Malta is more renowned for its lairy strip-hungry Escorts, but this immaculate Lotus Cortina is a hidden gem.
Words Gareth Charlton
Photo Chris Wallbank
Lotus Cortinas are rare and valuable things that most owners cherish enough to only use on the sunniest days or most special occasion, but imagine living on an island where only five exist and every day’s a sun-soaked invitation to enjoy your pride and joy?
As you can probably tell, this isn’t the UK we’re talking about but the Mecca of classic Ford-fuelled revelry that is Malta. “The car has always been here — there are only about five of them on the island; two on the road and with a couple being restored,” says owner Sebastian Grech, whose surname you’ll probably recognise from April’s issue when we featured his son, André’s awesome Anglia estate. We did say at the time that the love of Fords runs deep within the family...
Lying in state
A 1965 car, Sebastian bought the Cortina in the late ’90s when it was in a right old state, since when it’s come a long way combining restoration with period go-faster modifications. “It had a non-original engine and the body was a nightmare,” Sebastian recalls. It took around three years for the body and shell restoration, working as and when time and funds would allow, with headlamp bezels, floorpans, wheelarches and many of the usual Ford grot-spots having to be replaced or fabricated. And we thought Fords only rusted in the UK...
You’d have thought that living in Malta would make finding most of the Lotus Cortina-specific parts difficult to source, but Sebastian has managed to combine being well connected with a little luck to faithfully recreate his period road-racer, although having owned the car for so long has undoubtedly helped.
The engine, for example, was found in a Fiesta (now that’s a completed project we’d love to have seen) and had recently been rebuilt. With an overbore to 1720cc, head work and BD3 camshafts, stainless exhaust and MSD ignition it certainly goes well and gives that customary twin-Weber’d bark at low revs and twin-cam howl at the top.
The motor isn’t the wild, dragstrip-bothering spec we’ve come to expect from the Maltese and their cars, but that’s testament to the way in which Sebastian uses his car: basically whenever it’s not raining, various shows and even the occasional island-hopping jaunt to Sicily for some continental cruising with fellow car club members. “We’ll probably change the diff ratio to a 4:1,” says son, André, “as he’s not going abroad with the car this year and he’s started to feel the competition from my car!”
“Due to the rarity the Cortina is more faithful to originality than the Anglia,” says André. “The original interior has been retrimmed and we had to make do with a cheap remake steering wheel until a genuine Mk2 Lotus wheel was sourced. Modern bits such as the MSD is hidden under the parcel shelf, but other than upgrading the wiring not much has changed to look at.”
You’ll notice the gearbox tunnel is slightly larger than stock, and that the gearstick isn’t quite where you imagine it may be, but that’s due to the fitment of a Type-9 five-speed to aid frequent use and multi-national jaunts. Talking of relocating the gearstick... “We found a perfect, original carpet from a Mk1 Estate in a scrapyard,” says André. “It was a column shift which gave us a complete blank canvas from which to measure and cut for the five-speed.” Remember the ‘luck’ we mentioned? We’d count ourselves lucky to even find a salvageable classic Ford in a scrapyard these days.
A set of 7x13 Minilite-style rims differ from standard fitment, and the stance is altered slightly with some lowering blocks at the rear, but other than that it’s perfect, minty-fresh Ermine White and Sherwood Green glory. The running gear is kept functional and reliable with a heavy-duty Pinto clutch and pressure plate because, with racing the focus of many a Maltese feature car, it’s easy to forget that a well-worked Lotus twin-cam still makes for a quick, fun car in a lightweight Mk1 Cortina shell.
M16 callipers on original-spec discs top off the spec-sheet, but Sebastian’s Mk1 is much more about the whole package than the sum of its individual parts. It’s a labour of love over many years which hasn’t been left to deteriorate once the novelty of a freshly-built toy has started to wear off; you’d never know the car was completed any further in the past than last summer. It’s testament to a quality restoration first time round and then continued titivation, development and use over time.
Future plans? Continued use, mostly. Sebastian’s already collected Best and Second Best in show at various classic turnouts over the years and there are no signs to suggest this will stop any time soon. Who knows, he may end up following André down the quarter-mile yet.
1965 genuine Lotus Cortina shell repainted in Lotus colours, original reinforcement pipes in the boot area, inside rear quarter and behind B-pillar, original differential ‘hump’, Lotus Cortina quarter-bumpers, new floors, headlight bezels, arches and repair sections
Lotus block rebored to 1720cc, ported and polished twin-cam head with BD3 camshafts, removable water pump, twin Weber 40 DCOEs, high pressure oil pump, custom stainless exhaust system, Facet Red Top fuel pump and bay-mounted pressure regulator, MSD 6AL ignition, Lumenition and MicroDynamics performance coil, three-core radiator with electric fan
Type-9 five-speed gearbox with quickshift, heavy-duty Pinto clutch and pressure plate, external hydraulic clutch, custom single-piece propshaft, Lotus Cortina axle
Front: Standard crossmember, cast track-control arms with polybushes, original Lotus struts and top mounts, original anti-roll bar with polybushes, strut brace
Rear: Lotus leaf springs plus 2-inch lowering blocks
Standard pedal box with external reservoirs for brake and clutch, M16 callipers, solid discs with Lotus drum brakes at rear
Wheels And Tyres
7x13 Minilite-style alloys, 205/60R13 at rear, 185/60R13 tyres at front, custom centre caps
Original Lotus dash, original gauges including 8000 rpm rev counter, original rubber floor mat, reupholstered seats, Mk2 Lotus Cortina wheel, new headlining, original switches and warning lights, original 5.5-inch Lotus steel spare wheel
Sons André and Omar for their help, my wife Salvina for patience and support, mechanic Manty Bugeja, panel beater Joe, sprayer Mario Mallia