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.
11 thoughts on “The Lotus from Pindamonhangaba”
Why would Lotus sell complete and brand new engines for scrap when they could’ve sold them for profit to their own customer base? Even if they needed cash they must’ve known those engines was worth far more to the owners of Esprits than they could ever get for them as industrial scrap?
In 1997 Lotus started to phase out their 90x series engines due to end of production of the Esprit. Probably some Excel magician discovered that it was more profitable to write off the engines than to sell them. There can’t have been too many engines anyway because Lotus didn’t have the money to finance anything to sit around.
Now, that’s an intriguing story, thank you Bruno. The car reminds me of one of those Lego models that crudely approximates the shape of the featured car. I’m amazed at the chutzpah of the manufacturer, blatantly badging the car as a Lotus:
I suppose Lotus was sufficiently consumed by one of its periodic crises so it either didn’t notice or couldn’t get around to suing Megastar for breach of copyright.
Thank you for an equally entertaining and insightful piece, Bruno!
While the dodginess of the entire project is very much encapsulated in its uncouth design, I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the rear light graphics – Detroit loved these body coloured frameworks at the time too, but the Emme’s take is rather more clearly defined than these.
Which in turn reminds me of the mid-80’s Mustang, a neat and innofensive, if not at all sporting design that, in GT form, was the unlucky recipient of the possibly the most ill-fitting, ugly and downright crass OEM bodykit ever to (dis)grace a motor vehicle:
Another car with an equally crass bodykit and a Lotus logo that’s at least as inappropriate as on the Emme that at least has a proper Lotus engine:
This piece has brought back some memory.
Twelve-year old me actually got to sit inside one of those during one of many visits to the ’97 SP Motor Show.
Even taking into account the lower standards for fit and finish of the day and my own as a teenager, that brief contact left a deep smell of small kitcar companies that sprout – and perish when become ambitious – from time to time. In other words, smell of glue. After that, I could not look at the car and not think about Lego, even the paintwork resembled of thin plastic.
Sure, it has received a lot more attention due to the bold looks and the Lotus badge, but that bootlid gave up most of it’s true nature, as a product.
Interesting to hear from somebody who has actually encountered the car at its debut- do you remember what color the car was? So far I have only been able to find photos of a white and a yellow example… if it was a white one chances are it is the one shown with this article!
Thank you all for your kind comments- I am glad you enjoyed it.
Another detail of the car that caught my eye after publishing is that the logo as seen on the steering wheel and also in the engine compartment looks a lot like the grille of the Citroën C6 🙂
Here’s a silver one:
I grew up some 20 kilometres away from Pindamonhangaba and my dad still lives in the city. We never saw one of the Emme Lotus cars in person.
The best article about the car mentions a dark blue prototype and says that only two out of every ten Lotus engines imported were in good condition. A team of Lotus engineers actually came to Brazil to help making the engine comply to emission rules – engine sales aside, this was the only thing Hethel actually did in the project.
I guess we’ve found out what inspired Volvo S80 exterior and Maserati 3200gt interior!