Ford Cortina Lotus Mk. II
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
With the Mark 2 Cortina, Ford would continue their association with Lotus. Thankfully the new model Cortina retained much of its dynamic performance too, yet it was a much more refined car than its predecessor.
The Mark 2 Lotus version of the Cortina used the two-door GT saloon body fitted with the same 110 bhp. engine as was used in the Lotus Elan. This engine had evolved from the inline four-cylinder 1½ litre unit, with bores enlarged from 81mm to 82.6mm to give 1560 cc.; the cylinder head had two chain-driven overhead camshafts and twin Weber 40 DCOE side-draught carburettors.
On paper these changes may not seem overly impressive, but the transformation which this engine brought about was remarkable. Torque was aplenty, and the engine would pull from as slow as 15 km/h in top gear. In fact, you could abuse the engine somewhat and not be any the wiser, so smooth and linear was the delivery of power.
Befitting an engine of this calibre, it went about its business quietly and efficiently, with only a faint hum being heard from time-to-time from the camshaft drive chains. In any case, to the motoring enthusiast this was music to the ears, and there was barely any more noise or vibration rigbt up to maximum revs.
The Cortina Lotus offered a credible 90 mph cruising speed, the wonderfully large Smiths rev counter revealing that the engine would be turning over at 5,000 r.p.m, and this was just as well, as to the human ear the engine would sound as though it were revving much lower than that.
Compared with the Cortina Lotus Mark 1, the Mark 2 had a higher top gear (3.78 instead of 3.90 to 1) yet it was bigger and weighed 1½ cwt more. Its mean maximum speed of 104 mph may have been 3 mph slower, but due to changes in the gearbox the standing start acceleration figures were hardly affected, and the Mark 2 could reach 30 mph in 3.6 seconds, marginally quicker than its predecessor. Unfortunately from rest to 100 mph the previous iteration had the wood on the Mark 2, it being nearly 10 seconds slower at 44sec.
Even though some of the raw edge had been taken off, the second generation Cortina-Lotus was still a very fast car, and as there were no external signs to distinguish it from a lesser 1300 model (except three tiny Lotus badges on the tail and rear quarter panels), it made the car the perfect traffic light sleeper.
Perhaps a straight line sprint would not the Mark 2's forte, but live with the car on a day-to-day basis and you would quickly lear just how well polished the car was, the throttle response and tractability of the engine making it a real pleasure to drive in city traffic and on the open road. The very even torque curve spread over an unusually wide rev range, starting from below 1000 rpm and extending to 6500 rpm. This latter figure was the starting point for the red line on the tacho, however as there was an ignition cut-out employed at exactly those revolutions it was wise to change up at around 6300 rpm to avoid any sudden break in ignition and resultant momentary pause in performance.
The Highly Praised Ford 4-Speed Gearbox
A very "soft" clutch was fitted, and the rear wheel grip was so good that it was impossible to spin the wheels on a dry surface even if the clutch was let out abruptly at about 5000 rpm. The gearbox Ford gearbox was a class leader at the time, being often praised for its positive, light and fairly short-travel change which could be whisked from one gear to the next without any synchromesh
delay or gear crash - although some gear whine was audible in the indirect ratios.
Although the final drive ratio was a shade higher, raising top gear speed per 1000 r.p.m. from 17.4 to 17.8, the indirect ratios were all appreciably lower than before, answering criticisms that the previous car was too high geared in its indirects. The gears on the Mark 2 were better spaced as well, and the maximum of 39 for bottom gear, 58 in second and 83 mph for third gear clearly demonstrated that the Cortina-Lotus had remained a high-geared car.
The diminuutive wooden gear lever
knob of the Mark 1 was (some believe unfortunately) replaced by a more conventional round one, the upside being that it was considerably more comfortable. Gone too was the fabulous wood-rimmed Lotus steering
wheel, Ford opting to use the standard Cortina wheel instead - thankfully you could option a neat pvc-covered one. Another change from the previous model was that, instead of having to lift and move the lever to the left for reverse, the driver simply knocked it to the right and back parallel with top.
Better Fuel Consumption, But Many Wanted A Larger Fuel Tank Too
Fuel consumption, with an overall figure of 22 mpg was better than the Mark 1, but many still believed that a larger fuel tank was needed. With capacity of only 10 gallons, and rather vague fuel gauge, owners found the need to re-fuel when there was still considerable left in the tank to be on the safe side, making the effective range of the car less than 200 miles.
The car would always start easily, although the twin Weber carburettors could be flooded easily. Interestingly the coil spring rear suspension
with A-bracket location proved unreliable on the first few hundred Cortina-Lotuses manufactured, so Ford changed this layout in favour of the standard GT arrangement of half elliptic leaf springs with trailing radius arms to prevent axle wind-up. Pirelli Cinturato or Goodyear G800 tyres
were standard, and the cornering adhesion on both wet and dry roads was exceptional.
In practice, many found the Cortina-Lotus to be an understeering car, though the balance was not far off neutral, and with so much torque available it was very easy to kick the tail round on sharp corners giving almost an oversteering effect and callling for opposite lock to correct the tail swing. When power was used in a low gear on corners in the wet, the beginnings of some axle tramp could be felt but this is well restrained.
The recirculating ball steering
gave light and accurate control, and it was much higher geared than its 4·3 turns from lock to lock suggested; the compact 30ft turning circle accounted for this, and with light steering
as well, the Cortina was a very easy car to manoeuvre. Wide-rimmed wheels and fat tyres
increased the king-pin offset and decreased the self-centring effect slightly compared with a standard Cortina. Over the last half turn to the straight-ahead position the steering
tended to not self-centre.
The Ford Fundamentals Produced A Well Polished, But Not Perfect Car
The initial travel of the suspension
was very soft, and the front dipped noticeably under quite gentle braking. With three or four people on board this softness was taken up by the extra weight, and the ride was a little hard and choppy over irregularities and not as comfortable as when only one or two were in the car. Regardless of load, however, the ride leveled down very well at speed. No road roar was heard on coarse surfaces, and spring movements are well damped.
Girling front disc brakes
drums at the rear and strong servo assistance were standard. Retardation increased progressively in almost direct proportion to extra pedal load, up to 75lb. Hard braking (100lb pedal load) gave a little extra, to an excellent maximum of over 1g. Fade tests undertaken at the time of release of the Cortina-Lotus showed there was hardly any effect on the brakes
at all. A pull-out umbrella handle control under the facia for the handbrake was a little out of keeping given the sporting nature of the car, but it worked very well; a strong pull being able to hold securely on 1-in-3, and the handbrake was above average in giving a 0.35g stop at 30 mph.
The light pedal loads needed on the brakes
in ordinary (albiet spirited) driving were in keeping with the rest of the car's controls; steering, gearchange, and particularly the clutch (with operrating load of only 20lb) were all very light. Many drivers were also happy with the pedal layout, but not with the driving positon, mainly due to the poor design of the seat adjustment. As you pushed the seat backwards the angle would alter, and the seat back would become too upright. Overlooking this rather unpleasant design flaw, the seats were otherwise comfortable both front and rear, with ample cushion length and, as they were fairly softly upholstered, occupants tended to sink into them, the effect being that they gave reasonable (if unintended) support in cornering.
Visibility had always been one of the Cortina's stong points, although the Mark 2 was not as good in this department as its predecessor. Although the top of the steering
wheel did not intrude, the fixed quarter vents and rather thick screen pillars obstructed vision to some extent. The wipers cleared the screen effectively, but operated at only one fairly vigorous rate. The twist knob for the wipers was also pressed in to work the washers. Tiny switches beside the main instruments controlled the panel lamps and headlights. There were separate green tell-tales for the indicators on each side, the indicator stalk also being used to flash or dip the high beam and also operate the horn. Thankfully manufacturers have long since done away with this type of horn operation which was virtually useless in an emergency.
The Mark 2 Cortina came with Ford's Aeroflow ventilation, ensuring excellent ventilation in the passenger compartment. The Ford designers had not suprisingly done away with rear side windows given the much inproved ventilation system, however this did not entirely cure the problem of wind whistle at speed, which tended to get progressively worse from about 75 mph onwards. Both front seats tilted forward to allow access to the rear, however in a glaring oversight there were no safety catches to hold them upright in the event of an accident. The locking arrangements of the doors also leaft considerable room for improvement, as there was no outside key-lock for the passenger door.
Judging The Car Then, Judging The Car Now
Given the handful of (perhaps trifling) issues associated with the Mark 2 Cortina Lotus, you can understand why some buyers were tempted towards the Ford Corsair 2000E or perhaps even the lesser Cortina 1300. Those that did not understand performance and took a strictly accountants view no doubt kicked themselves many times over as the Cortina Lotus went on to garner a stellar reputation and resultant resale value. These days it remains one of the most collectable 60's Ford's, and is still a great drive.