Our tame racing driver helps kicks off Evans's CarFest motor show...
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Classified ad of the week: Lotus Cortina
Meet the Lotus Cortina - a name that’s shorthand for untrammelled B-road mentalism in a car older than your Mum, for racing pedigree, for its peculiar front-wheel cocking, and for its ability to get sideways and stay there.
The Lotus ‘Tina is based on a cooking variety Ford saloon - the Cortina, obviously - only with significant tinkering from velocity specialist, Colin Chapman. In 1961 he wanted to build his own engines for Lotus because the Coventry Climax all-alloy engine was so expensive, so he commissioned the Climax’s designer (a bloke called Harry Mundy) to design a twin-cam version of the Ford Kent engine.
After Harry twirled his spanners, he sent it off to Keith Duckworth from Cosworth, then bolted it into a Lotus 23 and got Jim Clark to drive it around the Nurburgring. Ford liked the look of it, so it asked Colin to fit the four-pot to 1,000 saloons for Group 2 racing homologation. Chapman was keen, and took delivery of the two-door shells.
True to his “simplify, add lightness” mantra, he replaced the steel doors, bonnet and boot with alloy ones, and fitted alloy casings to the gearbox and differential. Then he dropped in his 1,558cc, 105bhp engine, and painted all the cars white with a green stripe (save for one with a blue stripe - apparently the owner was superstitious about the colour green).
Underneath the iconic mien it got a lot of tinkery about the suspension. There were shorter struts up front, forged track control arms, then-wide 5.5x13-inch steel wheels, coil springs and dampers at the back and lots of bracing. The old brakes were replaced with 9.5-inch front discs with a servo tucked in the engine bay.
Buyers were fizzing at the root when they got hold of it, as were the period motoring scribes: “it’s the tin-top version of a Lotus 7” said one mag - seriously, this thing got better press than the BMW 1M Coupe. That’s because it was awesome, as demonstrated by its huge success cocking a front wheel round Britain’s race tracks.
Jim Clark won the British Saloon Car Championship in one, Jackie Stewart and Mike Beckwith won America’s Malboro 12-hour, and Alan Mann Racing scooped a 1-2 victory in the ‘Motor’ Six Hour International Touring Car Race at Brands Hatch.
But this little chap’s not got much in the way of track work under its belt - it’s a restored car with a certificate confirming its authenticity. Which could explain why the auction house that’s consigned it reckons it’ll fetch £40,000-£50,000. Still, it’s rather a lot cheaper than that GT….
Now tell us, is your favourite sixties British Saloon Car Championship competitor?