Autocar Subscriber Extra is our package of exclusive benefits for our magazine subscribers. One of these is a weekly behind the scenes email newsletter from our editors, and an exclusive monthly Not Quite A Classic column from Richard Bremner. Until the end of August, we're giving all Autocar readers free access to these newsletters and columns. You can subscribe to Autocar magazine with our Summer Sale offer here and save 50% on your first 13 issues.
Mongrel cars: there have been many, over the years. Cars like today’s Toyota Supra, for instance, which shares more than merely its bones with the BMW Z4. And since we’re talking Toyota, the GR86 coupé, too, co-developed with Subaru to sell alongside the BRZ twin. There’s the Mazda MX-5-based Abarth 124 Spider and, in the more distant past, the series of reworked Hondas that Rover popularly sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Distinctly less successful were the Alfa Romeo Arna and Nissan Cherry Europe, identically undesirable twins spawned by an Alfa-Nissan one-night stand. This pair was an ill-chosen blend of Alfasud and Cherry, yielding a badge-engineered machine decisively inferior to the models from which it was blended.
The Arna is far from the only misfiring child of such marriages of convenience, another being the 2006 Lotus Europa S. Given its name, you might wonder what the other gene source is, and those of you in the know may well correctly mouth 'Vauxhall', the then-GM brand providing not only the Europa’s engine but also the long-wheelbase VX220 variation on the Lotus Elise platform. But there was another manufacturer involved, and had the project been realised as originally intended, the Europa would not have been a Lotus at all, but a Proton. More than that, it would have been built in Malaysia rather than Hethel.
The idea was to add some much-needed glamour to Proton’s showrooms, expand the Malaysian range in new directions and turn Lotus a profit. Ultimately, Proton thought better of it, wisely (would you buy an expensive sports coupé from a showroom selling Savvys and Gen-2 hatchbacks?), and Hethel instead decided to sell 500 Norfolk-built, Lotus-branded examples.
Despite the change of mission and brand, there was no reason for this all-new Europa not to be a great drive.
Lotus has made many show-winning mongrels, combining its own genes with Ford’s to produce two generations of Lotus Cortina, with Chrysler Europe’s to produce the WRC-winning Sunbeam Lotus and with one-time owners General Motors to produce the magnificently rapid Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. There have been many others, too.