This was the car, yellow plus some black stripes down the back, that launched a hundred stares and whispers among the Edgewater Elementary Bobcats when my dad dropped me off at school every morning. I was in second grade in 1972, and at that age everyone wants to think their parent is cool. This was almost too cool. It was embarrassing. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, in our tiny Florida coastal town had a car like this. Most people were still driving family Buick and Ford leftovers from the 1960’s. They clunked. This car had a tiny, quick Renault 16 engine the size of a sewing machine. In the utter slackjawed silence that followed in its abnormal wake, people had plenty of time to hear its exotic whine.
Dad already was susceptible to the lure of fun cars, and he hit the red line with this one. He’d already owned a Jaguar XK150 , a convertible Datsun, a TR3, a couple of Plymouth Road Runners. He doesn’t remember what car he was driving when he saw the Lotus at an exotic used car dealer in Melbourne, but he promptly traded in whatever it was. The price of the car then was around $3,600 before trade. (I know — sweet Jesus!)
To say he had fun in the car was an understatement. The only time he was overtaken was by a Dino Ferrari. One fine day, cruising down a dirt road at about 100 mph, he flipped the Lotus into the Florida undergrowth. He emerged unscathed and walked to a friend’s house to call a tow truck. The truck operator thought Dad was crazy because the Lotus was so tiny that the palmetto scrub completely concealed it. “Damn, there is a car in there,” he finally said, and pulled it out. The fiberglass body was pretty much okay, but now there was sand lodged in the already-temperamental little engine. Nobody could sooth or tune the poor thing properly in our neck of the woods, so Dad eventually traded it on another fun British mess, a Jensen Healey.
Some years ago, I had a fun chance to ride around the Sebring track and all through the pit and vendor area in a newer Lotus with my friend Randy Pobst. It took me back to the days of just me and my Dad riding around in the nimble little Europa. “Like driving in a bathtub,” Dad says.
The little British Lotus was marketed to the US in 1969 with a 1,565 cc Renault engine. In 1971, a 105 hp Ford engine was offered, making this latter SE model the more desirable. Today, a Europa from the 1970s, restored, rebuilt, and in decent shape, generally costs anywhere from $14,000 to $25,000