Lifestyle

Little Lotus


The 1964 Ford Lotus Cortina Special Equipment might have looked dumpy but on twisty roads it could shame cars costing four times as much

Of the 2,894 Mk 1 Lotus Cortinas produced, only 64 were built by the factory as Special Equipment models. This rare version was upgraded with semi-race camshafts, larger valves, bigger diameter exhaust system, 115 hp (up-rated from 105) as indicated by green cam covers, adjustable rear dampers, leather-covered version of the distinctive Lotus wood-rim steering wheel (from April 1964), Irvine "aircraft specification" seatbelts/harnesses, and unique "Special Equipment" script badge on rear body panels.

This car was the subject of a lengthy and meticulous restoration undertaken between 1993 and 1997 by the talented husband-and-wife team of Duncan and Teresa Tough, while the engine was rebuilt and uprated by marque specialists Nick Stagg Engineering of Chipping Sodbury, Bristol, as part of the restoration. Test results are fully documented, including the dynamometer-tested horsepower rating of the completed unit of 143.8 hp at 7,182 rpm.

The finished car is confirmed as to correct specification by the Lotus Cortina Register and was the subject of a photographic history exercise by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, which had chosen this particular example as the reference model for its archive. After restoration, this car was acquired by well-known Lotus Cortina aficionado Trevor Barefoot and during his ownership featured on BBC television's popular motoring program "Top Gear," transmitted initially in 2001. The current owner purchased the car from Don Rose in 2003 and since then has used it, albeit gently, for selected rallies.

Kept in heated/ventilated accommodation while in the vendor's hands "AEG 156B" represents a rare opportunity to acquire the ultimate version of this legendary model, which was a true world-beater in its day. A substantial history file documenting its restoration comes with the car, together with Swansea V5 document and a comprehensive photographic record detailing the painstaking restoration of both body and chassis. Nick Stagg's engine specification sheet and a pristine owner's manual are provided also, as well as a spare set of five original steel wheels.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $49,342 at Bonhams's sale at Beaulieu, England, on September 9, 2006. The price may well be a record for a Lotus Cortina at auction.

BMW's 1600/2002 seems to be ingrained in our collective car consciousness as the first killer sport sedan. Brilliant as it was, few Americans realize that four years earlier, Ford of the U.K. and Colin Chapman turned another doughty small sedan into a dominant racer driven to a saloon championship by none other than doomed Grand Prix legend Jim Clark.

Named for the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, the actual car was a totally conventional small sedan, a sort of U.K. Ford Falcon with styling that had elements of earlier Ford U.K. sedans and an almost Trabant-like greenhouse. Ford, seeking an image-builder in the U.K., imagined that race and rallying success would add street cred to the semi-homely little sedan. Colin Chapman seemed just the man to do it.

In 1962, a deal was quickly cut--for once seemingly without the usual Chapman skullduggery--and unfinished Cortina shells were soon being delivered to Lotus's Cheshunt works sans engine, gearbox, and rear suspension. Lotus added a coil spring rear suspension, and the twin-cam Ford-based engine and four-speed gearbox from the Elan. It worked out well for both sides--greater name recognition for Lotus and more sales for its twin-cam engine, and an instant racing success for Ford in the hands of the god-like Clark.

Visually, there were a few differences to distinguish the special cars badged as Ford "Lotus" Cortinas. The 196366 Mk I cars continued a Ford tradition of palette choices--in this case you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was Ermine White with a huge Sherwood Green side stripe that wrapped around the rear panel. The grille was blacked out, and split bumpers were added. Opening panels were done in aluminum. Early cars had a unique but fragile A-frame rear suspension. It was a hinderance in rallies, and later cars made do with the standard Cortina semi-elliptic rear end.

Dynamically, the transformation wrought by Lotus was amazing. On a twisty road, the dumpy little Cortina could shame cars costing four times as much. The 105-hp twin-cam motor and Lotus's suspension magic, along with wider wheels and tires and front disc brakes, worked in concert to allow even the most apex-oblivious driver feel like Jim Clark.

It's this association with two of the most famous names in 1960s motorsports--coupled with just over 3,300 built--that fuels the market for the Lotus Cortina. There really is nothing else like it. A BMW 2002tii, while similar in concept, is nowhere near as scarce. And other than Max Hoffman, you'd be hard pressed to name anyone famous connected with the car or any races it won.

Although no particular competition history is claimed for this example, the fact that the profile car is an even scarcer "Special Equipment" model--purportedly one of 64 built with ten more horsepower and a few other assorted goodies--goes some of the way toward explaining this result, which was about $17,000 over the high estimate. The car's presentation in correct cream and green livery with period-proper Panasport wheels, a documented restoration by a known specialist, and a thorough sorting-out explains the rest. The fact that the car is eligible for pre-1965 vintage rallies and tours doesn't hurt either.

While the hammer price was well above the pre-sale estimate, and very strong for a street-spec Cortina, the sale price was probably very near the cost of restoration. If your collection must include a Lotus Cortina, absent one actually piloted by Jim Clark, this was probably the one to have.

Years Produced: 196266

Number Produced: 2,894

Original List Price: $2,548

SCM Valuation: $14,000$21,000 (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $500

Distributor Caps: $15.95

Chassis #: Z74D424157

Chassis # Location: Righthand fender apron in the engine compartment

Engine # Location: Lefthand lower rear of the block

Web Site: http://www.lotus-cortina.com

Alternatives: 196873 Datsun 510, 197174 BMW 2002tii, 196364 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Super

Investment Grade: C


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