This section examines the Lotus Cortina rally cars that were used in period, between 1963 and 1970. Currently, this mainly covers the Works cars, but will be extended to look at Privateers as and when information becomes available.
Please note that the 1968 London – Sydney Marathon and the 1970 World Cup Rally are covered in a separate ‘Marathons’ section, with accounts from individual teams for each of those events.
Getting records for what cars entered what events with which drivers and co-drivers has proven to be an interesting challenge, but it’s coming together. As far as possible, we are using photographic evidence, reports in AutoSport, Motoring News, Motor, Autocar and MotorSport to gather the information, together with information from folks who were there.
Many have contributed to this section, but particular thanks go to:
Graham Robson, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of rallying Cortinas in the 1960s formed the basis of this section, and the write-up below. He was also, of course, the co-driver in the first Lotus Cortina to win a major international Rally in December 1965, sitting alongside Roger Clark.
Keith Lay, whose detailed eye and record keeping has provided, for the first time in print, the high degree of accuracy and structure for this section. Even sorting out different coloured cars with the same registration number proved to be tricky at first. Keith used to rally both Lotus Cortinas and Escorts in period, so his interest goes beyond the record keeping!
John Wood, who restored probably one of the most significant Mk 1 cars back in the 80s, Roger Clark’s old warhorse KPU 383C. Working with the chaps who worked on the cars at Boreham, specifically Mick Jones who looked after Roger’s car, John has built up a detailed knowledge of these cars. John has written up his experience with 383 in the ‘Works Car Study‘ section.
Mick Jones contacted me after looking at the site and seeing some holes in the knowledge! Mick joined Ford Motorsport from Ford Engineering in 1961. He was there for the opening of Boreham in 1963 and became the workshop foreman / engineer in 1970, and left in 1984 to become Motorsport Manager in Ford South Africa. I hope to have many more chats with Mick to fill in some more gaps, and Mick has very kindly supplied some photographs from his own collection for this site. Sadly, Mick passed away in 2016.
This picture captures the spirit of the Lotus Cortina perfectly, with a Formula 1 World Champion driving a works rally car in an international rally event. Try arranging for that to happen today!
Maurice was the photographer for Motor Sport in 1966, and was camped just above the spot where Jim came off. When he heard the load crunch, he rushed down to take this picture. There are more views of NVW in the Mk 1 Rally section.
Here is a nice little introduction to the 1966 RAC.
The Lotus Cortina in Rallying
(based on Graham Robson’s work)
Although the success of the Lotus Cortina in rallying has been somewhat eclipsed by the record of the Mk 1 and 2 Escorts, the story of the frustrations, tenacity and eventual success of the Lotus Cortina paved the way for Ford’s domination in the rallying world in the 70s and 80s.
It’s easy to forget, but Colin Chapman was given the brief to design and assemble a Cortina that could win track races, and in so doing, add kudos to Ford in general and the Cortina specifically. Colin was always focused on his goal, with no compromises, and so a car was developed that would do, and did, exactly what it was set out to achieve. The use of lightweight aluminium panels and castings proved expensive and fragile on a road car, and the A-Frame design, whilst fine for a 2 hour race on smooth tarmac, proved to be very troublesome in use as a road car, let alone on a forest track for many days at a time.
It was the A-Frame rear suspension that kept the Lotus Cortina from any real success in rallying, and it wasn’t until mid 1965, some two and a half years after the car was announced, that the leaf spring was adopted, and the car became a viable contender. The GT Cortina had notched up considerable success in the years that the Lotus was unable to compete, giving Boreham valuable experience in the rallying field. Now, with the leaf spring suspension, they had a car with the potential of a lot more power, and in specification at least, the car was essentially a twincam GT Cortina. However, it now only had a year to establish itself on the international rally circuit, as the Mk 1 was dropped in August 1966.
The ‘A’ Frame years
The first Lotus-Cortina to be rallied was the car of Pat Moss / Jenny Nadin in a privately entered but factory car (probably 786 BOO)in the Rally of the Midnight Sun, June ’63.
The next effort was in a GT with the Lotus engine (888 DOO), in the 1963 Spa-Sofia-Liege rally in September, driven by Henry Taylor to 4th place, essentially to try out the engine.
The first real ‘works’ outing in a rally by a Lotus-Cortina proper (again, 786 BOO) was in the 1963 RAC Rally, driven by Henry Taylor with co-driver Brian Melia. It finished 6th, but the back axle needed constant attention.
During 1963, a Lotus Cortina (779 BOO) was loaned to David Seigle-Morris to compete in the more local events in order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the car more fully. It was destroyed by fire during the 1963 Welsh.
The final A-Frame cars to be rallied were the two works entered cars for the Tour de France Automobile, a 10 day, 4,000-mile (6,400 km) event run completely on sealed roads.
The two cars were ETW 361 B, driven by Henry Taylor / Brian Melia, which retired early on near LeMans with a siezed engine, and ETW 362 B, driven by Vic Elford and David Seigle-Morris, which finished a very creditable 4th in the touring car category, and 1st in the handicap category. Even though the car was run on tarmac for the entire event, it took a large team to keep the car going with constant attention required to the back axle.
On the strength of this event, the pressure was on to convince Colin Chapman that the A Frame suspension was unsuitable for the car, and that it should be replaced with leaf springs, similar to those used on the GT. The A Frame was proving to be quite unreliable for road cars as well, but perhaps because Ford were picking up the warrantee costs, Lotus were very reluctant to change, and it took Jim Clark and Jack Sears to finally persuade Colin that a leaf spring version of the car was stronger and was actually faster that the A Frame car.
By the end of 1964 he finally agreed, and the leaf spring cars made their debut in June 1965 with the KPU cars, after KPU 383C, which became Roger Clark’s car, had been presented for homologation standard definition.
The Leaf Spring Cars
Nine Monaco Red Lotus Cortinas, amongst the first cars fitted with the factory leaf spring arrangement (with Feb ’65 chassis build codes), were developed for the 1965 season and put on the road in June 1965.
The cars were:
KPU 380 C (David Seigle-Morris and Tony Nash)
KPU 381 C (Vic Elford / John Davenport)
KPU 382 C (Roger Clark for European events)
KPU 383 C (Roger Clark forUKevents)
KPU 385 C (Henry Taylor / Brian Melia)
KPU 386 C (a practise car, not used on any events)
KPU 387 C (Bengt Sodderstrom / Gunner Palm)
KPU 389 C (The 2nd practise car, not used on any events)
KPU 395 C (Vic Elford / David Stone)
Four of the newly updated cars competed in the Alpine rally of July 1965, and Vic Elford’s car (KPU 395C) led outright, all the way. However, less than an hour from finishing, a piece of the distributor fell out and delayed the car 26 minutes.
All four cars retired from that year’s RAC rally, which was severely snow-affected.
The first works victory came in December 1965, when Roger Clark and Graham Robson won the Welsh International (KPU 383 C).
Four Monaco Red cars were added to the ‘fleet’ for the 1966 season, and were registered in December ’65.
The cars were:
NVW 240 C (Sodderstrom / Palm)
NVW 242 C (Elford / Stone)
NVW 243 C (Clark / Melia)
MNO 761 C (Elford /Davenport)
In 1966, Ford managed to homologate the car for Group 1, which required 5000 cars to be built.
In the Monte Carlo Rally (Jan), Roger Clark finished 4th (NVW 243C), only to be disqualified in the lighting fiasco, along with Timo Makinen, who had won in a Cooper S.
Vic Elford finished 1st (MNO 761 C) in the Rally of the Flowers (Feb), only to be disqualified as well for some very minor discrepancies with his homologation papers. His luck still hadn’t returned for the Circuit of Ireland (Mar) where he retired after hitting a stone wall (MVW 242 C).
Vic Elford then came 2nd (MNO 761 C)in the Tulip Rally (Apr) to Rauno Aaltonen’s Cooper S.
Bengt Söderström (KPU 387 C) was named victor of the Acropolis Rally (May), after Paddy Hopkirk’s 1st-placed Mini Cooper S was disqualified. Roger Clark (KPU 382C) was 2nd. Vic Elford (MNO 761 C) led the Acropolis for many hours until his gearbox packed up.
On the Scottish (Jun), Roger Clark’s rear axle failed (KPU 383 C), as it did again on the Gulf London (Jul), while Vic Elford’s Gulf car (KPU 381 C) retired as Ford had sent no service crews to help their contracted drivers.
Paul MacLeffan won the Canadian Shell 4000 with Roger Clark’s locally-prepared car coming in third.
Four new cars were built to compete in Group 2 starting in August ’66, and they were in the white / green stripe with black bonnet livery. The Minilite wheels were newly homologated, and power was up to around 140 bhp. Confusingly, two of these cars inherited the identification of earlier Monaco Red Group 1 cars, but they were certainly new cars.
The cars were:
KPU 380 C (Vic Elford / David Stone) (inherited ID)
NVW 239 C (Bengt Soddderstrom / Gunner Palm, left hand drive car)
NVW 241 C (Jim Clark / Brian Melia)
NVW 242 C (Roger Clark / Brian Melia) (inherited ID).
Roger Clark campaigned one of the new cars (NVW 241 C) on the 1000 lakes (Aug) where he came 20th. Bengt Sodderstrom retired in his old red car (KPU 387 C)
The white / Green cars were then used for the Coupe des Alpes (Alpine Rally) (Oct) , where Vic Elford’s engine expired (KPU 380 C) after leading, while Roger Clark (NVW 242 C) finished second. Bengt Soderstrom’s car (NVW 239 C) retired after it had crashed very hard into an ‘unyielding Alp’.
The RAC rally for 1966 (Nov) was really the last works success for the Lotus Cortina, and most famous for having the F1 World Champion, Jim Clark, having a go in the rally in one of the works cars (NVW 241 C). Jim was getting faster on each stage, led a couple of stages and was nearly always in the top 5. He finally crashed out of the rally at Loch Akray,Scotland.
Roger Clark (NVW 242 C) crashed into a tree in the West Country which was the end of his rally, and yet again, Vic Elford (KPU 380 C) was let down with engine problems.
Bengt Sodderstom with Gunnar Palm (NVW 239 C) were never lower than second on all the stages, and when Timo Makinen’s leading Cooper S retired in the depths of Keilder with a broken transmission, the Lotus Cortina came in for a famous 13 minute victory.
The Lotus Cortina was now a serious Forest rally car, but unfortunately the Mk 1 had been out of production for a few months by now! However, a final win before the advent of the Mk. II was also pulled off by Bengt Soderstrom in the snowy Swedish Rally of February 1967.
Ford stayed away from the Monte in disgust, and also gave the Tulip a miss. They sent cohorts of Cortinas to the Safari, where Roger Clark’s Mark 1 car led until its rear suspension broke up.
The Boreham Reality Check
It’s important to note that whilst the registration number of the car is presented here as driven by a given driver in a given event, it may not always have been the same car with that registration number. In discussions with several of the guys who worked on these cars at Boreham, it was the norm to swap number plates around to give the impression of continuity of a given number for a given driver.
Cars sustained damage which had to be repaired, and of course the specification of the cars changed depending on what type of rally was being entered…from easy tarmac and forest to extremely punishing forest only.
The cars needed some time back at base to complete the changes, and a car with little damage or set up for a particular type of rally may well have been substituted for another. As can be seen from the result, a couple of the cars appear to have done little work, whilst others completed 3 or 4 events, but maybe they were the subject of some numberplate swapping. We will never know, as the guys at Boreham couldn’t have said with any confidence exactly which chassis number did which event a few weeks after the event!
Having two brand new cars each with an old identity doesn’t help clear things up, but at least they were painted in a different colour!
A great advert from Ford capitalising on the success of the Cortina