Currently reading: Throwback Thursday: 1973 Lotus Europa Special first drive
We tried the closest thing to a road-going Lotus 47, the Europa Special, and were stunned at its performance and roadholding
3 mins read
18 May 2017

“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.”

Indeed, many private owners of the 47 had converted them to be road legal, using “a variety of powerplants from crossflow Ford 1600cc to BMW 2.0-litre”.

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”.


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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.

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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.” 

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18 May 2017
I first got my taste for autocar/motor back in the 70s reading and rereading my dads magazines . The hand drawn diagram of the dashboard brings back wonderful memories, I wonder why they didn't just photograph it and label it ? So much quicker. Always liked the Europa , quirky but fast . Poor old Lotus always had the great ideas but never the money . I guess if they'd stuck to the porsche model which was to stick to fundamentally one model from 1960s to 1990s and keep developing, they might have used their limited resources better . But then we wouldn't have had the eclat,elite,excel,esprit, elise , evora etc all wonderful in their own way . Definitely prefer the Lotus way !

18 May 2017
I lusted after the Europa when it first appeared, and probably still do ! It was the same with the first Elite and Elan...good looking cars. OK they might not be the best in build quality but I was young then and could only see how pretty they were !

18 May 2017
As an Engineering Apprentice in the early seventies the Europa Special was the pinnacle of my automotive desires, often I'd stop at Bell and Colvil ( Lotus dealers ) which were close to my home and just look and look at this most wondrous car .It was such a different time Colin Chapman's ever more adventurous Formula One designs were shaping motor sport and his road cars reflected that. Earning about seven Pounds Sterling a week made the Europa a pipe dream as a McLaren P1 is now, but it was the stuff of motivation and dreams, not jealousy and hate as it would be with many youngsters today. Europa's are relatively good value today next to 'baby' Elan's, I went to look at one with a view to purchase within the last twelve months to discover, I simply was incapable of getting in the car, a real disappointment ! So I still dream of a Europa but continue to love my Brabus Smart Roadster Coupe, which amazingly I can get in and out of with no struggle at all, and with it's small modifications is probably not that far away from an original Europa in performance terms, is cheap to buy and in stark contrast, totally reliable !

18 May 2017
You really think young people are more jealous and hateful towards those with expensive cars today? I very much doubt it. The difference is that today a Kahn Range Rover or X6 offers passers-by very little enjoyment. Whereas a sports car or supercar adds beauty and drama to a typical street scape.

18 May 2017
I owned as my daily driver from '81 for five years. Great car, never let me down although the constant preventative maintenance was only for enthusiasts. Only sold it to buy my first Esprit.

18 May 2017
A guy at the end of our road had one in the mid 1980s. Used to pass it everyday on my walk to primary school and most of the time it was up on the ramp in his garage with the owner covered in oil and cursing in the pit underneath! I wonder where it is now?

18 May 2017
Did they not have editors back in the day? The number of typos is atrocious!

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