In 1963, Ford of England wanted to go racing in Group 2, and engaged Colin Chapman to develop a competitive version of the little Cortina, powered by their 1588 cc twin-cam four-cylinder engine. Chapman thought he could build 30 cars a week and Ford needed 1,000 for homologation, so it was steady work.
Chapman modified the cars with wider wheels, shorter front struts and trailing link rear suspension. For the engine, he boosted power from 78 bhp in stock form to 105 bhp. The cars exceeded all expectations, and in the hands of greats like Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Sears and Jackie Ickx, the Lotus Cortina won the UK championship in 1963 and 1964, while Sir john Whitmore won the European Touring Car Championship in 1965. It really did become an icon of saloon car racing, and there are many period images of drivers like Jim Clark getting white and green Cortinas sailing through a corner on three wheels. The Cortina was also one of the first applications of the legendary Lotus Twin Cam, an engine that was used in everything from the Elan to sports racers, Formula 2 cars and even rally cars.
With the Mk2 planned for the Cortina redesign in 1967, Ford was concerned about the reliability of the Lotus Cortina. Chapman was moving his works to Hethel and couldn’t take on any new jobs, so Ford decided to take the project in-house. The Lotus Cortina would be built alongside the Cortina GT, but with different engine and suspension. It would be available in LHD from the start.
The Mk 2 received a stronger engine with 109 bhp, and the car also received the GT’s remote gear change. Radial tires were now standard, the fuel tank was increased in size and the wider wheels were offset differently. There were more color choices and the cars were delivered without a side stripe, though almost all got one at the dealer. The gearbox ratios remained the same, but the differential gearing was raised from 3.9:1 to 3.77:1.
A few months after production, the Lotus Cortina badge on the trunk was replaced by Cortina Twin Cam. It was now called the Cortina Lotus and the interior was much like the GT’s. In 1968 the four Lotus gauges were moved from on top of the dash to within it, and a clock fitted in the console. The handbrake was moved and an internal hood latch fitted in 1969, along with a single-rail gearshift.
The Cortina Lotus stayed in production until 1970 and 4,032 were built, about 1,000 more than the Mk1. The world had moved on, however, and Ford’s 1968 Escort was lighter and stronger than the Cortina shell. Once fitted with the Twin Cam engine, the Escort became the car to beat. The Cortina Lotus has never had the cachet of the earlier Mk 1, but it is as good a car that can be had for significantly less money.