The Europa concept is believed to have originated during 1963 with drawings done by Ron Hickman, then director of Lotus Engineering, for Lotus' bid for the Ford GT40 racing car project. When that contract was lost to Lola Cars, Chapman chose to use Hickman's highly efficient aerodynamic design, which had a drag coefficient of only Cd 0.29, as the basis for a new mid-engined production model originally intended to succeed the Lotus 7.
By the mid-1960s, the mid-engine vehicle configuration was well-established as the optimal design for Grand Prix cars, however almost no road vehicles yet used this arrangement. Lotus planned the Europa to be a volume-produced, two-seater mid-engined sports coupe built to reasonable cost, quite an ambitious goal for the time. Like all Lotus vehicles of the era, the Europa was designed and built following Chapman's oft-stated philosophy of automotive design: "Simplify, then add lightness". To this end, a number of ingenious design approaches were made by Lotus to allow it to economically overcome the many challenges presented by the novel mid-engined arrangement.
Production of the original Lotus Europa ceased in 1975, with a total of 9,230 cars of all models having been built.
Lotus Europa S2 from above (1968 model)
Lotus Europa S2 interior (1968 black-badge model).
The Europa used a lightweight, folded & welded "minimalist" boxed-steel backbone chassis with a fibreglass moulded body, a combination that was first used by Lotus founder Colin Chapman in the Lotus Elan launched in 1962. Earliest versions of the Europa had the body fully bonded to the chassis for maximum structural stiffness, however this was soon changed to a bolted-on body to allow normal chassis and body repairs to be made. Unlike the Elan, the Europa had no front-mounted engine or gearbox to accommodate, and so the Europa's main chassis member ran straight forward to intersect a large box-section cross-beam running across the car between the front suspension points. At the rear, the chassis split into a "Y" shape behind the cabin to accommodate the combined engine, transmission and final-drive components, and to support the rear suspension.
Engine and transaxle
The sourcing of suitable engine, gearbox and final-drive components was considered critical to the success of delivering a low-cost mid-engined vehicle. Chapman was keen to diversify beyond the Ford components heavily used in earlier Lotus vehicles, and settled on using the engine and combined transmission/final-drive transaxle units recently released by Renault for their Renault 16. The 1470cc Renault engine was a light and modern design (if somewhat pedestrian in the Renault), while the matching Renault 16 transaxle seemed almost ideal for the Europa project. In the Renault vehicle, the transaxle sat ahead of the engine, driving the front wheels. By relocating the combined engine/transaxle unit to the rear of the car and rotating it 180 degrees in plan, Lotus could obtain a ready-made modern mid-engine configuration - albeit one with four reverse gears. By repositioning the differential crownwheel within the final drive assembly, the direction of rotation of the output shafts was reversed, thus correcting this "shortcoming".
The Renault 16's engine's design was well-suited to Lotus's requirements. It used an aluminium block with cast-iron cylinder liners, which saved appreciable weight compared to the cast-iron blocks more common at the time. Its overhead-valve design had the camshaft located high-up in the block, resulting in a compact valve-train well suited for high-rpm operation. Most importantly, all the engine ancillaries (water pump, belt-drives, alternator) were driven off a v-belt pulley fixed to the transaxle end of the camshaft instead of being driven by the engine's crankshaft. When fitted to the Europa, this pulley location put all the engine's ancillaries at its rear face giving easy access for maintenance, rather than them being located hard against the vehicle's bulkhead as-for most conventional engines.
For Lotus use the Renault engine was given a number of key improvements, including a higher compression ratio (10.25 instead of 8.6), larger inlet valves, revised valve timings, dual valve springs and a twin-barrel carburettor. These changes lifted the engine's power by 30% from 63 bhp @ 5000 rpm to 82 bhp @ 6000 rpm. For US export, a de-tuned 1565cc version was used giving 80 bhp @ 6000 rpm.
Later Europa models were fitted with the same Ford-based Lotus Twin Cam engine used in the Lotus Elan range since 1962. This was a sophisticated, twin-overhead-cam, 8-valve high-performance motor producing 105 bhp in original (Euro) form (later lifted to 126 bhp in "big-valve" form), and it was reported that Lotus initially delayed its introduction in the Europa until they were confident in the strength of the Renault transaxle. The twin-cam engine first appeared in the Europa engine bay in mid-1971 (in Europe) and early 1972 (in North America). In North America, both the (early) 1972 Twin Cam version and (late) 1972-1974 Twin Cam "Special" versions were rated at 113 bph in Federalized Form.
When Renault released their most powerful 16 TX model in 1973, it included a strengthened 5-speed transmission. Lotus quickly offered this gearbox as an option in the Europa, along with their Big Valve twin-cam engine.
The Europa's four-wheel independent suspension was also typical Chapman thinking. The front used lightweight pressed steel upper and lower wishbones with a clever coil-over spring-damper arrangement, all connected to the wheels using off-the-shelf front uprights, ball joints and trunnions.
The steering gear was solid-mounted rack and pinion using Triumph Herald components.
The rear suspension was a heavily modified version of the Chapman strut, originally developed for Chapman's earlier Formula racing car designs and used in the Lotus Elan. In the Europa, the vertical "strut" element pivots on the wheel hub at its lower end and doesn't control wheel camber angle as-in earlier Lotus designs. Wheel location and alignment is controlled instead by interaction between a fixed-length, articulated driveshaft top link, a simple tubular lower link, and a large box-section radius arm running diagonally forward to the chassis. These radius arms played a critical role in giving the precise tracking and handling desired, as the Chapman Strut's use of the driveshaft to resist lateral forces was compromised by the rubber engine and transaxle mounts needed to isolate vibrations from the car body. A careful compromise between the radius arm mount's stiffness, isolation and car handling was required, culminating eventually in a sandwich bush that was flexible against shear but stiff in compression and tension. The car's subsequent resulting handling prompted automotive writers to describe the Europa as the nearest thing to a Formula car for the road.
Lotus Europa Series 1 (Type 46)
The Series 1 or S1 Europa (also known as Lotus Type 46) was announced for sale to European markets on 20 December 1966. The first cars were delivered in France in February 1967. Volkswagen owned the rights to the Europa name in Germany, so cars for sale in Germany were badged Europe rather than Europa.
The S1 was fitted with a modified Renault 16 1470 cc inline-four engine and a 4-speed gearbox. The engine was a special 82 hp (61 kW) version (as opposed to the 52 hp (39 kW) generated in standard form). Lotus adapted the affordable but lightweight Renault engine and gearbox to the revolutionary Europa longitudinal mid-engined layout, inverting the gearbox's crown wheel on its pinion gear to avoid having four reverse gears. The S1 weighed 610 kg (1512 lb). Autocar magazine achieved a top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h), and did 0–60 mph in 9.3 seconds. Of particular note, in excess of 0.9 g (8 m/s²) lateral acceleration was consistently achieved by Car magazine on road tires of that era.
Only 296 examples of the S1 were manufactured (chassis numbers from 460001 to 460296). These are the rarest on the market. These cars had extremely light and minimalist construction, with fixed side windows, fixed seats (adjustable pedals needing the use of tools), no door handles, no internal door covers, and an aluminum dashboard. The steel chassis central beam was sandwiched (incorporated) within the fibreglass bodywork, thus reinforcing stiffness, but making repair rather complicated.
Series 1A and B (around 350 built) had removable side windows, wooden dashboard, and internal door panel covers which could accommodate the windows once taken off. Series 1B had a redesigned rear panel, with new, rectangular light clusters.
Including the S1A and S1B (which incorporated some of the later S2 changes) variations, 644 Europa S1s were manufactured.
The Europa Series 2, or Lotus Type 54, was introduced in April 1968 (approximately chassis number 0645 onwards). The S2 used the same 1470cc Renault engine and mechanical components as the earlier Series 1, but added a number of key refinements including opening electric windows, adjustable seats, a new fully carpeted interior and a polished wooden fascia panel for the dashboard. The most significant change was the switch from fully bonded construction to the use of bolt fasteners to attach the fibreglass body to the backbone steel frame. While reducing the torsional and flexural stiffneses somewhat, the use of a separable body was welcomed by the automotive insurance industry as it greatly reduced the complexity and cost of making repairs to the vehicle.
Early examples of the S2 were externally almost identical to the S1 with the exception of the new windows. From early 1969, secondary front indicator lamp nacelles were added between the headlights, and larger door handles were used in place of the S1's push-button items. During 1968 a number of Europas (and Elans) were produced bearing black-and-silver Lotus badges on the nose and steering wheel in place of the customary yellow-and-green ones. The official Lotus Cars website states these "black-badge" vehicles were to commemorate the death earlier in 1968 of Jim Clark, Lotus's champion Formula One driver, however this is debated by other sources.
1968 Lotus Europa S2. The early S2 models were produced with S1-style front indicators and door handles. Note the S2 two-pane opening windows.
Contemporary road tests for the Europa S2 recorded a top speed around 120 mph (195 kph), 0-60 times of 9.3 secs, standing 1/4 mile times around 16.7 secs, and an overall fuel economy around 30 mpg (9.4 L/100 km).
A small number of Series 2 vehicles were modified to be "federalized" for export to the United States. These Federal Type 54s had the low front fenders (guards) of the European model and the larger 1565cc engine of the later Lotus Type 65. These cars were subsequently recalled by Lotus due to the headlamps being below the regulated US height (a "bug eye" headlamp raiser was later to be installed). In 1969-70, the Type 65 (also known as S2 Federal) was born specifically for export to the U.S., with additional changes to the body, chassis, suspension and the powerplant to better comply with U.S. D.O.T. standards. Among the changes, the engine was a slightly modified emission controlled Renault 16TL 1565 cc engine producing 80 hp rather than the 1470 cc engine of the Type 54. The front suspension was changed to make the front end of the car taller along with taller front fenders to raise the headlamps. Road & Track magazine tested the Federal S2 and recorded 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds with a top speed of 116 mph (187 km/h).
In total Lotus produced 3,615 Europa S2s.
Twin Cam and Special
In 1971, the Type 74 Europa Twin Cam was made available to the public, with a 105 bhp 1557cc Lotus-Ford Twin Cam engine (113 bhp US "Federal" version with standard emissions control and Big Valve engine with Stromberg carburetors, until the end of production) and a re-designed bodyshell to improve rearward visibility. Initially with the same gearbox as the earlier cars, once the supply had been exhausted in 1972 a new stronger Renault four-speed gearbox (Type 352) was introduced.
Mike Kimberley, who rose to become chief executive of Group Lotus, then a new engineer at Lotus, was appointed Chief Engineer of the Europa TC project. 1,580 cars were shipped as Europa "Twin Cam" before Lotus switched to a 126 bhp "Big Valve" version of the engine.
In Europe and rest of the world markets, the Big Valve "Europa Special" version was aspirated by Dell'Orto carburettors version of the same engine; in addition it also offered a new Renault five-speed (Type 365) gearbox option. It weighed 740 kg (1631 lb), Motor magazine famously tested a UK Special to a top speed of 123 mph (198 km/h), did 0–60 mph in 6.6 seconds, and ran the 1/4 mile in 14.9 sec. This at a time when all road tests were carried out with both a driver and passenger, with only the driver on board the 0–60 mph time would have been well under 6 seconds, a phenomenal performance for the period. In the US version of the Europa Special, where the Federalized version of the Big Valve had already been introduced earlier in the Twin Cam model, the only changes were larger brakes and the optional 5 speed transmission which would become standard on the special in 1974.
1972 Lotus Europa Special
1972 Lotus Europa Special
Introduced in September 1972 the first 100 Big Valve cars were badged and painted to honour the just won Team Lotus's 1972 F1 World Championship title with John Player Special as sponsors, all with five-speed gearbox, these were all black with gold pin stripe matching the livery of the GP cars – plus a numbered JPS dash board badge, becoming the first ever John Player Special commemorative motor vehicles. The "Special" name and colour scheme was planned to be dropped after the first 200 cars, reverting to the Twin Cam name, but such was the positive reaction to the new car that the name and pin stripe scheme remained until the end of Europa Production although colours other than black were made available.
In the end the numbered plaque distinguished the first, original, 100 JPS cars from other black Europa Specials.
In total 4710 Type 74s were produced of which 3130 were badged "Specials".
Type 47 and 62
Although the original Europa was intended as a clubman's sports racer to replace the Lotus 7, it was realised that the car would be uncompetitive with the Renault engines available. A decision was therefore made for Lotus Components to manufacture a specialist race car based on the Europa to be raced by Team Lotus and sold to private entrants. Although the very first Type 47 was based on a modified Europa, all subsequent cars were produced entirely by Lotus Components rather than the main factory. Launched at the same time as the S1 Europa, the body of the 47 was thinner than the standard Europa and with larger wheel arches. Side vents into the engine bay were added after the 1st few cars experienced problems with engine bay temperature.
The engine, gearbox and rear suspension were completely different from the standard Europa and were taken in their entirety from the Lotus 23/Lotus 22 Formula Junior with a Lotus-Ford Twin Cam based 165 hp (123 kW) 1,594 cc Cosworth Mk.XIII dry sump engine, and a Hewland FT 200 5-speed gearbox and suspension with reversed bottom wishbone, top link and dual radius arms. The front upright was specially cast in common with the F2 version of Lotus 41X to accommodate a larger Girling brake for the later 47A model (which had the Alfa Romeo tail lamp shared with the Europa S2) with reinforced front frame.
The Type 47 exact production numbers are unknown, the last car was 47GT-85 but it is unlikely 85 47GT's were produced, estimates vary from 55 to 68 during the years 1966-70. Although the 47GT is the best known, a few 47F's were produced, these had the detachable body similar to the S2 Europa, but retaining the large wheel arches and side vents of the 47GT. Fitted with a tuned Ford cross flow engine but with the Renault gearbox and rear suspension of the Europa. The number produced is unknown but probably no more than 6.
As a mobile test bed for the new 2 litre Banks Europa Engineering, in several variations. A one-off 47, fitted with a Rover V8 engine (3.5 litre enlarged out to 4.4 litre), was built for GKN in 1968 and registered, GKN 47D, with 300 hp it was capable of 180 mph (290 km/h).
Non-factory custom specials
Throughout its life, the Europa attracted the attention of many non-Lotus automotive customising businesses who offered "special" versions in small numbers to the public. Among these was the Swiss Lotus importer, who made two special versions of the S2 fitted with the Renault 16 TS type 807 engine, the "Europa Hemi 807" and the fuel injected "Europa Black Shadow 807". The Hemi 807 had 105 PS (77 kW) SAE and could reach 200 km/h (124 mph), while the Black Shadow had power output of 137 PS (101 kW). The Black Shadow also received a five-speed gearbox. These cars had a wider track, special wheels and stickers, white indicator lights up front, and featured extractor vents high on the side panel behind the rear door. The fuel injection system was from Kugelfischer.
Chip Foose the famous automobile pioneer of United States also modified and restored a Lotus Europa for Episode 6 of the season 11 of his popular show "Overhaulin". It was one of the most time consuming and complicated build of the show, where a brand new 1.8 litre Lotus Elise engine was fitted into the car, while the power is handled by Porsche Boxster transmission. The bumpers were also tucked in signature Foose style.