Back in 1979 the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterchaft commonly known as the DRM was in full swing. Harald Ertl, originally a journalist and amateur driver who had rised up from Formula Vee to Formula One with little success for the later was one of the main character in the German Championship.
Having driven for Schnitzer in their home-built and developped Toyota Celica Turbo in 1977 and then switching to the BMW 320 Turbo for 1978 as well as taking the tittle against the Porsche Kremer outfit and Bob Wollek, Ertl switched to Ford and Zakspeed for 1979 as their previously unreliable but seriously fast Capri Group 5 looked very promising.
Unfortunately and to make a long story short, Ertl ended up with with a very poor season plagued with the unreliability of the car and certainly its engine… Six non-finishes out of 11 races and a single win, that was far from the previous years form.
That same year, Ertl and Zakspeed got together in an in-house project, just like Schnitzer had done in the past with their Celica Turbo and which was about turning the Lotus Europa into a Group 5 beast. Altogether, the name of the car fitted the project perfectly and with Brexit arising, it’s time to develop the subject.
As many of you know, Group 5 was all about making it bigger and faster while trying to keep a little ressemblance with the production version of the car. Well, well, well, back when it started, that was pretty much the case but by 1979, the goalpost had very much moved another direction.
The Europa Group 5 although built by Zakspeed was actually based on a TOJ – Team Obermoser Jorg – chassis which were famous for their Warsteiner liveried Sports Cars and Formula 2. It appears that the car had actually been built on a 1978 SC206 chassis due to the front crossmember holding the suspension/shockabsorbers upper pick-up points.
The link and origin of the chassis can probably be traced back to Ertl days in Formula One when he campaigned an Hesketh 308 sponsored by Warsteiner, the same sponsor that backed the TOJ team back then too.
But altogether it wasn’t just a TOJ, it also featured suspension components sourced from Chevron Racing Cars and their previous B21 model as well as Sachs gas shock absorbers while the whole thing rolled on 16′ front and 19′ rear BBS wheels with the slick tyres coming from Goodyear.
On the engine and transmission side, it was powered by the Zakspeed-Ford developped BDA Turbo unit, the same unit as the one that engined the smaller DRM Division 2 Zakspeed Capri model with a capacity of 1400cc and boost of 1.2 bar. The whole thing was then coupled to a Hewland sourced FGA unit in order to get the power to the wheels through CV joints driveshafts.
And of course, that whole package was covered by a Lotus Europa body but not the usual one of course, it was a grown-up version that just looked like a massive wing but which kept one of the primary aspect of the original model, a very low total height. Something which permitted the car to reach speeds near 300km/h it was said. All that was backed by Japanese camera manufacturer Minolta and of course it looked fantastic in picture but that’s pretty much all…
Why such a project? Basically, it had been the dream of Ertl and the Europa was the car he had previously described as the best base for a Group 5 special. Certainly, this was due to the aerodynamics and the fact that it would permit the engine to sit behind the driver, a perfect balance in essence.
After what was said to have taken 2000 hours and 4 months to build, the car was debuted at the 1979 Nürburgring 1000KM World Champinship round where Ertl would share the car with Heyer and Gröhs. Having qualified the car in 19th position with a time of 8:49:900 around the “Green Hell”, they would unfortunately retire on the cars’ debut with an electric failure.
Second outing came at the Nörisring 200 Meilen where the 7 best qualifiers of Division 1 and 2 would battle for a prize money of 105 000 Deutschmarks and be put together in a special “long distance” race but this time the engine would blow-up during the race for a DNF again. It would then be raced another 3 times with two non-finishes and a best result of 6th in an Interserie round held at Hockenheim that same year and the car would then be kept away from the track.
So Europa, certainly as with a British body and suspension components, German chassis and shock absorbers, British engine developped by the Germans and a German driver and team operation, it was definitely the result of a European cooperation if I may say but in the end, it might just be like Brexit, it looked good on the paper, aerodynamics and balance considered but it was a complete failure while trying to make it happen on track..! Anyway, you chose.