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Lotus Cortina

Published: 6th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Lotus Cortina
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Fancy owning a motorsport legend for road and track use? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their name on stages and circuits still provide a fine drive today

Colin Chapman was an innovative creator. Yes, he made some very fine road cars, but they were a means to fuel his passion for racing. The Seven, Elite and Elan were the bread and butter that helped pay for numerous sports racers and Grand Prix cars, but it was the Lotus Cortina that took him into mainstream motoring. Whilst the original Elite had Coventry Climax power, Chapman needed a more conventional unit for his Elan that could be serviced and mended by almost anyone. Fitting an alloy, twin overhead camshaft cylinder head onto the cast iron Ford block (bored out to 1558cc) for the sports car was a masterstroke, and transplanting (almost) the same engine into the humble Cortina a logical progression. Especially as it underlined the relationship that gave him the mighty Ford DFV for his Grand Prix cars. The Cortina Mk1 of 1963 was a fairly light car (it had to be, the basic engine was only 1200cc) but the Lotus version (Lotus 28 for type number anoraks) was even more so - with aluminium doors, bonnet and boot lid.The twin Weber engine gave a decent 105bhp, and the lowered suspension was specially tweaked by Lotus, with the leafspring rear axle being replaced by an advanced coil spring and A- bracket arrangement. The year Ford launched the car, Jack Sears humbled the quick Minis and Jaguars to win the British Saloon Car Championship - a feat repeated by Jim Clark the following year. It was in those far-off days when Grand Prix drivers turned their hands to anything! Alan Mann Racing were the people for hot Lotus Cortinas, and Sir John Whitmore was one of their top men. The Lotus Cortina was just as at home in the forests, with Roger Clark turning in some top performances early in is career. But it was the other Clark who grabbed the headlines in 1966 when racing driver Jim tackled the RAC Rally as a publicity stunt, and very nearly made a top three finish! Victory that year went to the similar car of Bengt Soderstrom. It also became a rally weapon of choice for clubmen contesting the British Championship and the Motoring News navigational series. Rallying, particularly, revealed the Achilles Heel of the original Chapman creation – the A-bracket allowing rear axle movement that cracked the differential. Late model Mk1 cars (1966) reverted to Ford cart springs, also losing their lightweight panels at the same time. When the first generation Cortina left the scene, Ford took over prime billing with the performance version of the Mk2 model. The Cortina Lotus (changed to Cortina Twin Cam for 1970) continued to be raced and rallied: Frank Gardner won the British Saloon Championship in ’68 and Roger Clark/Ove Andersson finished 10th on the London-Sydney Marathon - but is was larger and heavier than its predecessor. And the Escort Twin Cam (same engine) was already on the scene. As so often happens to cars in this series, the Lotus Cortina found new life with the advent of historic racing and rallying. Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams has raced in Europe to great effect, and Jim McRae has won in the British Historic Rally Championship - but, like before, the Escort is now the car to beat on special stages

Lotus Cortina Summary


Mk1 1963-66: 3300
Mk2 1967-70: 4000


Engine: Four-cylinder, in-line, twin overhead camshafts, 2 x 40 DCOE Weber (or DHLA Dell’Orto) carbs. Approx 105bhp (109.5 Mk2).
Gearbox: Four-speed.
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: Front independent with McPherson strut and coil springs; Rear live axle with A-bracket and coils (Mk1) and leaf springs (from 1966).
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear.

Claim to fame

Numerous race wins and two British saloon car championships; Ford’s rally machine of the mid sixties; RAC winner 1966; that drive by Jim Clark!

Famous names

(The late, great) Jim Clark, Peter Arundell, Sir John Whitmore, Jacky Ickx, Jackie Oliver, Roger Clark, Graham Hill, Bengt Soderstrom, Ove Andersson, Vic Elford, Barrie Williams, Jim McRae.

Where to buy

Difficult to track down - many genuine cars are now in private collections. Try a Lotus specialist, classic car magazines. Sometimes appear at auctions

What to look for

Rust at strut tops and rear suspension hangers. If it’s an early Mk1, check if it’s an original (many fakes) with lightweight panels and A-bracket rear. Engine and gearbox can be fitted to basic Cortinas, but dash fascia is unique.

What to pay

Genuine Mk1s recently advertised at £15,000- £20,000 (ex Jim Clark racer sold for £84k a few years back!). Mk2 will be much cheaper.


Lotus Cortina Register:

Classic sport

Great for period racing, Goodwood and so on. Now outclassed in rallying by Escort TC.

Maintenance, tuning and sport

Engine can be easily tweaked to 150bhp with period tuning gear - this car is best kept original!

Competitive Rating: 6

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