The gulf between an assemblage of parts and a functioning, front-rank racer is immense and can be very expensive to cross

Ford was looking to race the Mk I Cortina in the Group 2 category, for which 1,000 “homologation specials” would be required. The obvious powerplant was the twin-cam version of the ubiquitous Ford “Kent” engine that Lotus genius Colin Chapman had already developed for use in the Elan. A deal was struck, and the Lotus Cortina (or Cortina Lotus in Ford-speak) was born in 1963.

The car was based on the two-door Cortina. In addition to the fitting of the 105-hp 1,558-cc twin-cam engine, the changes included a close-ratio gearbox, shorter front suspension struts, and trailing arms and coil springs with an A bracket at the rear. Wider 5.5J steel wheels were added, and lightweight aluminum panels were used for the doors, hood, and trunk lid. The cars also received front quarter bumpers, while Lotus badges were fitted to the rear wings and right side of the radiator grille. Interior amendments included: a new center-console to house the remote control gear lever, different seats and fascia, and a wood-rim steering wheel. All cars built at the Lotus factory were finished white with distinctive green side stripes. The Mk I model was made until 1966, during which time the most significant upgrades included the adoption of Ford’s new Airflow ventilation system and the replacement of the troublesome A bracket rear suspension with leaf springs and radius arms.

The right-hand-drive car offered is a late Mk I example made in 1966, but it was re-engineered as a competition car in 2008-09. Freshly finished in the classic white with green stripes color scheme, it is understood to have undergone a bare metal/ground-up restoration and to have been treated to many new parts. The car apparently comes with a large file of photos and bills relating to the work done, plus the all-important MSA Historic Technical Passport. Reputedly tested but as yet unraced, this fast Ford is said to be sorted and ready for the 2011 season.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1966 Ford Lotus Cortina
Years Produced:1963-1966
Number Produced:2,894
Original List Price:$3,420 (In 1965 dollars)
SCM Valuation:$20,000-$30,000 (street)
Chassis Number Location:Engine compartment on firewall
Engine Number Location:On block by distributor
Club Info:Lotus Cortina Register
Alternatives:1965-67 Alfa GTA, 1962-64 Jaguar 3.8, 1960-64 Ford Galaxie 500

This car, Lot 68, sold for $64,209 at the H&H Buxton auction on August 12, 2010.

I have frequently held forth in this column about the differences between collector values and “weapons grade” values in various vintage racing cars. The basic idea is that racing cars carry value in the market because of a combination of their desirability as “things to own” and their desirability as “things to go compete with.” All cars carry some amount of both sets of values, although one or the other may be negligible depending on the situation.

Three years ago, I wrote about a 1965 Lotus Cortina that sold for an eye-watering $281,808 (March 2008, p. 64). This month’s subject car is effectively the same thing, but it sold for a bit less than a quarter of the March 2008 car. Admittedly we’ve had a market correction since then, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the value differences between the two Cortinas. Why were the hammer prices so different? And since we’re on the topic, did either of the buyers get the better deal?

Almost Goat Dung

Having dispensed with most of Cortina 101 in the previous column, I will not dwell too long on the basics of the car other than to mention that the Cortina was the first really modern car that Ford built (light, stiff unibody chassis, the introduction of the 105E “Kent” engine that would be around for the next 20 years) and that it came along at a point when Ford management was embracing a “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” philosophy. (I also can’t resist retelling the story that the car was originally to be called the “Caprino” until somebody realized that the word meant “goat dung” in Italian. Naming it after the 1956 Winter Olympics venue was a fallback.)

Colin Chapman had already been working on a twin-cam head on the Ford block to power his new Elan, so asking him to use the engine and work his magic to make the Cortina a high-profile racer was a simple and logical step. The cars worked extremely well, and for a few halcyon years (1963-65), they were the cars to beat in Touring Car racing, as they were comfortably quicker than the increasingly antique 3.8 Jaguars and powerful-but-clumsy 7-liter Ford Galaxies that had dominated earlier.

In 1965, Alfa Romeo homologated their GTA and by 1966 had gotten it working right, becoming the next car to beat. So the Lotus Cortina quickly faded from the front of the grids and into history.

A weapon or a collectible

Today there are only two reasons to own a racing Lotus Cortina: as a piece of sports memorabilia in a collection or as a weapon to wield in contemporary historic racing.

The Cortina I wrote about last time clearly belongs to the first category and only time and eventual resale will determine whether it was fairly priced as a Jim Clark icon.

Today’s subject car is equally clearly the opposite: a weapons-grade purchase strictly for racing (a street Lotus Cortina is maybe $30k these days) and is a very interesting topic as such.

First, I should make clear that the nature of vintage racing and the consequent values of cars such as the Cortina are very different between the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S., we don’t have a lot of touring cars in the entries to most races, with the result that they tend to be tossed into grids based on period and engine size rather than with other sedans.

On those occasions when touring car grids are assembled, they are dominated by the Alfas and BMWs of the late 1960s, which are generally much faster cars. The result is that Lotus Cortinas are pretty much mid-pack competitors in the U.S., and they are prepared and valued accordingly; $60k is fair money for one over here.

In Europe, it’s a different story. The grids are much larger and there are extremely competitive race series specifically for historic touring cars, with the grids structured so that pre-1966 cars can win. European racers also take finishing order (i.e., winning) much more seriously than we pretend to in the U.S. The result is that having a pre-1966 sedan that is fast and dependable enough to finish at the front while being able to withstand the technical   requirements of a much more demanding scrutineering inspection can be very important.

Simply put, running at the front in Europe involves money—a lot of money. The current value of a race-ready, proven-winner Lotus Cortina is £75,000-£85,000 ($115,000-$130,000) in the U.K. This may seem like a lot of money, but it’s a bit less than half of what its best competitor, a proper Alfa GTA, would cost. Interestingly, this is a ratio that has held constant for years now and is a useful way to consider value.

Hopes, dreams and realities

We still haven’t addressed the issue of why our subject car sold for about $64,000. I will suggest that it was either: (A) a screaming deal, (B) appropriately priced for what it actually was, and/or (C) a disappointment for a buyer that hoped it would be (A). A careful reading of the sale catalog might provide clues.

The first clue is what could be careful wording about the car’s origins; it says it was “re-engineered” from a “Mk 1 example,” not necessarily a Lotus Cortina. I don’t know if this tells us anything, but it might, as the car certainly has no collector value. The other big item is the mention that it was “reportedly tested but as yet unraced,” which is a huge issue if you are expecting a sorted, competitive racer. The gulf between an assemblage of parts and a functioning, front-rank racer is immense and can be very expensive to cross.

The whole thing gets down to being a matter of understanding and expectation. This car sold for half what a proven winner would cost, and it could probably be made into a solid mid-pack participant with little effort, which is a fair value for a buyer who had that in mind. If the new owner thought he was buying an inexpensive route to the winner’s circle, there has probably been quite a lot of disappointment involved. Assuming that the buyer was a clear-eyed and realistic racer with suitable expectations, I’d say the car was fairly bought and sold.

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