Living in Japan, I see many really nice classic British sports on the roads here (and German, Italian, and Japanese classics, too), especially on the weekends on the beautiful mountain roads near my house, like the Fuji-san Skyline and the Hakone Skyline.
On the fine, clear, autumn days that we are having now, the motoring fans are coming up here from Tokyo, and even from Osaka, to enjoy the twisties and the views that we are blessed with in the Japanese hill country. There’s even a racing green MG RV8 (heart squeeze!) who is a regular on my own favourite road course. From time to time these classic cars come up for sale and one of the best parts of our work at Japan Car Direct is uniting classic car with classic car lover.
Earlier in the summer I had a chance to meet up with a wonderful group of car fans for a day of car sharing, test driving, and just general car loving. These folks are all connected by a café. They don’t all live in the same area, they don’t all work in the same company, they are not even of the same age or background. It’s simply that they all love classic cars and sports cars and they all hang out at the same café and get together for car love-love days when they get the time. That’s it. That’s all it is. And, as I explained in Part 1 of this JCD Blog series (here), my introduction to this lovely group of people was through a guy I used to work with in Kanto Auto Works, back in the days before it became Toyota Motors East Japan.
Through the generosity of the Car Café folks, I was given a chance to drive one of my all time dream cars.
Dream Car. I Drive the Classic Lotus Europa
Dream car. A car that you want because you want it; you like because you like it. Maybe it’s not practical, maybe it’s not affordable, but it’s just wonderful. One of my boyhood dream cars was the original Lotus Europa.
Now this is the new Lotus Europa, the Europa S. This is the Europa that we are not going to talk about today:
It came out in 2006., It’s got a turbo charger, it’s got anti-lock brakes, it’s got a six speed transmission. The car we are going to talk about today doesn’t have a turbo, doesn’t have ABS. and it has only a humble four speed gearbox. It doesn’t even have air conditioning, the windows don’t open all the way, and, crikey, the seats aren’t even adjustable! But the car has way, way, way more charm and driving delight than I’ve had behind the wheel of many, many, too many of the more modern sports and performance cars I’ve driven.
This is the Europa that we are going talk about today:
Mr Taxi Restores the Old Europa
In our first story about our Car Café day, I mentioned how many of the members of the Car Café community have nicknames. For example, the fellow who let me drive his Hakosuka Skyline is nicknamed “The Prez” because he is a company president. Well, the gentleman who let me test drive his classic Lotus Europa is called “Mr Taxi” because, at least for the last three years since retiring from his work as a wine importer, he has been driving a taxi. I’m not kidding.
This beautiful Europa he’s got now is the result of over two years step by step restoration and improvement (working part time on it, of course).
Mr Taxi picked up the car, in mid-restoration, from another fellow who had started the project, gathered many of the necessary parts, and then had to throw in the towel due to work commitments.
“It wasn’t such a big job, you know,” Mr Taxi told me. “The other guy had collected most things I needed and the car itself is easy to work on. Dead simple, really, and lots of space in there to work on the engine.” He then popped the engine bay cover (it’s not really a “hood” or a “bonnet” on a midship car, is it?) and let me feast my eyes on this:
Lovely engine! Lovely work! What we’ve got here is the engine which is often referred to as the “Lotus-Ford Twin Cam.” Let’s put it into a bit context.
Some Lotus Europa History
The Lotus Europa came out in 1966 with the Series 1 (the S1, or Lotus Type 46). This car had an improved version of a 1.5 liter Renault engine.
Maybe not the most impressive engine, but a nice little unit nevertheless and, in the super light (610kg) Europa S1, this powered-up little four banger got the car from 0-60mph in well under 10 seconds. Not so bad, really, compared to other small capacity sports cars of its day.
The Lotus-Ford Twin Cam in Mr Taxi’s car (here’s another view of it)
put out a whack more power than the Renault unit (105hp in the Twin Cam vs 82hp in the old Renault) and gave the car even livelier performance, as I found out during my test drive.
Of course, the-top-of-the-pops in the classic Europa engine line up was the 126hp “Big Valve”
that moved the light Europa from 0-60 in about six and a half seconds (depending on outside air temperature and density, eh?).
Living With a Classic Europa
So what Mr Taxi had then was a 1971 Europa Series 2 Twin Cam.
If you look closely at the photos of the car’s engine above you’ll notice the special exhaust header right away. Here’s a close up shot:
Mr Taxi commissioned this unique 4-into-1 manifold and he’s very happy with the result. He did an overall refresh on the engine: new pistons, carbs, alternator, all wiring, etc. Everything worked out just fine.
I asked him what problems he’s had with the old classic and he told me:
“Well, not so much, actually. So the engine mounts gave way at one point, which caused the gear shift lever to kind of drop down a bit into the floor, but we got that fixed…..the speedometer cable to the transmission broke….and, aaaaah, oh yeah, one of my friends, bloody idiot, pop shifted the car with his foot on the accel pedal and broke a drive shaft U-joint. Doofus!”
“Any other problems?” I asked. “Parts, body, instruments, transmission?”
“No. Parts have not been an impossible problem. The trans has been especially solid and trouble free. I’ve driven the car all the way up to Hokkaido in the north of Japan and right down to Kyushu in the south and she’s always brought me home again with no breakdowns. I think it helps that I drive her to work every day. These cars, like most classics, don’t like to be neglected and left sitting. They get cranky if you do that.”
I Test Drive the Classic Europa…and Embarrass Myself….
Climbing into the Europa, the first thing you notice is how tight the cabin is. The first impression is a cramped feeling because of the high center tunnel raising your left arm up while the roof line seems to come down low on you.
Rear visibility is much worse than in my old MR2 SW20, and the side windows are small and don’t open fully. It was a sunny day and I started to sweat right away.
“Yeah,” Mr Taxi said, “It’s got no air conditioning, but if you just aim the dashboard vents at your face and turn the fan on, you’ll be alright.”
I did, and I was.
I settle myself down, waaaaay down, in the driver’s seat, stretch out my legs, waaaay out, and fire up the Twin Cam behind me. Beautiful sound! Old memory sound and old car exhaust smell! Right hand on the leather-covered Lotus steering wheel, Left hand on the gear shift. Feel the car. I’m in a car of my dreams. I wanted one of these cars when I was a young man.
I’ve told the Car Café guys how much I love these old classics. Everybody in the parking lot is watching me and smiling.
Clutch down, into first…..and the dream evaporates in embarrassment: There’s this gawd-awful crunch and grind of gears, the car stutters forward, shivers and stalls. I’m a doofus. A hot faced, sweaty palmed Doofus.
Mr Taxi comes over to save me. “Deep. Sink the clutch really deep.”
I try again…Grind, grittle, crunch.
“And be decisive.”
Yeah, right, decisively embarrassed, more like.
I try again. Go way down in the seat. Sink that clutch pedal, and I’m in first…up on the clutch, down on the gas, forward we go. I’ve got it now. Head for the parking lot exit and into second gear. Revs drop to nothing…….Stall out city.
Mr Taxi to the rescue again, very kindly to the rescue: “Don’t worry. I do that all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what gear I’m. Just feel the pattern.”
So as I played with the Europa’s gear shift I found that the transmission has a sort of offset “H” pattern, with 1st left and up, and 2nd not exactly straight down but rather off and over to the right; not too right though, or you’re in 4th and you stall out. Like I did.
“Oh, yeah, I sometimes don’t know if I’m in second or fourth. But the trans is strong. Don’t worry, you won’t break it. Go for it!”
….And Fall In Love
I go for it this time. This is a dream come true for old Dave Price and I’m not going to give up. Deep. Decisive…..I finally get the Lotus Europa out of the Parking Lot of Hot-Faced Embarrassment and onto the beautiful mountain road. Gently into third as we move together down the black top. Fourth now. All O.K. Just enjoy it, Dave, just enjoy.
I played with the steering and played with the throttle and this is what I found: The old classic Lotus Europa (non-power steering, of course) has lovely, rewarding handling; just lovely! A light initial input gives you an immediate, light response that becomes clearly heavier as you get into serious curves and sharper handling. At first, this transition to such a heavy steering feel made me less confident, but as I got use to it, I felt that the loaded steering actually inspired more confidence because the car was telling me clearly and directly what we were doing and how hard we were cornering.
One of the problems of mid-engined cars, as I knew so well from my old Toyota MR2, is that transition from happy, hard cornering to unhappy snap oversteer can be uncomfortably abrupt. The Europa gave me lots of direct feedback and clear tire to road feel.
I’m getting used to this baby, now, this classic Lotus. Let’s have some more fun. Clear, open road, no other cars around. Slow to a stop. Let’s see how she performs. Deep clutch and into first. Throttle down as clutch comes up and we just go. 105ps in a car just a smidgen over 700kgs….nice and no complaints from me. This car is a babe. She’s got the push and handling to go with her looks, and no doubt.
Once I was confident with the control inputs, especially the gear shift, I found the Series 2 Lotus Europa a sheer delight to drive. By the time my experience with her was over, she’d grabbed my heart. It’s was just joy. It was a dream come true for old man Dave and for the young boy Dave inside the old man Dave.
Follow Your Dreams: Buying a Used Classic Car from Japan
When you say to yourself that you seriously want to buy a classic car, you’ve got to take an equally serious look at the Japanese used car market. Why? Why would you buy a British or European classic car or super car from Japan? As we talk about on our “German Cars from Japan” page here on our main site
Japanese owners of European classic cars really treasure these machines, drive them soft and keep them in good shape. Good, used classic cars like the Porsche 911 (click here) and the Lancia Delta Integrale (here) are often found in the best condition in the Japanese used car market, whether at the Japanese used car auctions, at the Japanese used car dealers, or from private sellers in Japan. At Japan Car Direct, we get good classic cars from all of these sources. And, although our domestically made cars for use in Japan are all right hand drive (RHD), we have lots and lots of European classic cars on our roads that are left hand drive (LHD). You can find out more about them elsewhere on our main JCD website here.
In general, whether you are looking for a used European or British classic car for dream fulfillment (like me) or for wealth protection (it’s hard, unstable times these days, as we all know), you’ll find a great selection at reasonable prices here in Japan. And shipping that good, clean, used classic to your country is often nowhere near as difficult as you might think it is, especially if you live in one of our major market countries for the import of used cars from Japan, namely: the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. (Just click on the country name to find out about the used car import rules for each country.)
Here at Japan Car Direct we handle all the export-side documentation for you to make the process easy. For an overview of the whole used car from Japan export process, have a look here.
And to get the show on the road and get your own classic dream car over to you, just register here for free access to our auction search engine
Gosh, I loved that classic Lotus Europa, even if she embarrassed me a bit with her initial resistance in letting me get into gear with her; but I was with my Car Café friends, so it was all forgiven in the end. What a Babe!