Lotus Cortina

For many fans, this is the first fast Ford. With its powerful engine, motorsport pedigree and affordable pricing, it set the template for the blue oval’s future high-performance models.

For many fans, this is the first fast Ford. With its powerful engine, motorsport pedigree and affordable pricing, it set the template for the blue oval’s future high-performance models.

Designed for racing success, this was much more than simply a Cortina with distinctive paint and Lotus badges. The famous British sports car firm fitted its own 105bhp 1.6-litre twin-cam engine, bespoke rear suspension and lightweight aluminium body panels.

These tweaks made the Cortina an instant racetrack sensation. Not only was it fast, but it looked spectacular, too. Its soft rear suspension meant that in the hands of grand prix legends Graham Hill and Jim Clark, the Lotus would often be seen drifting through corners with an inside front wheel hanging in the air.

In 1964, Clark secured the British Touring Car Championship crown, while the next year the squad took European, Belgian and New Zealand titles, too. And it didn’t perform only on the track – the Lotus Cortina scored victories on the British RAC and Greek Acropolis rallies. Owners found the green and white Fords were equally rapid on the road. While the race-bred suspension gave an uncompromising ride, that twin-cam motor was strong and the handling poised.

Drive one today, and you can immediately see what the fuss was about. Settle behind the thin wood-rimmed wheel and you’ll spot the extra dials, brushed aluminium trim and a Lotus badge on top of the gearlever. Twist the key and the motor bursts into life before settling to an uneven idle. On the move the Cortina feels brisk rather than fast, but its characterful exhaust note and mechanical gearshift increase the fun.

Compared to modern hot hatches, the Lotus feels a little soft and vague. But thanks to a rich sporting history and bags of charm, it thoroughly deserves its place in the top 10.

* Performance: 2/5 * Heritage: 5/5 * Style: 4/5 * Driver appeal: 3/5

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Details

Model tested: Lotus CortinaChart position: 8

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