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Lotus Cortina

Fast Ford Not Fraud Published: 20th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Cortina

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Pre-aerofl ow
  • Worst model: Anything dodgy or faked
  • Budget buy: Well converted GTs
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4275 x W1590
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Old school Ford
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Only good, genuine ones
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Former – but try cheaper MK2?
early dash changed in ‘64 with plusher cabin early dash changed in ‘64 with plusher cabin
Unless you were there, it’s diffi cult to grasp just how exotic this car was back in 1963 Unless you were there, it’s diffi cult to grasp just how exotic this car was back in 1963
Some have been bought and sold in good faith so check well before you part with your cash… Some have been bought and sold in good faith so check well before you part with your cash…
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With prices soaring for one of the best sports saloons ever you need to be careful when buying a MK1 Lotus Cortina. But the rewards will be great, financial and fun-wise

Pros & Cons

Heritage, fun factor, ease of running, appreciating asset
Potential for fakes and bodges, performance no more than adequate, expensive to restore
£7000- £100,000

What makes a MK1 Ford Cortina worth anything up to 100 grand? Logically speaking nothing… but when has logic ever entered the classic car equation, especially when talking about real icons such as this Lotuspowered family saloon. The MK1 Lotus Cortina (officially known as but rarely called the Cortina-Lotus) is one of the fastest appreciating sports saloons on the block, loved for its heritage and Q Car appearance. The six fi gure car mentioned was a rather special 3000 miles from new example with an infamous past and happily you don’t need to spend so much. However the criminal element got its claws into this fast family Ford along time ago and you need to buy with care or you can lose your shirt on this Lotus Elanpowered Cortina.


Replcas are good value and not so precious. Fakes are another matter!

Even before the launch of the Cortina MK1 in 1962, and with the less exotic GT still under development, Ford decided that it needed a real showroom puller to lift what was a very orthodox and rather mundane car. A combination of envy and perhaps a touch of jealousy over the success of the technologically advanced Mini-Cooper on both road and track – and a sharp, smooth talking Colin Chapman of Lotus – was all the goading Ford needed to launch its own Grand Prix-linked hot car. The Ford Cortina-Lotus, as was its offi cial title, was developed in an amazingly short space of time (which probably explained the many hassles owners and Ford dealers experienced–ed). Known by Lotus as Type 28, in August 1962 Chapman took delivery of a stock white 1200cc Cortina two-door and started making one of the best sporting saloons of all time by shoehorning in the new Lotus-developed Ford-based 1500cc twin cam engine with the Elan-sourced gearbox, linked via a special alloy bellhousing. But perhaps the most controversial feature was the all-new A-framed, coil sprung rear suspension (largely based upon the Lotus Seven) that was a complete departure from the antiquated leaf set up. The car sat some three and a half inches lower than a standard Cortina, so with four up had virtually no suspension travel. Chapman, a stickler for weight saving, insisted on aluminium substitutes for the bonnet, boot and doors, but the contrasting side fl ash that virtually all cars wore was in fact optional. Announced in January 1963, actual deliveries didn’t start until the summer. By then the Lotus Cortina was already a legend on race tracks, kicking out an easy 140bhp in Group 2 trim. Ford, in fact initially marketed the car as the “Consul Cortina, developed by Lotus” but that was a mouthful few people would stomach, so it quickly became better known, quite rightly if unoffi cially, as the Lotus Cortina. In line with the normal Cortina range, a revised model was introduced in 1964, benefi ting from a nicer chromed nose as well as a less austere interior, which also featured Ford’s now famous Aerofl ow ventilation system. However by 1965 Ford had almost had enough of the Lotus spin off. It wasn’t the car’s performance that worried them, but more the appalling build quality back at the Lotus works. The biggest hassle was that hybrid rear suspension that was too fragile and untrustworthy by half. It frequently broke and even if it held together, fl exing on the road plus caused the differential casing to work loose and leak its oil away. Fit and fi nish of the alloy panels was also dismal for a Cortina that cost as much as a Rover 2000! Something had to be done to preserve Ford’s reputation and so that June the company insisted that the conventional GT rear end was employed but with the addition of special radius arms to keep the axle in check. A retrograde step for the forward-thinking Chapman. But it worked… Come October a revised set of gear ratios were installed (this gearbox is better known as the Corsair 2000E unit). All these enforced changes during 1965 resulted in the best year for sales with 1112 Lotus versions produced. When the MK1 Cortina made way for the squarer-cut MK2, Ford brought the Lotus Cortina in house at Dagenham to keep control of the quality (much to Chapman’s dismay at losing such a money-spinning contract). Although enthusiasts view MK1s through rose-tinted glasses, the MK2 was the more complete and arguably better car, although not as special or hybrid.


The very first “fast Ford” remains a whole lot of fun to drive but quick it isn‘t. The Lotus is just about as brisk as today’s typical 1.8 repmobile… but bare figures simply can’t ever convey the raw thrill of the car in full fl ow with its sharp throttle response, impressive mid-range fist and of course that classic gruff, throaty Twin Cam soundtrack that’s music to the ears (good thing too as theLotus is far too noisy for a decent radio). Best of all the MK1 feels fast meaning that you don’t have to break the legal limits to wring the best out of one. Naturally with only a close ratio four-speed ‘box, it’s no black top cruiser but a fi ve-speed Sierra box can be fi tted if desired (see our Improvements section). Handling is entertaining to say the least – just don’t try to lift a front wheel up like Jim Clark on the road too often or you may come a cropper! Arguments rage whether the original A-frame set up was that superior in practice. In a contemporary road test, Motor stated that the original Lotus rear end perhaps glued the tail down too much and induced too much understeer as a result, while the later, simpler GT underpinnings turned the car into something too sensitive and tail happy on period tyres. You choose… but in a back-to-back test on the race track the leaf sprung car was the quicker and crucially the racing aces preferred it! Economy hovers between 22-25mpg according to the health and tune of those big Webers DCOEs and how much you gun one. Lotus Cortinas aren’t cheap to buy and you’re only paying for that badge as the rest of the car is pure MK1 DeLuxe, meaning minimal equipment and comfort levels (optional racing seats were available) but enthusiasts are prepared to live with all that. In contrast the MK2 is far more civilised and usable yet somehow doesn’t have the rawcharacter of the original.


A special one owner 3000 miles from new MK1 recently sold for £100,000 – but the ex Train Robber Roy James car wasn’t daylight robbery as the best MK1s have been nudging the six fi gure barrier for years; an ex-Jim Clark racer sold for £83,000 as far back as 2003. The good news is that you don’t have to pay anything like as much as this for a top car - although £25K appears the going rate for a head-turning road version. Projects start from around £5000 but any car has to be genuine; converted GTs (and there are plenty around) are worth nothing like an original, although are entirely good and usable without being so precious. Ten grand should buy a decent turn key Lotus, if in need re-fetting; half this should bag a really acceptable GT convert. Anything special, ultra original or has a famous competition past will be worth mega money.


You can do a lot to any Cortina – but should you muck about with an authentic Lotus one? That’s the dilemma because not only will most mods mess with the car’s value, it changes the car’s character as well. The exception is if you source period tuning gear from the likes of Lotus, Cosworth Ian Walker Racing, BRM (engine parts), Vegantune, Superspeed, Jeff Uren andsuch like. Burton Engineering of Essex is one of the most respected ‘Twink’ experts and still produces parts for the engine. Fitting electronic ignition is a good move if for no other reason that the points are a pig to access with the carbs in place. Seeing that those DCOEs are in top shape (many aren’t due to cost) will improve the majority of cars – try The Carburettor Hospital in Essex. A good top end rebuild unleashes a fair few hidden horses while uprating the SE tune (as found on MK2 models) is keeping in character. Ditto don’t go overboard with the rest of the running gear; just uprated dampers and springs should suffi ce, as should good quality standard size tyres. Going over-wide here on modern lower profi le rubber can spoil the show say Cortina experts, plus just doesn’t look right. As we said earlier, the ubiquitous Sierra gearbox can be fitted with fair ease and may well improve the car for road use plus make motorway work less taxing. However, you will harm the car’s value by altering the transmission tunnel, which is special to the car anyway. But if its a replica car then we’d go right ahead!

What To Look For

  • First things fi rst! Is it a real Lotus Cortina? Offi cially 3301 were made but fakes were always rife with this car because they are so easy to convert from standard. So check the car with an owners club to be certain. Look at the chassis number, it should start with BA74. Some counterfeit Cortinas are so well done that they have passed through several owners!
  • Chief tell-tale signs are a special panel to the boot fl oor to protect the diff from the ultra-low ground clearance and extra radius arms, reinforced front strut top mounts, added bulkhead fl itch panels, boot mounted battery, relocated horn (behind the grille) and special Smiths instruments that were unique to the Lotus, along with the standard wooden embossed gear knob and steering wheel (MK1s). Pre- 65 cars featured those aluminium panels.
  • The earliest pre ‘Airfl ow’ (meaning cars not fi tted with the excellent Aerofl ow ventilation system) models are the most coveted and many parts are special to this model, such as the ‘ban the bomb rear lenses, the Consul bonnet badging, dashtop ashtray, different column switchgear to name a few.
  • What colour is the engine? Normal Lotus units wore Kingfi sher Blue camshaft covers while green-painted ones signifi ed the higher tune SE (fi tted as standard to MK2s, optional on MK1s) – although don’t be fooled by a different coloured lid… Plain silver ones are also around but watch for Red (Cosworth) and Orange (BRM) topped engines because they may be good for up to 155bhp!
  • Other SE goodies included re-jetted Weber DCOEs, and Minilite or BRM magnesium alloy wheels for competition. Fuel injection was also offered along with a range ofalternative gear and rear axle ratios plus a limited slip diff.
  • Tuning gear was plentiful – and still is from the likes of Burton Engineering or QED Motorsport. If you are after period-style stuff them look for BRM, IWR, Burton, Vegantune and of course Cosworth (who co-developed the Twin Cam unit) bits.
  • On Pre ’65 cars don’t expect to automatically assume to fi nd the A-frame rear suspension. Some owners modifi ed their cars very early on once the switch was made at the factory, although some ’66 cars fi ltered through.
  • The A-frame/coil spring set up was tainted by frailty where the axle tugged away and either broke it (check for a succession of welding bodge ups) or caused the axle to loosen and shed its oil, leading to seizure.
  • That said, modern sealants, Nyloc nuts and careful fi tting largely eradicate this say the experts while some weld re-enforcement inside the axle casing to make it stronger but without spoiling the original looks.
  • Rust will always be a worry although to be fair most Lotus Cortinas will have been well looked after or restored by now. Chief rot areas on car this age are everywhere but in particular the tops of the front struts (it will have been plated at some point), inner wings, sills (outer and inner), A posts, front slam panels and valances, cross-members, jacking points and outriggers, fl oor pan, rear suspension hangers, rear wheel arches (very common), doors, windscreen scuttle, and the boot fl oor.
  • Replacement and pattern parts are available from the likes of Ex-pressed Steel PanelsLtd (01535 632721) and LMC Hadrian (01373 865088), while the numerous owners’ clubs can help out.
  • Bear in mind that the original alloy panels are delicate and may well have been chucked in favour of normal Cortina panels. Trying to restore a pre-65 back to originality will be costly. Similarly an earlier car with later panels will be worth less to the pedantic.
  • Expect engine oil leaks around the cam covers, especially at the rear. Oil usage can be alarming but that’s not a bad sign: pressure should be 40lbft at operating temp. Look for plumes of smoke on the overrun, suggesting worn bores, pistons.
  • Even though technology and a clutch of new par ts now being remanufactured means Twinks can be built better than ever, they are extremely expensive and it’s not uncommon to see a normal 1500cc block fi tted but bored out to 1650cc. A 1600 has the potential for 1760cc or 1835cc. This makes for a torquier engine, too.
  • TC heads are fairly durable although a lot depends on the quality of the antifreeze used and how much has been skimmed due to gasket failure. A new head costs just under £2000 while a full engine rebuild costs double this.
  • Typical “Twink” wear points include failed water pumps. Grasp the pump pulley and feel for movement. A new one costs £90ish (you’ll fi nd them cheaper at autojumbles) but the head has to come off. The good news is that Burton has devised a kit costing a couple of hundred that once fi tted means the head needn’t come off again.
  • Timing chains are another weak point and costly to renew. A good indication is to check the adjuster which should have at least half an inch of stud showing, meaning that adjustment is still available. A slack one will chatter while if over-tight to compensate leads to a whining noise.
  • Poor running is usually due to worn DCOE carbs that require exper t overhauling and setting up (£600 is typical). Also, the distributor’s location under the inlet manifold makes servicing the points a pig of a job. Rough running may be simply lack of a decent engine tune.
  • Lotus tubular exhaust manifolds arenotorious for breaking. Paul Matty Spor tscars (01527 835656) sells a superior, bigger bore replacement.
  • Lotus Cortinas used special shorter springs as well as larger nine inch Classic-sourced drum brakes. Has normal GT or even basic Cortina 1500 Super gear been substituted – or is the car actually a fake? This is particularly relevant to the steering box, which on the Lotus enjoyed a higher ratio and lengthened track control arms, together with a larger 0.94 inch front anti-roll bar. Again, are these still fi tted? Incidentally, sloppy steering boxes can be re-shimmed but the joints are known wear points.
  • Trim couldn’t be more basic (try Aldridge Trimming ( There are three types of steering wheel and if you’re a stickler for originality then be prepared to pay £500 for the correct one – or two grand for a rare studded 1963 tiller!

Three Of A Kind

Triumph Dolomite Sprint
Triumph Dolomite Sprint
In many ways the Dolomite Sprint was the Cortina Lotus of the 1970s, offering sizzling performance along with practicality and prestige plus, like the Lotus, was a big hit in motorsport. Sadly, like the original fast Ford, the Sprint lacked staying power and soon became a liability, especially the 16v engine. These days it’s easy to sort out this Triumph and they make super value buys.
Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth
Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth
This is another fast Ford with an impeccable pedigree that remains amazingly cheap for what it offers – mainly 150mph Ferrari-beating pace twinned with repmobile Sierra practicality and reliability (engine excepted). Rear wheel drive ones are a hoot, but the four-wheel drive model is the more stable and sensible buy. An easy sub £6000 purchase good ones will soar in value within next fi ve years, especially RS500.
Hillman Hunter GLS
Hillman Hunter GLS
How about this for a left fi eldalternative? Launched in 1972 using a race tuned version of the common Hunter 1725cc engine, twin DCOE carbs, etc) the Hunter GLS took over where the Cortina-Lotus left off, while its ancient chassis provides classic tail happy driving. Performance is easily up the Ford’s level but the cabin is as luxurious as a Zodiac. Cheap for what they offer but really for novelty value only.


In a way it doesn’t make sense. There are some far better, faster cars than this hotted-up Cortina and for a lot less money – like Ford’s later RS Escorts and Cossies for a start. Yet none possess the special charisma the MK1 Lotus has in buckets. A good one isn’t cheap – but there again top ones won’t lose money either. Unless you land yourself with a fake that is so take care when buying.

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