Lotus Cortina Mk1 - Family Car Turned Into a Racing Beast!
The Lotus Cortina Mk1 is a small saloon car which was produced from 1963 to 1966. It can be said that this car succesfully put Ford and Lotus on the motorsport map with a great success in the Touring car championships across the world. Its combination of a superb engine, proven mechanical bits and light weight was more than enough to crown this small two-door car as an international champion.
Ordinary family saloon become a racing beast
It is a lesser–known fact that work on the development of the Lotus Cortina Mk1 started by chance. In the early 1960s, Lotus’ famous founder Colin Chapman was looking for some engines to replace the Coventry Climax engines as they were not proving to be economical. For this purpose, he hired an engineer Harry Mundy to design the twin cam head for the cheap and reliable Ford Kent engines.
Ford’s manager was impressed and he ordered the production
Soon, the new engine was ready and installed in the Lotus Elan with 1.6 liters and little over 100bhp. The manager of Ford, Walter Hayes, was impressed with this engine’s potential and asked Colin Chapman if it was possible to make 1000 Ford Cortinas using the same engine and homologate it for the Touring car championships. Chapman agreed and soon the development of the Lotus Cortina started.
Lot of modifications to stock Cortina Mk1
The new homologation special was very different from the regular production of Ford Cortinanew homologation special was very different from the regular production of Ford Cortina. First of all, a lot of its panels were lightweight and the new engine and driver train were installed. The dashboard was also new with more instrumentation. That is not all; the cars were painted white with olive green inserts and Lotus badges.
Significant changes of the suspension
Furthermore, the biggest change was made in the suspension of the car. The rear suspension of the standard Cortina with leaf springs had proved to be inadequate in the past so the Lotus engineers had installed a totally new rear suspension with vertical coil springs, new dampers and two trailing arms
The front of the car was also revised with shorters struts, new shocks and bigger wheels. This was all required to make the Lotus Cortina viable for the road and on the track because it had doubled the power of a regular model.
Formula 1 champion as a driver of Lotus Cortina Mk1
When the Lotus Cortina was introduced in 1963, it took the motoring world by storm with its sublime performance and overall quality. This was truly a world-class affordable sports car with a very modern twin cam engine and the practicality of a family car. The main advantage of the Lotus Cortina was its stability due to its new suspension and its engine with a very impressive 105bhp.
Soon enough, Lotus Cortinas were seen on the racing tracks, and as predicted, went on to become British and European Touring car winners. Almost every famous race driver of that period raced in these cars at some point in time or the other. The most successful was Jim Clark who was Formula 1 champion of the time.
Ford dealers weren’t prepared for the popularity
This amazing car quickly became very popular and became a favorite for many driving enthusiasts who previously had to settle for a Mini-Cooper or other similar cars. Reviews in the magazines also were very good and it looked like the new star was born. But, Ford dealerships were not technically prepared for it. Many buyers complained about problems with incorrect parts fitted in it, the gear ratios were too close, or the engines lacked power, but the main problem was the differential housing coming off from the casing.
Too expensive for Ford customers
The Lotus Cortina Mk1 was also produced with a left-hand drive option which made it popular across the world and used for racing even in America, Australia and South America. However, since it was a special vehicle with the main purpose of racing and given its technical layout, Cortina Mk1 was expensive, at least for Ford buyers and it was produced in limited numbers.
Racing success between 1964 and 1968
Starting from 1964, after couple of improvements, Lotus Cortina Mk1’s progress was huge. They were tremendous in the BSSC series, winning class and even threw in three outright victories as well. Throughout the years, this car was successfully adapted to meet rules changing before it was finally retired at the end of 1968 after becoming obsolete.
3306 examples were produced until 1966
From 1963 until 1966, Ford and Lotus produced 3.306 examples of the car, all in its signature white/green color combo, although some race teams painted cars in their colors (for example, the famous Alan Mann Racing’s red/gold livery). Today, Lotus Cortina Mk1s are rare, expensive, and sought-after as collector cars with a fantastic racing pedigree and history.
Video : Lotus Cortina Mk1 at the BSCC race at Crystal palace (1964)