Edmund Fitch loves his Lotuses and drives a supercharged Elise on a regular basis, but he didn’t really mean to buy this Europa. He takes up the story. ‘I was working in Siberia for Shell and one day when I was bored I spent some time looking on eBay for cars. Spotting this Europa project going very cheaply, I put the next bid on it – £620. Ten years ago that was nothing for a Europa; I was sure it must be worth more so I’d be outbid. I got home a week later to find an email telling me I’d won it. My first thought was, “Oh no – how am I going to tell my wife?”
‘So I went off to Guildford to see what I’d bought. Basically it was a shell and registration document, accompanied by a rotten chassis and a seized 1470cc engine. The story was that in 1980 the second owner had a small engine bay fire and laid the car up.
Subsequently, three people before me had taken it on and tried to fix it up but given up. I bought a new Spyder chassis for it, then also realised the scale of the project was beyond me for time and space so I looked for someone else to do it. Someone had a go at doing the body for me; the rear was cut off so we had to work out how to reattach it. Then I spoke to Pat Thomas, who was at that time running Kelvedon Lotus, and he talked me into giving it to him as a “hospital job”, which ended up taking seven years on and off.
‘So I dropped off what I had and started collecting all the missing parts. The car’s logbook had the engine capacity as 1600, so it was either built to Federal spec or had been upgraded in period.
‘I decided to go with that and tracked down a rebuilt 1565cc Renault unit – allegedly with balanced and nitrided crankshaft – in Birmingham that came with a pair of Weber carburettors for £1100. That’s less than the cost of a rebuild would be.
‘Stripping back the paintwork showed it had been white, red and blue, but it was originally yellow so I went back to that – a close but slightly brighter shade – Dupont RAL J5910.’
ASSESSING AND PLANNING
‘Biggest problem was getting the body straight and to fit’
The man now running Kelvedon Lotus is Paul Dobson. ‘The Europa arrived here in pieces in the back of a Luton van, a real bitsa,’ he says. ‘The chassis was rolling but the engine and ‘box were loose on a pallet.
The painted body wasn’t mounted to the chassis and the rest of the car – well, there were lots of boxes of bits. ‘The biggest problem was going to be getting the body straight and to fit. We had a new chassis to work with but often body mounting points are in slightly different places. You can’t assume they’re right or you find out later that the wheels sit too far forward or back in the arches. You have to line the body up on the rolling chassis, complete with wheels and tyres, and decide for yourself where the mounting holes need to be, even if that means making new ones.
‘You make any changes in the body rather than the steel chassis because it’s easier to mess around with glassfibre – certainly in areas that will be hidden when the car is put together.’
BODY AND PAINT
‘Someone had spent time on cosmetics, but not the structure’ The task of sorting the project into some kind of order was given to Mark Rogers (pictured), who has worked at Kelvedon Lotus for more than 30 years. ‘At first glance the body looked okay. It had been painted, but apparently by someone using aerosols in the desert; you could hurt your hand dragging it over the surface. It quickly became obvious that time had been spent on cosmetics, not the actual structure. The rear bulkhead was missing, the bonnet didn’t fit and when we trial-fitted the body to the chassis, several mounting point areas were either damaged or wrong.
‘For reasons of strength and retaining body shape we started by making that new rear bulkhead, using resinimpregnated fibreboard, which we covered with heatshield material on the engine side and sound-deadening foam on the other. Then we replaced sections of floor in the front and rear bulkhead areas, under the fuel tank, and where the body attached to the chassis. The battery carrier was missing, too, so we had to make and fit that.
‘All that allowed us to perfect the fit of the body to the chassis and bolt it up. Then we could deal with the body’s other problems, a major one being that the mounting holes for almost everything that bolts on had been filled in during past repair work. We had to work out where everything went. Sometimes we’d tape one part in place then try the bit that went next to it for fit. ‘Holes for lights had been cut the wrong size, and the driver’s external door handle holes had been drilled in the wrong place. Where a new front section had been attached there were big bulges in the glassfibre so the bonnet wouldn’t close. We had to grind material away and strengthen it from the other side. Similarly, there was a big lump of glassfibre in the way of the wooden dashboard, which sits in a recess, and this had to be ground back. All that work had to be done without breaking through the paint, to avoid having to completely redo that from scratch. In the end, we were able to save a lot of time and money by simply sanding back the rough finish and re-topcoating it.
‘Next job was to fit the wiring harness, which was one of the worst aspects of the job. It was new, but not the correct loom for this model – the wires were the wrong colours. So I had to trace every wire through when I connected stuff, adding 50 hours to the job. ‘Fitting the rear window on these is always a bugger, made worse because this car had had a new roof fitted. It took a few attempts at filing the opening to make it fit, made worse each time by having to put the headliner in first because it tucks behind the rubber.’
‘The mounting holes for almost everything that bolts on had been filled in during past repairs’
‘The windscreen pillars are really thin,’ says Mark. ‘So when restoring Europas today we bond 10mm steel bars into the pillars to add strength. It might add a bit of weight, but is more than worth it for peace of mind.’
FABRICATION / RUNNING GEAR
‘Aluminium window frames were cracked and broken’
Engine had been rebuilt but carburettors were shot Dean Gibbons is Kelvedon Lotus’s fabrication specialist. ‘One tricky aspect was that the aluminium door window frames were cracked and broken in places. I took great care to weld them up and refinish them so that the repairs wouldn’t show.
‘I also had to remake the exhaust system. It was apparently a race one, but would have stood out about a foot from the back of the car. We kept the bigger-bore manifold section, but almost everything aft of that was changed. We took measurements of what we wanted to a local motor factor and went through the stock until we found something close. That still had to be modified to get the entry and exit tubes right, then we welded on mounting brackets so that it would fit.
‘At some point the brake servo had been taken off. When we went to fit one there was no room on the lefthand side of the engine bay where it should sit because of the bigger exhaust manifold. After some headscratching we mounted it in the right rear corner of the engine bay and redid all the pipework.
‘The engine was said to have been rebuilt but we still test-ran it out of the car. There was good oil pressure and no rattles, so it went in after a bit of a clean-up. It didn’t run very evenly – the carburettors were all corroded. We had to get another pair of 40 DCOE Webers. The owner decided he wanted a five-speed gearbox as fitted to a lot of Twin Cams [S2 Europas all had a four-speed], so we fitted one that we had in stock. The Europa may have fitted Colin Chapman fine, but Edmund struggled with the handbrake sitting where his knee wanted to be. ‘With a little playing around with mounting brackets we got it nearer to the A-pillar. It still wasn’t ideal but helped,’ says Dean.
‘When repairing a crack or joining two sections of glassfibre, grind away the back so each section tapers to a point, then gelcoat from behind,’ says Dean. ‘This recreates the original strength. If you don’t, it will crack again.’
‘I must line up a track day at Brands Hatch at some point’
‘The restoration may have taken rather longer than planned, but if the Europa hadn’t come here I’m sure it would still be off the road in bits now,’ says Edmund. ‘The plus side is they’ve been very meticulous and I’m really pleased with the results, especially the way it drives. The handling is superb – better than my Elise, and that’s saying something.
‘Mind you, I haven’t taken it round Brands Hatch yet. The Indy circuit there is perfect for Europas – all bends, so I must line up a track day there.
‘I’m glad I upgraded to the five-speed gearbox; that extra gear is essential for maintaining a decent cruising speed in modern traffic. The only downside is the position of the handbrake. Despite having been moved as far over as it can be in its current location, it’s still where my right knee wants to be. So Kelvedon is now going to relocate the lever to the passenger footwell, just the other side of the tunnel where I can still reach it. That’s where they put it on Lotus 47 GTs – the racing version of the Europa.
‘There was a big question over the alloy wheels, which are not original but came with the car. I’m now glad I decided to keep them – I’ve seen a photo of another Europa wearing them in period, in Paul Robinshaw’s Lotus Europa book, and they’ve now been identified as Dunlop Formula D1 Style B wheels, which were launched around the same time this car was built so are likely to have been fitted early in its life. And now I know what the wheels are, I can start trying to track down a set of centre caps for them. Maybe I’ll find some on eBay…’
Thanks to: Kelvedon Lotus (kelsport.net)
Engine had been rebuilt but carburettors were shot.
Dashboard fitting was a challenge thanks to ‘a big lump of glassfibre in the way’ – a legacy of poor previous repairs.
Exhaust had to be fabricated from the manifold back.
The holes for the lights had to be remade to the correct size.
Retina-searing yellow is brighter than the hue it originally left Hethel with.
This engine was seized so a 1.6-litre Renault engine was found for almost double the price of the car.
Fire had left the £620 Europa in a very sorry state. Diferent shades become clear, including yellow.
Luckily new chassis are available from Spyder. The original was too rotten to repair safely.
New rear body section from Boss Motors was grafted on to replace fire-damaged sections.