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Ford Cortina Lotus

Connoisseur Cortinas Published: 5th Dec 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Cortina Lotus

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Pre-Aerofl ow
  • Worst model: Anything dodgy or faked
  • Budget buy: Mk2
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4275mm x W1590mm (Mk1)
  • DIY ease?: It’s an old Ford...
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Mk1s are through the roof
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Arguably the original Q Car providing sports car looks with saloon car practicality, and the famous Ford badge for ease of running. A classic that’s gaining seriously in value, especially Mk1 but Mk2 is arguably the better car. Beware of fakes on all models when buying Take a Ford Cortina, add Lotus Elan running gear and you have the Lotus Cortina – a car made in classic car heaven even if it was hell for its owners when new. Now half a century on, the Lotus Cortina is as much a blue chip classic and wise investment as any Aston. In fact, a Cortina Lotus (the official title) recently sold at auction for close on 200 grand – although to be fair it was the (2nd Baronet) ex-Sir John Whitmore racer. Whether any Ford Cortina is worth that much is open to debate... but the fact is that 50 years since its launch in the Summer of ‘63 prices aren’t going to get any cheaper.


It’s been argued for more than 50 years just who approached who with the idea of the Lotus-powered Cortina. Some say it was the street-wise and savvy Colin Chapman, who knew about the Cortina long before its launch, while others believe it was Ford. It saw Chapman’s efforts with the Lotus Elan (which used a Ford-based engine, steering and transmission) as a way of giving the new family saloon a halo effect and become a formidable competition car just like John Cooper had turned the little Mini into. Whatever, Type 28 in Lotus-speak and 125E in Ford’s book, was born.

Announced that January, launched during the summer, the Cortina Lotus was effectively a 1200 De Luxe gutted and fitted with Elan hardware although the biggest talking point was the unique Seven-like rear suspension (‘A’ bracket axle location with rear coil springs) that did away with the agricultural standard leaf spring set up.

Chapman was a staunch advocate of saving weight wherever possible so the Lotus Cortina was skinned alive by employing as much aluminium body panels as feasible plus alloy transmission parts, all of which meant the Chapman’s Cortina tipped the scales at 775kg, some 20kg less than the base 1200 Ford version. This was no mean feat but there again at £1100 the Lotus was twice the price of the base 1200…

The Lotus version, part made by Ford remember, also gained the same revisions the lesser versions benefited from such as a tidied up frontal, a much neater interior and the famous aeroflow ventilation system, identified by the rear pillar vents. A less racier set of gear ratios were employed (70mph in second with the original cluster!) while steadily the car swapped its alloy panels for the hardier steel type.

A special Equipment variant was announced boasting almost another 15bhp for 115 healthy horses – or 140bhp in racing tune. Despite being a massive success on the tracks in the talented hands of Clark and Stewart, the car’s lamentable reliability on the road and build quality record caused Ford’s patience to finally snap. One engineer returning to Dagenham was rumoured to have said that he doubted if those at Lotus had ever heard of a torque wrench! After too many rear axle failures, and Ford’s reputation on the line, the simpler, sturdier conventional set up from the GT was fitted, albeit with a lower ride height.1966 As Mk1 Cortina was being phased out to make way for the Mk2, this meant big changes to the Lotus model, not least because all were now to be made by Ford at the factory in a bid to keep quality control in check.

In March, the new Cortina Lotus is launched in the larger, boxier Mk2 bodystyle. To counter the added weight, the fast family Ford is now fitted with the 109bhp SE tune engine found in the Elan tune along with the famous Corsair ‘2000E’ gearbox which was carried over from the very last Mk1s, but coupled to a higher 3.77:1 axle ratio.

By the year’s end the iconic Lotus ‘roundels’ were replaced by Twin Cam badging so the car fell in with the soon to be launched hot Escort Twin Cam.

Changes to the Cortina GT also filtered through including a revised dashboard, centre located floor handbrake and detail trim alternations.

After only 194 cars were made that year, the Lotus Cortina was phased out. For the record 2894 Mk1s were made, 1100 with the earlier   suspension, although many were changed in service. Despite it not being seen as a ‘real’ Lotus Cortina, the Mk2 sold better, a creditable 4032 cars.


So what’s all the fuss about? Of course, half a century on it’s easy to dismiss the Lotus as a performance car (0-60 9.9 seconds) but in its day it was a sensation and, like the Cooper S, the fastest way to get around.

Coil or leaf sprung? Well despite its superior design, not only did converting back to leaf rear springs cure reliability issues (the A frame used to allow the rear diff to wriggle about and work loose, spewing out its oil as a result, (Autocar’s long term car went through six axles in 20,000 miles!), on the track they slashed lap times and they made drivers happier, more confident when on the limit.

However many testers thought that when it was actually working right, the A-frame glued the rear end down better and later cars are more tail happy.

Who better to settle the argument than the 1965 European Touring Car Champion Sir John Whitmore who spoke exclusively to Classic Motoring at the recent Goodwood Revival? He said that Alan Mann’s famous racing team soon reverted to the leaf spring arrangement and found it better and faster, although the ultimate set up was the fully independent design which mimicked the Elan. It was brilliant by all accounts but only one car was ever made by Lotus.

Mk1 or Mk2? Now that’s the question! The Mk2 has always lived in the shadows of the original and perhaps that’s due to the car losing its Lotus identity and character (if you call that old Chapman acronym L.O.T.U.S. a plus point). It’s as well to bear in mind that Chapman had little ever to do with the Cortina’s development as he thought a saloon car was now beneath him…

Certainly, the Mk1 (marketed by Ford initially as ‘the Consul Cortina developed by Lotus) has a flavour of its very own that will appeal to the purist while the more pragmatic will see the Mk2 as the more rounded, reliable and better for touring.

In short, the Mk1 feels like its a racing car detuned for the road where as the Mk2 feels like a Cortina GT but Lotus powered. It’s as quick as the Mk1 mind; Motor’s 1967 road test showed it was even-stevens to 60mph then the Mk2 pulled ahead hitting 90 almost four ticks before the Mk1 although had a slightly lower top speed. However, there isn’t that sense of occasion as with the side-striped Mk1s; indeed, shorn of its Lotus addenda the Mk2 is more the Q Car!

Ignoring the Lotus attraction, the rest is pure Cortina, a working class car feeling a bit tinny but with decent room, practicality and user friendliness even if the cheapskate quirky seat runners Ford emplyed right up to the Mk3 Cortina spoil the driving position for tall drivers. Lowish gearing (17.6mph/1000rpm) means all Lotus Cortinas will sound fussy at high speed and you’ll be reaching for a fifth gear that isn’t there (Sierra box fits but spoils originality).

The press took to the first fast Ford as you’d expect. In its 1964 road test, Autocar praised the car for its vigorous performance and exploitable handling as well as the subdued appearance (green stripes were extra but nearly always fitted). “The neighbours would hardly be impressed but the driver who knows his car can gain real satisfaction from driving it.” Amazingly Practical Motorist of all people got hold of one (was it there sent by mistake?-ed) for the February 1965 issue.

Testers greatly approved of the friendlier gear ratios and screamed it to 60mph in 9.2 seconds. “There’s a little bit of Formula 1 buried in this car”, it remarked, adding that the handling is “Excellent – once you get used to it”. Amazingly the magazine rounded up the test up by saying this Cortina was an ‘old man’s car’. “No young man could afford the insurance”. Not much has changed in nearly 50 years then…


Remember the days when a Lotus Cortina could be picked up for a grand or less – and when owners even used to replace that tetchy Twin Cam with a normal GT engine?

It’s a far cry from today where even a box of bits is likely to be worth £3000, more if it’s an early pre-aeroflow Mk1. Runners wil go for well over £10,000, good examples 20 grand and top cars £40,000 plus; cars with a competition history can sell for Aston-like figures!

By and large, Mk2s sell for half the price of a compatible Mk1 and it’s interesting to note that this Lotus Cortina lags behind values for a Twin Cam Escort and RS1600. Indeed, lesser Escorts like the RS2000 can sell for more than a Mk2 Lotus Cortina, which must make this car a bit of a bargain.


The Twin Cam is well served by specialists and parts supply is very good. However, it’s costly, and if you need a new block or cylinder head you are looking at around £1700 for the former and £4000 for the latter. An alternative is to use a conventional (711M) ‘Crossflow’ block; more freely available and cheaper plus it allows an easy 1700cc rebore.  Burton Power says a reliable 140bhp is attainable for road use, by way of uprated cams, heads and re-jetting the Weber DCOE carbs.

Fitting a Big Valve top-end (head and cams) is a sensible step for 126bhp, although the pistons also need to be changed to suit. Throttle bodies and engine mapping is possible. It’s always best to fit ‘breaker-less’ electronic ignition to any Lotus Twin Cam standard or modified.

The Type 9 five-speed Sierra unit means the unique transmission tunnel has to be spoiled. For more acceleration off the line, Burton Power offers a revised first gear ratio alternative for £825.

The suspension is completely orthodox 1960s Ford and the general opinion is that the less advanced leaf arrangement is better, especially for road cars carrying passengers. Capri 2.8i-style brakes are favoured, but uprated discs and pads from Burton may be all you require.

What To Look For


  • Counterfeit Cortinas are rife and some even fool the experts so have any ‘buy’ clarified by the owner’s clubs before you part with your hard earned. All Mk1s should carry a VIN starting with BA74, Mk2s BA94. Rumours say many 1600E Twinks were also made, certainly a handful of Crayford Mk2s were produced.
  • There’s tons of detail differences to a normal Mk1 GT such as special body and underfloor panels, reinforced strut top mounts, boot mounted battery, special rear radius axle arms, unique Smith instruments and so on. Pre-Aeroflow Mk1s had unique trim and switchgear – the original steering wheel alone (three types were made) now sell for £500!
  • Rear radius arms were dropped by Ford on the Mk2 by 1968 on all bar the Lotus version and the 1600E which used the Lotus set up, including lower springs.


  • All are Dagenham dustbins so check for rot – tops of the front struts, bulkheads inner wings, floor A posts rear suspension pick up points, bonnet and boot slam panels, valances, cross-members, jacking points, arches tops of wings, boot floor and so on.
  • Replacement Cortina panels are available (metal) from the likes of Ex-pressed Steel Panels Ltd and LMC Hadrian although obtaining the rare aluminium body panels is difficult and extremely expensive. Trying to restore a pre-65 car back to originality means a healthy bank balance and patience to find the parts.


  • Gearbox is strong but can jump out of gear and become noisy. Gear lever ‘sizzle’ is a cheap worn bush. Rear axles are robust but have a hard time. Lotus did make a limited slip diff available; pricey to rebuild.
  • Bear in mind that the cars may have been fitted with other Ford bits such as the 2000E box instead of the original on pre ’64 cars. A variety of axle ratios and gear sets for competition were available, as well.
  • Fakes! Proper Mk1s featured an Elan type steering box ratio, thicker .094 inch front anti roll bar unique track control arms and special springs – have they been substituted? Also the Lotus featured eight inch drum brake at the stern taken from the Ford Classic.
  • In terms of wear, it’s normal Cortina problems such as sloppy steering (box can be re-shimmed), worn dampers and springs, failed self adjusting rear drum brakes, but it’s all sortable.


  • The Twin Cam engine is better served now than for many years and you can build a good reliable unit for around £5000 – a head alone costs £2000.
  • They drink and leak oil and you’re likely to see a normal puff of smoke on the overrun. Just ensure that the oil pressure (the pump is externally-mounted) is at least 40lbft at operating temp and under load.
  • Timing chains become slack and noisy as well as expensive to replace A good indicator is to see how far the adjustment nut remains; half an inch of studding is okay but any less and replacement looms.
  • Water pumps were another pain as their frequent failure (grasp the pulley to check for end float) meant that the cylinder head had to come off to remove the pump, which costing at under £100 is bearable. However, Burton Power has developed a special kit so if the pump fails again, the head can remain in situ.
  • The Weber DCOEs, which must move a bit on their O ring mountings, are dear (£600 plus) to overhaul and so likely to be out of tune accounting for poor running. Exhaust manifolds are known to fracture and a good excuse to fit a freer flowing alternative.
  • What’s the cambox colour? Kingfisher blue signified SE tune (standard on Mk2s), Red signified Cosworth and Orange BRM tuned – if genuine. A ribbed cam cover or the head stamped L means the Elan Big Valve Head has been substituted – hopefully, so check

Three Of A Kind

In terms of value, there’s no comparison. For a fraction of what you can pay for a Lotus Cortina, the RS Sierra offers much more performance, usability and entertainment (especially Rwd versions!) and almost the same kudos, thanks to that iconic RS badge. Genuine 150mph performance and on later saloons 4x4 Audi Quattro-like security with Scorpiolike luxury come as standard. Values are on the up but you can still buy one for the price of a top Stag.
This was the car that Chapman openly said was the spiritual successor to his Lotus Cortina. Powered by the Esprit 2-litre engine, sat in a chunky hatchback body based upon simple but well sorted Hillman Avenger underpinnings, it was just as sensational as the Lotus two decades on, and won the 1981 World Rally Championship – beating the Quattro! Like the Cosworth, values remain absurdly affordable for the last saloon car Chapman lent a – distant – hand in.
There’s nothing really wrong with a Lotus look-alike – so long as you know what you are getting and pay the appropriate money. Cortina GTs are grossly underrated and can be made to go as fast, more reliably; a 1600E is a more luxurious Lotus Cortina just lacking the power, for example and what about the rare Zodiac-powered Uren Savages which gave Lotus pace in a much lustier way? Plus there’s the option of four-doors and estates.


Logically speaking it doesn’t make sense at all. There are some far better fast Fords around for a lot less money but few hold the same appeal of a Lotus, especially in Mk1 form. We rather like the Mk2 better even though it will never scale the heights of the Mk1. What you have to do, irrespective of model, is to buy with extreme care and with your eyes wide open. A Lotus will be lovely to have in your lock up – a fake one won’t be – yet many have been tricked into buying one in good faith. Don’t follow suit.

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