Europas seem to come two ways-completely done or completely done-in. There's little point in messing with the latter

Colin Chapman and Lotus led the giant-slaying revolution of rear- and mid-engine race cars, so it's not surprising that Lotus was among the first to bring a mid-engine production sports car to market in 1967. The car was christened the Europa in a nod to Britain's European Common Market ambitions and the fact that the car sported a Renault-sourced engine and transaxle.
Although it seems like an odd marriage-a British sports car and a French powertrain-the choice made sense. Chapman simply took the 1,470-cc engine and transaxle from the front-wheel-drive Renault 16 sedan, turned it around longitudinally and voilà: a mid-engine sports car with economical mechanicals that could be easily serviced on the continent, where the first two years' production was sold. It was a formula that would be followed countless times by other mid-engine car designers.


Chassis design was pure Lotus, with all that implies, both good and bad. The suspension had unequal A-arms with coil springs up front, lower A-arms in the rear with the driveshafts providing the upper lateral links, and trailing arms.
In reviewing the remarkable ride/handling balance that the Europa struck, Road & Track commented that "a master chassis tuner has been at work." On the bad side, the backbone chassis is just as fragile and rust-prone as that of the Elan.
Body design (at least from some angles) was familiar as well. From the firewall forward, the impossibly low Europa was a fairly handsome car almost reminiscent of the sublime Elite. The rear three quarters was another matter. Lotus met the challenge of designing a mid-engine car in a less than successful fashion. Early cars have a decidedly breadvan-like profile. The rear window had all the visibility of a Normandy pillbox.
Like the Elite, the side windows were fixed, making the car feel even more claustrophobic. In many ways the Europa is about as far from the MG TC, fresh-air English sports car experience as you can get. Customized blackout window tints make the experience positively fetal.
At least the interior was well appointed, with a full complement of handsome Smiths gauges, polished walnut on the dash, and, in later cars, big face-level vents. In typical Lotus fashion, none of the soft trim was of particularly good quality; consequently, it is rare to find a Europa with its original interior.
What is not widely realized is the longevity of the Europa model. It was around for eight years and three major variants. Series 2 production began in 1968, the major differences being power windows that rolled up and down, mag wheels, and an extra 100 cc of displacement to counter U.S. emission regulations.


Series 3 production began in 1971. Lotus finally cut down the rear-quarter wings, but it didn't do much for either visibility or style. Any series Europa is still a funky-looking car. The real news, however, was the 105-hp, twin-cam Lotus engine from the Elan. Still mated to the Renault 4-speed transaxle, the Europa was now good for 117 mph. The final Europa, the Special, was available with the 126-bhp "big-valve" engine, also from the Elan, and a 5-speed (still Renault-sourced) transaxle. In this guise, the Europa would do well over 120 mph, and with all-up weight about 1,250 pounds, fuel economy was a surprising 26 mpg.
Europas on the market today seem to come two ways-completely done or completely done-in. Given Europa values, there seems little point in messing around with the latter. The same pitfalls that confront Elan owners and restorers confront a potential Europa buyer. Fiberglass quality was decent, but a stress crack here or there isn't the end of the world, anyway.
Series 1 cars with chassis issues are best left alone, as the chassis were bonded to the bodies, making repairs difficult. Like the Elan, Europa chassis are rust-prone, and, although replacements exist, it makes more sense just to find an example with a good chassis. If there is an elegant variation, it's probably the black and gold John Player Special. Although never common here, thousands of Renault 16s were sold in Europe, so mechanical spares for the early cars exist. Pay special attention to the 5-speed transaxle in the big-valve Specials. 126 bhp was pushing the outside of the envelope for what the box could handle. As usual, an oil and coolant cocktail means a bad head gasket, and that's not uncommon in any Europa.
At least one specialist is behind you if things go wrong. In the case of the Europa, it's Dave Bean Engineering, A measly six bucks will get you a comprehensive catalog. Dave's expertise with Elans and Europas is extensive.


As creative and entertaining as Chapman's products have always been, few Lotus models are the darlings of collectors. While the Elan, Seven and the Elite have a bit of a following, aside from the racecars like the Eleven and the 26R, that's about it. The Lotus reputation for fragility has never helped the value of the road cars. Size also works against them. Those old enough to remember the Europa are likely to have a hard time squeezing themselves into one today, after decades of supersized meals and 64-oz Big Gulps. Any first-time driver will probably be unnerved by the feeling that his or her feet are resting on the front bumper.
The other thing that works against the Europa is its more stylish and grown-up successor, the Esprit. Series 1 and Series 2 Esprits are still dirt cheap. As long as this remains the case, it seems doubtful that the Europa will see any serious appreciation. But this is certainly not a reason to avoid the car. Those who seek one out will enjoy impressive ride and handling, along with quirky looks guaranteed to get you noticed.

Comments are closed.