Although the idea of mid-engine, usable every day sports car had been approached and considered by many, it wasn’t until the 1971 Lotus Europa was introduced that it worked. Of course, the original Europa was not without its problems. First off, it looked a little weird, but tastes vary, so that’s not entirely a problem. Real problems were more in the area of lack of performance, or perception thereof, as well as a really small, tight and frankly claustrophobic cabin. These problems were partially fixed with the introduction of the Twin Cam in 1971, and the Special in 1972 that most of these issues were fixed, and that the public really rallied behind the little car.
For a sports car, the Europa certainly didn’t have a very powerful engine, something that led to complaints and which Lotus fixed, to a certain degree in later models (Twin Cam and Special). Of course, Lotus always relied more on having a light car than on extra horsepower, but in this case they may have undershot slightly. The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine produced from 105 horsepower in 1971 (the Twin Cam) to 126 horsepower in 1972 – the Special. The later models were also optionally equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. In this configuration, the Europa could reach a respectable top speed of 121 miles per hour, and accelerate to 60 in 7 seconds, which it true sports car car for 1971.
The 1971 Lotus Europa Twin-Cam and Special were the first commercially successful mid-engine sports cars, but they were certainly not the last!