Lotus Europa (1966-1975)

Article by Mark Trotta

Marketed as a low-cost alternative to the front-engine Lotus Elan, the mid-engine Europa was announced for sale to European markets in December of 1966. Lotus founder Colin Chapman, credited for developing the first monocoque Formula-One car, used similar principles in designing the Europa: centralize the car's weight and keep it small and light.

Lotus Europa history

Lotus Europa Series 1 (1966-1968)

The Series 1 Europa measured 42 inches in height and weighed 1350 pounds. Structural strength came from a lightweight fiberglass body, molded as a single unit to which the doors, hood, and rear hatch were attached. The hatch was large and provided good access to the engine. The fiberglass body was resin-bonded to the steel-backbone chassis, which made the car light and stiff. Styling was the work of Ron Hickman, director of Lotus Engineering.

Minimalist construction was used throughout the first-series Europa. The interior had fixed seats; drivers needed to raise or lower the foot pedals to suit. There were no door handles nor internal door covers. To keep production costs low, Lotus chose a drivetrain from an existing car, the front-wheel-drive Renault 16. The lightweight four-cylinder engine and four-speed gearbox sat reversed in the Europa's engine bay.

Lotus Europa

With a few modifications by Lotus, the 1470cc OHV engine produced 82-horsepower. 0-60 mph times were 10 seconds, top speed was 110 mph. A four-wheel independent suspension and 91-inch wheelbase helped achieve nearly 0.9 g lateral acceleration - this achieved on road tires of the era.

A small number of race-version Europas were built and raced by Lotus. Built between 1966 and 1970, these modified cars were known as the Type 47 Europa. They featured upgraded suspension, four-wheel discs and were lighter in weight than regular-production models. Drivetrain was a Lotus-Cosworth twin-cam engine displacing 1594cc, mated to a Hewland 5-speed gearbox. In it's first race ever, held at Brands Hatch race-course, the Type 47 finished in both first and second places.

Lotus Europa Type 47

Lotus Europa Series 2 (1969-1970)

The Series 2 Europa brought about changes to the body, interior, and powerplant. The fiberglass body was no longer bonded to the frame and was now more conventionally attached with bolts. This made body repairs easier but lost some of the stiffness of the first series. To comply with American D.O.T. standards, the front end now sat higher, with taller front fenders to raise the headlamps.

A new, more comfortable interior featured moveable, reclining seats and electric windows. The original aluminum dashboard was replaced by a polished wooden fascia. Engine size increased to 1565cc, lowering 0-60 mph times slightly. Top speed increased to 116 mph.

Lotus Europa Series 3 (1971-1975)

The third-series Europa featured a redesigned body shell helping improve rearward visibility. The Renault engine was replaced by the more powerful 1558cc Lotus-Ford twin-cam motor, producing over 100 horsepower. A five-speed gearbox replaced the previous four-speed.

Lotus Europa Series 3

Originally known as the Europa Twin-Cam, the Series 3 was renamed the Europa Special. Although weighing nearly 300 pounds more than the Series 1 version, top speed was now over 120 mph, with 0-60 mph times dropping to seven seconds.

Lotus Europa at Lane Motor Museum

British-built Lotus Europa at Lane Motor Museum

Lotus Europa Special Edition

To commemorate back-to-back F1 World Championships for Lotus in 1972 and 1973, a limited amount of special-edition Europa Specials were offered. Named after team sponsor John Player, the cars were finished in black with gold pin-stripes, and each had their own unique badge number.

Lotus Europa history

After nine years of production, Lotus discontinued the Europa in early 1975. Approximately 9,000 units were produced.


Team Lotus

Team Lotus has won every major racing title, including F1, Indy 500, Le Mans, World Rallye championships and GT championships. Their most successful racing chassis design was the full monocoque of the Lotus 25. This is the car Jim Clark won the 1963 F1 World Championship with. The first mid-engine car to win the Indianapolis 500 was the Lotus 38, driven by Jim Clark in 1965. Lotus was the first team to achieve 50 Grand Prix victories, winning seven Formula One Constructors' titles and six Drivers' Championships between 1962 and 1978.

Read: Sports Car History