Ford Lotus Cortina

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Ford Lotus Cortina


Ford Lotus Cortina

1963 - 1970
United Kingdom
4 cyl.
1558 cc
105-109 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
168-172 km/h
Number Built:
3 star
Ford Lotus Cortina
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


When Colin Chapman and Ford collaborated to develop a race and rally winner - the end result was the Lotus Cortina. From Ford came the basic two door Cortina shell and front suspension, where Lotus installed its own 105 bhp twin-cam engine, close ratio 4-speed gearbox and rear suspension.

The car sat lower, had front disc brakes and was shod with wider wheels. The choice of colours was limited - all were in a basic cream with green stripe and black grille. More options became available with the Mk. II but this was primarily because the Mk. II was built on the Ford production lines - later the Cortina was to even loose the Lotus badges. Production ceased in 1970.

Sports Car World – November 1964
Cortina Colossal

Nobody has ever been able to explain why the Geoghegans always paint their cars black. Perhaps it is because it makes them harder to see in the rear vision mirror, or invisible at night in 24-hour races (of which there is none). You ask one of the family, and he mutters: "We like it; we like it!" Be that as it may, black suits their Cortina GT very well.

The car came to us fresh from its winning of the Australian Touring Car Title in that wonderful race at Lakeside. In fact, still lettered neatly in white paint across the rear window was the legend of the victory. Perhaps it was merely left there to remind us that our track test should not overstrain this historic piece of Ford Motor Company property.

The car is officially a Ford works vehicle run by Geoghegans for the Total team. This neat piece of prosaic legerdemain conceals the fact that the Cortina GT is the only car the Geoghegans do not wholly own. It is to be sold shortly, and replaced with a works Lotus-Cortina, fully homologated (Leo calls it "homogenised") for next year's Appendix C improved production category. Even so, so much on the car is already homogenised that very little has to be taken off it to qualify it for the new regulations.

For our test day, on the Warwick Farm short circuit, we had to take things fairly quietly. The car was running in a new final drive, the wheels needed balancing and the tyres were not right. Nonetheless, it was an invigorating day. The car has so much hep, and handles so well, that it gives a new breadth to what is essentially a very good fast tourer in standard trim.

Team Total

Team Total took over the car in October, 1963, just after the Armstrong 500. It was due to debut at the November meeting at Catalina Park, along with another Armstrong veteran, the Queensland car of Bill Cunliffe. But Geoff Russell's was the only Cortina GT to appear, and he swept the first division of the NSW Touring Car Championship. Total mechanic John Sheppard had been working carefully on the car in the meantime, and his patience paid off when it appeared for the Hordern Trophy meeting at Warwick Farm in December.

Leo Geoghegan set fastest practice lap of 1 minute 57.6 sec to occupy the front row with Bob Jane (1:58.5) in the Jaguar and Russell (1:58.6). Spencer Martin fought with Geoghegan for most of the race, both setting class records, until the Geoghegan clutch packed up and Martin's engine gave way. By March, Victorian Jim McKeown had his Lotus-Cortina going under Neptune sponsorship, and the opposition was getting tough. Beechey and Muir were known to have their S4 Holdens working correctly. However, Sheppard kept tinkering away quietly with the black car, fixing a little here and polishing up a little there.

NSW Touring Car Championship

At Easter Bathurst, with the big threats of Jane and Muir expiring with mechanical trouble, Leo Geoghegan was untroubled to win the NSW Touring Car Championship, putting in a remarkable lap of 3 min 2.0 sec in the process. The team had a long break before the Australian Touring Car title at Lakeside, so settled down to go through the GT inch by inch. However, just before an Oran Park meeting, Ian Geoghegan inverted it during private practice, wrecking the four-door body.

So the Geoghegans got an entirely new car, this time a two-door, and started converting it to their already-known standards of modification, adding a few extras on the way. While this took time, it was a bonus for them in that they were able to build the car again from the ground up and to correct any faults they may have over¬looked in the original unit. The result was a beautifully-made sedan. It is bored to 1593cc and fitted with Heppelite pistons on a compression of 10 to 1. Estimated bhp output is 130. The head work was done by Merv Waggott, and it uses 19/16 inlet valves with 13/8 exhaust. The camshaft grind is something of a hotchpotch, with a lot of Eddie Thomas in it but also some Wade touches.

Carburettors are two dual-throat 42 DCOE Webers on special manifolding. Crankshaft is standard Ford, as are all main bearings and main bearing caps. The conrods are steel, supplied by Ford. An aluminium alloy oil cooler is fitted, and the radiator - like all the Geoghegan cars - is almost doubled in capacity. But the car's great advantage lies in its suspension modifications, which are surprisingly few. The car does not lift a front Wheel, where all other Cortina GTs and Lotus-Cortinas do; this is a Geoghegan secret, centred around the re-setting of the rear suspension, for they have used no tramp rods at all.

Suspension Modifications

The suspension modifications, John Sheppard will tell you, "were designed by Tom Geoghegan and John Sheppard in conjunction with Leo Geoghegan with advice from Ian Geoghegan." The front springs were reset, with the original standard dampers used and a heavy anti-roll bar added. Rear springs were also re-set and lowered, and adjustable dampers added. A Bendix fuel pump has been installed in the boot and all the fuel lines enlarged. Transistor ignition and Bosch plugs help the spark. Competition drum and disc brake materials are used all round, specification Hardiebestos HD5M.

All this technical talk does little to draw a word picture of this remarkable touring car. Trimmed inside in red and black, it is complete right down to black fitted carpet and the normal, new-series mock-wood facia incorporating speedometer, tachometer, and gauges for oil pressure, generator charge and water temperature. The only signs of its competition intentions are a full shoulder harness and the way the driver's seat has been toped rearward by shortening the back legs to give Ian Geoghegan his normal long-arm driving position. And what long arms he has.

Walk around it. What do you see? Little chromed hooks on front and back lids to take the elasticised Bungey cord that holds them shut. Silver-centred black-painted wide rim wheels (homogenised) fitted with 5.50 by 13 R6 Dunlops, and some severe stone chips on the windscreen and bonnet. A big, fat pipe exhausts under the passenger's door, and two huge aluminium alloy scoops poke out beneath the front bumper to suck air to the front discs.

Behind the Wheel

But from 20 feet away, it is a perfectly normal Cortina GT, sitting a little lower, perhaps, and with those funny straps front and rear, but still looking quite harmless. Perhaps this is why the spectators love touring cars so much. But sit in, and turn the key start on the right of the facia and all that changes. The big exhaust pipe under the door goes kerthonker as everything fires up, and in the boot the Bendix pump can be heard going chatter, chatter, here we go again, damn your eyes ... You squinch backwards into the Ian Geoghegan-tailored seat and wonder how long his arms really are, because the wheel is that far away. The tachometer mumbles away at 800 rpm, always with the engine sounding on the point of stall, and you put out the clutch. YOU-4 PUT-OUT-THE-(UGH)-CLUTCH-(ERF). Must be 200lb. of pedal pressure there, at least.

You calmly select first gear, and feather in the clutch, leg muscles bracing like whipcord against the fierce strain . . . and stall it. Hit the key, and it fires again, no nonsense, although it is as cold as this morning's tap water. Clutch again - I've torn a muscle there, I think - and the Cortina GT and I wheel out onto the track. Under 3000 rpm there is nothing much to report. The cammy engine stutters and coughs, even in third with some power on. But over 3000 it clears its throat and starts to spin. It runs to 5000 in the indirects far too quickly, and to 7000 almost as fast. Brake pedal pressures are not remarkably high, and the gearbox is as good as the normal Cortina GT, despite its hard life.
That clutch, however, takes some learning.

Even on the throw from third into top you can feel the drive taking up with a thump at around 3500 rpm. Perhaps at 7000 rpm you wouldn't feel it. The power does not arrive with the savagery of a Holden - rather, it comes in as one long, continuing surge, the engine revving like a turbine, right up to its peak. The steering seems far lighter than that of a normal GT, due more to high tyre pressures than the R6s, and normal GT steering is light enough. At first, ham-fisted as I normally am, I was putting on too much wheel too early. As we got faster, so I adjusted, until on the fairly-fast Polo corner I was able to set the car up with just a little deflection, tuck it in close, and tap on a dab of opposite lock as the tail screwed a little sidewise over the small bump in the middle of the exit line.

I was looking for wheel hop, but there was hardly any there, and the black car felt as safe as the Queen Elizabeth, even in that uneven change of line that occurs on the short circuit where you leave the right-handed joining road on the left and pull the car across quickly to the right for the Causeway. There was bags of power underfoot, although because of the tenderness of the car I never turned it loose. But it gives you the feeling that no matter how much power you put down on the road, the car would never play any tricks. Leo says it is the easiest and best-handling sedan he has driven. It is faster than his - Lotus Elite on most circuits, with a top speed of 122 mph at Bathurst, and he says it is a very hard car to lose.

Although I never asked Leo, it is obvious that the black Cortina GT is one car you could drive comfortably on the public road to use as the occasional devastating Q-ship in the Traffic Light Grand Epreuves. All except for that clutch, that is. The doctor said it was a tertiary ligamentary torsional mal-adjustment. I should walk again without crutches in seven to eight weeks.

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