History Lessons: #1 – 1963 Ford Lotus-Cortina
Not everyone is a purebred. In fact, if you’re like most of the people on this earth, you come from two separate and distinctive families. The new Ford Focus ST follows a similarly branching family tree. For the first time, the high performance Focus you buy in the US is the same as the one you could buy in the rest of the world.
We’ve tasted from the European performance well in the US in the past as recently as the ’02 – ’04 Focus SVT, which was similar to the European Focus ST170. This “World Car” attitude is very present in the current and upcoming Ford vehicle catalog; the Ford Fiesta has been for sale here for some time now and the 2013 Ford Fusion we’ll be seeing here is very much the same as the new Mondeo seen throughout the rest of the world.
In this series, we’ll look into the history of compact performance offerings from Ford and how two parallel developments in the US and Europe have evolved into the new 2013 Ford Focus ST.
It’s the end of 1962. Ford of Britain is known for its Z-cars: the Zephyr and Zodiac. Your small car choices are limited to the Anglia 105E or their new Ford Cortina. Rumor has it Ford is working with Lotus to make a sporting Cortina.
For the past year, Colin Chapman of Lotus was looking for a replacement for his expensive engines based on the Coventry Climax units. Instead of continuing on, he hires one of the designers of the Coventry Climax to build a twin cam version of the Ford Kent motor. Part of the development team includes Cosworth founder Keith Duckworth, after his experiences modifying the 1.0L Kent motor for Ford’s Formula Junior series. The engine, known simply as the Lotus TwinCam, made its debut in the 1962 Lotus 23 driven by Jim Clark at the Nürburgring, and shortly after in the roadgoing Lotus Elan.
In an odd twist of fate, a PR representative from Ford asked Mr. Chapman if he would be interested in installing the motor in 1000 of their new Cortinas to make them eligible for homologation. Chapman agreed and the factory started churning out the new Lotus-Cortinas alongside the new Lotus Elan. Ford would supply the body and do all the marketing and sales while Lotus would install the mechanicals and take care of any cosmetics.
Lotus modified the rear suspension of the Cortina, added aluminum doors, hoods and trunklids. They lightened the gearbox and installed the same close ratio gears found in the Elan. They were finished off in white with a distinctive green stripe down the side. There were drastic changes in store for the suspension with shortened front struts, forged control arms and 13×5.5” wheels. The rear suspension saw the majority of the changes using coil springs instead of leaf springs, and trailing arms helping to locate the rear end. A multitude of braces were installed to further stiffen the chassis and the battery was relocated to the trunk, further helping its front-to-rear weight distribution. Special Girling brakes with a booster servo were installed to help bring it all to a stop. Unfortunately, the special rear end proved to be a bit fragile and by 1964 it reverted to a leaf spring and radius arm setup similar to the Cortina GT. Though, as we later find out, this comes as a positive.
The car was an instant hit, being described as a ‘Tin Top Lotus 7.” It was a dominating force in competition. In its first Group 2 outing, it finished 3rd and 4th behind two Ford Galaxies, beating the previously dominant Jaguar 3.8s. In 1963 the car’s only true competition came from the 427 Galaxie. By 1964, it was a familiar sight in the British Saloon Car Championship, with the most famous being that year’s winner, Jim Clark. In the United States, Jackie Stewart and Mike Beckwith won the Marlboro 12-hour. It came in 4th overall at the 1964 Tour de France, a 4000-mile 10-day endurance race. In 1965, the rear suspension design had been reverted and the car became even more competitive thanks to its more durable nature. Sir John Whitmore carved his way through the European Touring Car Championship, Jack Sears took the class title in the British Saloon Car Championship (with a Mustang taking overall), Jackie Ickx took the Belgian Saloon Car Championship and the car was an overall winner of the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship.
By 1966, Ford had released the Mk2 Cortina and wanted to release another Cortina Lotus. We’ll come back to that story next time.