Driving the Latest Cortina-Lotus and the new V6 Zephyr
WHEN MOTOR SPORT road-tested the Ford Cortina-Lotus in its original form, reporting on it in the issue for January, 1964, we found this Cohn Chapman/Cosworth-conceived twin-cam Cortina with its close-ratio gearbox, alloy body panels and special back axle on coil springs, a highly satisfying proposition. It was a car intended for saloon-car racing and effectively cleaned up the European and B.R.S.C.C. Saloon-Car Championships of that era.
Since that time various modifications have been made to overcome a certain lack of dependability and to make this fast twin-cam saloon a more practical road car. Chapman had located the back axle so effectively that the car itself weaved a bit on fast straights, which some testers disliked but which we did not find particularly troublesome. More unfortunate was the inability of the light-alloy differential nose-piece to cope with this restriction; the retaining nuts would slack off, with consequent loss of lubricant.
When the revised leaf-spring rear suspension with upper radius arms was adopted very successfully (if you don’t mind a choppy back-seat ride) for the Cortina GT in 1965 it was logical to use it for the Cortina-Lotus, in conjunction with a normal back axle. The light-alloy body panels had already been replaced by ordinary steel panels in the pursuit of reduced cost and as the close-ratio gears of the Lotus version had involved a bottom gear too high for traffic driving, various changes were made, until, for 1966, the close-ratio Corsair GT gearbox was used, giving ratios of 2.972, 2.010, 1.397 and 1.0 to 1, with an axle ratio of 3.90 to 1.
A revised instrument panel and Ford’s extremely acceptable Aeroflow ventilation system were adopted for the later Cortina-Lotus cars.
Driving a 1966 Cortina-Lotus I noticed at first the heavy, fierce clutch and harsh action of the suspension, in comparison with the Cortina GT I had been using. This soon became acceptable and one was able to appreciate the even more impressive acceleration and the feeling that the engine was never really working hard, even when taken to 6,500 r.p.m. in the indirect gears, when it automatically cut out, to obviate over-revving, although the tachometer is calibrated to 8,000.
The ride is better than that of a Cortina GT, but is choppy and deteriorates on really rough roads. The car still weaves a bit on the straights and under braking, and the special front seats were comfortable if a bit soft in the cushion after they had been occupied for long periods. Just occasionally the engine would fluff, after traffic running, but it soon cleared, and gave a top speed of—well, you were very quickly up to 70 m.p.h. Oil pressure was reassuring at 40 lb./sq.in. and the water temperature rose to 90 deg. C. in traffic, but normally read 83-85 deg. C., although, currously, the needle of the thermometer tended to float. This was also a shortcoming of the speedometer needle.
The neat facia, with individual dials and a metal panel, is very acceptable and the wooden gear-lever knob reminded me of my 1927 Morgan 3-wheeler. . . . The “Lotus—Indianapolis 500 Winners 1965 ” on the transmission tunnel is in keeping with this compact, unobtrusive saloon, which is very quick about the place. . . .
The test car was on Dunlop Gold Seal C41 tyres, gave a fuel consumption of the best petrol of 27.8 m.p.g. and in just over 1,000 miles had consumed 1½ pints of oil. The disc front brakes squealed a good deal and the 1.h. winker needed hand-cancelling but otherwise this very fast, notably accelerative Ford was entirely trouble-free and extremely good fun to drive. The brakes, suction-servo-operated on this model, were rather sudden but extremely powerful, the gear lever splendidly located, controlling a rather notchy change. The Ford Cortina-Lotus in its present form is an agreeable, if somewhat expensive, proposition at a selling price of £1,010.
In the latest, much publicised V6 Mk. IV Zephyr 2½-litre saloon Ford of Britain have a particularly commodious medium-engine-size large family car. While it is difficult to understand the adherence to a long bonnet when the power is produced by a compact V6 engine, this has admittedly enabled the spare wheel to be accommodated ahead of the machinery, where it leaves the very big luggage boot uncluttered, and does not get as hot, to the tyre’s detriment, as pessimists predicted it would. Thin screen pillars assist visibility although the bonnet is so long and broad. The pull-out interior door handles, however, seemed to be located just where the elderly might grab them when alarmed. . . .
The new independent rear suspension has very effectively smoothed out the rough ride for which Fords were formerly notorious but it does not bring in its train quite the high standards of roadholding I had hoped to experience and which had been hinted at. There is strong understeer but really ambitious cornering results in the inner back wheel losing contact with the road and the tail coming round, a situation which low-geared steering hardly enhances.
The steering, too, is very heavy for parking and has a vague feel about normal lock, while the Goodyear G8 tyres made a good deal of noise in negotiating bad roads, promoted vibration at 70 m.p.h., and gave very poor traction on slippery surfaces, even level ones. The ride improves with a full load aboard.
The new Zephyr has disc brakes all round but they were not convincing for emergency retardation. The engine becomes rougher than I had expected at around 50 m.p.h. in second gear or equivalent r.p.m. The manual gear-change involves a short central lever with long movements across the gate, second being very notchy to engage from third gear, unless the lever is pushed hard over, while there is a strong spring action to overcome before reverse can be meshed. The throttle action is noticeably “over-centre two-stage.”
A little more “steam” would be useful, and is no doubt provided in the 3-litre Zodiac version of these new Fords, but the 2½-litre model gets along well with the accelerator firmly depressed. The Zephyr, then, must be regarded as a very spacious family, rather than sporting, car. It has Aeroflow ventilation with fixed quarter-lights, small finger-tip levers in lieu of control buttons, good electric screen washers for the 2-speed wipers, doors with sill-locks which close nicely, lever-controlled steering column-rake intended simply as a means of providing clearance over full stomachs, and a big metal oddments tray instead of a cubby-hole. The cold-air system tends to cool the feet when set to “face level” and I prefer the system used on the Cortina. A 15-gallon fuel tank with filler concealed behind the back registration plate gave a useful range of 285 miles before the gauge sank almost to the empty indication and the overall fuel consumption of premium petrol was 21.4 m.p.g. The new V6 engine had used no oil in a mileage of 900. Only failure—one brake stop-light.
The V6 Zephyr will make many families happy. It costs £1,005.
Rally Review - Radio New Zealand Rally, June 1977
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