Tuesday 16th July 2019,

Ford Lotus Cortina MKI 1963 – 1966

To tie the 1960`s Lotus story together I must inflict a little history on you, the reader. As the decade began Colin Chapman was planning the new Elan sports-car. The Elan was an entirely new concept owing very little to the previous car, the Lotus Elite. Power, weight and cost were, as ever, the priorities. The Coventry-Climax engine in the Elite was very expensive and had no further potential for development. Chapman had always wanted to build his own engines and the time was right to do it.

His very good friend, Harry Mundy (also the designer of the Climax 1200 engine) was brought in to build a new engine. After some discussion they decided to use the Ford Kent 1498 cc motor but events overtook them. Chapman was privy to Ford`s development of the Cortina GT and was impressed by it. Whereas his priority was the new Elan he could see the potential of the GT.

To keep the Elan project on schedule he would have to use the 1498 cc Kent which was already headed for obsolescence. Ford was almost ready to launch a new Kent engine, the 1558 cc. Chapman, with engineers Harry Mundy and Keith Duckworth, converted the 1498 motor with an alloy twin cam (DOHC) cylinder-head with twin Weber carburettors and a four-branch exhaust manifold. This engine would power the Elan until the 1558 cc was ready.

Chapman`s brain was working well when he decided to convert a Cortina GT using his DOHC motor. He was a little perplexed by the Cortina`s weight and so went to work shaving some kilogrammes off it. Chapman fitted alloy doors, bonnet and boot, which helped a little. There was much more weight-saving to come. The Elan alloy-cased gearbox went in and an imaginative rear-suspension set-up using coil-springs on a live axle with radius arms and an `A` bar to strengthen and locate it.

This arrangement proved to be troublesome and later the car reverted to Cortina GT semi-elliptic springs. The alloy gear-box casing suffered from stress due to the very close ratios and was later replaced with the Corsair 2000E gearbox. However, when the Lotus Cortina was demonstrated to Ford they fell in love with it and ordered 100 units.

Ford would market the car and Lotus would develop and produce the engine/gearbox units along with the rear suspension. The Lotus-Cortina was an immediate success and was developed and improved until it was replaced by the MK II version in 1967. We are using the 1965 model as our subject car because it was the best version of the Lotus Cortina MK 1.


The Cortina was built on a pressed-steel chassis/floorpan. It was not modified for the Lotus version. It was a two-door body, seating five people at a push. No other Cortina variant was used apart from some black four-door models for the Metropolitan Police.

The distinctive `gun-sight` tail-light units and `Lotus` badges were fitted to the body which was always white with a green flash down the flanks. Front quarter bumpers were attractive. By 1965 the alloy panels had been replaced with steel, presumably to rein in the costs. Small chrome grilles were now fitted to the rear roof struts. These were extractors for the excellent `Aeroflow` heating and ventilation system.

The suspension was as the GT. The original complicated `A frame` rear-end had been abandoned by this time. The rear end used a live-axle on semi-elliptic springs with radius arms while the front utilised McPherson struts with forged lower wish-bones. Girling servo-assisted discs were fitted to the front, drum brakes to the rear. The steering-gear was Ford recirculating ball. Steel wheels (13” x 5.5J) with chromed hubcaps were standard fitment. The complete vehicle had a kerb weight of 905 kg.


The front bucket seats and the bench rear seat of the Lotus Cortina were finished in black vinyl. Dash-panel was equipped with a central binnacle on top of the dash to mount the four ancilliary instruments, fuel, amps, water and oil pressure. The speedometer and rev-counter were mounted in front of the driver. The dash panel had two `fish-eye` swivel vents for ventilation. A fine wood-rim steering wheel finished the interior nicely.


The Lotus DOHC displaced 1558 cc (1600) and was based on the Ford Kent cast-iron crankcase with five main-bearings and Harry Mundy`s twin-cam alloy cylinder-head. It was tuned by Keith Duckworth. The head was cross-flowed with two twin-choke Weber DCOE side-draught carburettors with a four-branch extractor exhaust manifold on the other side. The engine was tuned to give a compression ratio of 9.5 to 1. The engine produced 110 bhp and 107 ft/lbs of torque. The gearbox was the legendary Corsair 2000E, with four forward ratios, all synchro-mesh. For more specs click the next tab.

Driving impressions and Performance;

In the early/middle 1960’s there were a few quick sports-saloons available but nothing matched the Lotus Cortina. It`s cornering and braking were superb and typically Lotus. The car was a joy to drive and was very fast. With a power-to-weight ratio of 121.55 bhp per ton the Cortina would accelerate from rest to 60 mph in 11 seconds, and attain a top speed of 104 mph in standard trim. Much after-market work was available to improve these figures. One of my very favourite cars. The MK1 was replaced by the MKII in late 1966.

Ford Lotus Cortina MKI 1963-1966 Specifications
Body Type5 seater 2 door saloon
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo VolumeAs big as you would expect in a family saloon
Engine1600 Ford Kent Lotus Head DOHC 8V
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1558 cc95.1 cui
Power82 Kw110 bhp6000 RPM
Torque145 Nm107 ft. lb4500 RPM
Power/weight122 bhp/t
Top Speed167 km/h104 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph11 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight905 kg1995 lb
GD Star Rating
Ford Lotus Cortina MKI 1963 - 1966, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

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