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Ford Cortina Lotus

Ford Cortina Lotus Published: 14th Jul 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Cortina Lotus
Ford Cortina Lotus
Ford Cortina Lotus
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Stuart enjoyed the original Ford Cortina Lotus but, as with many owners, the pleasure was short-lived

In the 1960s Lotus had an appalling record for unreliability, especially with the Ford Cortina Lotus (which is the correct title but rarely used!-ed) which was essentially a Cortina GT with its engine converted to twin ohc, and the leaf springs, used to locate the live back axle, replaced with coil springs and location by an A-frame and radius arms. It was this layout which was the chief cause of trouble and the early example used by our [Autocar’s] Sports Editor Peter Garnier went through no less than six final drive units in the 29,000 miles driven in two years.

It was also this failure which dogged my coverage of the early stages of the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, described in the October 2013 issue of Classic Motoring. The suspension, which also used much firmer springs and dampers, plus a stronger anti-roll bar, gave the car impressive roadholding, which I enjoyed in the first hour after seeing a few competitors leave the start at Chelsea Barracks at 3.26am.

On deserted roads through south-east London and Kent I really enjoyed myself with the Cortina Lotus, throwing it through roundabouts and exploiting its terrific handling on roads which were lightly tinged with ice.

But there was also much to be disappointed about in the Cortina Lotus, notably the excessive noise, both wind and mechanical roar, as well as a shockingly harsh ride. The car was better suited to competition work than a road car.

It was a very windy night, and when we were on the M2 the car wandered about when it was hit by gusts. I appreciated the spacing of the gear ratios which allowed 70 in second and over 90 in third, but the low overall gearing added to the sensation of fussiness on motorways.

The twin ohc engine gulped premium petrol via twin Weber DCOE carburettors giving a net power output of 105bhp (good going back then), but fuel consumption was heavy, returning only 20.8mpg on our Road Test.

Oh no, not again…

We were making good progress when disaster occurred on the M2. At first I thought it was a low-flying aircraft, but the noise rose to a crescendo, and changed to a harsh grumble from the back end.

By chance we had come to rest not far from where the photographer lived, and he said that if we could get to his home his staff car was there and we could take that. I had visions of his neglected Hillman Minx, but we had no choice in the matter, so trundled slowly along the hard shoulder in second accompanied by dreadful noises from behind with the occasional loud bang as something became caught in the gears We limped into the driveway at his Faversham home, transferred everything to the Hillman – scruffier than I had feared, but at least it was a runner – and it took us successfully to Dover and on into France.

When Garnier returned from the rally and heard of my adventures he roared with laughter and told me more about his experiences with axle failures in his Cortina Lotus. The retaining studs on the flange of the aluminium nose-piece of the back axle notoriously tended to work loose, allowing all the oil to escape and the final drive eventually to seize. But this wasn’t the only problem with a car that had not been developed properly, and it went through the front disc brake pads in only 3000 miles. There was also a problem with spark plug oiling plugs during low-speed running. However, the Cortina Lotus proved itself in motorsport, the main aim.

It was all change in ’67 when the much improved Mk2 was introduced based on the later Cortina. It came with the standard leaf spring location as used on the Cortina GT. Also important, at that time, was that construction of the car was taken away from Lotus and in future it was to be built by Ford at Dagenham…

In Autocar’s test we commented that it was so greatly improved as to be a different car and should have had a new name. The engine was smoother and much less fussy, helped by a slightly higher final drive ratio. Revised gearbox ratios meant that you couldn’t see 70mph in second gear any more and maximum speed was 104mph but it seemed a fair trade off.

Fuel consumption was described as “good in relation to the performance” though 22mpg would be frowned on today. The engine also went through a pint of oil every 350 miles – how times have changed!

Nothing was lost in the way of cornering adhesion and handling with the change from Colin Chapman’s unreliable rear axle location by A-bracket and coil springs, and benefits came in the form of a more resilient ride and much reduced road roar from the rear end. Less pleasing was the poor driving position due to the design of the seat mounting. As the seat is moved back for a long-legged driver the angle of the fixed backrest becomes too upright. The car was built only as a two-door with provision for the seats to tip forward for access to the rear, but no safety catches are provided to hold them upright in event of an accident. The appeal of the Mk2 is as a real driver’s car, a four-seater with sports car performance. I liked it better.

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