucket seats finished in tan and black leather, which are in good condition. Along with the door cards they could do with a clean but are not worn or damaged in anyway. Dashboard The dashboard is in good condition, finished in a mix of plastic and wrapped in places, there are no signs of overt wear. The dials look fresh and all work correctly. Steering Wheel / Gear Stick A go-kart like Lotus steering wheel guides the car, and both the steering wheel and the gearstick show signs of use in line with the cars age. MECHANICS Rob took us out in the car around some local roads to test drive the car. You’ll see the usual cold start videos too, and our commentary as passengers below. Engine and Gearbox The car started from cold without any issues, and on the test drives performed without fault. Rob took the car through all the 6 gears on an open section of road without and issues too, you can review this in the video. Suspension and Brakes This cars set up is more for GT compared to the other Lotus cars in the collection, and so a much more comfortable ride. On the drive the car felt very settled on the road, and Rob describes it as being stuck to the road. Brake operation also was observed to be normal and no squeaking etc. The Drive No issues on the drive, a very enjoyable experience as a passenger with an experienced driver such as Rob at the wheel. Electrics and Other All working as expected.

    • Year: 2006
    • Engine size: 2
    For sale
    £17,000 £17,000
    01926426635 View contact number
  • Lotus Europa Twin-Cam Special 5 Speed, 1975 (Sept.). One of the last few Europas and a very late registered one.

    £24,995 £24,995

    Lotus Europa Twin-Cam Special 5 Speed, 1975 (Sept.). One of the last few Europas and a very late registered one. Original Lotus alloys. Massive history file going back to the early days and bills from the likes of Europa Engineering/Banks Service Station, Daytune, Chris Foulds, Lakeside Engineering etc. Invoices detailing respray, re-trim in Connolly leather and Wilton Carpets. In Sept. 2015 the carbs were overhauled, 4 U/Js were replaced and output shaft seals etc. were done. Bills for the engine rebuild, clutch etc. Comes with a Certificate of Provenance from the Lotus Archives showing that this Europa left the factory in Monaco White; one of the all-time great colours for the later Europas. The paintwork is in excellent condition, but could be returned to the original colour if required and removal of the 25 year old glass sunroof. I really good driving Europa and is in good shape inside and out and underneath. Original Owners Handbook. An opportunity to own one of the latest Europas with a massive history file and a joy to drive.

    • Year: 1975
    For sale
    £24,995 £24,995
  • Lotus Europa S2, 1970. 5 Speed. Totally rebuilt with photographic documentation.

    £29,995 £29,995

    Lotus Europa S2, 1970. 5 Speed. Totally rebuilt with photographic documentation. Stunning Calypso Red with full tan leather interior. Chassis-up body off rebuild using all new or refurbished parts. Fully rebuilt 1600cc Renault engine with twin Dellorto carbs and alloy rocker cover. Copper brake lines, new wiring loom, re-chromed bumpers, new exhaust system, front and rear Spax shock absorbers, all new suspension bushes, rose-joints etc. 5 Cosmic Alloys. Original steering wheel. Superb respray with gleaming paintwork. Drives superbly. Comes fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Year: 1970
    For sale
    £29,995 £29,995