Cheap 1971 Lotus Europa Project

Just a few weeks ago, my family and I were out running some errands and I noticed a Lotus Europa sitting in a driveway of one particular house. I exclaimed, “Look at that little Europa!” Unfortunately for the Europa, my wife and kids were more interested in a nearby house that was for sale in that neighborhood. As they looked at the house I couldn’t take my eyes off of that interesting little creature needing lots of TLC. Fast forward a few weeks and I just happened to see that very same Lotus listed here on Craigslist. While I don’t have any interest in pursuing this project, I wondered if some readers of this site might be.

Unfortunately, the seller doesn’t offer up much detail about the car but does state that it needs a full restoration. If the pictures didn’t already make that obvious, the seller’s words serve to confirm the extent of what this car needs. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about Lotus cars and, for that matter, British cars in general. Those of you reading this could probably relay in better detail what series this one is and the size and horsepower rating of this particular four-cylinder. An indicator of size and rating here may be known by the fact that it is a left-hand drive car, correct? At any rate, the seller does state that even though they haven’t started it, that the engine turns freely.

It’s no surprise to see the interior in this kind of condition with the seller stating the need for full restoration. There at least seems to be enough of a following for these cars that parts seem to be available. How much one would be willing to spend is the big question. A restoration of this magnitude could pretty easily exceed the value of the car after restoration. Interested parties would have to see this car as desirable enough to put the funds into it.

I’ve always thought these cars were just odd enough to really be cool. With the front end of a sports car and the back end of an odd station wagon, they are unique enough to catch about anyone’s eye. This Europa seems to be too complete to be a parts car and yet just rough enough that a full restoration doesn’t make financial sense. In its current condition, does this one appear to be worth the $3,500 asking price?


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    It does need a full resto, looks to me like a series one. A major concern is the backbone frame but being a Kansas car there is hope. If it’s right hand drive Chris you must have flipped the photo. I often thought I’d like one of these because they are rare and have a (to me) cool style and would handle like my old X1/9 but they also have some drawbacks.

    Like 1
    • Chris Clark Staff

      Thank you for catching that! For some reason I knew it was left-hand drive but was thinking of a British version as I typed it. Thankfully, I was able to get that corrected before the masses saw my inability to think and type at the same time, haha! Thanks again! :)

      Like 3
    • Bob

      This is a series 2 car, type 65, you can tell by the taillights, seats and interior. The European spec cars had 1470 cc engines, while the US spec cars had 1565 cc. The 1565 produced 78hp.

      Like 1
  2. RayT Member

    This Europa — like all Series One Europas, I believe — has a 1.5-liter engine (and four-speed transmission) from a Renault 16. IIRC, it was in a slightly “hotter” stage of tune, making something like 82 hp. An easy engine to service, from tune-ups to full rebuilds…I speak from experience.

    Assuming the chassis is salvageable, I would think this could be restored on a DIY basis for not a lot of money. Not a viable business proposition, probably, but for someone who wants to own one, well worth the effort.

    I found these too confining for me back in the day, and doubt that has changed for the better. It’d be tempting to try, though. Those who fit have told me these can be wicked fun.

    Like 3
    • Chris Clark Staff

      Great to hear your thoughts on this car! I’ve wondered if they may be too confining for me as well. If I were really interested in a project like this I’d certainly try to drive one before buying one. Thanks for your contributions here!

      • RayT Member

        Chris, I’ve been 6’2″ tall since my high-school days, and have generally weighed in at 195-200 pounds. I once tried to climb into one many years ago, and don’t recall having made it all the way in. And, sadly, I’m less limber now.

        By the way, I had the same issues with a Lotus Esprit Turbo, though I actually did get seated (and was glad I did!). Also had similar difficulties with a Bertone X1/9, but who cares?

        Like 2
      • Chris Clark Staff

        I’ve been right in that same range since high school as well. I’d likely not find the car to be very accommodating either as the years go, haha! I’d definitely like to drive an Esprit Turbo, though! While I think the Europa is a need little car, I’ve haven’t really wanted one. But the Esprit…. from the looks to the sound to the performance, I’d definitely take one of those. I’m sure I’d have fun no matter how well I might fit in one!

        Like 1
      • bobk

        6′, 220 lbs now. Had the opportunity to drive an S2 back in the early ’80’s when I weighed significantly less (150 lbs then) and of course was significantly more limber. Lived up to the old term “Handles like it’s on rails”. HUGE fun to drive. Would love to grab this up but like RayT (and others), I know that I could get into it….getting back out would be a whole other proposition.

        Like 3
  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    Owned two S2s. Same configuration as this car but the VIN will tell you. Simple construction, good parts availability and lots of fun… if you can get in and out of it. For die hard restorers you can get new frames for them. Price a little high for as rough as it is. I have an original factory service manual if anyone needs one for a restoration.

    Like 2
    • Chris Clark Staff

      Great to hear from someone who has had experience with these cars!

  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Chris… don’t worry about the masses. We’re not that organized out here either.

    Like 2
    • Chris Clark Staff

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one, haha! Thanks Bob!

      Like 1
  5. Brakeservo

    I worked for a Lotus dealer in California when these were new. Saw a mechanic try to open the door to enter. He pulled as much up as out. The fiberglass door tore apart in his hand. Saw a customer “kiss” the curb while parking one – the entire front suspension collapsed. Had occasion to note a firewall on one – corrugated cardboard encased in fiberglass! Uh, you know, I’ve owned quite a few cars over the years . . . but never a Lotus – any idea why??

    • Bruce

      Brakeservo these are delicate cars and I suspect your friend was drunk when he tore the door apart. I have put over 200K on mine which is a couple of years older and I have never had any problems with the fiberglass except hair line cracking. As for kissing the curb to do the damage you noted he would have had to hit hard enough to fracture a mag wheel. That is not kissing a curb. The front suspension is largely from a Triumph Spitfire and is excellent if not abused. Like any machine abuse it and you can break it.

      While the Renault engine is not the best you can get the same performance out of it with some Gordini heads, manifolds and other parts which will give you the same power as the Ford engine for about 300 pounds less weight. In this car weight is critical.

      For those above 6′ I would suggest looking elsewhere. A good VOLVO perhaps but if you fit there are few cars with the road handling and steering of these. It has very much the feeling of a formula Ford race car with a fiberglass body over the top. If you can keep your foot out of it you can get excellent milage. I have seen near 40 MPG on several long trips. It is one of the most aerodynamic street cars every made so once you get up to speed you do not need much power to stay there.

      Critical problems are frame rust. While this has a heavy gage sheet metal frame that is very simple it can rust and or crack. Easily fixed but something to look at. Concerning the doors the hinges were mild steel and many have rusted but Stainless Steel hinges are available as are the cooling lines from the engine bay to the radiator. Given the age that is not a bad idea.

      I have modified my car in only two areas. I have a modern stereo and I have dual fuel tanks one on either side of the engine bay. Given that they only hold 7 gallons of fuel that alteration makes it a much easier touring car.

      It will hold more luggage than you might expect as there are storage locations both front and rear. When you are driving the rain you can lower the side windows and the air flow will prevent any water getting in. The seating and the ride are excellent and it is far more comfortable than you might think. Not as loud either as that 3/4″ Marine Plywood bulkhead between the engine bay and interior adsorbs much of the sound.

      Biggest problem is that these cars needed a front spoiler. The front end can hydroplane and I have had that happen on me more than once. In dry weather have as much fun as you dare but on wet roads be careful. One was available on later cars and I plan on installing one on mine before I am finished.

      Understand that there are many Harley Davidson motorcycles that weigh more than this car. Do something stupid and you are a dead man. But the small size seems even smaller when you are in the drivers seat and every other car seems like tanks. NEVER, and I mean NEVER drive one next to a tractor trailer. THEY CAN NOT SEE YOU and it is very unnerving to look at the hub of the trucks wheels from your drivers seat.

      These are high performance on a budget and to do that you need to compromise on weight. I have out run many a muscle car and corvette on tight roads where I can go flat out and they have to brake and slow down for corners. This is NOT A CAR for everybody but if you fit and are of a mind to treat it properly you will have something very special.

      To the person that purchases it, restore it properly join the Facebook groups and other clubs for parts and help and just know that almost always someone will wish to talk to you every time you hit the gas pump. That is not bad either.

      Like 10
      • Roarrr Rogers

        WHY would a Renault engine be 300 # lighter? the twincam weighs under 300# so how does the other weigh so little?

        I think I’ll plunk an escort 2 L 4 valve in mine–without further effort I’d have 130Hp-swap the webers in etc and—!

        I’ve seen Europas with 1558cc BDA’s and I think 220Hp is street drivable! so with the 2000cc Escort what!

    • TheGasHole

      @Bruce: well done, sir. Well done.

  6. Joey bowie

    Is this the same model that was on overhauling? They wasted two shows for that garbage can.

    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      Major disagreement with your assertion. I never watched the show, obviously missing this build. But the car was recently featured, and a YouTube video was posted two weeks ago.

      I would LOVE to have this car!

      In the very early 70’s I worked at a Shell station in a nice area on the S. side of Dayton, Ohio. One night a guy comes cruising into the pumps with something that looked like this, but it wasn’t. It was a 47. Still wonder why, and how, and where it wound up.

      Like 4
    • TonyWa Member

      I personally enjoyed the shows immensely. They bought off a lot more than they thought by transplanting the Toyota 2ZZ engine/transaxle (same as Lotus Elise) into the Europa. The structural fabrication was extensive. Not sure why you would have such a strong negative opinion. Its just a car show actually doing something different than another muscle car…..

      Like 5
  7. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    I believe Chapman said it was an F1 car with a body. That’d been HIS F1 car. Holy Grail stuff.

    Like 4
    • Roarrr Rogers

      The somewhat contemporary Lotus 51 Formula 2 Ford (1558cc’s) had essentially the same mechanics but in a tube frame and minimal body, remember that in 61, Formula one was 1500cc’s!

  8. Howard A. Member

    Cool cars, but would be like driving a cabover semi, nasty blind spot on the right side.

    Like 2
  9. David Church

    I had the good fortune to be in and around most of Colin Chapman’s early road cars. I loved every one of them. The driving experience is astounding. I’m 6’2″. And as much as I loved them, the driver’s seat is no place for anybody over 5’10”, or 150 pounds. The Bread Van SI was a road worthy development of the Lotus 47 (?) a full on FIA race car. Everything about the S1 was about “lightness”. So in the conversion of mid engine racing car to econo road car, metal was rarely and sparely used. I gave my friend who owned a magnificent little John Player Twin Cam a tube of Testor’s Model Cement to keep the trim on. The Renault Engine was a huge disappointment to Lotus Fans. So rather than expand the market with the lower price point it actually limited the market. The Solution was to used the Elan’s Engine (a Cosworth Ford V8 fits in the 47 chassis) and notch the rear sails for a more balanced look. So is this car worth the money? $3500 for a complete SI in Kansas? In a heart beat for the right owner.. .

    Like 3
  10. H5mind

    Looks like the seller is a rear and mid engine fanatic- I spy a Corsair and 914 in his garage.

    Like 1
  11. TonyWa Member

    I’m currently restoring an S2. Same family of engines as this one (1565cc in my current car). This is my 7th Lotus from the 60s (Elans and Europas). Also had a 2005 Elise. The Renault-engine parts are getting more difficult to find at decent prices. Piston/Cylinder kits are getting really scarce. Body, frame, interior, etc are readily available. Twincam parts are also readily available from many sources. I do agree that the cost of restoration would likely exceed value (ask me how i know….) I have to smile at the comments on broke the handle out, broke the suspension hitting a curb, cardboard encased firewalls, etc….. These cars are thinly disguised sports racers. They are ultra nimble and responsive. As such, they are fragile and need to be maintained. If you don’t understand that going in, you should stick with muscle cars (which I’ve owned as well). Either choice has pros and cons. If someone is working on a Europa, you can contact me for a spreadsheet of where I got my parts, how much I paid, etc. This car would require a lot of money and effort….

    Like 5
  12. james Member

    Daughter is building a ’70 from the ground up. Friends told her to go to the expense and effort to keep it all original. I suggested that since it’s not a Porsche 356 and the collectibility is of limited value, just build it the way you want it. My thinking was this; would Colin Chapman use a lot of the parts he used if he wasn’t on a budget (i.e. Lucas electronics), and had access to more modern materials?. She will have a rear view camera to help with the visibility, modern, dependable electronics, better sound deadening, better cooling, better shift linkage, a kick ass stereo, etc. She should have years of joy out of this thing, probably long after I’m gone!

    Like 10
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      That is awesome! Best of luck to her in the build!

      Like 4
      • james Member

        Thanks so much!

        Like 1
    • TonyWa

      Love that a next generation person is picking up the hobby. Also very cool that she is female! If I can help in any way by sharing some experience, let me know. I’m not hung up on originality (although some cars I keep completely original). Again, way cool….

      Like 1
      • james Member

        I get the originality thing. I have a 70 GS 455 Stage 1 that I have to keep original right down to the nuts and bolts (with a lot of help from Todd at diecast muscle cars). Appreciate the offer of help! She is sticking with the original Renault engine but any performance tips would be cool. Also, have you had any luck with cable linkages to replace the Frankenstein shifting monstrosity that they came with? I saw one on a ford conversion but have never been able to locate a similar system. Thanks again for the kind response!

        Like 1
  13. TonyWa Member

    Great to hear the next generation is taking up the hobby! Great that she’s female! If you need any of my documentation or experience, I’d be glad to help out. Would love to “pass it on”…..

  14. Ron

    That is a Series 2 Federal(Built for the U.S.), they were built LHD also has two windshield wipers.
    At that price it is a good candidate for Resto. OR parts doner.

    Like 1
  15. John

    For someone who wants to restore it and make some money on it afterward, this is a lost cause. But if you want a fun little car that will give you hours and hours of driving, tweaking, bragging, and polishing you will not find a better candidate. In my mind its a bit expensive, but I have no real frame of reference.

    I’ve had two Europas (Europi?), one almost exactly like this one, and a later Ford powered “S” type. They had every imaginable kind of problem. But every single problem was something that a reasonable car guy could handle on a Saturday afternoon (or two) with friends and a case of Guiness. You can take the motor out without a lift. Just block it up securely under neath, unbolt the motor mounts and the rear trans mount and, with a friend (maybe) pick the car up and wheelbarrow style push it forward. Without the engine and gearbox there is about 200 lbs on the rear end. The interiors were “Ikea” minimalist style. The dash can be laid out on a new piece of wood if it is bad, its perfectly flat. Most of the other pieces are pretty common if you look around a bit.

    This would be a great weekend toy. Don’t be afraid of the reliability issues. They are frequent, but minor. Most of us are just looking for a reason to poke around under the hood anyway. If I weren’t suffering from a bad case of DOB disease, I’d be all over this one.

    Like 5
  16. Michelle H Rand

    I restored a 72 special, and really the work is ongoing. The car posed a number of problems, the engine was not terribly easy, on early cars (not mine) water pumps can be problematic; I had to send to England for the right head and the right insulating material on the engine side of the engine bay… then on a rally this summer the hydraulics, which had already been looked at, let go in several places. Last year the fuel pump spilled its fuel all over the ground while just sitting in my garage. So it’s been kind of one thing and another, and I have really good restoration guys. That said, the car is super fun to drive and very quick – when it works.

    Like 3
    • Brakeservo

      Hey Michelle – Sounds like you had a good restoration, back to original condition, because, your ownership experience now mirrors that of the original owners when these were new! I speak with the experience of working for a Lotus dealer in California 1972 – 1975.

  17. Britcarguy

    Had 2 Europas. Loved them. The good news is driving them. The bad news is driving them in traffic. They are all but invisible to the ever-increasing number of large trucks and SUVs on the road. Then there is the inevitable guy who nearly runs you over to see it closer, catches up at the traffic signal and says, “What the hail is that? One of them there kit cars?”

    Like 3
  18. JagManBill

    I’ve got a 70 S2. I’m 6’4 and fit isn’t a problem. If your determined enough, fit isn’t a problem. Getting out might be (as in open door, crawl/roll out) but what the heck…right?
    Seriously, My S2 currently is in two pieces since the nose got knocked off a while back. I’ve got a 54 nose I was going to put on it but now I’m just looking for another 65 nose to keep it simple.
    Most of the parts are easy to get. Suspension is all Spitfire/GT6, Engines are Renault. Electronics are all Lucas. Which is why my rebuild will have all Spit/GT6 suspension (nothing wrong there), 1600 Ford “Kent” engine (I really thought about a well built Spit 1500) using an FF adapter to a VW box and Painless Wiring electrics. A real “twink” engine is too expensive! (to buy and to keep running!!) and Lucas electronics is…well…Lucas!

    All that said, next to be said is “if I keep it”… messed up my knee early in the summer and I haven’t even driven my race car since. If I can’t get in the Vee, I sure as heck can’t get in the Europa. This is a car you don’t get in, you put it on…one leg at a time.

    Like 1
    • Roarrr Rogers

      Hey JagmanBill;
      I have a nose for you here on the central coast of calif, WHATDOYAGOT in Jag bits, I have several oldies. Consider the Ford Escort 2 Litre 4 valve–Fords production BDA engine–it’ll fit the old Ford bellhousing AND is a much better engine The Escort ZX2 has 133 Hp and I have some also.


  19. james Member

    Whatever, put it on one leg at a time and enjoy the ride! What a blast!

  20. KarlS

    I saw my first S1 in 1969 and ever since then, I wanted one. Yes, they’re tiny. I have a 69 Fiat 850 Spider which is about the same size. I never really worry about people not seeing me. Its exhaust is plenty loud so people will hear me, just like they hear motorcycles. One day I’d like an S1 Europa and a Fiat or Bertone X1/9 (I had a 74) in my garage. The X1/9 was a fun car too and about the same size as the Europa.

    Like 1
    • Roarrr Rogers

      There was a fellow in San Jose, Ca. that used to stuff Fiat 1500 TC’s in 850’s just like Carlo Abarth did with his kick ass winning coupes’ It seemed simple, you might have to make something turn the other way when I did when I put a 850 in my 600~~~

  21. Brakeservo

    Re: KarlS – if a noisy exhaust is your best accident avoidance strategy, you should buy a pre-paid burial service now. The adage “Loud Pipes Save Lives” is BS. No, loud pipes damage one’s hearing and piss everybody else off!

    Seriously, as a hearing impaired person (and I know that there are lots of us AND we’re not all elderly) you would be amazed at what I don’t hear, or maybe hear but have no idea where the noise is coming from!

    • KarlS

      Well, I’ll be 70 next year and have tinnitus thanks to being on a gun mount on a naval vessel in SE Asia so I’m not sweating the exhaust sound level too much. It really isn’t that loud anyway – not nearly as loud as the one on this Lotus. The Fiat’s horn is much louder than its exhaust and that’s what I use when someone starts to wander into the same part of the lane that I am driving in.

      Like 1
    • Roarrr Rogers

      True, My Lotus 7 had its meg 20″ under my ear and I do have some damage on the left side however MOST of our cars exhaust to the rear and have doors and windows, I WANT to hear my engine so I know what it’s doing, I bought another sports car recently and the first thing I did to it was to substitute the rear muffler with a 2 1/4″ tube” compared to the ever present Harleys it isn’t loud.

      under me

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