In 1945, young Henry Ford II was handed the keys to the empire that his grandfather built (and nearly ran out of business, twice). With the help of a handful of Ivy Leaguers known as the "Whiz Kids," Henry the Deuce spent the better part of the 1950s restoring the rickety Ford Motor Company to health. But as the 1960s began, he was seeking to expand its footprint by moving the once staid family business into the glamorous world of international motorsports. While muscle would largely define Ford's efforts in America, among the unlikely confections that would spring from its "Total Performance" marketing directive was a landmark machine launched by Ford of England: the 1963 Cortina-Lotus.
The car that Jim Clark (and others) made famous on the circuits of Europe was one of the first great "race on Sunday, commute on Monday" factory specials. The search for performance inevitably brought Henry II, a long-standing Anglophile, to England, where some of the great racing cars of the day were being engineered and built. There, in 1962, he hired Walter Hayes, a Fleet Street journalist, to help lead the charge. Hayes knew Lotus founder Colin Chapman, and he knew that Lotus was getting ready to introduce its groundbreaking Elan. Ford's new Kent four-cylinder was slated for that car, complete with an exciting twin-cam head designed by engineer Harry Mundy, technical editor of Autocar.
Although there was already a GT version on the boards, Hayes had an idea. By hasty agreement with Chapman, the new Lotus/Ford engine would also be offered in Ford of England's new mass-market offering, the Consul Cortina (the Consul name would soon be dropped), as an even higher-performance variant than the GT. Born after just six months' gestation, the 1820-pound Cortina-Lotus (or Lotus Cortina, as it became known) handled brilliantly and delivered unheard-of acceleration from a mere 1558 cubic centimeters: 60 mph arrived from rest in less than ten seconds. Hayes had it in mind that 1000 examples of the car would be built to enable Group 2 touring car homologation. Being an accomplished rule-bender, Chapman overcame this legal hurdle before Lotus had even built one-fourth of the required cars. A grand total of 2894 examples were completed before the dawn of the 1967 model year.