This section examines the Lotus Cortina race cars that were used in period.
The focus currently is on the UK cars, and the works (and near-works) teams. Over time I hope to expand that to cover the private entry cars, the cars in use in Europe (although there is one entry in there in Norway which is quite stunning) and of course the North American and Australian Lotus Cortina racing.
The content is dominated by the Mk 1. They were the game-changer when introduced in 1963, but were struggling by 1966 against the Alfa GTs and the Porsche 911s masquerading as saloon cars! So when the Mk 2 started racing, even with its mighty FVA engine in Group 5, it continued to struggle. A new game-changer came along shortly after the Mk 2 Lotus Cortina hit the tracks, and that was the Escort Twincam. Ford had a new small car champion, and the Lotus Cortina was no longer supported by Ford or Lotus in racing.
In the UK it is easy enough to identify what car did what race by the registration number of the car. Or at least, I thought it was. Many of the race cars had their number plates stuck onto the bonnet, and it was a simple enough job to swap bonnets between cars! Apparently, that was not an uncommon occurrence.
So whilst the UK cars are currently organised by registration number within year, I am also going to by adding the race results for all BTCC and ETCC event from 1963 to 1968, which I have recently collated. They will identify the car by race number, registration number and driver (and team of course) as well as the result for each race.
As I was starting to pull the information together for the American series of races in the same period, it became obvious that the cars were not recognisable by a registration number. Only in 1964, when Team Lotus took 3 cars out to the USA, were there any unique markings on the car. Thereafter, it is difficult to identify the cars, apart from the number they were wearing in a given race. This section has now been started, but is structured to show the cars (by Race number and driver within race and within year), but is still very much under construction. (May 2013).
Here’s a little film of the BTCC race at Crystal Palace in 1964 to set the context of these race cars!
INTRODUCTION TO THE LOTUS CORTINA RACING IN THE UK
(Reproduced with the kind permission of Graham Robson.)
The story of the Cortina race car programme really began in mid-1962, well before the car was even announced. Walter Hayes knew that a high-performance GT model was due in 1963, and called up his old friend Colin Chapman of Lotus, to develop a new twin-cam engined Lotus-Cortina.
As far as factory-backed cars are concerned, this story spans six years – 1963 to 1968 – but it all took time to mature. The early Lotus-Cortinas proved to be depressingly fragile race cars, so the Cortina GT became a ‘stand-in’ race car, the Lotus-Cortina only being competitive from 1964. Although many teams waited impatiently for the new twin-cam car, Ford always made it clear that most of their support would go (in the UK at least) to Team Lotus.
The wait was certainly worth it, though the new car was not homologated until September 1963. Once the A-frame/coil spring suspended Lotus-Cortina made its first racing appearance, it caused the sensation that Walter Hayes had always visualised. To quote Paddy McNally of Autosport :
‘The Gold Cup meeting at OultonPark saw the first International debut of the then recently homologated Lotus-Cortinas. Although not the outright winners, they were tremendously impressive, and finished third and fourth behind the Ford Galaxies of Dan Gurney and Graham Hill.’
But that was just the beginning, for the Lotus-Cortinas were still only running with 145bhp. For 1964, not only would Team Lotus get the job of running a British Championship effort, but F1 stars Jim Clark and Peter Arundell usually found time to drive the cars. At the time, don’t forget, Clark had just won his first F1 World Drivers’ Championship crown.
Because of their front-wheel-waving antics in the corners, BJH 417B, BJH 418B and BJH 419B became famous, and well-loved, by Ford enthusiasts in the spectating crowds.
The story of the British season is easily told. Jim Clark started all eight rounds in the BRSCC series (somehow he found the time between F1 commitments), won every class, every time – and even threw in three outright victories as well. Nothing could have been more emphatic that this. Once again to quote McNally:
‘The works Lotus-Cortinas were well-prepared and exceedingly fast, proving capable of winning a race outright if the Ford Galaxies absented themselves for any reason.
‘Initially these cars suffered from understeering characteristics induced, as much as anything, by the steering geometry, which might be criticised. But much development work was done in the steering department, and when fitted with thick anti-roll bars the cars were very rapid, even though their tendency to lift the front wheels made them unstable.’
They were, indeed, a whole lot more sophisticated than the cars of their more powerful rivals, much lighter than any of them, and with a great deal better balance and ‘chuckability’ – Jim Clark always making the most of this characteristic.
Before the end of 1964, too, there was another boost to the Lotus-Cortina’s racing reputation – and it came from an unlikely source. Although the ‘works’ rally team at Boreham had already proved that the original A-bracket suspension would never work on rough rallies, they wondered how it would fare on long-distance tarmac events ?
The chance to find out came in September 1964, when two new Boreham-built cars – ETW 361B for Henry Taylor/Brian Melia, and ETW 362B for David Seigle-Morris/Vic Elford – all of them rally rather than racing drivers, tackled the 10-day, 4,000-mile, Tour de France. This was an all-tarmac road event, an inspired amalgam of rallying and racing, which included eight one-hour races, lots of speed hill-climbs in the French Alps and the Pyrenees, and a good deal of high-speed rallying around twisty mountain roads in the Alpes Maritimes between Gap and Nice.
Like the RAC rally entry of 1963, where Henry Taylor’s machine had given so much trouble, it took several service car teams to keep the cars going at all, but this time the chassis set-up was clearly right for the going, especially on France’s many smooth race tracks.
Although Henry Taylor was initially the faster driver on the circuits, his car eventually failed, and it was Seigle-Morris/Elford who kept going. In a remarkable and still (in my opinion) under-appreciated performance, this Lotus-Cortina finished fourth overall in the Touring Car Category (behind two Ford Mustangs and a Jaguar 3.8 Mk 2), and it won the prestigious Handicap Category outright. In prestige terms (and financially for the drivers !), this was a huge boost.
Not only that, but here was a car which always looked very fast, looked wonderfully stable on the stages and the circuits, and it certainly brought smiles to the faces of its experienced crew.
For 1965 the Team Lotus cars were even faster than before, because BRM (with a development team led by Mike Hall, who would later move to Cosworth and design the all-conquering Ford-Cosworth BDA engine) took on the race-engine development contract, pushing up peak horsepower figures for the slightly over-bored 1,594cc units to about 150bhp at 7,800rpm: because of homologation restrictions, they were still obliged to use standard-type Weber carburettors. Not only that, but as soon as possible after the new system was announced, the race cars were changed over to a conventional type of leaf-spring rear suspension. Jim Clark and Jack Sears drove the cars – JTW 496C, JTW 497C and JTW 498C.
This was the year in which John Willment’s privately-prepared team cars were sometimes as competitive as the Team Lotus ‘works’ machines, but by the end of the years the cars were finally beaten by Roy Pierpoint’s 4.7-litre Ford Mustang. They were always even faster than in 1964, and were just as exciting to watch.
Lotus-Cortinas always won their 2-litre capacity class, with Jim Clark and Jack Sears winning three times each: Jim also won two events outright – once at Goodwood and once at Oulton Park.
For 1966 the scene changed considerably, for Championship regulations changed, and the cars were henceforth able to run to FIA Group 5 regulations, which gave almost unlimited freedom for mechanical change and improvement. The British Team Lotus cars – the PHK….D team cars – therefore ran with coil spring/wishbone front suspension, 160bhp at first (with carburettors) and 180bhp fuel-injected BRM/Cosworth-tuned engines (from mid-season), along with cast magnesium road wheels.
In a ten-event season, one or other of these cars won outright three times, and always won the 2-litre capacity class. Not only Jim Clark (all three race victories, and five class wins) and Peter Arundell, but Sir John Whitmore and Jacky Ickx all drove the team cars. Chopping and changing drivers meant that Championship points were sometimes squandered, which meant that no single one of them could win the Drivers’ title, but Team Lotus easily lifted the Makes title. In 1966 the only cars which could beat them in a straight fight were other Fords, either the 7.0-litre Galaxies or the 4.7-litre Mustangs and Falcons.
For 1967, Team Lotus then elected to make yet another major technical change. Not only did Ford decide that the team should use the new-shape Lotus-Cortina Mk II (which was slightly larger, heavier, and less aerodynamically favoured than the original type), but a careful study of Group 5 regulations showed that they could be powered by the brand-new 16-valve Cosworth-Ford FVA Formula 2 power unit ! This meant that the latest saloons would have 205bhp – a very peaky 205bhp, it must be accepted – but were undoubtedly effective.
After a tentative start to the year, when the up-graded old-shape 1966 Mk I cars had to be used (the new models were not revealed until March 1967), a new set of Lotus-Cortina Mk IIs – which included CTC 14E and CTC 24E (CTC = Cortina Twin Cam, a nice touch) – first appeared at the Silverstone meeting in April, where Lotus’s new Formula One recruit Graham Hill drove one car.
Because F1 superstar Jim Clark had decided to spend the year living in Paris as a ‘tax exile’, he was no longer available to drive the saloons, so during the 1967 season Hill was joined at various times by John Miles and Jacky Ickx, the main class opposition coming from Vic Elford’s newly-homologated Porsche 911, which in spite of its cramped cabin had somehow been homologated as a four-seater ‘touring car’.
Class wins, however, were one thing (and difficult enough to achieve against the 911), but in 1967 not even the FVA-engined Lotus-Cortinas cars could compete with the 4.7-litre and 5.3-litre V8-engined Ford Falcons and Mustangs which were also taking every advantage of the Group 5 regulations. During the year, a ‘works’ Lotus-Cortina usually won its capacity class, but this was a season in which it could never finish higher than third overall – not even 205bhp could beat 350/370bhp of Ford-USA grunt, it seemed.
As with the rally programme, so with the racing programme – in 1968 Ford knew that the Lotus-Cortina was about to become obsolete, as the new, smaller, lighter and more promising Escort Twin-Cam would be announced in January 1968, and it intended to concentrate on those cars in future. Accordingly, after five flamboyant racing seasons, the official Team Lotus Lotus-Cortina racing programme was quietly laid to rest.
Ford, never willing to miss a publicity trick in those days, provided an FVA-engined race car (UVX 565E) for Motor to test at the end of the 1967 season. Even though it was driven and tested two-up, plus test measuring gear, it still recorded 0-60mph in 6.3sec, 0-100mph in 15.2sec, and went on to a top speed of 130mph – quite remarkable by the standards of the mid-1960s. This incidentally, was with an engine warning label, in large letters, which stated: ‘DO NOT EXCEED 9,000RPM’ !
There was, however, a short-lived reprieve for these cars. As an interim measure, the Frank Gardner/Alan Mann Racing team campaigned two different red-and-gold FVA-engined Mk II Lotus-Cortina at the very start of the 1968 season (Frank winning his class comfortably in his three appearances in early season), before he switched to an Escort Twin-Cam, while Brian Robinson’s ex-works machine (CTC 14E) took second place in its class behind one or other of Gardner’s Fords on seven occasions.
This, though, was only an interim year, for once the Escort Twin-Cams had shown their pace, everyone else was obliged to buy one to try to stay on terms. Lotus-Cortinas were no longer even ‘on the pace’ after 1968.
Another stunning painting by Michael Turner, commissioned by Ford for the front cover of Ford Times, September 1964.
The Lotus Cortina had proven itself in one year of racing, with Jim Clark winning the British Touring Car Championship in his Team Lotus car, BJH 417B.