Lotus Cortina: Reader resto
Matt King rubbed the belly of his dormant GT, and hey, presto! Now she goes like a spitfire's Merlin
Lotus Cortina resto
have always had a thing for the Lotus Cortina. The shape, its racing history, the overall package; it has always been my vice. This car is the one I got my licence in, meaning I’ve had her since September 1988, when I was just 17.
I bought the Cortina back then as a standard GT for just $500 as a stationary, unloved and unused starting point. I still have it 25 years later and, as the third owner, I’ve gathered a pretty thick file on the Cortina.
When I got the car it was in fairly good condition, I have to say. The paint and interior trim were original and rare because the black interior was only made between January and August 1967. The left-hand front guard was a bit bent, but the original GT engine had been blown up, which was a shame. I found that a 1500 had been installed with the GT manifold mated to suit.
Keen to get my hands dirty and have her roadworthy and registered again, I enlisted some help. That help came from a mechanically minded mate, Paul Oremek. He and I still do social mechanical work and he showed me the ropes – where to start, what not to do – and I think it’s been pretty successful.
It actually hasn’t been a complete restoration. I call it a "rolling resto" because there have been about three stages so far, of me just doing the necessary work as it comes up. Paul taught me well and for many years now I have undertaken all the work myself, only farming out items like engine machining and the like.
Between 1989 and 1993 it had a number of pushrod engines in it – the 1500, a 1670cc and a 1760cc – all with twin DCOE carbys. Engine machining was left to Henry Marciniak at Orger Engines in Scoresby Road, Bayswater, because that was a little out of my expertise. They modified the pistons and did all the head work, leaving me to just put it all back together.
The 1740cc Lotus Twin-Cam with twin Webers that sits in it now has had the whole driveline, including a close-ratio gearbox, rebuilt and modified to suit. This lot of work was done around 1990-92. At that time I also fitted a set of Contessa Minilite wheels, and eventually the whole car was lowered two inches all ’round. There’s also an electronic ignition module with Pertonics igniter.
The suspension was rebuilt in 1989 using Koni shock absorbers on the rear, Gaz coil-overs on the front with adjustable K-Mac strut tops, poly bushes and 22mm anti-roll bar.
Body-wise, most of the rust that needed treating was seen to in 1989 when the first main restoration job was done. There was surface rust around the fuel filler. In 1995 the body was stripped and repainted the original Polar White which you see now by Roger Gaunt.
Most recently, I dismantled the car to restore the underbody, which only got stripped down and resprayed black through March and April last year. The work included a strip and repaint of the floor pan and all the suspension components, with zinc plating and powder-coating as needed. You can see how much better it looks now. I also freshened up the engine and gearbox again this time around.
Suspension, which is now adjustable, was rebuilt, as were the brakes, which were fitted with new lines. Some minor rust was repaired, new tyres were fitted and I’ve now got her on 15-inch Supalite wheels instead of the Contessas. Inside, some decent Scheel seats trimmed to suit have also being added.
A roadworthy was duly issued last year and the original rego plates were swapped for a club permit and log book. I still get a great buzz from driving it all these years later. I use it for trips away, including the odd car show - I’ll even drive it to work on occasion.
THE LOTUS CORTINA STORY...
The Lotus Cortina started out not such much as a car but as an engine. It also forged an alliance between Lotus, Ford and Cosworth Engineering that resulted in enormous racetrack success for all three over two decades.
Lotus founder Colin Chapman started the ball rolling in 1961 as he sought a replacement for the expensive Coventry Climax FW (Feather Weight) engine, a 1.5-litre unit originally designed for a fire pump. Lotus began development work on smaller-capacity Ford engines before a twin-cam head – designed by Harry Mundy (who had co-designed the Coventry Climax) and developed by Keith Duckworth (the ‘worth’ of Cosworth) – was produced for Ford’s new five-bearing 1.5-litre ‘Kent’ engine. In addition to racing, this new Lotus-Ford twin-cam engine was to power Chapman’s Elan road car, launched in 1962.
Chapman already had a good relationship with Ford, and this was strengthened with the arrival in January 1962 of Walter Hayes as PR director, and the man in charge of racing. Hayes had been the editor of a Fleet Street newspaper and had commissioned a young Chapman to write motoring articles. After the Kent-engined Cortina was launched in September 1962, Hayes asked Chapman if he would produce 1000 special two-door Cortinas powered by his twin-cam version of the Ford engine so it could be homologated for racing. Chapman did not need much convincing, even though his embryonic factory would have been hard-pressed just coping with Elan production.
Ford marketed the car as a Ford Cortina Lotus, but it was forevermore known simply as the Lotus Cortina. By the time production started, the four-cylinder engine had been bored out to 82.55mm, raising capacity from 1499cc to 1557cc – closer to the more common 1.6-litre racing class – with power rated at 78kW.
As well as installing the hotter engine, Lotus also fitted the close-ratio gearbox from the Elan, extensively altered the suspension, especially at the rear (coils and shocks instead of leafs), produced a lightweight casing for the diff, fitted Girling brakes and replaced the steel doors, bonnet and boot with lightweight alloy panels. The large steel bumper bars were replaced with lighter quarter bumperettes.
Inside, the Lotus Cortina had a different centre console to allow for the new gear lever position, sportier seats, a woodgrain steering wheel and extra instrumentation, including a tacho and oil pressure gauge.
Magazines raved about the car and Lotus – which claimed the 1963 F1 world championship with Jim Clark – also set the saloon car tracks alight with giant-killing performances in Britain, Europe and the US by the likes of Clark, Sir John Whitmore and Australians Frank Gardner, Allan Moffat, Jim McKeown and Bob Jane.
In typical Chapman fashion, the early Lotus Cortinas were a little brittle and Ford had to replace the Lotus rear suspension with a new leaf-spring set-up from mid-1965. The Mark I Lotus-Cortina had far exceeded the original 1000 units by the time production finished in late 1966, when it was replaced by the Mark II
Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.