This Lotus Europa Special was the Whac-A-Mole of cars

John L. Stein

Haters gonna hate the little low-slung Europa.

Agreed, the original 1966 version, with its yawn-worthy 1.5-liter Renault pushrod Frenchie four and Bertha Butt–sized flying buttresses was an odd duck—a fair descriptor given its waterfowl-like beak. But once Lotus added a 1.6-liter Ford twin-cam, alloy wheels, and cutdown buttresses, the homely wallflower grew into a fetching princess. To some, anyway.

Hence my excitement when offered a bright yellow twin-cam 1974 Europa Special back in ’84. My daily driver at the time was a fawny-beige Ford Falcon with its leaky gas tank plugged with bath soap, so the Europa seemed like a gift from heaven. Colin Chapman and Jim Clark had been my gods, and two decades after they triumphed at Indy, I was finally in the Lotus club.

Being a Lotus, the Europa is naturally, er, “inventive.” The central frame is a steel beam that splits into a “Y” in back to accommodate the powertrain, and the fiberglass body—what presents as the car—literally drapes over it. In my case, the engine was the hot “big valve” version driving through a transaxle. Other racy features included twin saddle tanks and hard-earned World Champion Car Constructors badges.

Big surprise, this one had problems. A previous owner had shunted the right front, and whomever executed repairs got it wrong; when viewed head-on, the poor duck’s beak canted up to starboard, like Buddy Hackett cracking a joke.

My idea was basically idiotic; I’d service the Europa and then haul ass around town. Three problems blockaded this thinking:

1) The 126-hp engine ran like a sneezing pony.
2) The brakes worked only sometimes.
3) Despite its dazzling paint, at just 43 inches high, the Europa was dangerously invisible to other motorists.

Chasing the brakes revealed bad seals in the dual master cylinder, and I stumbled through balancing the twin EPA-mandated CV carbs. But challenges persisted. One day, I went grocery shopping. Upon returning to the Lotus, its starter and speedometer were suddenly inoperable. A push-start (easy in a 1570-pound car) got me home. Weeks later, while driving to a business meeting, the distributor drive gear fractured, stranding me again. Shortly thereafter, tired of uninvited problems and financially ill-prepared to have a Lotus shop sort it all out, I sent the Europa packing and resigned myself once again to the Falcon.

Owning the car settled something for me, though: I was clearly no Colin Chapman, and emphatically no Jimmy Clark.




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    1) any article with a Buddy Hackett mention gets a “like” from me
    2) anyone bold enough to allow a photo of himself wearing those shorts is worthy of respect

    Let’s run a survey and see how many of us remembers who B H was.
    Including me we have three.
    Haven’t heard that name this century.

    I recall going for a ride in the JPL special edition Europa. Having had the Matchbox car since a kid I was well aware what one was. Or so I thought.

    When I went to get into this car in its great black and gold livery I found a car that was closer to a badly built kit car than a exotic Euro coupe.

    To state this car is made for light weight is a understatement The body panels are just to cover the frame and really have little structure. The hood flops and the doors are just covers.

    The chassis is the main support and solid and the engine is just enough to push the light weight chassis around.

    While I thought a Cobra was a light weight car it is like an airplane vs the lotus is like a hang glider.

    It is a neat car just not my thing as I can see it is something that was not made for durability just light weight.

    Good story, John. I once lusted after a John Player Special. Maybe I was lucky to not get one.

    What’s the car in the background?

    I’ve been trying to figure that out as well. At first I thought it may be a Willys, but I think it’s Kaiser.

    And I think based on the tail lights, it has to be a 1954 model. Probably a Special or some other lower optioned version, as the top of the line 1954 Kaiser Manhattan has corner windows in the C pillar.

    Had one. Loved it. Miss it. But I like to get home, especially in one piece. Would I again? Quite possibly……but I’d never let my kids or grandkids in one.

    Bought the dealers personal lotus in 74 it was well sorted and had AC . Had to drive it without shoes and was quite a sight getting out I’m 6ft 3in was stolen in 77 never to be seen again

    Never thought to much of them although the looked like they’d be fun to drive on a twisty road. The real problem was the people that owned them-at least the ones that my buddies and I encountered. Specifically the Lotus club at Road America turn 14 in the early 70’s. A group of loudmouth drunks littering the area with beer cans, trash and urinating in public-as they proudly flew the “Lotus” flag above them.

    My first Lotus was a 1972 Europa TC, four speed. The car was very reliable and I drove it to my first Lotus Owners Gathering from Toronto to the Pocono mountains and back with no issues……and that was after some high speed laps of the Pocono International Raceway! Can’t believe that was over forty years ago!

    Had a 1969 S3 Elan in 1969. Dealer went bust, I got the almost new car for half price: $2,500. Got in more trouble with that car than in everything else I have owned before or since combined. Also had to solve more “issues” with that car, again than with everything else I have owned before or since combined – and that’s about 170 cars (!) plus uncounted motorcycles, some boats, a couple of airplanes, a tractor and lord knows what else.

    However, when it ran, which was about once a payment, I could forgive all its’ sins, which were many and varied. I still have the factory service manual. They say you can tell what parts of a vehicle give the most trouble by checking which pages of the manual have the most greasy fingerprints. ALL the pages of the Lotus Elan manual have greasy fingerprints . . .

    I had the “yawn-worthy” 1.5 Renault in mine that put out 85hp. Acceleration was decent. Would accelerate surprisingly well over 80 because of the low drag. But, not a good car to have with no A/C here in hot, humid Florida. Sold it for $3200 after paying $3800 for it a number of years before. Unfortunately, I passed up a $3800 ’62 Corvette when I bought the Europa.

    A friend of mine bought a new one (left-over model year) from a dealer in St. Louis. We drove to Chicago, took a budget flight to St. Louis, picked up the car, and drove it back to Chicago.

    The Head Mechanic at the local Renault/Lotus dealer (actually a lumber yard!) was friend of ours who went through the car. It had never been properly checked-out and pre-delivered, so he found LOTS of things needed attention, like a missing horn, several burned our bulbs, fluids were low, etc, etc, etc.

    It ran “OK”, but wasn’t very quick, or fast, but holy smokes…..did that thing corner or what!

    After getting backed into numerous times, including the time a, F150 backed into him all the way to the windshield (CRACK!) , my Muscle Car buddy tired of his new toy and dumped it.

    C’est la vie!

    I remember the combination lumber yard, Lotus, Renault and Triumph dealer in Joliet.
    (I’m assuming it’s the same place…)

    Small world..I knew a student, back in HS, in 74′, who had the Lotus, it was red, and super cool looking, all the hot chick’s liked him..because of that car..

    I now know what LOTUS means, Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious after having a Jensen Healey with the Lotus engine. It was a good performer when it ran.

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