1966 Lotus Cortina MkI

Bentley. Aston Martin. Jaguar. Lotus.

They’re all British car companies, but more importanly, they all have factory-sponsored racing teams. For decades, these companies have battled it out on the racetrack in everything from Formula 1 racing to grand touring to group racing.

What these companies would typically do is take one of their production cars and modify it to compete in a specific class of racing. There is one catch, though. Auto manufacturers are required to build a minimum number of vehicles and sell them to the public in order to classify as a production car. This practice, known as homologation, means that a small number of factory-built race cars will make it out into the real world – completely road legal. This is exactly what happened in the 1960s with the Lotus Cortina.

In the 1960s, Ford wanted to build a car that would totally kick ass in FIA Group 2 racing. They teamed up with Lotus to build the required 1,000 cars needed for homologation.

Under the agreement, Ford would supply the bodies and handle all of the sales and marketing of the cars, while Lotus would be responsible for building them. The car they chose was the Ford Cortina, a popular and inexpensive family car in post-WWII Britain.

Ford shipped the bodies over to Lotus who worked their magic on these cars, transforming them into turn-key racers. A typical Ford Cortina had a 60hp engine, or 78hp if a buyer went with the Cortina GT. Under the bonnet, Lotus installed a 1.6L dual overhead cam engine with twin Weber carburettors producing 105 horsepower. This was coupled to a close ratio 4-speed manual transmission with an aluminum bellhousing borrowed from the Lotus Elan.

But the modifications went a lot further than just adding more power. Lotus yanked out the rear leaf springs and replaced them with coil springs. They added additional braces to stiffen up the chassis, and 9.5″ disc brakes up front to help bring things to a stop.

Lotus also replaced the steel hood, trunk, and doors with identical panels made of lightweight aluminum. They even moved the battery and spare tire to opposite corners of the trunk, further improving weight distribution. When all was said and done, the car weighed 1,995 lbs (905kg) and had a top speed of 108 mph.

As you might imagine, these cars exceeded Ford’s expectations and dominated on the race track. The Ford/Lotus team won the British Touring Car Championship title in 1963 and 1964. The car won or placed very highly in every competition it entered, and the list of Lotus Cortina victories is simply too long for this article.

While the car did extremely well on the track, it ran into a few problems in the showroom – likely as a result of the car’s rapid development. The close gear ratios of the transmission created a lot of stress on the axle, and the differential housing would separate from the casing as a result. Ford resolved the issues by changing out the gear ratios for those from the Cortina GT and replaced the aluminum bellhousing with the standard one.

All told, they built about 2,894 of these cars, virtually all of them finished in Ermine White with the Sherwood Green body band and flash. Approximately 400 of these were left-hand drive models which were sold in the United States, making this one exceptionally rare. A U.S.-spec Cortina was sold by Bonham’s auction house in 2013 for $115,000!

This is one of only 169 cars sold here in 1966. When you consider its impressive racing heritage, its outstanding performance, and its rarity, this is truly a special automobile.

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