1964 Ford Lotus Cortina vs. 1962 Lotus Elan

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina vs. 1962 Lotus Elan

The late racing maestro Jim Clark is still revered and adored by many – not least IndyCar legend Dario Franchitti. Here are his experiences of two very special ex-Clark Lotuses.

Words James Page

Photography Tom Shaxson and Tim Scott


Ex-Clark Elan and Cortina tested by IndyCar legend – and Clark fan – Dario Franchitti

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina vs. 1962 Lotus Elan

Few racing drivers are as inextricably linked to a single marque as Jim Clark is to Lotus, and the two cars you see here represent a period in which that partnership really hit its stride. During 1962 and 1963 – the year in which he won his first Formula 1 World Championship – Clark put more than 15,000 miles on the Elan and regularly drove it from the Cheshunt factory up to his family home in the Scottish Borders. The Lotus Cortina, meanwhile, carried him to the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship. Those were the days in which drivers and designers had to excel in more than one discipline: from tuned tin-tops and road cars to single-seaters, Clark and Lotus boss Colin Chapman could do little wrong.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina


1964 Ford Lotus Cortina vs. 1962 Lotus Elan

Dario Franchitti has a deep understanding and appreciation for all of this. The eloquent Scot had a considerable motorsport career of his own, of course, highlighted by three victories in the Indianapolis 500 and four IndyCar Series titles. He retired following a horrific shunt at Houston in 2013 and, as he steps out of the Elan after a brisk run, it’s soon clear that he’s first and foremost a Clark fan. His interest was sparked while he was a young hotshoe driving for Paul Stewart Racing in Formula Vauxhall Lotus.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

‘In our house, Jackie [Stewart] was obviously talked about,’ he explains, ‘as well as Jim, David Leslie and Gerry Birrell. My dad would talk about those drivers, so I was aware of Jim. Then, in 1993, Jackie said, “We’ve got a dinner in Edinburgh to commemorate 25 years of Jim’s passing. I’d like you to come – I think it’d be fun.” I sat next to Eric Dymock, who’s written books about Jim, and some of Jim’s friends. By the end of it, I was thinking, “Who was this guy?” and from that point on, it became an obsession.’

1962 Lotus Elan

Franchitti has gathered an amazing collection of Clark memorabilia over the years, from flight logs to racesuits, and even Indianapolis scrapbooks given to him by fellow enthusiasts who knew that Franchitti would treasure them. When he was invited to demonstrate the 1965 Indy-winning Lotus 38 at the Brickyard, he approached the company that had supplied Clark’s racesuit that year and asked them to make him a perfect replica. Arai did likewise with an open-face crash helmet, and even the pit board was the exact one that Lotus had used 50 years previously.

1962 Lotus Elan

Franchitti admits that, when he won his maiden Indy 500 in 2007, one of his first thoughts was that he’d achieved something that Clark had also done. His appreciation, however, goes beyond driving ability, which is no doubt a legacy of getting to know some of Clark’s old friends – a group that he affectionately refers to as ‘the Duns Mafia’. ‘It was unbelievable that he could win in a Lotus Cortina, and on the same day jump into the F1 car and win in that, then jump into the Lotus 30 and win in that. And then fly over to Indianapolis and win there! But it was more than that – it was the way people talked about his personality, the way he was. Anybody you talk to who had anything to do with him says that he was an absolute gentleman – just such a special character.’

1962 Lotus Elan

Not until recently had Franchitti driven an Elan, and even then it was a race-spec 26R. Chassis 002 – better known by its registration of 997 NUR – is a very different beast, and was used by Lotus as a development model. It was one of a handful of early Elans fitted with the 1498cc version of the Twin Cam engine before 1558cc became standard, and Clark drove it extensively. He was even photographed with the car at his Edington Mains home, the image having apparently been intended for the cover of Time magazine before instead appearing in a Sports Illustrated article in October 1963. Franchitti is closely involved with Gordon Murray’s T50 supercar project and, as he ponders the combination of skinny tyres, light weight and compact dimensions, he understands why Murray is such a fan of the Elan. And also why they’re aiming to match some of its qualities with the T50, in particular that signature Lotus trick of producing a car that achieves almost telepathic responses without destroying the ride quality.

1962 Lotus Elan - interior

‘The 26R was lovely,’ says Franchitti, ‘but this one’s even more delicate. If you talk about modern cars, so many of them have got that harsh secondary ride. With the T50, Gordon wanted a nice, compliant car, but pin-sharp. He also keeps going on about the Elan’s gearshift, and after driving the 26R I said to him, “Yeah – I get it.” But [997 NUR] is such a special car, with that famous picture of Jim in his kilt…’

1962 Lotus Elan - engine

It’s certainly difficult to get into this Elan without picturing that image, and imagining Clark looking out over the same bonnet as he swept through the Borders countryside – story has it that he once did the 300-odd miles from Chirnside to Stevenage in four hours and 23 minutes. It adds an extra dimension to the Elan experience, which on its own is already intoxicating enough – the quick responses, the fruity gurgle from the twin-cam four, the precise gearchange. Even with its period hardtop fitted, it doesn’t feel as small inside as it looks from the outside – at least if you’re roughly the same build as Clark. Only when you find yourself looking up at a Lotus Cortina are you reminded how tiny it is.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

From Clark, 997 NUR passed to his old friend and mentor Ian Scott-Watson, who once used it to transport 12 Blackface lambs to Lanark market. It was during Scott-Watson’s ownership that the original 1498cc engine blew, and a replacement 1558cc unit was shipped up to Berwick. He also lent it to Andrew Cowan for a race at Ingliston – the rally ace finished second – before selling it to Gloria Dollar, who was secretary to John Surtees. By the late 1990s, it had somehow ended up in a scrapyard near Mallory Park before being rescued and restored by marque enthusiast Michael Schryver.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

The Elan is now owned by Gregor Fisken, and it was inevitable that Franchitti would eventually begin the search for his own ex- Clark car. Having discounted a single-seater, he set out to find a Lotus Cortina.

‘I was looking for one in 2013 and spoke to Andy Middlehurst about it. I’d had my accident in Houston and I was sitting in the hospital, morphined out of my head. Apparently I called him and told him that there was one for sale. I said “Let’s just get it. Life’s too short.”

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

‘Then he called me back – I don’t actually remember any of this – and told me that the price had gone up. He said “It’s too expensive, and it’s not the one you want. The one you want is BJH. I’ll let you know if that ever comes up for sale.”’

Middlehurst, himself a Touring Car racer and, as a specialist, more usually associated with the Nissan GT-R, was referring to BJH 417B, a Ford Lotus Cortina that was raced by the Lotus factory throughout 1964. It made its debut at Snetterton on 14 March and, despite a misfire, finished second overall and won its class in the hands of Clark. In total, the great man drove BJH in eight races that year and won his class every time, in the process taking overall wins at Oulton Park (twice) and Crystal Palace. During that busy season, the car was also raced once each by Mike Spence, Sir John Whitmore, David Hobbs and Jackie Stewart.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina - engine

Of those, only ‘Hobbo’ failed to win his class – he finished second at Roskilde, and Franchitti makes sure regularly to remind him of that fact.

BJH was sympathetically restored by Middlehurst during the 1980s and later sold to former racer and team owner Tom Walkinshaw. After his passing, it was acquired by a Blue Oval fan who eventually decided that he wanted something he could race, and wisely concluded that BJH was too significant historically for that. By late 2014 he was therefore looking to sell, named a price, and shortly afterwards the Lotus Cortina arrived at Franchitti’s home in Scotland on the back of an open trailer. Only later did Franchitti notice that, in a photograph taken while he was celebrating one of his Indianapolis victories, the three-wheeling Lotus Cortina on his T-shirt was this very car.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina - interior

Franchitti was soon using it to go to the shops – its practical side is compromised as the fuel tank now fills the boot – or to meet friends for coffee, when his arrival would be heralded by the crackle from the straight side-exit exhaust. He later agreed to drive it to Duns so that it could be displayed in the newly refurbished Jim Clark Motorsport Museum.

The first hour or so was spent on the motorway and, not surprisingly, Franchitti describes it as being ‘God-awful’ – but then he turned off and started to head across country on roads that Clark would have known intimately. ‘We went past a pub that all the Border Reivers guys used to go to, and on the backroads it suddenly all came together. It’s got the turning circle of an aircraft carrier, but otherwise it’s absolutely lovely. It came alive on those roads in Scotland – you can get it dancing, and it just felt totally at home there.’ It’s all the better for being in period specification, and far removed from the highly developed Lotus Cortinas that are currently being used in Historic racing. Inside, all soundproofing and carpet has been removed but the back seat is in place, while the slim bucket seats in the front are mounted high to give you a commanding view ahead.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

The steering wheel is one that Clark himself specified and, while the car’s limits must seem ridiculously low compared to the high-downforce single-seaters that he raced for so long, Franchitti absolutely revels in it. An initial impression of understeer on turn-in is soon replaced by the feeling – telegraphed long in advance – of the tail gracefully coming round as he gets on the power. There’s no ‘hustle’ to driving a Lotus Cortina quickly. It’s a far more delicate balancing act than that, and it’s easy to see why Clark – with all of his innate talent and feel – could get so much out it. ‘You drive it with your fingertips,’ says Franchitti. ‘You don’t grab hold of it. It’s so progressive – it’s one of those cars that, if you take a liberty with it, you know straight away. It’s very softly sprung, and if you go through a left-hander at a fair old clip it will lift the inside-front, as you can see in all those iconic photos.

1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

It doesn’t have a lot of horsepower [about 150bhp] so it’s about carrying momentum. It’s a lot of fun to drive and it’s such a cool thing.’ As the 1960s progressed, Clark’s life began to change. He started to fly more, so the long road trips home from the Lotus factory – which relocated to Hethel in 1966 – became a thing of the past. He moved out of the UK for tax reasons and broadened his horizons, perhaps even to the point at which he was looking beyond Chapman; his old flight logs, for example, show that he made a trip to Maranello. Tragically, however, those same logs end with an outbound flight to Frankfurt in April 1968, for the Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in which he would lose his life.

More than 50 years later, Clark is still remembered with awe and affection by enthusiasts across the world. ‘Our’ Elan and Lotus Cortina would have been great cars anyway, but it’s their association with this quiet farmer’s son from the Scottish Borders that elevates them to another level. Franchitti has made the heart-wrenching decision to sell BJH only because he needs to make room for one of Murray’s T50s. No pressure, Gordon, but it’ll need to be very, very special to make such a sacrifice seem worthwhile.

THANKS TO Fiskens, which is offering the Elan and Lotus Cortina for sale: fiskens.com; +44 (0)20 7584 3503.


This page The delicate, lightweight and highly adjustable Lotus Cortina suited Jim Clark’s driving style perfectly. It remains in period-correct specification.

TECHNICAL DATA 1964 Ford Lotus Cortina

  • Engine 1558cc DOHC four-cylinder, two Weber carburettors
  • Max Power c150bhp
  • Max Torque 113lb ft @ 4100rpm
  • Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Recirculating ball
  • Suspension Front: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, A-brackets,
  • coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Brakes Front discs, rear drums
  • Weight c800kg
  • Top speed 111mph
  • 0-60mph 8.5sec

TECHNICAL DATA 1962 Lotus Elan

  • Engine 1498cc DOHC four-cylinder, two Weber carburettors
  • Max Power 100bhp @ 5700rpm
  • Max Torque 102lb ft @ 4500rpm
  • Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Rack and pinion
  • Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
  • Rear: half-shafts with lateral links, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Brakes All Discs
  • Weight 630kg
  • Top speed 107mph
  • 0-60mph 8.5sec

Above and right Although a highly successful racing driver in his own right, Franchitti is not shy of a bit of hero worship – and jumped at the chance to drive the ex-Clark Elan as well as his own ex-Clark Lotus Cortina.

This page 997 NUR is one of a handful of early Elans that was fitted with a 1498cc Twin Cam engine, used as a development car – and driven by Lotus team driver Jim Clark.

Clockwise, from facing page Franchitti today with the ex-Clark Lotus Cortina that became his seven years ago; Clark on his way to victory at Crystal Palace, 1964, in a round of the British Saloon Car Championship, and (inset) with his Elan in ‘that’ famous advert.

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