This British classic was one of the first mid-engine production cars and it was fantastically strange!
With mid-engine production cars only really existing from the 60s onwards, the Lotus Europa was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Not only was it one of the first mid-engine production cars but the Europa also had a unique style and by ‘unique’ I mean ‘weird’… but in a good way, of course.
Manufactured from 1966-1975, the Europa was like any good Lotus, quite unreliable, but that doesn’t matter because the beauty of the car is more than enough to distract you. Although it’s not really talked about much, the Europa’s coupe/shooting-brake-like shape is rather unusual, especially when looking back at the car through a modern perspective.
Squatting very low and with rear shape philosophy similar to the Ferrari Breadvan, the Europa achieved a very low drag coefficient of just 0.29 which coincidentally matches that of the Breadvan. This van-like styling for aerodynamic efficiency was not commonly adopted and nowadays, all sports cars and supercars look much the same with their sloping roofs and big spoilers, making cars like the Europa really stand out.
The first Europa, the Series 1, was incredibly barebones in order to achieve Colin Chapman’s vision of creating an authentic, race-inspired, mid-engine lightweight sports car. It had fixed windows, a bare aluminium dashboard, fixed seats (pedals had to be adjusted using tools), no door handles and no internal door cards. This extreme minimalism changed over time but this first Series 1, of which 296 examples were produced, was perhaps the truest realisation of Chapman’s racecar vision.
Furthermore, the S1 Europa had a reputation as the purist drivers’ car due to not only the bareness of it, but also due to the solid construction. The chassis and body were bonded together for superior rigidity whereas in the Series 2 they were bolted together. Other luxury features were added as well such as adjustable seats, electric windows, interior padding and more which all added to the weight, making the car lose some of its race-car feel.
The Europa’s four-wheel independent suspension was also quite the engineering feat. With the rear using a version of the Chapman-strut, an invention taken from his Motorsport applications, and the front using a double-wishbone setup made from pressed steel, as well as some other clever engineering, the Europa gained high praise as “the nearest thing to a Formula race car for the road”.
The Lotus Europa almost didn’t happen due to the lack of a suitable engine. Lotus’ Twin Cam unit, though powerful enough, was considered commercially unviable to work into the transverse, mid-engined position. By a stroke of luck, whilst attending the Paris Motor Show, Chapman saw that Renault had a 4-cylinder, 1470cc engine in their new FWD Renault 16 and realised that this particular engine could work with his mid-engine vision. Although the engine was not at all made for a mid-engine setup, it was made to work by rotating it 180° and repositioning the differential crownwheel so that the car didn’t have four reverse gears.
It was powerful enough with 82bhp and most importantly, it fit.
The Europa is all well and good but it’s the Type 47 GT that carries a lot of the legacy. Although it looked as though it was the same car as the Europa, the 47 GT was actually a totally different car with a Lotus Ford Cosworth 1600cc engine, around twice the horsepower, Hewland FT200 gearbox with limited-slip differential and improved suspension. The 47 GT was very competitive during the 1967 season and won the 1969 BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch with John Miles and Brian Muir.
But most importantly, the car always looks incredible. Whether it’s the barebones Series 1, the cushier Series 2 or the Type 47 GT, the Europa’s shape and mystique deserve much more appreciation and recognition than they get.
Let us know what you think of the Lotus Europa in the comments!
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