Hot on the heels of Lotus clinching the World Championship for the fifth time comes the news that they have also introduced a fifth speed for both the Europa and the plus-2S 130 as options. Coupled with this announcement is the fact that the Europa will now be available with the Big Valve twin cam engine. The new gearbox on the Lotus Plus-2S is particularly interesting for it is the first gearbox to be designed and built by Lotus themselves, bringing them nearer to producing a complete car at Hethel. The rear-engined Europa is now available with a Renault five-speed box although this uses Lotus designed fifth speed gears.
The new five-speeder for the S130 is offered as an option at present although its use will certainly cut petrol bills, particularly for those using motorways to any extent. Fifth is intended virtually as an overdrive. The box has been designed by a member of the Lotus engineering staff—Brian Spooner. In true Lotus tradition it is lighter than the Ford box it replaces thanks to the aluminium casing but the designer says it is also more rigid. The lay-out is similar to the Alfa Romeo box with the first four gears in their usual positions and fifth being forwards and towards the driver on right-hand drive cars.
In a brief test drive around the Norfolk lanes we found the box a little tricky to get used to at first. Particularly the second to third change took some mastering but this was an early prototype box and the distance between the first/second and third/fourth planes is being altered for production boxes. Incidentally a little bird whispers that the actual cogs are being cut not a million miles from Longbridge.
This Lotus five-speed box will be offered is an option on the Elan Sprint in the future and it seems certain we will also see it on the new four-seater Lotus which will not appear, we are told, at least until the Geneva Show. However by all accounts the new car, which will be powered by the Hethel designed and built 16-valve engine, is going to be something pretty special.
Talking of specials, the new Big Valve Europa is to be called the Europa Special and supplements the Europa Twin Cam in the range. The first 100 will be finished in black with gold lining although the words John Player Special have been spared us. In fact all the 126-b.h.p. cars will have gold lining whatever the colour (others will be available and black will be dropped after the first hundred), and there will also be attractive silver sills.
The Europa Special also features improved rear brakes and hubs and better electrics as well as the option of the latest Renault five-speed gearbox. The extra horse power has boosted the top speed to around 125 m.p.h. (the same as the S130/5) and Lotus say it will accelerate from 0-60 m.p.h. in 7.05 sec. and to 100 m.p.h. in 21.15 sec. It makes the Europa an even more attractive machine than when we last tested it. No prices have been announced for these additions to the Lotus range yet.
While at Lotus for these new car arrangements we asked about the situation regarding kit cars and the impending VAT regulations. As most readers will realise this new piece of legislation will virtually kill kit cars as it takes away the advantages of avoiding paying purchase tax. Already Gilbern have announced that they have ceased production of kit cars but Lotus Sales Manager Barry Carter tells us that they will continue to offer kit cars until the very last moment. Everything is looking rosier at Lotus than for a long rime and we can’t wait for that new car. — A. R. M.