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