Hid­den Agenda

If you can’t join them, beat them. With Lo­tus prices strato­spheric, Gra­ham Neale’s cre­ated a trib­ute that packs a more pow­er­ful punch.

Classic Ford - - MK1 CORTINA - Words and Pho­tos Jon Hill


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.

Com­pany men

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.

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