More power means more fun
Many an argument has centred around the Lotus Europa, the rear-engined GT car which has until recently been powered by a Renault engine. Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent was one of the Europa’s most ardent fans following a memorable trip down to Sicily and back, but there have been plenty of detractors who have criticised the Europa as cramped, unreliable and, above all, a slouch compared with the Ford twin-cam-powered, front-engined Lotus Elans. Various tuning firms have tried to graft Ford motors in the place of the French unit and found it a bigger job than expected. Now this attractive machine, conceived by Colin Chapman and designed by one of his staff, Ian Jones, is being marketed with the evergreen Ford twin-cam motor and, into the bargain, the car has been modified considerably to eradicate many of the criticisms levelled at it.
The new model, which is instantly recognisable thanks to the cutting down of the engine cover sides, was introduced at the 1971 Motor Show and a startling lime green example came our way in January, the Lotus firm’s latest public relations man looking after Motor Sport just as well as his predecessor. Unfortunately throughout the week we had the car it seemed to be constantly wet and rarely were we able to experience the tremendous dry weather road-holding remembered from earlier Europas. Even so we put an extra 900 miles on this nearly new car and were convinced early on that, in its latest £1,995 form (£1,595 as a kit), the Lotus Europa is very much improved.
There are still faults which need ironing out but we should say that during the brief test period the car performed without fault and that is something which cannot be said about some earlier Europas. One must realise that it is a no compromises sports two-seater and there isn’t any room for taking a third person down to the pub, the two luggage compartments offer little space and the driving compartment is undeniably cramped for those 6 ft. and over, although there is more room than on earlier models.
The change to Lotus twin-cam power was a fairly obvious one and has given the Europa very much better performance. The Renault aluminium unit, hard working though it is, gave only 78 b.h.p. compared with the heavier twin-cam’s 105 b.h.p. Particularly noticeable is the reduction in acceleration times and, for instance, 0-60 m.p.h. is now close on 7 sec. compared with almost 11 sec, with the Renault, and this puts the Europa on a par with the Elan Sprint although the Sprint pulls away up to 100 m.p.h.
The Europa has been fitted with the cooking Lotus twin-cam engine whereas the Elan Sprint now has the “130” big-valve engine. The limiting factor with the Europa is the gearbox for one of Renault manufacture is still utilised. Proprietary rear-engined boxes other than those for racing are virtually non-existent. This very fact discourages many of our specialist firms like TVR, Reliant and Ginetta from producing rear-engined cars other than Imp-powered and gearboxed machines. This aside, there is no doubt that the 105-b.h.p. twin-cam engine has made the Europa an exceptionally fast and accelerative car and for that matter further attention has been paid to the gear linkage to the Renault box so that we found it far better than any previous Europa boxes.
Quite a few other modifications have also improved the Europa, some of them easily noticeable and others under the skin. For instance the backbone chassis has been redesigned and strengthened considerably and is no longer contracted out. The suspension geometry has been redesigned, a brake servo added and there was considerable revision in the rear to fit the new engine. The body moulds have also been altered so that, as well as losing the fins on the rear flanks but not spoiling the lines, the driver and passenger compartments have been enlarged considerably. A member of the Standard House staff who tops 6 ft. 4 in. was able to drive the Europa without too much discomfort, which he certainly would not have been able to have done with the older model, but he did succeed in ripping his trousers right up the seat when he climbed out of the car. Another noteworthy change is the switch to twin tanks, so that now the Europa will take 12 1/2 gallons rather than 7. However, this is undoubtedly necessary for the Twin-Cam is more thirsty than the Renault and we recorded an overall 24 m.p.g. with a lot of Motorway work included. In more urban areas one tends to use the extra Twin-Cam power in bursts, bringing the figure down, while one would not be tempted to do so with the Renault motor.
Getting into the car is still a problem and an art to be mastered but once in the cockpit, one easily settles into the delightful and surprisingly comfortable semi-reclining position. The interior is now well finished to a similar standard to the Elan and there is a full range of instruments, while the Philips radio gave the best reception we have ever experienced in a glass-fibre car. All the controls come easily to hand although the heater proved to be particularly tricky to operate and anyway is a rather crude device. The single windscreen wiper was also a source of annoyance, adequately sweeping the screen in front of the driver but not doing so for the passenger and parking itself in that person’s line of sight. Taller drivers will be able to see out of the rear window and their vision is now much better with the side pieces reduced. Those of 5 ft. 7 in. and under will still have to rely on a combination of reflection from the mirror, guesswork and memory when reversing or generally knowing what is happening on the rear three-quarter flanks.
Once under way the Europa has that undeniable thrill of Lotus with its tremendous road-holding, delightfully light yet responsive and accurate steering and, in short, racing handling on a road car. The brakes do not feel power assisted, for all the feel is there and they promote tremendous confidence. Europa clutches tend to be at a rather awkward angle, perhaps because of the cable operation back to the rear confines of the car, but this latest Europa needed much less pressure. The clutch pedal also tends to be rather too close to the steering column and that uncanny feeling in one’s left big toe turns out to be the column rubbing against it.
The noise level is certainly not beyond fault and with the timing chain literally 6 in. from one’s left car Lotus have a hard job insulating engine noises from the cockpit. The ride is fairly sharp at low speeds—which can only be expected—but it is not of teeth-jolting proportions and quite acceptable. Obviously one cannot expect to float along in a sports car of this nature.
In standard form the Lotus Europa is fitted with steel 4 1/2J wheels but there are also two options, one is 5 1/2J Brand Lotus wheels and the other the cheaper but still attractive 5J Dunlop aluminium wheels. In both cases larger tyres are fitted and our car had Dunlop SP Sports, and wheels from the same firm. Quite frankly we were disappointed with the wet weather handling of the car: the rear end broke away much more quickly than one would have expected and sometimes the front caught us out and went first. It should be pointed out that once the back did unstick it was easy to control and bring back into line but, even so, we did not expect this from a Lotus. Some Europas are fitted with the Firestone F200 tyres and their wet weather grip seems to suit the Lotus much better, according to people who have driven on both.
Due to the light weight and rear engine position Europas have had a reputation for being somewhat unstable in a straight line at high speeds and, possibly because there is now more weight in the back, a nose spoiler is fitted as standard. However, on a distinctly gusty day up a Motorway, we found that keeping the car pointing absolutely straight at high speed was a full time occupation and we had to make constant adjustments to the steering. Incidentally the top speed is just over 115 m.p.h. and cruising in the 90-100 m.p.h. region is pleasant enough apart from this tendency to wander. Using the engine to the full under acceleration the virtually accurate speedometer would touch 35 m.p.h., 55 m.p.h. and 90 m.p.h. for the upward changes if one revved to the red line of 6,500 r.p.m.
Luggage can be carried in front and rear compartments, both of which can only be opened with a key and, at that, rather awkwardly. Not all the space under the front bonnet is for luggage as the heater, spare wheel and other equipment is housed there and the space that is available also acts as a plenum chamber for the heater and cold air. Fill it packed full with a case and coats and its efficiency is impaired. Lifting the back reveals not only the rear luggage compartment but also the red crackle cam covers of the twin-cam engine and the engine’s Dellorto 40DHLA carburetters which are very similar to the Webers which used to be fitted to these engines. The rear luggage compartment can be lifted out to reveal the gearbox and final drive. One snag we did hit was that of checking the oil consumption, for while the dipstick (designed for front engine use) can be easily pulled out, replacing it is a completely different matter which needs not only a powerful torch in daylight but also the dexterity of Houdini.
Lotus’ standard of glass-fibre work cannot be bettered at the price and as we said in road tests last year the influence of Tony Rudd at Lotus seems at last to have improved quality and reliability considerably. At £1,995 complete and tax paid the Europa cannot be considered the cheap car it was originally intended to be but anyone with a mechanical bent, or who can rustle up the necessary skill, will find it attractive at £1,595 in component form. Already we have noticed quite a number of the Europa Twin Cams on British roads (Renault-powered Europas are still offered for Export markets), and the car will undoubtedly prove more popular in its new form for enthusiasts who like thoroughbred two-seater sports cars.—A. R. M.