Made between 1966 and 1975, the Lotus Europa was Colin Chapman’s first take on a mid-engined grand touring car and the predecessor to the awesome Lotus Esprit.
Following the Lotus ethos of “adding lightness,” the featherweight Europa was quite nimble, despite getting relatively low horsepower out of its 1.5L and later 1.6L inline four engines. In fact, even in its peak performance trim, the Europa only made about 120ish horsepower.
So, suffice it to say, when we saw an 385+ hp LS6 engine nestled behind this particular Europa’s seats during the 2021 Hot Rod Power Tour, we had to learn more.
So, How Do You LS-Swap A Europa?
We spoke with the car’s owner/builder, Rand Swanson. He begins by telling us that he’d wanted a Europa since high school, and since Swanson’s got some experience building LS-swapped Miatas, he set out to make an LS-powered Europa a reality.
The big question though, was how he did it.
“It’s got a chassis I built by hand, using Miata front and rear subframes” Swanson explains. “The rear wheels were moved back three inches to fit the centerline of the transaxle, and the front ones were moved forward nine inches to allow me to expand the footwells so I could drive it.”
Swanson continues, describing how he dropped the floor to accommodate his tall frame and allow him to drive the car while wearing a helmet. Since the Miata’s suspension is a bit wider than the Europa’s, he flared the fenders about three inches.
Because of the top-notch construction and bodywork, you never really notice anything unusual about the car externally. Until you spy the large hole cut in the hood.
Making a Mid-Engine LS Swap Work
“I cut a hole in the hood to get the hot air from the Summit Racing radiator out,” Swanson tells us as he transitions to explaining how the motor got squeezed into the Europa. It’s also got a remote water pump up front to better circulate coolant.
The LS6 sends power through a transaxle sourced from a Porsche Boxster S and, fortunately for Swanson, the tough job of making them play nice together was pretty straightforward. “I did a lot of research ahead of time and I knew there was a company that made an adapter to mate the two,” he tells us. “Before I even bought the car, I knew I could mate the two together.”
And a reminder: it probably helped that Swanson’s done a couple of LS Miata swaps too.
We began talking about his plans for the car, which include some autocrossing and fun run-style drag racing. Then, our conversation quickly moved to what the car is like to drive. And Swanson isn’t vague here:
“It’s fun. But you better be pointed in the right direction when you hit the gas pedal.”
Cue the Lotus Purists: “You Monster!”
While a ground-pounding LS V8 is pretty much the exact opposite of the Lotus “adding lightness” philosophy, Swanson makes it clear that when he first picked up this Europa, it was far from perfect. “I got it from a car collector that had rescued it from a field,” he explains. “We think it was a parts car for a race team. It was just a shell and glass.”
With the Europa deemed too far gone for a proper restoration, Swanson had carte blanche for modification. Still though, he was very careful about taking off any original parts so they could be used for restoring other Europas. “There are actually three Lotuses, including this one, that are on the road today because I built this car,” Swanson laughs.
Want More Details on This LS-Swapped Europa?
Of course you do. So you’ll be excited to learn that Swanson documented the whole thing in an eight-page forum thread on GrassrootsMotorsports.com. You can read it here.
I have a 1976 Lotus Elite (think seriously wedgy design from the ’70s) that could probably be improved a lot (at least in the horsepower department) with an LS swap!