Ugly But Brilliant

On the subject of great cars just needing a rebuild, Reader Gerald F suggests the 1972 Lotus Europa Special, which he describes as his “lottery” car:


Universally panned for its “truck” back, the Europa’s owners could be forgiven their secret little smile, because as ungainly as it looked, the Europa’s weight distribution was almost perfect and it could out-corner absolutely anything it raced against.  Even by today’s lofty standards, the Europa was an outstanding example of the Colin Chapman era of performance — its dinky little Lotus-Ford 1600cc four-banger got it up to over 120mph quickly enough — and over a twisty road, it would leave everything else with only a view of its ugly backside.

And they came in a ton of spiffy colors…



Thank you, Reader Gerald, because now I want one too.


  1. My best man at my first wedding bought one in 1971. It was a great car, and very quick for the time. ( probably not so much any more ) It only had three problems.
    1. I was 140 Lbs and 5′ – 10″ and I just barely fit in the car. George was a little smaller than I was back then, so he wore the car better.
    2. Girls loved the car , but any sort of amorous activity ( we were in our early 20’s ), while in that car was absolutely impossible.
    3 The car was so small it was invisible to other drivers in the period. Which was how the car met its end. A Buick made a right turn from the left lane right into and across George and turned it into a pile of fiberglass and suspension pieces.

    1. I know of a Lambo Islero that had a similar fate. Fortunately, my buddy survived, but his heart was forever broken.

  2. I believe that car was the lowest height car at that time. I remember seeing them when they came out, but I never drove one. I really liked the Lotus Elite that preceded it, but I am sure that was even smaller inside. They say it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow(ly), so 80 horsepower was not the end of the world.

    And yes, it did have the El Camino look about it.

    And the combination of Lotus and Renault for reliability? That must be the funniest one yet.

    1. Actually, the Renault engine was pretty good — it had powered the Alpine to the WRC title three times — but today? I’d go with the Ford Duratech 1600cc (same as the Caterhams use), and laugh all the way up to 135.

  3. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, our class had a student teacher from the local teachers college assisting our regular teacher. To the delight of us boys, she had recently been crown Miss Colorado and had been provided a Europa to drive during her term. We weren’t sure which was prettier – the girl or the car.

  4. The only one I remember seeing in the wild was the sky blue one. Smitten I was, but I never got the chance to sit in it, more like try to fit my 6’4″ into it. Had I ever tried that I would have abandoned all hope of ever actually owning one.

  5. The lottery car will be black with the gold/yellow stripe.
    AT 5’8 and 170 lbs I can still get in it with little or no problem.
    Now if the damn Powerball would keep up it’s end I’d be set!

    The car was designed and built by car people and not accountants. A rare bird these days.

    1. The black and gold one was the John Player Special. Shame on you for wanting to support an eeeeevil cigarette brand.

  6. My memory of this car when it debuted was the various car magazines bitching about the engine source and horsepower lack. They mostly liked the car itself, but suggested that it would be smart if an owner investigated an appropriate engine swap. It quickly vanished from the automotive writers scene. Not sure if I ever laid eyes on one, even in CA.

  7. Diff?, yes.
    Ugly? Hell no.
    Though the memory is 50 years old, in my mind it is yesterday. Summer 1974 I test drove a Lotus at a used car dealer. Light yellow, black interior. I was 19 years old and looking for a deal. I sat down in it and the seat cradled me like nothing else cept a new mother. The pedals were effortless and short throw shifter was magical. 2 clicks down from 1st to 2nd, 1 click up, 1 click over, 1 click up to 3rd. The brakes were powerful. Pulling out onto the highway, as I ran it quickly up through the gears I was giggling like a school gurl because of how fast it accelerated. It was more like riding a 4 cylinder motorcycle than a car. The aerodynamics were such that it pulled right down to the road as it increased in speed. No other car had affected me so. But alas, at $13k the price was about 6X the size of my budget. So I bought a 1970 Camaro SS for $1995.00 instead. But I have that memory!

    1. I had to turn down a cherry 1955 Merc 300 because they wanted $13,000 for it. At a time when you could get a Dino Ferrari for $11,000.

      And alas, I could afford neither, and ended up with an Opel Ascona (Chev Cavalier equivalent) for $1,800.

  8. As a six-footer of moderate girth, the only difficulty I encountered with the Europa (I had several clients with them) was entry and egress. Once inside it fit quite well; after all, it was a road-going race car – particularly when it had been upgraded to a Type 47 Lotus-Ford twin-cam, and proper Hewland gearbox.

  9. Ugh.

    I lost the summer between high school and college helping a friend “restore” his Lotus Europa. We got it running, but for everything we fixed – something else broke — or broke again. And that thrice damned electrical system (my personal albatross)…

    When it ran – it was amazing. Lighting quick acceleration, slot-car like cornering, steering that responded to thought… and an English spec (non)braking system. When it stopped running – usually at the furthest away points of his jaunts, I’d get the call to truck his toy back home.

    When he snapped a Lotus quality head bolt at much less than the design spec – the damn thing got parked. As far as I know, he trucked it to Colorado when he escaped from California. There it’ll sit – awaiting the someday when it will be restored.

Comments are closed.