The Europa Special
REGULAR READERS will know well that MOTOR SPORT is very pro-Colin Chapman and Lotus Cars, recognising the faults and shortcomings and admiring the good things. Without question Lotus are one of the few manufacturers who build cars in order that the customer can have motoring fun. Lotus and MOTOR SPORT do not subscribe to the doomwatchers who moan that motoring should not be fun any more, nor do they support those who moan and say there is no fun in motoring any more. Anyone who thinks the fun has gone from motoring has obviously never driven a Lotus Europa, or even a Lotus Elan.
In the early days of the Lotus Europa I wrote enthusiastically about it and last year when it was up-rated by having the Lotus twin-cam engine installed, A.R.M. enjoyed it and wrote it up very fairly and fully in MOTOR SPORT in the February 1972 issue. Now the Europa has taken another step forward in the form of the Europa Special and this latest version has the big Valve Lotus twin-cam engine, developing 126 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m. as against the 105 b.h.p. of the standard engine, and this is coupled to a new 5-speed gearbox, although the 4-speed is still available if required rear brakes are larger and the car is finished black with gold lining as a tribute to the 1972 World Championship success of the Team Lotus Formula One car and its sponsors John Player & Sons, whose cigarettes are encased in black and gold cartons. The extra horsepower and torque from the big valve engine, coupled to the 5-speed gearbox obviously give the Europa Special more all round performance, although the 5th gear is very much an overdrive gear, or Motorway gear.
The gap between 4th and 5th gears represents a rev-drop of 1,300 r.p.m., but the extra torque of the engine is well able to pull this high gear; in fact, the engine is very flexible and you can trickle through towns and villages in 5th gear with no fuss at all. This new gearbox, which is in unit with the final-drive train, is developed from the latest Renault gearbox and should not be confused with the 5-speed HMC-inspired gearbox of the front-engine Lotuses. The gear pattern is a bit odd, having the first four ratios in normal H-pattern, with fifth forward and up to the right, white reverse is backward and down to he left. The gear-change itself is still not brilliant, being heavy to use, though it functions all right, so you have to resign yourself to using muscles and a clenched-fist for gear-changing, a small price to pay in return for Lotus cornering and road-holding. The ratios in this 5-speed gearbox are 1st, 3.62:1; 2nd, 2.33:1; 3rd, 1.60:1; 4th, 1.21:1; 5th, 0.87:1. With an easy 6,500 r.p.m. available you can get through town traffic very smartly by only using 2nd gear, while out on the open road the Europa Special will wind up to 6,000 r.p.m. in its overdrive 5th gear; and hum along all day at 5,000 or 5.500 r.p.m., although its straight-line running above 5,500 r.p.m. is not so confidence-making that you could read a map at this speed, and as it is only around 115 m.p.h. there should not be any necessity to concentrate on directional stability in this day and age.
In fact, the Europa Special is a bit of a bore on a motorway and far more fun can be had on the empty A-class roads that tend to lie parallel with most motorways. The Europa is such fun on undulating and winding roads that it almost seems to he a crime to use it on a flat and straight motorway. To really appreciate the Europa you need to do a long trip on 80-90 m.p.h. B-class roads with indifferent surfaces, for the way it rides and steers under these conditions is really exceptional, and you realise that motoring in a Europa really is fun motoring. Personally I am not enamoured with the black and gold finish of the Europa Special and I feel that black is a dangerous colour if you want to motor fast, for people do not see it coming, and red or white are much safer and other colours are available. You are very conscious of this on a gloomy winter’s day, especially in countryside with lots of trees and bushes, so that in self-defence I motored fast with all the lights on, especially when the farm tractors were heading for home. Of course, I could have driven more slowly, but then there wouldn’t have been any point in being in a Europa. I was even less enamoured with the John Player Special colour scheme when a friend pointed out that the gold lining was adhesive tape strip. I had assumed that a little old man with spectacles and a drip on the end of his nose had carefully lined the car with gold paint, put on with a tine brush and a trembling hand—or don’t they paint cars like that any more!
In all other respects the Europa Special is the same as the Europa Twin-Cam, as written up by A.R.M. last February and things like the driving position, the business of getting in and out, the problem of knocking down bicycles when parking, or having to lean out of the open door, like a van driver, when reversing, and the lack of luggage space for the rubber boat or the baby’s paraphernalia, all still apply, but if those sort of things worry you then you are not a Lotus man (or woman) and Ford, British Leyland and Vauxhall make sonic cars you would like. The Europa is for fun and you either love Lotus or hate them, if you love them then the Europa Special is the best packet of fun yet from Colin Chapman and his stall. All that business of sticking the gold strips on straight costs a lot of money, so the Europa Special is priced at £2,720, but for that money you also get the 126 b.h.p, big valve engine, the 5-speed gearbox, and the larger back brakes, though they are still drum brakes, and the front ones are very effective discs.
Since the original Europas the driving position has been made more upright and conventional, and though I had no complaints about it. I enjoyed the very lying-down position of the old Europas, and being small I had no trouble getting in and out, nor did I have a problem with my left flag when not using the clutch pedal. Little cars for little people and big cars for big people sounds reasonable, its unfair, especially when the little people can also drive the big ears, but not viceversa. During the course of trying the Europa I had occasion to introduce two happy Lotus Elan owners to the mid-engined Lotus. They are no longer happy, and won’t be until they have saved up their money and changed their Elans for Europas. The first time I slipped into the driving seat of a Europa I said to myself “this is going to be a riot” and that the fun was really back in motoring. When people asked what it was I described it as “Colin Chapman’s whizzer” so that the black and gold Europa Special must surely be “Colin Chapman’s Super-whizzer”.—D.S.J.
Matters of Moment, February 1993
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