Classic Car

Possibly The World’S Only Lotus Cortina Mk1 Convertible Has Been Hiding For 40 Years


Launched in 1962, the Cortina went on to become one of Ford’s most iconic European nameplates. But more importantly, it spawned the Lotus Cortina, a race-prepped version engineered by Colin Chapman, the brilliant man behind Lotus Cars.

The car was born out of Ford’s desire to take the Cortina racing. The company initially commissioned 1,000 units for homologation, but Lotus ended up putting together 3,301 examples from 1963 to 1966. All of them were two-door sedans and left the factory in white with green stripes.

It’s been almost 60 years since the Lotus Cortina Mk.1 debuted, and it seems that one of the 3,301 cars was transformed into a convertible. The car spent about 40 years in storage and surfaced in 2022 thanks to the folks over at The Late Brake Show.

This Lotus Cortina was converted by Crayford, a coachbuilding company that produced a wide variety of drop-tops for Ford back in the day. The British company made quite a few conversions based on the regular Cortina, but the fact that it also transformed a Lotus version remained a mystery outside a really small group of people.

The story goes that this car was originally owned by a pub owner. He put the car in storage following a minor crash, and sold it a day before his pub was demolished. The second owner also kept it in storage until recently, when the third owner, a Lotus Cortina enthusiast, bought it.

He had known about the car’s existence and location for at least 20 years, but kept it a secret, hoping that he would be able to buy it at some point. He was given that opportunity during the recent pandemic lockdown, and took the offer immediately.

Now parked in a garage alongside other Lotus Cortinas, the convertible is unchanged from when it was put into storage in the late 1970s. But while it has some damage to its front end, the car appears to be in solid condition given the long time it spent off the road.

It still has the original, Lotus-designed, 1.6-liter Twin-Cam four-cylinder under the hood and the soft-top seems to be in good shape. Amazingly enough, the car is complete and all-original save for the yellow paint.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of background info on this car, so we may never find out why someone decided to chop a track-ready, Lotus-engineered car. But the current owner says it features extra bracing for enhanced rigidity, so it’s definitely an authentic Crayford conversion.


Is it the only one out there? Well, we can’t know for sure, but the owner claims there have been rumors about a unique Lotus Cortina convertible for many years. Unless there’s another one being kept in storage somewhere, this green-striped yellow Ford is a one-of-one rarity.

And yes, the owner is planning to restore it and repaint it in its original color. Like 99% of factory-built Lotus Cortinas, this car was also originally finished in white with green stripes.
Of course, the iconic Twin-Cam engine, which still turns but doesn’t run, will also be revived so this Cortina can hit public roads (and maybe even race tracks) once again.

Introduced in 1963, the Lotus Cortina also featured extensive suspension modifications on top of the beefed-up four-cylinder engine. Chapman gave it shorter struts and forged control arms up front, and replaced the leaf spring setup with a vertical coil spring and damper setup in the rear. It also included aluminum body panels and components.

Rated at 105 horsepower, more than double the output of the standard Cortina (49 horses), the Lotus-tuned Ford earned rave reviews when it arrived in showrooms (despite some early reliability issues).

It also became a successful race car, winning the British Saloon Car Championship with F1 driver Jim Clark behind the steering wheel, in 1964.It also won endurance races in the U.S. and performed well in the European Touring Car Challenge. 1965 saw the tiny Cortina triumph in the European and British touring car championships, often surpassing notably more powerful cars.

The second-generation Ford Cortina was also given the Lotus treatment, with 4,032 cars produced from 1967 to 1970. And three of them were converted by Crayford. But the first-gen Lotus Cortina remains the most iconic version of the British two-door and usually changes hands for more than $70,000 at public auctions in the U.S.

This unique drop-top is probably worth more than that, but that’s something we may never find out. But hopefully, we’ll see it rev its Lotus engine at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a few years.


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