Much of Tokyo is composed of tightly-packed residential areas, with tiny two-story houses and very narrow streets. No wonder kei cars and electric bikes are so popular here. This can make CC hunting a difficult hobby, as many of the better finds are hidden from view in thee little nooks and crannies. But every so often, they get driven on a bigger street – such as the one I live on. So I have been catching a few there. Like this Lotus.
A few months ago, I found another Europa – a bright yellow S2 – in one of the aforementioned nooks (or was it a cranny?). This John Player Special-themed car, which I saw a few times on my street, eluded me for a little while, but I eventually discovered its resting place, literally a two blocks away from the yellow car. Both of these, incidentally, are about a five-minute walk away from the green Excel I caught back in March.
This was the Europa I wanted to feature on CC. Nothing against the other one, but it’s not in a very user friendly place. And yellow is such a terrible colour, whereas the black and gold pinstripe of this later car is F1-tastic. Cherry on the top: the Europa sat next to a distant relative. Lotuses like to congregate, it seems. Or there’s one fanatic in the vicinity who owns all of these.
If you’re not familiar with these, count me as one of your number. I’ve had to do a little homework on this one. Europas are not only pretty rare – 9230 units made, a third of which were Specials – but also pretty old now. Lotuses are not known to age gracefully, but at least their plastic body cannot rust, so they can keep the illusion going for longer than most. A quick refresher on the history of the beast might be in order, as it’s been five years since one of these has been featured on CC.
Lotus founder Colin Chapman wanted to find a new drivetrain for his first mid-engined civilian car, which Lotus had been working on since 1963. He was specifically looking for something other than Ford, to broaden his marque’s horizons. Somewhat unexpectedly, his attention was caught by the not-exactly-sporting Renault 16, launched in early 1965. The Renault’s all-new 1.5 litre OHV engine, all-aluminium with cast iron wet liners – nice and light – was mated to a 4-speed transaxle just in front of it, driving the front wheels. Chapman just turned the R16’s drivetrain 180 degrees, coaxed a few extra hp from the 4-cyl. and launched the Lotus Europa in December 1966. It wasn’t just Lotus cars that were quick – the company itself was driven at breakneck speed.
Early cars were known to be downright Spartan. You couldn’t lower the windows or move your seat. Series 1A / 1B cars introduced luxuries such as electric windows and interior door trim, as well as the obligatory wood on the dash. All Series 1 cars were exported, as the Renault engine made them impossibly expensive in the UK, due to import duties. US sales were also impossible initially due to the car’s headlamps being below minimum height requirements. This was addressed by mounting the front suspension upside down ( ! ) to get the cars through customs; owners were then urged to undo this stratagem as soon as possible, lest the car’s handling be ruined.
In early 1968, Series 2 cars introduced external door handles and US market cars got a bigger (1.6 litre) Renault engine. UK sales finally started timidly in 1969, with some cars being sold in kit form to keep the price low. The most significant change in the Europa’s production run was the 1971 Twin Cam, which used a Lotus-Ford 1557cc engine that originally produced 105hp. This was upped to 126hp (113hp in the US) with the Europa Special in 1972, soon mated to a new 5-speed gearbox courtesy of the Renault 12 Gordini.
The black and gold JPS trim was supposed to be applied to a limited run of Europa Specials, in celebration of Lotus winning the 1972 Formula 1 championship. The colour scheme proved so popular – and the F1 success so durable – that the JPS trim option became a permanent fixture of the Europa Special until the end of production in 1975.
It’s difficult to imagine the impact the Europa must have had when it came out. There were very few mid-engined sports cars back then – I’d say the Europa was probably the fifth one, chronologically, if we leave out the ATS 2500 as unfortunately too rare. The Renault-powered René Bonnet Djet (top left, later renamed Matra Jet) pioneered the layout for street use in 1962, followed in 1963 by the Ford-powered De Tomaso Vallelunga (bottom right). The Lamborghini Miura was officially unveiled at the 1966 Geneva show (bottom left), about ten months before the Lotus, but didn’t really hit the streets until 1967. The Miura, along with the Mini-engined 1966-69 Unipower GT (top right), had a transverse-mounted engine, while the Bonnet, the De Tomaso and the Lotus had a longitudinal layout.
Being a Lotus, the Europa also had a backbone chassis, an all-independent “Chapman strut” suspension and a GRP body. To keep costs down, quite a lot of the mechanicals (brakes, steering, front suspension, etc.) came from the Triumph parts bin. Thrown in for free were lousy electrics, slapdash fit and finish, somewhat insufficient rear drum brakes, ventilation that captured more exhaust fumes than fresh air and, for the twin cam engines, oil leaks. On the plus side, all contemporary reports point to an extremely well-balanced car with quick steering, superb handling and, in the twin cam cars, outstanding performance. Fuel economy was also a strong point – not something often associated with sports cars.
Looks are another matter. The Europa certainly wasn’t unanimously hailed as an esthetic masterpiece, unlike its stablemate the Elan. The bizarre rear end did shock, and it still has the power to do so today. Everything up to the door, though very low (the Europa’s maximum height is 108 cm / 42 in.), looks very nice and very ‘60s, from the chrome-circled round headlamps to the steeply raked windscreen. The shape of the windows is kind of odd, but other than that, nothing prepares the eye for the second half of the car.
In profile, the Europa’s extremely high rear end gives it a peculiar van-like look, though this was even more pronounced on earlier cars. Coupled with the classy JPS trim, this odd shape has allowed some critics to dub the Europa as “the world’s fastest (or sleekest) hearse.” Looking at other mid-engined cars from the era, it seems Lotus were quite deliberate in making this design – even accounting for the car’s extreme flatness. The rear bubble-window solution, as applied by René Bonnet and De Tomaso, had several disadvantages, such as higher weight and expense, but at least it looked better and provided good visibility.
The R16 engine was rather tall, but that could have been remedied by canting it, as many front-engined cars were already doing. So the rear end need not have been quite so high, but since it was, Lotus designer Ron Hickman devised these high-set flying buttresses to improve the car’s aerodynamics. Wind tunnel tests mandated the addition of an integrated rear spoiler, which had the downside of further restricting rear visibility. The Twin Cam / Special cars saw a marked lowering of the flying buttresses, improving things visibility-wise – but the shape still looked very odd.
Period tests were very laudatory about the Europa’s road manners, comparing it to a Formula 1. They also emphasized that, being a true sports car, there is virtually no space for any luggage. There is a small rear trunk, but its situation behind the engine and atop the transaxle and muffler makes for a miniature sauna. No cheese in there unless you like fondue.
The front trunk, given that it already houses the spare wheel and such, is both shallow and oddly shaped, so it’s of little practical use. He who travels by Europa will necessarily be traveling light. Especially if there’s someone in the passenger seat. There’s always the glove box, which in later cars was thoughtfully deprived of a lid. That lightness obsession again, no doubt.
The owner of this particular car has seen it fit to add two small fans to bolster the Lotus’s less than satisfactory factory ventilation system. It does get very hot and humid in Tokyo, so I can’t say I blame him. Air conditioning was never an option, as far as I know – even on US market cars, which this particular one seems to be (all-red taillights are the giveaway), but there are rumours of owners who managed to install an aftermarket A/C. No mean feat, given the lack of spare room in the front trunk. I was disappointed with the quality and angle of this interior pic, but as I knew where this car lived, I had a second bite at the apple.
That vertical gunslit rear window may be one of the least driver-friendly features in this car, but it’s certainly quite a CC-friendly one. Great view of the dash from there. Alas, it’s a bit of an anticlimax. The wood looks very cheap and plasticky, more ‘70s Simca than ‘60s Jag. Nor does the interior design have anything of a Maserati’s flair and it’s certainly nothing Benz-like in terms of quality.
But that’s exactly what a Lotus is not. It’s not a solid German Autobahn cruiser, it’s not a stylish Italian GT and it is certainly not a 4-cyl. Jaguar. Lotuses have their fans because of their unique blend of lightness, handling and efficiency. Flimsiness and esthetic quirks are not a deal-breaker if they can be offset by pure driving pleasure. And the knowledge that you’re in the fastest hearse ever made.
Curbside Classic: 1972 Lotus Europa S3 Twin Cam – Magnificence in Miniature, by Roger Carr
New, from Imperial Tobaccos, The John Player Special Sports Hearse – We Provide Not Only The Means but also The Way. Let Her RIP today.
I have never seen a real GT-40, but I have seen a few of these, which both appeared impractically shin-height. Imagine the Ford two whole inches down further again! It is a brave soul who would pilot this through modern traffic, though I suppose one could always overtake most SUVs by going under them.
The Elite and Elan were such achingly pretty predecessors, both designed by a non-designer too, if memory serves (its service usually errs on the side of plain wrong, I should add). How the Europa was supposed to carry this line is unclear. Perhaps Chapman thought the sports drivers of Europe were all rustics who needed a ute as well, which it most surely resembles? Perhaps, being the brilliant rogue he was, Chapman just plain nicked the design from another maker – adding lightness to their wallet – without him realizing that that maker had rejected it? However it came about, it is not a sweet result. And for you who complain of the bend in the rear passenger window of a Volvo 200 wagon, consider the front window frame of this piece first: there IS no wagon.
Quite a find, Dr T.
And good to see you’ve recovered from the middle of other night where you were out merrily pulling the covers off the innocent Bellet.
SORRY, where you were returning homewards and discovering the Bellet naked.
Very nice find ! A friend restored one of these and added A/C. He put the condenser in front of the right front wheel, with a shroud and an electric fan.
Through my ten year old eyes the car just looked different. Those eyes lit up up when Every boy got the Matchbox model! version, in metallic blue, as a Christmas present from Sunday school. To a young man’s eyes the car was all about handling and “pulling birds”, “He drives a Lotus,wow!”.
Lotus still has the hard core drivers image who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.. Lots of Trouble Often Serious= LOTUS?.
I think you mean Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious.
A friend has had several over the years, and I got a short stint behind the wheel of the first one, a BRG Renault powered Europa. I found it awkward to get used to, so I never really experienced the handling; the ergonomics and lack of visibility were pretty big obstacles. Not to mention it was someone else’s fragile exotic. Today, when I look at these pictures, I’m instantly reminded of the Honda Ridgeline.
Colin Chapman wouldn’t have been happy to see “Lotuses” as the plural form. In 1968, Lotus issued a press release stating they would always use “Lotus” as both the plural and possessive, approving not at all of “Lotuses” and “Loti”.
There was no etymological basis for the objection, dictionaries on both sides of the Atlantic had long recognized the two as alternatives, insisting only on consistency of use. Lotus is from a Latin root so the derived plural is “Loti”. However, for centuries words absorbed into English have also adopted the standard English rules for plural formations so “Lotuses”, doubtlessly the more common form, remains is correct.
I managed to briefly drive a late Europa, a loaner (hard to believe) to a friend’s Dad while his DBS was getting a big service (that family really liked cars, the mom had a Bavaria). I had two indelible impressions: amazing handling and a very tight footwell… I had to take my shoes off to drive it, as my size 12 moccasins would press the brake pedal whenever I put in the clutch, and the gas side wasn’t much better.
I’ve since had almost the same issue with a 4-door Jeep Wrangler my daughter used to have, wearing winter boots the clutch/brake/gas clearance was just silly.
It’s shocking how small these are in person, I probably see one every year or so (there are a couple around me somewhere) and every time I see one it resets my internal size-o-meter. Then over the next year I somehow envision them larger and larger and then when I see another one it’s shocking all over again.
I wasn’t even aware that the buttresses changed size, but in the end that’s sort of the defining feature that to me makes them less than attractive either way. This livery though is the way to go, like a GT40 in Gulf trim, this is just as ingrained.
For whatever reason I own a 1:12 scale plastic model of one that I’ve been dragging around (no idea why) since teendom, made by Nichimo in Japan the kit must date to the 70’s, I’ll bet Old Pete is familiar with it. I painted it, and assembled the engine but otherwise it’s still abut 90% unassembled – hey, it probably has more in common now with most Lotus as is than if I finished it! At least mine’s in only one box instead of dozens…I just checked and along with the racing sticker set as on the box it also has a set of the JPS stickers included as an alternate choice.
Maybe I should finish it, this is the first time I’ve opened the box in well over a decade…
Actually I haven’t seen this one before, though I have some smaller scale Europas (1/20, 1/24) and other large scale kits from this era.
Yes, you really ought to finish it. If you’re on Facebook, the guys over at the Japanese page CREATIVITY -Model Car Builder’s Society would love to see this. Slip me a PM and I’ll send you an invite to the group if you want.
Seeing the first picture I thought “Good God what did someone do to that poor Fiero?”
With that deck height I was thinking maybe there was a V8 in there.
The Death-Camino. I like it. My first impression when first seeing a picture of one was, “How odd.” I now like the Mk II ones (like this one) with the put-down sail panels.
*cut-down – some days I hate autocorrect
I remember reading a review about it in a spots car magazine in the early 70s. It was praised for it`s handling, but not for the quality of it`s built. The thing I remember most was what the reviewer said,and I paraphrase-‘this is not a car you drive, it` a car you wear’.But I like it, it is unique.
I had never heard the story about the upside-down front suspension for importation purposes. I occasionally see Europas in photos with a very high front ride height, all out of proportion to the rest of the car. Now I think I know why.
I feel like it mimics the breadvan Ferrari 250 but with a slightly lower roof line in the back 🙂
Great photos…I have never seen a Europa JPS Special before. However, I did recently see one of these in the same metallic blue as the one in my Matchbox car collection I had as a kid. I had forgotten how diminutive the real Europa was, even in comparison to a contemporary Jensen-Healey. I know, because a British sports car enthusiast who lives a couple blocks from me has one of both and I saw them parked together on his front driveway. The Europa is his latest acquisition, number #12 in his car collection, and he had it out for a Sunday jaunt after having the brakes replaced.
First time I ever saw a Europa was at Victory Auto Wreckers stacked on top of another car back when they did that, I had no idea what it was. It was burnt orange, very rough, reeked of old fiberglass and must inside, I assumed it was some kit car but it was so small I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what it was based on. It looked familiar though, and I remembered seeing a model kit in an old catalog it reminded me of, and upon digging it out it was an “ah ha!” moment, followed by “holy crap, I found a Lotus at a junkyard“
I can’t decide if the Europa is ugly or cool looking, but it’s definitely not beautiful. It looks like a development test mule for the Esprit, not an actual production predecessor that would be produced for several years. Oddly enough I prefer the high buttress van look, there is somewhat of a flow to it the later version loses by consciously trying to look less weird. I cannot imagine driving the S1s with fixed side windows and no AC, it must have been an utter torture chamber in those in any season besides winter.
What I know about the Europa is that Chapan designed it to become the Lotus 7 successor, cheap sharp and affordable maintenance.
The Renault engine was a derived R16 powerplant actually the marine model for Renault; Couach the nautical division.
The early European Europa engines were pepped by Lotus to approx 80 Hp instead of the standard 62.
Early models also had only one windshield wiper, sales were relatively successfull in France, because of the Renault powertrain?
The Europa I vividly remember is the bright yellow car that overtook me in my Henschel HS HGV on a soaking wet RN (Route Nationale) 20, between Paris and Orléans, the chrome single wiper busy on the windshield and I remember seeing it appear in my mirror thinking ” man he’ll loose control any minute now” but nothing happened that yellow pancake could have passed under my rig without a problem. Needless to say I was quite impressed by that Europa and its driver.
I was enthralled in college by the Europa JPS with the twin cam Ford. At the time, the price made it an impossible dream. Fortunately, while in grad school I saw one that had been involved in a “minor collision” — so much for youthful infatuation!
Great find, Professor Tatra87!
I haven’t seen one on the road in the UK since I can’t remember, so to see 2 in Tokyo (ideal place for compact car but maybe not a compact 50 year old Lotus) is quite something.
It was always the odd ball Lotus in the UK, being made primarily for export, having amid engine and from France of all places. We were all dribbling over Elan S2s and the like instead.
It wasn’t made quite clear here, but the Europa was never intended to replace the Elan, which continued to be built alongside the Europa until 1975, when both were replaced by the Esprit. The Europa was intended to be significantly cheaper, by using mass production components wherever possible, and a very simple body. As someone else pointed out earlier here, it was more of a Lotus 7 replacement, which puts its limited creature comforts in perspective. offering it with the Ford-Lotus twin cam engine was not originally intended, but the “cheap” all-out sports car market turned out to be smaller than hoped for, so the Europa became something a bit more ambitious.
The rear end “styling” of this second generation, especially in this setup, is almost NOT HIDEOUS to me. Almost.
An Air Force buddy of mine owned one of these, circa 1978. It was a great car to drive, when it would run; his estimation was that it required 10 hours of maintenance for each hour you actually could drive the car. He bought the Lotus with the intent of racing it, in SCCA Solo and autocross. It seemed that every time he wanted to use the car in competition something major would break. He finally got so frustrated with the Lotus that he sold it. The competition bug still had hold of them so decided to drag race what had been his street car/tow vehicle. This car was a Ford Torino with the 428 Cobra Jet package. He replaced the final drive with a 4.30 Detroit Locker, installed some headers and performed sundry other changes. The only trouble was that now the Torino could not be driven on the street, so he ended up buying some beater station wagon to serve as his tow vehicle.
I have loved these since I was 6 or 7 in 1968 or 69, when a doctor gave me a Matchbox version after an appointment. (I still have it!)*
I have occasionally looked at buying one, but having many other hobbies, a San Diego mortgage, and 3 kids always stopped me. Oh well….
* For those of you in your late 50s who remember, this was the first “Superfast” Matchbox I ever, when Lesney realized that Mattel was eating their lunch with Hot Wheels.
In person with a chance to look the 1st and 2nd generation Europa over at all angles you realize the body style is inspired and needs no apology. It doesn’t photograph well though.
Drive with narrow shoes or barefoot.
Visibility while driving is more than adequate for anyone who pays attention as they go. True it is that they are rare – I have only seen two in use, 1975 and 2012 sightings.
When I was a student at UC Irvine I got to drive one of these while it was brand new, before anything had a chance to break. Lots of fun, by far the most agile car I’ve ever driven. At that time the area around there had not yet been developed, and there were some good twisty roads in the foothills with pretty much no traffic on them. I knew them all, and very well, as my own daily driver was a TR4. Also had half ownership in a ’57 Jag Mark II, but that was a whole nother (horror) story.
I shared a house with four other students, one of whom had never owned a car, so we all gave him rides to school when needed. One weekend he went to see his folks and then showed up on Monday morning with a brand new 1970 Europa! Said his grandmother had given it to him for his 21st birthday. Because I was the only car guy in the house, and had some experience with British sports cars, he asked me to teach him to drive it.
He knew how to drive, and could handle a stick, so it was mostly a matter of him getting over the fact that he was intimidated by the car, as it was so exotic. It was just as exotic to me, as I had never seen one before, and was completely ignorant of mid-engines. It was very low to the ground, seemed to be only a bit more than waist-high. Driving it reminded me of a go-cart, scooting along with your ass only a couple of inches off the pavement, which greatly enhanced the perception of speed. You could hang your left arm out the window and trim your fingernails on the road. The extremely low center of gravity kept all four corners stuck firmly down in hard corners, so you were able to keep both the speed and the revs up. The car would then power out fast because, though it had relatively little absolute power, it weighed next to nothing, and you never had to give up much of your revs or speed to the corner. Quite different from the Triumph, where the routine was to break out the rear wheels, drift the corners, lose too many revs, and rely on second gear grunt to dig it out.
The Europa was light, agile, responsive, and had a very obvious delicate air about her, all of which her owner was quick to pick up on, and he fell in love, as did I. After dallying with Lady Europa my TR almost felt like a truck. Almost.