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“OH MY GOODNESS! This has put the fun back into motoring. From the moment I slid into the reclining driving seat of the Lotus Europa I thought ‘This is going to be a riot.’”. ‘Europa to Sicily’, Motor Sport Magazine, July 1969.
3645 miles and fourteen days later, correspondent Dennis Jenkinson was still of the same opinion and bear in mind that was for the Renault engined S2 version. In fact so glowing was Jenks’ praise that Lotus hijacked the complete article and handed out copies as a showroom sales aid. John Frayling’s sleek, low (and we mean GT 40 low) Europa was as slippery as an eel and clung to the road like a limpet. Result? Junior supercar performance from the just eighty-two chevaux provided by its all-aluminium Renault 16 TS sourced engine. Breadvan looks were apparently OK on a hand crafted aluminium bodied Ferrari GTO but not to everyone’s taste when offered in fiberglass by Lotus, though it has to be said that time has been kind to its high rise back end and stepped-on front. Apparently originally conceived as a replacement for that bargain basement sportster the 7 (mmm, good luck with that Lotus, just ask Porsche and Caterham for a few tips when it comes to ousting a legend), personally we could never see the link; the Europa had a roof and even doors for goodness sake plus in a light drizzle it didn’t take on water like a Varsity boat race eight in choppy conditions. It did also look as though it had actually been ‘styled’… Having said that, both did punch well above their (feather) weights and were pitched at the enthusiast prepared to make a few compromises in the pursuit of performance. By the time the S2 arrived in 1968 Lotus had perhaps realised it was not going to elbow the 7 out of the range so the Europa was allowed to creep slightly upmarket, though basically making the side windows openable was unlikely to have caused all that many sleepless nights at Rolls Royce. More significant was bolting rather than bonding the body to the chassis which made replacement a viable option should the driver’s talent desert him mid-corner and the car get pranged. Today it means restoration is actually a viable option as is some sensible upgrading, more of which later.
Come 1971 the Europa was treated to a mild restyle and the superb Lotus Twin Cam engine previously found in the Elan, Cortina and 7 (not to mention 23B sports racer and a few single seaters). The resultant 105bhp was a considerable hike over the S2’s and promoted the car to another performance league with zero to sixty miles per hour now dispatched in around seven seconds and the far side of 115mph easily attainable; as Motor Sport magazine said of the twin cam powered Europa at the time, “More power means more fun”!
If you have seen our Lot 151, this pure-bred competition machine is what was developed from that initially standard road going Lotus Europa Twin Cam. Having owned the Europa since it was just a few years old, Graham Oates developed it extensively for sprinting and hill-climbing over a number of years, to the extent that it was no longer used on the road after 1980. It is evident from Lot 151 that the body had already been modified to accept wider track running gear but clearly the pursuit of more performance was ongoing and as anyone who has even a passing interest in Lotus cars knows, loss of weight is one of the most effective routes to a gain in performance. As Mr Chapman (possibly apocryphally) said, “Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”, so one of the major development steps was to replace the road-use purposed body-shell with something lighter and a Type 47 (the full race version of the Europa) body was acquired, more than likely from Pat Thomas at Kelvedon Motors. It is worth remembering that a Lotus 47 weighed in at around 560KG while the Twin Cam Europa was a lardy (in relative terms and still less than a not-welcome-at-Weight-Watchers Series 1 Elise) 686KG; a fair number of those lost kilos came from the bodywork.
Even if Chapman didn’t prioritise additional power, it doesn’t do any harm and at some stage the Europa’s Ford based Lotus twin cam engine was swapped for a Ford based Cosworth twin cam engine, namely a BDA, effectively half a DFV that helped Lotus to four Formula One Constructors’ Championships in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The next step on the development path concerned the chassis and suspension and in the mid-1990s Andy Short of Europa gurus Banks Service Station became involved; we are indebted to him for providing much of the information regarding the car’s technical specification. Knowing the class the Europa was running in, like all good engineers Andy had a Chapman-like look at the technical regulations and noted not only that no metal could be removed from the chassis but also that there was nothing prohibiting metal being added. Taking one of his own Type 47 style backbone chassis which, like the Factory cars, finished at the rear drive-shafts, he added the rearmost sections of the car’s existing Lotus chassis. This extension to the 47 chassis allowed a redesigned of the rear suspension to incorporate a proper rose jointed wishbone set up in place of the original radius arms. Cast alloy rear uprights intended for use on GT40 replicas were sourced from ‘Status’, an engineering company attached to Manchester University, and these incorporated Ford Sierra single piston brake callipers. Output shafts from the same source were installed and linked to a Renault 17 Gordini ‘365’ five speed gearbox via drive-shafts fitted with a combination of hooke’s and constant velocity joints. While we are in the transmission area, Andy also recalls engineering a replacement 5th gear which as far as he recalls (it’s over twenty-five years ago now after all) was something of a “4th and a bit” ratio to replace the overly long standard item more suited for road use.
Up front tubular lower front wishbones were fitted and Graham worked with GAZ to produce a set of fully adjustable springs and dampers to suit his specific requirements.
With sprinting and hill-climbing as opposed to circuit racing, the start is obviously especially crucial and an area where large amounts of time car be gained or lost meaning traction is of the utmost importance. These disciplines recognise this and elapsed times for the first sixty four feet of the course are a keenly contested benchmark for which sub-two seconds (equivalent to 1 g) places you firmly in the big league though you might need a single seater with slick tyres and traction control to do it; the Europa was consistently fastest in its class for this key dash.
Throughout its 1990s heyday the Europa was consistently a very successful machine and, for example, even in Lotus Twin Cam engined form it won the Sprint Leaders Championship three times on the trot in 1991, 1992 and 1994 (it was not held in 1993) before repeating the feat in 1998 with the BDA engine fitted. It also won the Lancashire Automobile Club’s Sprint and Hillclimb Championship several times and Graham was twice the recipient of their most prestigious award, The Peter Collins trophy.
Unused for some years, today the lightweight body has a number of areas of crazing but it is ‘purposeful’ if slightly cosmetically challenged as shown in the photo gallery. Apparently it was never a show queen when being actively campaigned, time and effort being spent on making it as quick rather than as pretty as possible. The period sponsorship stickers that adorn it hark back its particular moment in time. There is a section of aluminium honeycomb beneath the fiberglass floor, presumably for driver protection and the body is bonded to the chassis just as it was with the original Type 47s.
The chassis itself looks to be in excellent shape still in its light grey finish with the seams and welds still in pin-sharp condition and just a few areas of very light surface rust.
There is virtually no bright-work on the Europa but of what there is the door handles show some pitting but the window frames are in good condition.
Inside there is an Aleybars cage while a minimalist go-kart style seat, foam pad head rest and exposed chassis all contribute to the weight saving agenda.
Compomotive split rim alloy wheels on the rear carry slick tyres while the slotted steels on the front sport wets. There are two front and two rear steel wheels which have the opposite arrangement of slick and wet tyres.
Graham built his own engines and according to the most recent event entries the BDA is now at two litres. In deference to the unknown age and condition of the cam belt, it was only run briefly when we inspected the car though it did seem to be in rude health with over 85 psi oil pressure displayed at idle as shown in the photo gallery. Even though it idled well enough, it would be sensible to assume the 45 DHLA Dellorto (fed by a Facet pump) will need to be rebuilt. The three stud head sports a meaty fabricated exhaust (thought to be the work of the legendary Mike 'Mike The Pipe' Randall) which with the carburation set up and results achieved with the car would point to the engine giving a more than respectable amount of power - north of 200 bhp has been mentioned.
Graham Oates was a talented engineer (marker pen set up details can be found in various places on the Europa, as well as a re-purposed copy of the Daily Telegraph) who clearly enjoyed taking his own route to produce a stunningly quick competition machine which is still fondly remembered by the sprint and hill climb fraternity. This significant car would surely be a welcome returnee to the hills and sprint scene with the popular and very well supported Paul Matty Sportscars Lotus Championship just one potential option.