A case of borrowed identity from South America.
It is said that the lotus flower comes from the murkiest water but grows into the purest thing. The subject of this story certainly ticks the box for the former part of this saying, but it did not exactly grow into anything even remotely pure.
Perhaps the least known Lotus of all, and it is dubious if it rightfully wore the famous badge at all, is the Emme Lotus 422T. Presented to the public by the Brasilian company Megastar, a company up to then known for producing scooters, the Emme Lotus 422T debuted at the 1997 Sao Paulo Motor Show. Megastar’s facilities were based in Pindamonhangaba, near Sao Paulo.
One thing that must have been immediately apparent to anyone with some interest in cars was that the 422T had an uncanny – or uncomfortable depending on your viewpoint – resemblance to the 1992 Volvo ECC concept. While the shape of the 422T’s body panels is somewhat flatter and displays fewer compound curves than the Volvo ECC, betraying the lack of both design and manufacturing experience, and also most likely money, it was clearly a copy.
Megastar claimed that the body, made from a composite plastic named Vextrim, was lighter and tougher than steel, 100% recyclable and even had bullet-resistant capabilities. Unfortunately no-one has been able to substantiate these claims and a search today on the web offers no clues either. The objective was to produce a car in the true Lotus tradition – offering high performance through light weight and clever thinking instead of pure horsepower.
Unfortunately, the end result did not live up to the claims: yes, performance was 0-62 mph in 5 seconds with a top speed of 168 mph but the weight was a decidedly un-Chapmanesque 1591Kg. Bearing in mind the excessive weight combined with dubious aerodynamics and the fact that the engine produced 264 Bhp, these claims are probably best taken with a few grains of salt.
Open the bonnet and the reason for the Lotus badging becomes clear: there is indeed a bona fide Lotus powerplant under there- the 910S turbocharged four-cylinder that was previously used in the Esprit. Just how these engines ended up in Megastar’s hands is intriguing.
At the time, Lotus was going through one of its periodic shaky financial episodes. Lotus had discontinued the 910S engine in 1996; rumour has it that the surplus engines were sold as industrial scrap by weight and that is how they ended up in Pindamonhangaba. It seems that Lotus had never knowingly participated in Megastar’s project and thus the Emme Lotus 422T was a bastard Lotus, with a plagiarised Volvo body to boot.
In the end, the project went nowhere. Fit and finish were unsatisfactory both inside and outside – especially as the 422T was aimed at BMW M and Mercedes AMG models – and the Vextrim bodypanels caused panel gaps that may have caused excitement in an amorous stallion but not a prospective buyer.
Further problems were poor ergonomics and the absence of airbags or even ABS. Little than a year after the 422T made its debut at the Sao Paulo Motor Show, the Volvo S80 was presented to demonstrate how to produce a credible production vehicle out of a concept.
The death blow to Megastar’s project was a sharp devaluation of the national currency (the Real) which caused the costs of importing parts (the 422T utilised a Tremec T5 gearbox, linked to a Jaguar rear differential) to skyrocket, making the Emme Lotus 422T also financially unfeasible. In december 1999 the plug was pulled.
Data on the number of cars produced is vague- the best guess is that not more than 15 cars were made and only three or four were ever licensed for road use. With close to 200 Million US dollars invested in the project these “Lotuses” were a costly mistake indeed, sinking the whole company lock, stock and barrel. Lotus apparently did not see the need for any further punishment.
Photo Credits: all photos of the Emme Lotus 422T: Quatrorodas.br.com, all photos of the ECC: Volvo.