A 1974 US-market Europa Special. The Formula 1-inspired JPS livery was originally standard. PHOTO: Mr. Choppers
“Perhaps Lotus performed a disservice by producing road-going and racing versions of the Lotus Europa at the same time,” Autocar pondered on 19 April 1973.
“While the Renault-engined Europa S1 and S2 versions were fun and quite fast, what everybody really wanted was a de-tuned road-going version of the Group 4 Sportscar-racing Lotus 47.”
We continued: “At the end of 1971, Lotus went part of the way by introducing the Europa ‘Twin Cam’. This used a ‘cooking’ version of the 1558cc Ford twin-cam engine, producing only 105bhp in deference to the Renault gearbox, which was never designed to cope with much in excess of 100bhp.”
Yet even with this engine, the Europa “has moved into the echelons of the really quick sports cars”, capable of a 117mph top speed and a standing quarter-mile sprint time of 15.6sec.
Finally, in 1972, the Europa Special was announced – as close as we’d get to a road-going 47. It had the ‘Big Valve’ Twin Cam and Renault’s R12 Gordini five-speed manual gearbox.
We found its greater torque meant there wasn’t “the necessity to keep the revs up by frequent gear-changing”, which was a criticism of the Twin Cam and Renault-engined Europas.
“A revelation on the Europa Special is the standard of ride at all speeds,” we said, without the “joggly ride of versions before the Twin Cam”.
The roadholding, too, was “among the best available on the market at any price”, with “the mid-engined layout, wheels and tyres of generous size, and well-designed suspension” being “the ingredients for superb control and an extremely high cornering potential”.
At the edge of its grip, the front ran wide and only required “a slight lift-off to maintain the original line and neutral handling”.
This was helped by accurate, sensitive and light steering with excellent feel.
“With over 120bhp, it is possible to provoke oversteering power slides out of slow corners or in the wet, but one needs to be pretty brutal to provoke them. It is a delight to find how early one can pour the power on after a corner to rush up back to one’s cruising speed,” we said.
Ergonomically, the Europa Special wasn’t great. It was “taxing for even the most athletic” to get in and snug inside, while the pedals were too close together. At least the dashboard was well laid out.
The new gearbox caused “considerable comment” among testers, with “some being highly complimentary but others highly critical”. This was due to the ‘stiction’ in the linkage, and the considerable inertia it inevitably possessed.
Shifts were slick and easy, though, with a short travel and narrow gates.
We even got fairly good fuel economy from the Europa Special, with a figure of 30mpg achieved on a journey from London to the Midlands.
“As befits a car whose new price, including extras, is over £2700 [around £30,000 today], the interior has an air of quality,” we said.
The seats were well made with good support, the carpet was of good quality and the varnished wooden fascia was smart with a comprehensive array of instruments.
The heater, however, was a “mixture of ancient and model”, with contemporary eye-ball vents yet some “inaccessible, archaic flaps”.
In conclusion, we said: “The Europa Special is undeniably expensive, but since it has created a market all of its own, who is to say whether it is good value or bad?
“Certainly there are few cars in the world that can match its combination of roadholding, performance and fuel consumption, and if your choice must embrace these three factors, then the Europa Special fits the bill. If you are looking for the standard of finish and quality that befits a £3000 sporting saloon, you will be disappointed.
“Thus, the car will undoubtedly appeal to the enthusiast who is not prepared to accept any compromises over handling and roadholding and who cannot stretch to the higher-priced German or Italian equivalents.”