The Lotus Europa, built by Lotus Cars from 1966 to 1975, was among the first production road cars to feature a mid-engine rear wheel drive design. It was the first affordable, mass produced, mid-engined car. In 2006 Lotus plans to start production of a totally new design mid-engined GT coupe called Europa S.
The Europa used Lotus founder Colin Chapman's minimalist steel backbone chassis, while also relying on its fiberglass body for structural strength. The 4-wheel independent suspension was as minimalist as everything else on the car; for instance, the rear suspension consisted of two relatively large trailing arms, one lower link per side, and the axles; very similar to Formula type race cars of that era. Aside from the doors, bonnet (hood), and trunk, the body was cast as a single unit of fiberglass. The Europa was designed and built to be an embodiment of Chapman's oft stated philosophy of automotive design: "Simplify, then add lightness."
The car's handling prompted automotive writers to describe the Europa as the nearest thing to a Formula car for the road.
In all, Lotus built about 9,300 Europas.
The concept originated during 1963 with drawings by Ron Hickman, director of Lotus Engineering (Designer of the original Lotus Elan, Elite as well as inventor of the Black and Decker Workmate), for a bid on the Ford GT40 project. That contract ended up going to Lola instead, so Colin Chapman chose to use Hickman's aerodynamic design (with a still ultra low for today drag coefficient of .29) as the basis for a production model to succeed the ageless Lotus 7: the Europa.
The Series 1 or S1 Europa (also known as Lotus Type 46) was announced for sale to European markets on December 20, 1966. The first cars were delivered in France in February 1967. The S1 was fitted with a modified Renault 16 1470 cc 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 turned the engine and gearbox through 180° to accommodate the Europa's longitudinal mid-engined layout, inverting the gearbox's crown wheel and its pinion gear to avoid having four reverse gears. The S1 weighed 686 kg (1512 lb), had a top speed of 110 mph, and did 0–60 mph in 10 s. Nearly 0.9 g (8 m/s²) lateral acceleration was achieved on road tires of that era.
Including the S1A variation (which incorporated some of the later S2 changes), 650 Europa S1s were manufactured.
During 1966, whilst the Factory was sorting out the first production Type 46 (S1), Team Lotus raced the Type 47, a modified for the track Europa with a 165 hp (123 kW) 1594 cc Lotus/Ford/Cosworth twin cam Kent engine and a Hewland FT 200 5-speed gearbox. The Type 47 is fondly remembered for taking both first and second places (driven by John Miles and Jackie Oliver respectively) in it's very first race held at the storied Brands Hatch race course on "Boxing Day". It's believed that 55 Type 47s were built by Lotus between 1966-70. Two other sports racer prototypes based on the Europa, called Type 62, were built in 1969. A twin cam powered Europa would not be available to the roadgoing public until the Type 74, in 1971. Replica 47's are available bespoke by Banks Europa Engineering, in several variations.
The Europa S2, or Type 54, was introduced in April 1968. It used the same Renault engine as the Type 46, but offered a number of refinements, including electric windows, fully adjustable seats, a new interior, and a polished wooden facia for the dashboard. Per request of the automotive insurance industry, Lotus switched to bolt fasteners (instead of resin bonding) to attach body to frame. A red Type 54 Europa S2 was driven by co-star Linda Thorson in several 1968 episodes of The Avengers (TV series). A small number of Type 54s were modified to be "Federalized", that is, made suitable for export to the United States. In 1969, the Type 65 aka S2 Federal was born, with additional changes to the body, chassis, and the powerplant to better comply with U.S. D.O.T. standards. Among the newer bits, the Renault engine was expanded to 1565 cc capacity over the previous 1470 cc. Road&Track Magazine tested the Federal S2 and recorded 0-60mph in 9.6 s with a top speed of 116mph. 3,615 S2s were produced.
Twin Cam and Special
In 1971, the Type 74 Europa Twin Cam was made available to the public, with a 115 hp (78 kW) 1558 cc Lotus/Ford Twin Cam engine (105hp US Federal emissions control version), a new Renault 4-speed gearbox (Type 352) and a re-designed bodyshell to improve rearward visibility. Mike Kimberley, then a new engineer at Lotus, was Chief Engineer of the TC project. 1,580 cars were shipped as Europa Twin Cam before Lotus switched to a 126 hp (94 kW) Dellorto/Weber carburetors Big Valve version of the engine; in addition to offering a new Renault 5-speed (Type 365) gearbox option; and renamed the car Europa Special. It weighed 740 kg (1631 lb), had a top speed of 123 mph, did 0–60 mph in 7.0 s, and ran the 1/4mile in 14.9 s. A total of 3,130 Specials were manufactured. To honor Team Lotus' 1972 and 1973 F1 World Championships, a few black with gold pin stripe-plus numbered badge-Europa Specials were offered as the first ever John Player Special commemorative production cars.
Europas for the New Millennium
The Europa (more properly, a modified Europa) is still in custom production today, though not by Lotus, but by Banks/Europa Engineering, who produce bespoke cars which sustain the original Europa look and philosophy. Engines in use range from blueprinted Vauxhall engines of around 1.6 litres, through to 3 litre Alfa V6s. The Europa design, which was slippery and efficient in its day, is currently good for a 0–60 time of 4.5 seconds, and a top speed of 170+ mph (275 km/h).
Europa S - 2006
New 2006 Lotus Europa S
In 2005, Lotus released images of a new GT type car called the Lotus Europa S. It is scheduled to be officially introduced at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show. Lotus Europa S production is scheduled to commence in July 2006. The engine will be a 2.0 L turbo delivering 203 PS (200 hp/149 kW) at 5,400 rpm, with a maximum torque of 263 N·m (194 ft·lbf) at 4,200 rpm.