Produced under collaboration with Lotus Cars and Ford, the Lotus Cortina was a high-performance car produced in the U.K. from 1963 through 1970. Based on the Ford Cortina Mark 1, the initial version was promoted by Ford as the 'Consul Cortina developed by Lotus'. Eventually 'Consul' was dropped from the name. The Mark 2 received its inspiration from the Ford Cortina Mark 2 and was advertised as the 'Cortina Lotus' by Ford.
Colin Chapman, an influential English design engineer and inventor and also the founder of Lotus cars, had been wanted to build his own engines for Lotus since Coventry Climax unit was so costly. Chapman commissioned Harry Mundy, a designer for Coventry Climax engine, to design a twin-cam version of the Ford Kent engine. The majority of the development of the engine was done on the 997cc and 1,340cc bottom end, but once Ford released the 116E five bearing 1,499 cc engine in 1962, the work shifted to this one.
Keith Duckworth from Cosworth was influential in the engine tuning. The engine would first appear in 1962 at the Nürburgring in Lotus 23. The engine was only in the production Lotus Elan before it was replaced with a larger capacity 1,557cc unit. This was done to keep the car close to the 1.6-liter motorsport capacity class.
Walter Hayes from Ford went to Chapman and asked if he could fit the engine to 1,000 Ford saloons for Group 2 homologation while the engine was being developed. Even though he was most likely busy with the launch of the Lotus Elan, Chapman accepted Hayes offer. This would be the evolution of the Lotus-Cortina or Cortina-Lotus (according to Ford). Also dubbed Type 28, Ford provided the 2-door Cortina body shells and was responsible for all advertising and selling of the cars. Lotus was in charge of all parts mechanical and cosmetic.
Installing the 1,557 cc (105 bhp (78 kW; 106 PS)) engine together with the same close-ratio gearbox as the Elan would be the largest hurdle to cross. It would require significantly altering the rear suspension and the alloy panels used for doors, trunk and hood. Fitted to the gearbox and differential were lightweight casings. Painted in white with a green stripe, all of the Lotus factory cars were displayed this way except for some racing models that Ford built in red. One particular customer had a dark blue stripe rather than green due to a superstition about the color. The Cortina featured front quarter bumpers and round Lotus badges built-in to rear wings and the right side of the radiator panel.
The inside of the Cortina featured a wood-rimmed steering wheel, different seats, an updated dashboard and a revamped center console that housed the new gear lever position. The dashboard held fuel level gauges, speedometer, oil pressure and a tachometer. The early cars featured an oil pressure warning light and single indicator repeater housed with the speedo. Eventually the cars received two indicator lights. The center console featured a dash-top ashtray.
It wouldn't be an easy fix to get the suspension up to par for the Cortina, so suspension changes were extensive. The car received shorter struts in the front, forged track control arms and 5.5J by 13 steel wheel rims and vertical coil spring/dampers in the rear that replaced the leaf springs. Two trailing arms with an A-bracket that connected to the differential housing and brackets near the trailing arm pivots sorted out axle location. More braces were installed behind the rear seat and from the wheel-arch down to chassis in the trunk to support this set-up.
The spare wheel was moved from the standard wheel well and bolted to the left side of the trunk floor. The battery also found a new home in the trunk behind the right wheel-arch. This changes helped to vastly improve the overall weight distribution. Brake specialist Girling further improved the Cortina with its new braking system (9.5 in (240 mm) front discs. The Cortina GT's also featured this system but without a servo, which was fitted in the Lotus Cortina engine bay.
At first J.A Prestwich of Tottenham, and then Villiers of Wolverhampton constructed the engine for the Lotus Cortina. Lotus relocated to Hethel in Norwich in 1966where their own engine building services were. The Cortina used an 8.0-inch diaphragm-spring clutch, while Ford fitted coil-spring clutches to the rest of the range. The rest of the gearbox was shared with the Lotus Elan, but the ultra-close gear ratios would lead to issues since the clutch was difficult in traffic, but ideal for racing or the open road. Eventually the ratios were changed.
The Lotus Cortina was met with much fanfare and earned acclaim early on. It was the perfect middle ground for those who felt they had to settle for a Mini-Cooper or a Cortina GT. The downside of the Cortina was that to some Ford dealerships the car was too specialist and they were unsure of the car and where the parts went. Early on some of the issues reported to owners were engines down on power, too close gear ratios and the differential housing coming away from the casing. This issue was generally caused by the high loads put on the axle since the A bracket was an integral part of the rear suspension. This would further escalate when any oil lost from the axle moved on to the bushes of the A bracket.
To solve some of these issues four updates were made to the Mk1 Lotus during its production. The first update included replacing a two-piece prop shaft and the lighter alloy transmission casing for standard Ford items. The ultra close ratio gears were also replaced for Cortina GT gear ratios, with the biggest different being the 1st, 2nd and reverse were much higher ratios. Standard panels replaced the light alloy ones in 1964. When purchasing a new car alloy items and ultra-close ratios could be specified.
Late in 1964 the 2nd main update include a facelift throughout the entire Cortina range which included a full width front grille and aeroflow outlets in the rear quarters once the cars received Ford's new ventilation system. The interior was also updated at this time. Halfway through 1965 the biggest change for the Cortina was the rear suspension swapped out for the leaf springs and radius arms of the Cortina GT. This update also replaced all the stiffening tubing.
The final update for the Cortina occurred in 1965 when self-adjusting items replaced the rear drums. The well-known 2000E gearbox ratios were also utilized and lowered 1st and reverse about halfway between the Cortina GT ratios and the ultra close-ratio box. These updates made the Cortina less of a specialized model, but much easier to fix and more reliable. All of the special parts were still available for members of the public and for competition. The Lotus Cortina was well known and liked and had an impressive competition reputation. Production of the Mk1 model finished near the end of 1966 and was being made into a left hand drive model.
Ford wanted to make even more updates to the Mk1, so they introduced the Cortina Lotus Mk2 in 1966. The Mk1 was proving itself a worthy racing competitor, but all of its bad issues were pointing fingers at Ford. Ford desired to build an Mk2 Lotus and compete with it, but at the time Lotus was relocating from Cheshunt to Hethel and it was an inconvenient time to build a new model. There was some concern with the reliability of Lotus built vehicles, so Ford chose to make the car at Dagenham themselves, alongside the other Cortina's. To make this work, the Mk2 had to be even easier to produce than the Mk1 so it could be made side by side with the Mk2 GT, with only different engines and suspension.
It wasn't until 1967 when the Mk2 was introduced with the biggest change being in the selection of colors lack of a stripe. Most buyers chose to have it fitted at Ford dealers for an additional fee. The Mk2 sported a black front grille, Lotus badges on rear wings and by the rear number plate and 5.5J x 13 steel wheels. Initially the badge on the front grille was optional. The Mk2 arrived also in left hand drive from the very beginning unlike the Mk1.
The Mk2 was powered by an updated and improved 109 bhp (81 kW) 111 PS)) engine.
This engine had previously been supplied as the special equipment engine option on the Elan and the Cortina Mk1. Now using the Mk2 remote-control gear-change, the gearbox ratios however remained 2000E ones. Compared to the Mk1 3.9:1, the Mk2 had a final drive of 3.77:1. Wider than its predecessor, the Mk2 looked very similar to the Mk1, but was featured steel wheels with a different offset that didn't upset the tracking and standard radial tires. The fuel tank was also much larger and the spare tire could be mounted in its wheel well. The engine bay had the air cleaner now mounted on top of the engine. The interior of the Mk2 was nearly identical to the GT.
This model was everything that Ford desired, a more reliable Cortina with the perfect blend of competition speed. Updates continued through the series, but never as comprehensive as the Mk1's. The Lotus badge on the rear panel was quickly deleted and a new TWIN-CAM badge was fitted under the Cortina script on the trunk lid. On the inside a new clock combined center console was added.
The whole Mk2 range underwent cosmetic updates in 1968. The four dials on top of the dash in the Lotus were brought down and installed into the dash. An internal hood release mechanism was added along with a more conventional mounting for the handbrake. Newly added with a single-rail gearshift mechanism.
The Mk2 remained in production until 1970. Two special 4-door versions were delivered to the Mid-Anglia Constabulary for testing as a fast patrol and pursuit car by British Police forces. Unfortunately the trial never went very far, but both examples are still in existence today.
The Lotus-Cortina had an exciting history of racing. 1000 Cortina's were built in 1963 and duly homologated in September 1963. The car finished 3rd and 4th behind two Ford Galaxies in the same month in the car's initial outing at the Outlton Park Gold Cup. For so long the 3.8-liter Jaguars had been dominating in saloon car racing and the Cortina beat them out. Before long Ford was running cars in Europe, Britain and the USA. Team Lotus was running cars in the U.K. for Ford, Alan Mann Racing ran car in Europe also on behalf of Ford. A formidable competitor, Lotus Cortina's beat nearly any car except the 7-liter V8 Ford Galaxies and Ford Mustangs.
Lotus-Cortina's quickly became a familiar sight in 1964 leading around a bend. Jackie Steward and Mike Beckwith won the Marlboro 12-hour in the U.S, Jim Clark won the British Saloon Car championship and Alan Mann Racing did an excellent job during the European Touring Car challenge, including a 1-2 victory in the 'Motor' Six Hour International Touring Car Race at Brands Hatch. During the 4000 mile 10-day Tour de France a Boreham-built car won in its class, came 4th outright and won the handicap section. Other successes for the Lotus Cortina included the South African National Saloon Championship, the Austrian Saloon Car Championship, the Swedish Ice Championship, and the Wills Six-Hour in New Zealand.
Thanks to the increased reliability of the new leaf spring rear end, the Lotus Cortina began to win quite frequently as the car became more competitive. Sir John Whitmore, driving for Alan Mann Racing, became quite a worthy adversary as he won the European Touring Car Championship in KPU392C. A Lotus-Cortina won the New Zealand Gold Star Saloon Car Championship, Jackie Ickx won the Belgian Saloon Car Championship and Jack Sears won his class in the British Saloon Car Championship. The Cortina added extra notches on its belt with the Nürburgring Six-Hour race, the Snetterton 500 and the Swedish National Track Championship.
Regulations changed, and in 1966 Team Lotus was now able to register new cars for the British Saloon Car Championship, which was open to Group 5 Special Touring cars. New rules allowed for fuel injection and dry sumping. With Lucas injection and tuning by BRM, the Cortina engine could produce 180 bhp at 7750 rpm, which increased their ability to keep up with those speedy Mustangs. Coil-springs and shock absorbers replaced the McPherson struts and updated wishbone geometry. Many of these 8 class wins scored were achieved with Jim Clark behind the wheel. Though it wasn't enough to win the title, Sir John Whitmore pulled off another four wins.
A consistent class winner, the Lotus Cortina MK1's snatched win after win in modern Historic Touring Car racing throughout the world. The top speed recorded is 147 mph at Mount Panorama Bathurst in Australia with Marc Ducquet behind the wheel. In the U.S. the Cortina earns high marks for its competitiveness in the fewer than 2000 cc class of the Trans Am Series.
Though the Ford Escort was a much more worthy competitor when it came to rallying, the Cortina did well during the mid-1960s. In the 1963 Spa-Sofia-Liege rally in September, the first Lotus-Cortina to be rallied was a GT model with a Lotus engine. The first race was to just test the engine, was driven by Henry Taylor and won 4th place. Once again driven by Taylor, with co-driver Brian Melia the first outing in a rally by a Cortina proper was in the '63 RAC Rally. Despite the A-bracket rear end having issues, astonishingly the car finished 6th. For the 1964 Tour de France Automobile, the A-bracket was persisted with Vic Elford and David Seigle-Morris behind the wheel for the 10-day, 4,000-mile event. This even was on sealed roads though instead of the bumpy RAC Rally roads. In the Touring Car Category their car came 4th outright, and first in the Handicap category.
Ford chose to replace the A-bracket suspension for more conventional GT rear suspension after numerous issues. This new suspension was available by June of 1965. Though other issues seemed to hold back the Cortina, several victories were achieved. In July of 1965 four of the newly modified cars competed in the Alpine Rally and Elford's car led outright the whole time until a piece of the distributor fell out. The car was delayed 26 minutes. The four cars retired from 1965's snow-affected RAC rally. In December of the same year the first works victory was achieved when Roger Clark and Graham Robson won the Welsh International.
Ford succeeded to homologate the car for Group 1 in 1966. This required 5000 cars to be constructed. Clark finished 4th in the Monte Carlo Rally, but unfortunately he was disqualified. In the Rallye Sanremo (Rally of the Flowers) Elford finished 1st before also being disqualified. In the Tulip Rally Elford came 2nd. After the 1st-placed Mini Cooper S was disqualified Bengt Söderström was named winner of the Acropolis Rally.
At the Alpine Rally new cars were used. Unfortunately Elford's engine blew up after taking the lead, and Roger Clark finished second. In the RAC rally the Cortina finally achieved its big victory and proved itself outright. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson