The immortal Lotus Cortina by Ford of Dagenham, in England, is one of the most charismatic, best loved and universally successful high-performance cars ever to represent the great globalized American company’s famous blue-oval badge.
The two-door Ford Cortina GT had already been proven in rallies and circuit racing when Ford executive Walter Hayes approached Colin Chapman to produce a world-beating racing saloon, following up a series of successful Ford-powered Lotus Formula Junior single-seaters. The plan called for Lotus to assemble 1000 cars to homologate the model for FIA Group 2 racing.
Engineer Harry Mundy – who had previously helped design the Formula 1 World Championship-winning Coventry Climax engines – had been commissioned by Chapman to design a twin-overhead camshaft cylinder head to top the Ford 1500 Kent engine’s “unburstable bottom end”.
Cosworth Engineering helped develop and fine-tune these engines, while the Ford 4-speed gearbox as specified for the Lotus Elan was adopted for the Cortina program. Colin Chapman significantly revised the Ford Cortina’s suspension, changing the spring and damper rates, reducing the ride height, and utilizing coil springs at the rear. The body shell was lightened with aluminium skins in the doors, hood and trunk lid. Aluminium was also adopted for the clutch housing, remote gearshift extension and differential case. The standard full-width front bumper was replaced by quarter bumpers. Lotus badges were added externally while the interior featured bucket front seats, pistol-grip handbrake and a wood-rim alloy-spoked steering wheel.
Production began in February 1963, with homologation being achieved in September 1963 despite production not yet having reached the FIA’s 1,000-off minimum. Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Vic Elford, Jack Sears, Sir John Whitmore, and Jacky Ickx all raced Cortinas. Jim Clark – multiple F1 World Champion and Indy 500 winner, also won the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship in his works version.
The production Lotus Cortina was itself updated, the 1965 homologation model returning to leaf springs in place of coil-springs at the rear. The engines were tuned by 1962 F1 World Champion constructor BRM. By the end of production late in 1966 it is believed that some 2894 Lotus Cortinas had been built, virtually all finished in Ermine White with Sherwood Green body band and flash. In 1967 a Lotus Cortina Mark II followed, assembled by Ford not Lotus, and therefore not allocated a Lotus type number.
A well known and much admired and respected example by the Lotus Cortina Register, PBF 489D is in beautiful condition both mechanically and cosmetically. A later air flow model on leaf springs, this example shows an odometer reading of 88,700 miles which is believed to be genuine and is supplied with many older MoT test certificates, invoices and a copy of ‘The Quarter Bumper’ Club Magazine in a very good history file. The interior is highly original and un-restored and all panels are straight and present extremely well. The car was subject to light recommissioning by the previous vendor-who is a Lotus Cortina Register member and now runs and drives as it should.
Unquestionably one of Britain’s icons of the Swinging Sixties, the Lotus Cortina remains a saloon car racing legend and a memorable ‘giant killer’ capable of far more than its modest looks would suggest. The chance to acquire a genuine Lotus Cortina is a rare one, and should not be overlooked today.