Collectible Classic: 1971-75 Lotus Europa Twin Cam

A. J. Mueller

As with any Lotus, however, straight-line speed is an afterthought when you're tearing around a corner with a giant grin on your face, as we did in Pete Bartusek's 1973 Europa Twin Cam Special pictured here. The Twin Cam replaced the series-two Europa in 1971 and lived on until 1975, when it was replaced by the mid-engine Esprit. Although the Renault-powered Europa offered decent performance, Lotus had a Ford-derived 1558-cc dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder in its Elan Sprint that was ripe for a transplant. The task of inserting the twin-cam engine into the Europa was led by engineer Mike Kimberley, who had just joined Lotus following sixteen years with Jaguar and went on to become Lotus CEO after Chapman's death in 1982.

The twin-cam engine gave the Europa an additional 18 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque, significantly improving acceleration and top speed despite an increase in curb weight. Besides the new engine, the Twin Cam also featured cut-down sail panels (to improve rearward visibility), aluminum "spider" wheels, better seats, 5.5 extra gallons of fuel capacity (up from a meager seven-gallon tank), and a wider footwell with repositioned pedals.

From behind the wheel of the Twin Cam Special -- a two-tone edition with a higher-compression, higher-revving engine rated at 126 hp -- it's hard to comprehend how compromised the driving position would have been in earlier Europas, since my legs are pointed toward the center of the car and my size nines are jammed together in the footwell like the boots of a soldier standing at attention. (Bartusek keeps compact, narrow shoes in the Lotus at all times.) Fortunately, legroom is abundant and the cabin unexpectedly wide, although even someone as short as Tom Cruise might have trouble wearing a helmet in a Europa.

That's a shame, because this would be a glorious vehicle to ply around a tight racetrack. The car's wonderful balance and light but incredibly crisp steering easily overshadow the somewhat underwhelming thrust of the engine, which is quick to rev and sounds meaningfully throaty. A close-ratio four-speed gearbox with short throws, a tight feel, and a lovely wooden shift knob helps make the engine feel extra responsive. Wood trim on the dash reminds you of the car's Britishness without going overboard. Porsche 911-like fenders create a pleasant driving perspective as you scan the road ahead, and over-the-shoulder glances reveal more of your surroundings than you'd expect through that tiny back window. The car rides firmly but is surprisingly comfortable -- once you've managed to carefully thread your body into a seat, of course. In many ways, Bartusek's Europa doesn't feel like an old car, but that's likely as much due to its excellent restoration as to Lotus's original design.

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)
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)
--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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