The Matchbox Europa

Like most car guys, I had a huge collection of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars – a plastic tub full. Some of those little cars are probably still buried in any of a half-dozen sandboxes between New Mexico and North Carolina. My favorite was the little blue Lotus Europa (probably an S2 – Type 54). I would often make my little sister play cars and part of the whole scenario was that I would build a car for her. Not knowing the true scale of the Europa and figuring that the engine was in front (like all the the “real” cars I had ever seen), I assumed the “flying buttresses” behind the driver’s compartment were a great place for tool boxes. I could bring all of the tools needed to build a car in the tiny Europa.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that cars could be built to order and that a single person could just build a car. Our real cars at the time included a green Opel Kadett wagon and a red Audi 100 LS – fairly exotic cars for rural 1970’s North Carolina! And exotic for my family – the German cars replaced a Dodge Coronet wagon and a ’49 Pontiac when we moved from Albuquerque to Boone, NC in 1972.

My dad was really not a car guy and the Audis (we had 2 100 LS’s – both continuously threw fan belts) and the Pontiac were his most adventurous car buys. The Pontiac was bought for $75 from the front yard of an old lady near NMSU. It was dubbed “The Green Latrine” due to the faded green paint job. Later he was a big fan of Chrylser mini-vans.

I liked the Audis – mainly because no one knew what the heck they were – but the car that really got under my skin was a friend of my fathers’ Triumph TR3. This car was a true beater, not a single straight panel on the car, and the Old English white paint was scraped up and faded. But it was glorious beastie to ride in. The soft top was long gone, the muffler as well. You could lean out and touch the road over the cut-down doors. Brutish, nasty and tractor-like. Wonderful. This is the car that made me love sports cars, even when surrounded by NASCAR and muscle car crazy friends. Ford vs. Chevy? Whatever. Check out that Lotus, the Porsche and OMFG – a Datsun 240Z!

I’ve remained bitten – my first sports car was a ’74 260Z followed rather quickly by a 1970 Datsun 1600 Roadster. I’ve brought several cars back to life – two Volvo wagons and at least 3 Datsuns, but I’ve still never owned an LBC – Lotus, Triumph or otherwise. I did get close to buying a Europa – one showed up on Craigslist in Portland last year for a few thousand bucks. An early one with the Renault engine and from what I hear, a rather fragile gearbox. I called right away and headed over to check it out. Something just wasn’t right though, and I pulled over and stopped about two blocks away from the owners house. I knew that if I went to see it, I would drag it home. Even my car-enabling buddies made that sucking sound through their teeth and warned about the illusions of a “cheap Lotus.” I called and cancelled.

At one point when we were dating, I told my future wife about the Matchbox Lotus and then forgot about it. The following Christmas I found a little blue Europa in my stocking. She had remembered the story and found one on Ebay. That’s just one of the reasons I married her. Her ability to pick out a Triumph from a crowd of Austin Healeys doesn’t hurt either.

Now our daughter has her own little blue Matchbox Europa – hers is a ’72 Twin Cam Special. She carries it around with her other Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars in her Tinkerbell purse. I still have fantasies of Lotii and of building my own car from scratch. Recently they have turned to visions of MIG welders, steel stock and piles of left-over Datsun parts – including a stroker R-16 with dual Mikunis. Maybe Maddie’s first sports car ride will be in something even simpler than a TR3 or Europa, and built by me…

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