For some time now a mid-mounted engine has been a must for any competitive single-seater or sports racer. Simultaneously we have seen this fashionable siting of the power unit adopted for many of the world’s exotic cars and, of much more interest to the majority of sporting enthusiasts, three companies have endeavoured to market a reasonably priced mid-engine two-seater. Both Matra and Lotus were early entrants in this field, offering truly European transport—the French car having a German Taunus engine and transmission, while the same parts on the Lotus Europa came from Renault in France. Volkswagen and Porsche waited a little longer, but when they did announce the 914 and 914-6 the German companies avoided some of the earlier pitfalls of limited acceleration and carrying capacity. The author has been fortunate in trying all three marques fairly thoroughly, but he has also tested no less than five modified Europas so it is really with these that he is most conversant.
There are a number of power units, or individual Renault tuning paths, for the Europa owner to follow. The standard engine is mildly tuned by Renault anyway, but the British tuners have made quite a lot of money by offering such things as modified cylinder heads and camshafts, plus all new manifolding and carburation to help the car go as well as it looks. In fact, I am not sure that we should not say used to look, for a lot of Europas seem to leave the factory right up on tippy-toes to comply with export lighting regulations. Anyway, to return to the subject of modifying Europas. If you decide that the Renault engine is not for you then there are the alternatives of pushrod crossflow 1600GT and twin-cam Ford-based engines, or even the V8 theme as expanded upon elsewhere in Motor Sport this month.
Bob Else, of J. A. Else and Sons, of Codnor, Derby, decided that they could do a lot more with the production power unit. However, they did not stop there with their demonstrator, for also extremely relevant to our trial were a set of close-ratio gears, a modified gear linkage, more sporting wheels and tyres, plus a small aluminium air dam at the front.
The engine parts, costing £150 fitted, consist of four-two-into-one exhaust system, a sidedraught twin-choke Weber 45 DCOE carburetter on a suitable cast-alloy inlet manifold, another look at the production head to make sure combustion chamber volumes and compression ratio is exactly as Renault specify (c.r. should be 9 : 1) and far more vigorous camshaft (a £29 10s. item!) which must have some interesting profiling, judging by our driving impressions. A finned alloy rocker cover with the Else emblem featuring strongly was also fitted to the test car in company with the oil cooler (for which a special and very expensive scoop is needed on the rear flanks), and twin fuel tanks offering double standard capacity at 14 gallons.
The close-ratio gearbox is charged out at £95, plus a £10 installation fee, and it has rhe effect of lowering engine revs throughout the four forward ratios, as one can see by studying the maximum gear speeds which are considerably higher than the standard car at the same 6,500 r.p.m. production limit, which was also imposed upon the standard car. Surprisingly that new camshaft did not want to spin the unit beyond this point, but more of that anon. Perhaps the best value for many frustrated owners would be just the Else gear linkage modifications, aimed at improving the durability of the production gear-linkage joints by substituting metal Rose Connections. The latter change is the cheapest of all at £3 10s.
Apart from the £15 front foil and cooler ducting, the exterior of the test-car was certainly bound to attract attention for it was painstakingly finished in metallic lemon yellow! Not content with making sure our tester was followed by every redundant police traffic patrol car in London, Else had added a black side stripe and left the roof in a matt black. Should you want the same things done there will be an extra £140 added to the bill. Cosmic 5-1/2-in. rim alloy wheels are used, but they carry 185-section tyres at the rear and 165 up front, for the same handling reasons that caused Matra to specify wider rear tyres as a production item.
That may sound a fairly thorough way of converting a Europa but in fact the company do carry a lot of other items to cater for individual whims. For example, a much milder camshaft giving more low-down power is offered, though as lucky Mr. Else and his men have the relatively uncluttered roads of Derbyshire to play on, the choice fell on the more sporty ‘shaft. Else quotes a figure of 82 b.h.p. at the wheels for this conversion (I think this may be an underestimate because this figure was obtained when the kits were being developed), which represents an increase of power in the order of 30%. Because of recent price increases the test-car would cost approximately £2,200, straight from the showroom.
The Else car was not easy to drive in London, for the 45 m.p.h. first gear combined to a camshaft that does not like to aid the engine’s aspiration below 3,000 r,p.m. does not allow easy starts to be made. The exhaust note on our car was almost certainly illegal: when calling for people it was not necessary to knock on the door, they had already heard the car coming and were dressed ready to go out! The engine note and performance is completely flat until 3,000 revs are indicated in the first three gears. Beyond which point usable power builds up tremendously quickly and the tachometer needle is tugged from 4,000 to 6,500 r.p.m. in a flash. Thus the best technique is to tread gently but ever more firmly on the throttle to enjoy a long, clean burst of acceleration up to 110 m.p.h.
At the above speed one can clearly feel the nose being pushed firmly into contact with tarmac, as compared to the normal light feel of a Europa at these speeds. In this case I am not knocking the production Europa because I have always found it kept adequate (i.e., better than most) in its contact with the road at speed. Under heavy braking and motorway winds the car would sway around, but under all conditions and velocities we were able to keep within the MoTs dotted white line lane markers. The suspension feels considerably stiffer than other Europas I have tried, but no modifications of this kind have taken place so far as I am aware. Be that as it may the Else car is a very efficient way of travelling Britain’s roads, the braking and extraordinarily good handling making the best of an engine that propels the car from rest to 60 m.p.h. in eight seconds (a good performance by any standards and especially so when remembering the capacity of this push-rod-operated Renault unit) and on up to 125 m.p.h. on a decent stretch of motorway. In regard to the maximum speed it may be as well to warn non-Europa drivers to analyse speedometer markings carefully before setting off: with the panel lights doing very little we mistook an indicated, and steadily maintained, 125 m.p.h. on the dial for 110 m.p.h.! The owner of a Gordon Keeble V8, who was travelling in convoy with us, did not appreciate the joke at all and obviously wondered if we really wanted to establish some sort of high-speed endurance record.
Polite conversation can be carried on at 85-90 miles an hour whilst the crankshaft is turning over at a mere 3,500 r.p.m. or so, but beyond this point we reserved our concentration for driving, rather than waste effort repeating ourselves. Anyway, in the form we had the car there was nothing polite about it, the colour scheme, engine note and vicarious “I’m a racer” feeling given by slot-car cornering is for straightforward enjoyment. In fact, I would back the car to return the fastest cross-country times, without consciously trying, of any machinery that we have tested in tuned form recently. The point is that it will go round corners whilst putting down the maximum amount of power, and if you do slightly overdo things, only a slight easing of lock should be necessary to cope with the situation. Naturally if the car is “lost” under braking into a corner it will tend to plough straight on, when once more the steering can be unwound and power applied as soon as the braking control has been established.
The gear-change seemed as bad as any other Europa, except the early l.h.d. Mk. I, which seemed better than current cars to me. However, writing as one who has been stranded with a shattered linkage, it was reassuring to find that one could at least go on selecting gears without a joint breaking. Being more specific the trouble with the Europa’s gear-change is that it is basically imprecise and obstructive. Once you have mastered the art of actually swapping ratios with ease the next task is to pause between changes first to second and vice versa, in order to let the synchromesh catch up: again a feature which has proved common to the Europas I have tried. Since the VW-Porsche 914 I am currently using is even more imprecise with its five-speed gearbox action, I will refrain from further comment, especially as an S4 Europa is due to present itself from the factory for private appraisal shortly! The truth of the matter is that the majority of owners, in both cases, must adjust to the gear changes and wonder why a motoring journalist (after only a week’s testing usually) gets so upset.
However, to return to the Else Europa, we found that those of our colleagues who tried it outside the confines of London loved it, while those who used it just for short trips did not show the same enthusiasm. Since J.A. Else have enough parts to satisfy most tastes we have no hesitation in commending them for selling some extremely useful and enjoyable equipment to enhance the Chapman brainchild. –– J.W.
0 – 30 m.p.h. ………. 3.0 sec.
0 – 40 m.p.h. ………. 3.9 sec.
0 – 50 m.p.h. ………. 5.5 sec.
0 – 60 m.p.h. ………. 8.0 sec.
0 – 70 m.p.h. ………. 12.0 sec.
0 – 80 m.p.h. ………. 16.9 sec.
Speeds in gears:
1st: ………. 45 m.p.h.
2nd: ……… 73 m.p.h.
3rd: ………. 100 m.p.h.
4th: ………. 124 m.p.h. (two-way average).
Overall fuel economy: 22 m.p.g.
Converters:J.A. Else & Sons, Codnor, Derby.