MK1 CORTINA V8
Incredible GT all the way from the USA.
Jerry Peters was born to be a petrolhead… literally. He entered the world in June 1949 — the same week the first ever NASCAR ‘Strictly Stock’ racers battled round Charlotte Speedway, North Carolina and his Godmother, Joyce Clark, was the first NASCAR timing and scoring official. By age four, Jerry was a regular attendee at his local racetrack in Jacksonville, Florida, and dreamed of being a racing driver — an ambition he would achieve years later as a keen amateur after a successful career in business allowed him to foster his love of fast cars.
Today, Jerry has a man-cave chocked full of the most incredible machinery from the States and Europe, including an impressive line-up of Porsches. But there’s one car among the realms of exotica that he rates as his favourite… and that’s an immaculate and unassuming Mk1 Cortina GT.
This is no ordinary Old English White Sunday driver though, as under the skin Jerry’s subtle GT packs a 508 bhp V8 powerplant, running through a six-speed box to a hybrid Jaguar/Ford 9 inch rear end. This car isn’t just a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s a pack of them!
The story starts back in 1965, when a young Jerry witnessed a piece of machinery that would change his view on UK cars forever.
“I was a delivery boy making my rounds in Jacksonville,” Jerry begins, “and was walking a series of bends we called Dead Man’s Curves when a Pontiac GTO came racing down the road, quickly followed by a car I’d never seen before. It looked like a shrunken Falcon and I thought ‘what the hell?’ as it overtook the GTO and sped off into the distance showing me a glimpse of those crazy ‘ban the bomb’ tail lamps.”
“I headed off in the direction the mystery car had gone and at the local teen hangout, near where I worked, there it was. One of the rich kids from school owned what I then learned was a Mk1 Lotus Cortina from the UK. And my amazement intensified as he lifted the hood to reveal a four-cylinder motor. I’d imagined the car had to have had a 289 V8 or something similar to the Sunbeam Alpine Tigers that were coming in to the USA at the time.
“Right there I promised myself I’d own one of these Cortinas one day,” Jerry notes “and I figured I’d make mine the way it should have been done by the factory… with a V8, of course. It was a distant dream for a 16-year-old whose current wheels were a Model A Ford capable of about 50 mph flat out…”
That dream would take over four decades to become reality.
“I ended up with a Mk2 Lotus Cortina,” Jerry says, “but that model just wasn’t right. I wanted the curves, the fins and those rear lamps. Then a mint 23,000-mile Mk1 GT, that had come in to the USA from Canada turned up on the horizon
and my heart was set on owning it… although that would take several years of chasing the GT round the country and through several owners. In 2011, I tracked the car down to Santa Barbara and did a swap involving a Bentley that had once been owned by Vanna White — the long-running hostess on the USA’s version of Wheel Of Fortune. Finally, the car was mine and I enjoyed a couple of years of stock motoring, collecting up parts along the way, before my V8 dreams just had to become reality!”
“And the Cortina was as good as it promised,” Jerry reports. “So good, I nearly made some enemies. Having joined the Mk1 club, I told them I intended radically modifying the car. One member wanted me black-balled from the club, but I made amends by offering all the low-mileage running gear from the Cortina at a very cheap price to a UK enthusiast.”
Jerry’s plan was carried out by a good friend and renowned Mustang race and drag car builder, Johnny Riddling. The Cortina was stripped to a bare shell, and media blasting revealed zero… none… zilch, rust anywhere. As it was going to be a seriously powerful car, Johnny then got on with building a bespoke running gear that would handle the horsepower.
One well-trodden path in the custom world is to modify a Mustang front-end, for the steering, crossmember and suspension, so this was carried out, but getting it to all fit in to this UK shell was a massive challenge. The rear end was no easier as the chosen Ford 9 inch axle is around 6 inches too wide. The axle was chopped, welded, braced and linked by tuning firm Heidts with a Jaguar inboard calliper set-up using Wilwood four pots to complement the Wilwood six-pot set-up at the front.
Other fabrication tasked included welding in a roll cage which links front and rear under the car, routing for a twin exhaust side-exit system, link boxes for the radical Jag-style rear end and stretching the rear arches slightly to get the 7 and 8 inch-wide custom-made wheels and tyres to fit. With the metalwork complete, fresh coats of Old English White paint were relaid on the GT and
“I PROMISED MYSELF I’D OWN ONE OF THESE CORTINAS ONE DAY, AND I FIGURED I’D MAKE MINE THE WAY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE — WITH A V8”
“I HAVE NO IDEA HOW FAST THE CORTINA WILL GO, BUT I’VE HAD IT UP TO 120 MPH AND STILL HAD TWO GEARS LEFT TO USE”
fitting up could begin… the main feature of which was of course, the always-promised V8, which would be mated to a Magnum T56 six-speed transmission which, amazingly, fitted in the original tunnel perfectly.
“The first thought was for a 289, as I’d always planned,” Jerry says, “but then we realised that a 347 stroker engine would fit. With Inglése fuel injection and custom exhausts the power output has been dyno’d at 508 bhp, which in a car weighing less than 2000 lb (around 900 kg) is plenty! The engine does sound incredible too, and I have no idea how fast the Cortina really will be… but I’ve done 120 mph and had two gears left to use. I’ll settle for wicked fast!”
Finishing off the car the trim is as clean and perfect as the rest of the build. Inside the original GT seats were stripped and rebuilt with bolsters, and the speedo is a GPS unit with a 200 mph face, while the gauges are ’60s F1 and GT40 replicas to give the Cortina a period racer feel.
Outside, retaining all the chromework, and running the GT custom-made Lotus style 7 and 8 inch rims with dished chrome hubcaps is all part of the truth-hiding illusion that Jerry and Johnny have pulled off with this Cortina. It’s because the car looks so subtle until you look under the skin, that has made it an instant hit with show crowds during 2016. And the big boys have been taking notice too, as Ford is hoping to get Jerry and his GT to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas in 2017… and if you’re an American car nut, there’s no greater place to be than that, even if you’ve waited 50 years for it!
After being inspired by the antics of a Mk1 Lotus in the ’60s, Jerry’s finally realised his dream early Cortina.
Jerry’s cleverly kept the overall feel and look of the classic GT interior, but almost everything has been upgraded. By pure fluke, the shifter for the T56 ’box exits through the original aperture.
Re-bolstered GT seats wear British Willans harnesses.
GT dash now has more modern, classic look gauges.
Frostie drinks chiller nestles between two spare wheels where the back seat would have been.
The stroker Ford V8 (just) nestles within the inner wings — underneath which now sits Mustang suspension.
Jerry’s GT is a definite sleeper, even with the roll cage on show, which is actually linked to the front and rear suspension.
Custom-made steels follow the classic Lotus style but are 8x15 on the rear.
Exhausts exit on both sides and sound incredible!
Jag-style rear end is based around a much-shortened Ford 9 inch axle and includes inboard disc brakes!
Cool flip-top filler cap hides an electrical take-off.