If you can’t join them, beat them. With Lotus prices stratospheric, Graham Neale’s created a tribute that packs a more powerful punch.
“I ALWAYS WANTED A LOTUS. THAT ICONIC SHOT OF JIM CLARK COCKING A FRONT WHEEL IN ONE DID IT FOR ME”
There are very few words that generate such passion than Lotus in the classic Ford world. Other than Cosworth, that is. And Lotus has an awful lot to answer for too, taking a lowly Cortina and elevating it to God-like status has arguably had enormous repercussions on the definition of the car for the working man. When it gets to the levels of more exotic classics, it really has lost the affordability plot — I mean you can buy a decent Ferrari for the cost of a Lotus Cortina.
Which means if you want one then you’ve got two choices — save very, very hard or, like Graham Neale of Chester Sportscars, build your own. “I’ve always wanted one — that iconic vision of Jim Clark cocking his front wheel did it for me,” he reckons. And thereby hangs a problem — all the genuine bits are ridiculous money, too. If you take your time over it, it might spread the cost a touch, but you’re still into wallet-busting dosh, and even then it’s still a replica.
So let’s analyse the problem — the Lotus Cortina is a Deluxe Cortina with a trick twin-cam engine — these days, that’s a basic twin-cam engine. An engine that’s renowned for problems. True, most of those have been solved and you can build a much bigger capacity unit with a more up-to-date bottom end. And there are new head castings and water pump conversions, and oiling kits and…. The list goes on. Truth is, by the time you’ve finished, you’ve a sunk a tonne of money into something that’s still only got 170 bhp at best. Understandably, your mind could well be forgiven for thinking in a different way — like a modern engine. Like a Zetec — and that high end horsepower figure you might get is almost the starting point.
Graham’s very much of the same ideal — in fact he and his son, Duncan are not exactly unfamiliar to the pages of Classic Ford; being the proprietors of Chester Sportscars, a company specialising in dropping said engine into virtually anything. Well to be more correct, the ST170 version and,
even more pedantic about it, converting the engine to run on ’bike throttle bodies. We’ve covered their installations plus their similarpowered ’66 Corsair in recent issues.
OK, it’s a white two-door Cortina, and the defining bit’s the Sherwood Green side stripe. Lower it, a set of quarter bumpers and you’re almost there — but we all know it goes a lot deeper than that. All the suspension needs upgrading and if the car’s a 1200 then the brakes need looking at too. What you could do is start with an unfinished project like Graham did. This one came with a Pinto and a five-speed ready-fitted. That and a Capri front crossmember giving rack-and-pinion steering coupled with Capri struts.
The important bit though was that the shell was pretty good since it had been already restored. And you’ve probably noticed the registration — yes, an M-plate as the car came into the country in 1974 from South Africa, which means as an export-spec shell it has all the little strengthening extras.
And if you’re going to drop a new engine in an old car, you might as well make it looks like it
belongs there. Painting the important bits in Lotus colours is a stroke of genius — coupled with not going over-board on the bling and you’ve the perfect combination that makes you look, makes you look twice in fact. And then smile!
But it’s not just any old ST170 that’s been tarted up with paint. “You have to swap the sump to rear-wheel drive configuration so while it’s off, you might as well treat it to new bearings, too,” says Graham. In fact, that ethos applies to the rest — fit new rings, cambelt, whip the valves out and check they’re straight.
Naturally, they weren’t going to leave out the Chester-signature bike carbs and to their formula too — Mikuni 38 mm-choke ’bodies from a Kawasaki ZX-6R mounted on a port-matched custom alloy inlet that’s swept up to clear the brake and clutch cylinders and then controlled by a Chester Sportscars ECU system. For them, a no-brainer.
The rest of the car really did need their touch — unfortunately, the inherited five-speed must have been left outside with the cover off, because it was full of water so it had to be replaced. So too, the front suspension; that was woeful. This time, Graham opted for a full Old Ford Auto Services (OFAS) front suspension kit — you can almost bolt these in because they’re so sorted — combined with re-modifying the front struts with new inserts and platforms and OFAS top mounts the job can go swimmingly.
One thing that Graham’s not a big fan of was the gold Minilite replicas the car came with — he’s more of a banded steels man, luckily, these came via a friend and they were snapped up. The rest was a case of sourcing Graham’s chosen bits — trick stuff you can now buy like door cards from Aldridge Trimming. Think clever The usual thing applies — money well spent in the right areas on quality gear makes all the difference; proving you don’t have to fork out top money to build the world’s best replica — you just have to be a bit more clever about it and think sideways. It does seem to work!
Car was imported from South Africa in 1974, hence the M-plate.
Later Aeroflow dash with GT gauges, 1600E steering wheel and more-modern seats mean this Mk1’s built for driving far and fast.
Banded steels add that touch of Lotus class with some extra width.
Recaros give more comfort and support than originals.
Water rail essential when mounting the Zetec inline.
Zetec-based ST170 motor is very neatly installed. Sherwood Green cam cover is a great touch.
The Cortina came already converted to steering rack operation, but Graham swapped the majority of the bits over from the Old Ford Autos kit.