|Vehicle:||1970 Lotus Europa S2|
|Number Produced:||3,615 (including 865 U.S.-spec cars)|
|Original List Price:||$4,295|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on a metal plate secured to the left side of the block, above the starter and below the combination intake/exhaust manifold|
|Club Info:||Lotus Ltd.|
|Alternatives:||1967 TVR Tuscan, 1968 Marcos Mantis XP, Formula Vee kit|
This car, Lot 70, sold for $17,600, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas sale on September 26, 2013.
If you look up “acquired taste” in an English phrase book, there’s probably a picture of a Lotus Europa there to illustrate the concept. They’re not for everyone, but the more you know about them, the more you will likely respect them — even if you never fall in love with their looks.
Light, spartan and fast
The Europa was introduced in December 1966 as a 1,300-pound, mid-engined club racer to replace the Lotus 7. Although it was very different from the 7, it was alike in its no-compromise approach to sports-car design. This was Colin Chapman’s first mid-engine road car, and the name gave a not-too-subtle hint of its target market. Some examples were even badged “Europe” when sent to places where the name Europa was already in use.
Following Chapman’s famous dictum to “simplicate, then add lightness,” the Europa had fixed side windows (soon replaced with removable clip-ins), non-adjustable seats, and no door panels. The center-beam steel chassis carried the glued-on fiberglass body shell that was molded of a single piece with the doors, a hood and an engine cover attached. After just a few hundred were made, several small modifications addressed some of the more grievous inconveniences.
In April 1968, the S2 was introduced to further address complaints.
The S2 gained 266 pounds but was still a featherweight. It retained the same 1,470-cc Renault 16 overhead-valve, all-alloy 4-cylinder engine as the S1, and beginning in 1969, the United States got a version with 1,565-cc capacity to offset power-robbing emissions controls.
Both versions produced about 80 horsepower. The S2 also sported electric windows, adjustable seats and a new interior that even included a polished wood fascia. Very importantly, the body was no longer resin-bonded to the frame. It was now bolted on, which made repairs much easier. U.S.-bound cars also got body, chassis, and suspension modifications to comply with D.O.T. standards, mostly for the sake of raising the headlights.
Getting in and out
Admonishments to try one on for size before buying are well founded, and although interior space is an issue for some, the real limiting factor is not so much the interior space as it is ingress and egress.
If you think of the old newsreels of technicians helping John Glenn into his Mercury space capsule, you begin to get the picture. Once inside, the driving position lives up to the car’s original intent as a club racer, as the driver is reclined with arms and legs nearly fully extended to reach the controls.
Another major consideration is the lack of rearward vision. The “bread van” body design includes what could be called the world’s biggest C-pillars, and that, combined with the narrow rear window just above the long engine cover, creates a blind spot big enough to conceal a Nimitz-class supercarrier or an unnoticed police cruiser pacing you over your right shoulder.
This is one car whose drivers really use the side mirrors, and those with claustrophobia need not apply.
If the looks or the specs of the Europa still don’t suggest an impressive car, it’s likely that you haven’t driven one. All the quirks and discomfort are easily forgiven when you pass 4,000 rpm in 3rd gear.
These are street-legal race cars. The balance and handling from the steel backbone chassis, mid-engine location, and all-independent coil-spring suspension — combined with the famous Chapman lightness — produce a car that drives like, well, a race car.
Testers of the day described the handling as the nearest thing to a road-going Formula car. You don’t sit in a Europa; you strap it on and it carries you like a flying carpet.
Yet another surprising feature of the S2 is the fuel economy. A light foot can result in 50 mpg, and even spirited driving produces figures in the mid-30 mpg range.
This particular example appears to have the engine cover from a later, Twin Cam Europa. The engine cover has only two openings (an S2 should have four) and the rear badge is centered above the lock (on the S2 it was located on the lower right corner of the engine cover).
It is also missing the side badges and reflectors. Further, the exhaust exits under the rear as opposed to the original configuration, where it exits through a rear grille opening beside the left taillight cluster.
A hard-to-find, fragile car
Nitpicks aside, one of the determinants of a vintage car’s value is its rarity, but there are several reasons why a car may be rare. One reason is because they made few of them. Another reason might be because they sold few of them. Yet another reason might be because few have survived. All of these reasons apply in some degree to the Europa.
Consider that another word for lightweight is flimsy, and these fragile cars have the structural integrity of a piñata — and nearly the same survival rate.
Another determinant of value is condition, and given the cost of restoration combined with their limited appeal, it is unusual to find a Europa. It is especially difficult to find a car like this one, which has benefited from a really complete makeover that likely cost twice the $17,600 sales price. Therefore, we can call this Europa very well bought. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)