Collectible Classic: 1971-75 Lotus Europa Twin Cam

A. J. Mueller

Bartusek picked up the car -- as it could only be loosely referred to at the time -- when he was a high-schooler in 1990. His purchase included a powertrain, a fiberglass body (in a field), a chassis, and thirty-some boxes of parts. He and his dad, Joe, a meticulous retired Chrysler tire engineer, had run out of steam on a '57 Alfa Romeo Giulietta project. Pete had never driven a Europa before, but he fell in love with its styling. "When I first saw one," he says, "I just thought it looked so unique."

His first job was at what is now metro Detroit's only Lotus dealer, Auto Europe, where he sifted through their attic sorting random parts from several Lotus models. Many of the Europa parts he unearthed ended up going home with him. "At the end of every two weeks, I owed them money," Bartusek remembers.

Most Europa owners today are comfortable modifying their cars to improve things that gave original owners headaches back in the day, such as the complicated braking and cooling systems. For better or worse, the Bartuseks went out of their way to keep this car as stock as possible, which is especially impressive because they completed the lion's share of the restoration by the late '90s with almost no help from the Internet-ironic since Pete is now an IT guy by trade.

Times certainly change. But cars like this Lotus are timeless, drivable testaments to what once was.

THE SPECS
ENGINE: 1.6L DOHC I-4, 105-126 hp, 112-113 lb-ft
TRANSMISSIONS: 4- or 5-speed manual
DRIVE: Rear-wheel
SUSPENSION, FRONT: Control arms, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR: Semitrailing arms, coil springs
BRAKES F/R: Discs/drums
WEIGHT: 1600 lb

THE INFO
YEARS PRODUCED: 1971-1975

NUMBER PRODUCED
5552, including more than 3000 Specials

VALUE TODAY
$6000-$20,000 Specials carry a premium of about ten percent; black-and-gold John Player Special editions add another ten percent.

WHY BUY? It may look crazy, but it's a blast to drive and fairly inexpensive to buy. Maintenance and repairs can get pricey and complicated, but many Europas have already been modified to be more usable and reliable. Ingress and egress is challenging but worth it, very similar to getting into a modern Lotus Exige. Front and rear cargo compartments improve practicality -- slightly. Plus, thirteen-inch wheels never looked so big as on this forty-three-inch-high toy.

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rblackwell
The only way to avoid disaster is to not get to the handling limit -- or the instant the rear starts its movement, countersteer slightly and bury your throttle foot and pray. One way to minimize the rear jacking' would be to add droop limiters, which might raise the upper cornering speed. We will share Mr. Yagami's letter with Coterie Press (the publisher of The Lotus Book S3, which was a crucial reference in writing this story), the folks at Lotus Cars USA, and Pete Bartusek, the owner of the lovely 1973 Europa Twin Cam that we drove.Sincerely,Rusty Blackwell(author)
rblackwell
After this story was published in our September 2010 issue, we received a letter from reader Richard Yagami of Connecticut, owner of multiple Lotus Europas, who took issue with a few parts of the article. He asked that we "end some of the myths that have been perpetuated by the media about some Lotus models.The following are Mr. Yagami's specific critical comments:--The first is the myth that the first 500 Europas were sold only on the Continent. The enclosed bill of sale shows that my first Europa was number 194 [purchased in Connecticut in October 1967 for $3945], and yes, it has fixed windows and fixed seats. In addition, the pedal assembly can be moved fore and aft. Composite bodies can be repaired very simply by cutting out a damaged section and bonding in a new section. It's a lot simpler than repairing a steel unibody car.(continued)
rblackwell
--When I sit in my Lotus 47 (the racing version of the Europa), I have about five inches above my head, so headroom depends on whether one is long-waisted or short-waisted, not on overall height. [I, the author of the story, am a slender five-foot-six, so the lesson here is that potential buyers should try any Lotus to make sure it fits him or her, since the cars can be tight in certain dimensions--Ed.]--The other myth concerns the handling of Europas. The rear suspension, though it is independent, is so close to a swing-axle configuration that caution should be exercised. The cornering limit is pretty high, but if the limit is reached, the outside rear wheel can tuck under and the whole car can jack up with catastrophic results. Many street Europas have been lost because ordinary drivers have lifted their throttle foot when the rear started coming around. [A very bad idea in any car--Ed.] (continued)

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