Some call it the first fast Ford. Magazines of the time dubbed it a tin-top Lotus 7. It may be the earliest homologation sedan, but we'll call it beautiful.

The Lotus Cortina resulted from an engine partnership between Ford of England and Colin Chapman of Lotus. The Blue Oval contracted Lotus to build a racing version of its four-cylinder engine-a 1,340cc unit that powered run-of-the-mill Ford sedans. The engine was first raced in the Lotus Elan and Ford later asked Lotus to build 1,000 Cortinas with this engine to compete in Group 2 saloon competition. Displacement was raised to 1,558cc to take advantage of the 1.6-liter maximum in the racing class. Production began in September 1963 at Lotus's Cheshunt factory, just north of London. That same month, the Cortina found its first success, finishing third and fourth behind two more powerful Fords, but still beating the 3.8-liter Jaguars.

The car here is a spectacular example of a 1966 Lotus Cortina. Owned and restored by Dave Steel, it could just as easily be mistaken for Jackie Stewart's own racecar. The traditional white with green stripe was all that was offered on the Mark I, giving the car a purposeful look that the standard car never had. The Lotus livery, combined with the lowered ride height, left no dispute as to this machine's sporting intentions.

Steel located the car in Florida at a classic car dealer and bought it over the phone, sight unseen. He knew he wanted a complete restoration, so the car's condition wasn't that important-other than being straight and mostly complete. In 1966, Lotus only built 991 examples with very few being left-hand-drive. Given the rarity, being overly picky wasn't an option.

Once received, it took roughly three years to complete a full restoration. The body looks amazing; they were originally based on the standard Cortinas, built by Ford then shipped to Lotus for strengthening and final assembly. The early versions were equipped with alloy doors, hoods and roofs. Later models came with standard Cortina steel components to cut costs. Lotus stiffened the rear end for the modified rear suspension.

Steel's car looks as if it just rolled off the assembly line with glimmering Ermine White paint with the deep Sherwood Green accent. The interior was restored to the purposefulness of the original car. Gauges set into a bare metal panel add to the hard edge of the car's competitive nature. The center console was unique to the Lotus Cortina due to its bespoke shifter. This car is an airflow model, which refers to the upgraded dash ventilation and outlets in the C-pillars.

By Michael Febbo
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