Deal Or Dud: 1971 Lotus Europa

1971 Lotus Europa

If the Elan from the other day was a little too pricey for you, then may we suggest this Europa instead? The driving experience won’t be quite the same, but it will still be good and will end costing a lot less. The styling may not be for everyone, but that little hunchback is actually starting to grow on me. This one has been off the road for many years so it’s going to need some work before you’ll be able to take a test drive, but it looks like a good start. The original engine is in place and even the interior looks decent. So, as long as the frame isn’t full of rust, this could be a great buy at $5,500 here on craigslist. It’s only been listed for a couple of days so there’s a good chance it’s still available. Thanks goes to Jake C. for the tip! So, what do you think – deal or dud?

Renault Engine

You might be a little let down if you were expecting a Lotus Twin Cam back here. That’s actually a Renualt lump. Later on you could get the Twin Cam, but most of the Europas were fitted with this engine. It may not have been as powerful or exotic, but it was cheaper. At least it’s attached to a backbone chassis similar to that found in the Elan. So, between that and the lightweight body, these things could actually handle quite well.

Crazy Upholstry

Checkout those seats! If you didn’t already know this car was built in the seventies, then you would once you slipped into these puppies! The shifter sits right where it should and is connected to a 4-speed gearbox. The steering wheel is drilled and the dash is covered in wood following the classic British tradition.

Midmount Engine

There’s another shot of those odd lines. The engine sits behind the driver so extra room was needed to fit everything back there. These cars may look awkward in photos, but they are actually quite striking when sitting in the pits at a race track. Apparently, the design came from a sketch that was made when Lotus bid to build a Le Mans racer for Ford. Makes you wonder what would have happened if Ford would have picked it over the Lola design that went on to become the GT40…

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. RayT Member

    Assuming there’s no chassis rot or hidden fiberglass damage, $5,5K doesn’t seem ridiculous to me. I would imagine someone will step up to the plate with that sum — or a very close offer — pretty quickly.

    The Renault engine and gearbox aren’t such a bad thing, except maybe for parts supply. They’re easy to work on and reliable. Having had experience with them, I’d prefer them to the Lotus twincam for those reasons.

    I’d have to do a repaint (Europas don’t look good in black to me, even the later JPS version) and get rid of the non-original seat insert upholstery. But the one thing that really keeps me from getting interested is simple: the Europa is not a good fit for 6’2″, 185-pound me!

    Wish it wasn’t so.

    • z1rider

      At 6’3″ and 195 lbs on the scale this morning you just answered my first question. I’m out.

  2. OA5599

    I agree these look better in person than in a photo. I wish this one wasn’t repainted. If rust or rot isn’t an issue, it’s still seems like a deal.

  3. Bill

    Anybody over 5′ 10 will have issues with this car. Also, the clutch pedal and brake pedals are so close, wide feet make it impossible to drive. Overall, a decent car for the money. Twenty years and twenty pounds ago, I’d have been a buyer.

  4. Chris A.

    5’10”, 180 lbs, size 11 medium shoe. I’ve driven them and just fit. I’m still kicking myself for passing up a nice early Europa S1 driver for $1100 years ago. A PPI inspection is needed on a lift to check out the backbone and suspension mounts. A nice yellow, orange or white are good colors as these are so small and low that ordinary drivers don’t see them. The wheels are from a later Europa and the seats need to be rebuilt and recovered. English car for which you need metric tools to work on the engine and tranny. I suspect this is a late S1 as the windows can be opened, the early S1’s had fixed side windows. This needs a lot of TLC on little things, so the price is in the ball park, but you’ll be spending time and money to get it right. There is a Lotus Europa support group that is very helpful. Wonderful car to drive, but you are less visible than on a motorcycle.

  5. tom

    It is a series 2 car, the wheels are Cosmic Mk2.

  6. RickG

    I had a 1970 S2 in red in the mid seventies. I’m 5′ 10.5″ 180lbs and I just barely fit. Best handling car I ever drove for taking on and off ramps and rotaries at frightening speeds.

    Always worried about a couple of things though:

    1. that the brake pedal would tear out of it’s fiberglass mount on the floor and render it useless when I’m pressing on it, (brake and clutch pedals have hinges mounted to the fiberglass floor pan)
    .
    2. That I might get t-boned and crushed. There is no metal in the doors or the floor pan. The frame runs down the middle of the car and there is no frame on the outside edges of the passenger cabin

    3. That the roof might blow open and off the car allowing the windshield to come in and decapitate me at speeds greater than 100mph. Towards the end of ownership,at 80k miles and at 8 years old the window pillars started showing stress cracks where they join the roof. Remember, there is no steel in there, so if the window pillars cracked all the way through you would be toast.

    4. I also worried that If I had an accident that knocked me off the road that boulders, tree stumps or guardrails would come through the thin fiberglass floor pan and destroy my legs and body.

    The ammeter shorted out one day and almost caught the car on fire. I had to quickly yank one of the battery terminals off to save the car.

    But the car was cool. I beat the snot out of it and I’m glad I owned one but I don’t think I’d want to own one again. British electrics, safety concerns, shoddy craftsmanship, and a relatively high cost of entry to have a decent example. There are just too many other really cool cars out there that can be had for less money.

  7. Dolphin Member

    Rick G describes a lot of what would worry me about driving a Europa. The first time I ever saw one up close I decided to back away….far away. Too many limits in the small size and construction and too many bad drivers and very large vehicles that can crush this car in an instant.

    I have a lot of respect for Colin Chapman’s innovations, but for the public roads I would need something larger and more substantial. As Rick said, there’s a lot of choice out there……

    And isn’t that alternator badly misaligned with the engine pulley??

  8. Eli

    I’ve owned 2 of these during my youth. Both were John Player Specials in black. I’m 5 6″ and it was not easy getting in and out. Another feat is trying to get it into reverse! Frightening on the highway, especially at night as any tractor trailer won’t have much chance of seeing you in the rear view mirror.

  9. Brakeservo

    Apart from the problems of simply fitting (and when I was 19 – 21 with size 13 shoes I drove them regularly as an employee of a Lotus dealer) one needs remember the near “cheap kit car” quality of construction and materials used. I remember seeing a mechanic accidentally tearing a door off it’s hinges, and seeing the aftermath of a customer who scraped a curb while parking – he tore the right front wheel and suspension off!! Also, the rear firewall was corrugated cardboard encased in fibreglass! Gee, this kind of makes that Olds 455 powered Fiberfab Avenger kit car featured a few days ago look safe!

  10. Jim

    I would have had no problem getting into this car 30 years ago

  11. John

    I had a 74 “S” twin-cam. I’m 6′ and weigh just over 200. I fit into the car perfectly. It was truly a driver’s car. Long distances were a delight. I drove mine from LA to Wash DC. The roof never gave a hint of blowing off. A State Trooper in Utah gave evidence that he clocked the car at 123 mph in a 70 zone. I drove it almost 100k miles. It was a delight. It could out-corner a go kart and it’s gears were perfectly spaced.

    That’s the good part. The bad part was that you needed lots of friends who could come get you when it quit running. It had power brakes with dual master vacuum chambers in the rear of the car. The dual master chambers leaked all of the time. Sometimes you had power brakes, sometimes not. The windshield wiper motor was fastened to the cowl with sheet metal screws. They always worked loose and the motor and wiper cranks would move back and forth but the wiper stayed still. The shift linkage had multiple u-joints. There was never a time that they were all working properly. You had to take the engine out to replace its water pump. The pump was 3 inches thick, there was a gap of 1.5 inches between the motor and the front bulkhead. Water pumps lasted 35k miles. It had two gas tanks and two fillers. You filled them separately. Mine had power windows. They went half way down. The windows were taller than the doors. They could ONLY go halfway down. AC was never an option. Those two knobs on the center console worked the heat and the choke. The cables for both were not sealed so they rusted regularly. Changing them took most of a day. It had Lucas electrics.

    But I loved that little beast, warts and all. I can’t imagine a car guy who would not.

  12. Jasper

    I wouldn’t repaint or reupholster it. It looks pretty decent with JPSesque scheme and funky patterns inside. And that’s coming from a color change hater.
    Going into one of these expecting a big project might be better going in with expectations of solidity and soundness.

  13. RickG

    by the way, there is a trick for getting in and out of a Lotus Europa, or any other small car for that matter. When getting in always put your butt in first then bring in your two legs. When getting out put your two legs out first then stand up.

    Most people put one leg in then they sit and bring the other leg in. If you do that with a Lotus Europa your thigh hits the steering wheel and you can’t get in. I agree with John that these were great highway cruisers. Even my S2 with the Renault and a 4-speed cruised at high speed, of course the engine was rev’ing pretty high.

    One more thing….these cars are pretty stealthy. Radar doesn’t bounce back from the fiberglass as well as metal and these cars didn’t have much metal. I never ran a front plate either.

  14. Britcarguy

    I had 2 Europas – S2 and twin cam. Both were excellent drives but scary. You scared yourself because you could go so easily fast in turns that clear distance had to be kept with cars in front because you came up on them so fast. Other drivers would practically run into you trying to get a close look and to figure out what it was and then came the common question, “Is that one of them kit cars?”.

    Early S1s had non-opening door windows – another scary thought. All later cars had electric windows. The legend I heard was that Chapman scored an abundance of cheap single-arm electric regulators from GM plus there was just not enough room inside the door panel for a conventional regulator.

    Wheels are indeed Cosmic wheels. I had them on another car and they leaked air like a sieve. They were machined aluminum and porous. I tried coating the inside of the rims with fiberglass resin but it didn’t work. Had to put tubes in or fill up with air every couple of days.

    They had another little-known feature – the front compartment beverage cooler and semi-air conditioner. I restored mine with all stainless hardware in the compartment so I could fill the box with ice and drinks for a car show or going to a race. On the road, air entered the cabin using the front compartment as a plenum and with ice up front there was a little bit of cooling effect.

  15. BMW/Tundra guy

    An offer I have made previously and will continue to do so when possible. This vehicle is located close to me so I would be happy to make arrangements to give the vehicle cursitory inspection. I am very mechanical and could probably advise on whether or not to move on to the next step. I would not ask for any compensation only that if it ever comes up, the gesture be repayed.
    If there are any takers, just reply to this post with contact info.

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