The rare Lotus Cortina that’s too special to sell

His son thinks he should sell it and buy something like a modern Porsche 911. His wife thinks he should sell it to make space in the garage.

But for 42 years, Peter Gedling has refused to budge – driving, maintaining, restoring and cherishing his rare 1964 Lotus Cortina Special Equipment.

The car bought for £350 back in 1975 to get him to work holds too many memories, and oozes too much character, to be cast aside now in favour of a more modern machine – even though it would fetch upwards of £60,000.

“My son always showed a bit of interest in the car, but he’s 34 now and thinks I should sell it because of the value and get something a bit more modern – a 911 or something, keep that for a couple of years, and buy something else, experience other cars,” says Peter, who lives in Epping, Essex.

Modern cars are just boxes modelled in a wind tunnel

“But you don’t have any connection with a car that you’ve only had for a couple of years – it’s just a mechanical thing.

“Modern cars are just boxes modelled in a wind tunnel. If you take Cortinas, Minis, Morris Minors, MGBs, they just look totally different from each other – it wasn’t about aerodynamics, it was about design and character.

“When I had an M3 as my daily car people used to say ‘if you drive round in the M3 day after day why get into that thing at the weekend?’ It’s just a totally different driving experience.”


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The concept of a Cortina with the heart of a Lotus was hatched when Ford wanted to make more of a splash in motorsport, and Colin Chapman just so happened to have developed a twin cam version of the 1500cc Ford Kent engine, bored out to 1558, for his own cars such as Elans, Europas and Lotus 7s.

Ford’s Walter Hayes approached Chapman to fit his engine into 1,000 Cortinas for Group 2 homologation purposes, and what Ford originally called the Consul Cortina developed by Lotus was born.

The 105bhp engine was married to the new Lotus Elan’s close ratio gearbox, and there were radical changes to the suspension, upgraded brakes were developed by Girling, and the interior featured a redesigned dash and a wooden steering wheel.

A saloon with the performance and handling of a sports car

The cars were painted white with a green flash, and the end result was sensational – a saloon with the performance and handling of a sports car, the everyman popularity of a Ford with the racing pedigree of a Lotus.

Peter, then a 25-year-old graduate looking for a commuter car with a bit of zip, says: “I was going to buy a (Cortina) GT, but for another £50 I could get a Lotus.”

Much later he found out it wasn’t just any old mark 1 Lotus Cortina, but one of just 64 Special Equipment models built at the Lotus factory in Cheshunt, signified by a badge mounted on the near side rear panel.

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“It’s a bit of a rare one. Lotus offered an upgrade from the standard car – I don’t know how many of the 64 cars are left now. They upgraded the power of the engine and put in a few extras,” says Peter.

The SE cost 10 per cent more and was aimed at the enthusiastic club racer looking for more power, which was boosted from 105bhp to 115bhp thanks to an updated C Type camshaft, and reworked cylinder heads and carbs.

Other upgrades included radial tyres, Irvin seat belts, Armstrong adjustable rear dampers and anti-lift wipers.

It could beat just about anything standard

“Back then it was my everyday car – we went on holiday, to work and the supermarket in it,” says Peter.

“It could beat just about anything standard, even a GT Cortina or an MGB – it was quicker than them.

“The difference between a performance car and a standard car back then was much greater than it is now. Any decent modern car is doing 60mph in 10 seconds or less, but back then it would take 20-25 seconds to get to 60, and the Lotus Cortina could do it in under 10.

“The nearest competition at the time was probably the Mini Cooper S. The Cortina was also pretty good at going round bends as well.”

At least, it was until a particularly tricky moment on a camping trip to the West Country.

“We had a camping holiday before the children came along, down in Cornwall,” remembers Peter. “The rubber bush on the steering arm decided to perish and disintegrate, so it meant the steering wheel would turn about a quarter of a turn left and right before turning the front wheels. It was a hairy drive home from Cornwall.”


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As with any well-used car of the 1960s, mechanical issues were rarely far away and, after running the car daily for more than two years, Peter decided enough was enough.

“It started to get a lot of mechanical problems and I thought I haven’t got the time or money to repair it all,” he says.

“I put it in the garage at home, got myself something else, and then something else, and it was languishing there for a long time.

“I did a couple of house moves and took the car with me – I didn’t want to get rid of it. I liked it and I thought, because it was not roadworthy, I could not sell it. If I did it would have been at a very low price.

“I was always thinking ‘one day, I will put those things right’, but I never got round to doing it. It would take time and money and I ended up with three children, moving house, work and all the rest of it.”

Three decades passed without the Cortina turning a wheel

Other cars came and went, including an MGC GT, the children grew up, and three decades passed without the Cortina turning a wheel.

“After 30 years of storage, I was put in touch with the owner of registration number 25 VUR, and I went down to see his being restored at a big workshop in Clacton,” says Peter, whose research has revealed that numbers 20 to 30 VUR were issued to Lotus Cars at Cheshunt, the cars sold direct from the factory.

“I thought ‘I’ve got to have this done to mine’. In the end I think with the children grown up, I had more money in my pocket than ever before, and I can afford to do this now.”

The car underwent a full, bare-metal restoration, with new parts where necessary and old ones retained for originality.

“It was back on the road in 2011,” says Peter. “Now it just comes out of the garage for a drive when I feel like it – and for shows. The sort of cars that win shows are hardly ever driven, so it’s not one of those.

“You don’t see them on the road very much. People let you out at junctions and give you a thumbs up at the side of the road, which is nice, and the sound of the twin Webers opening up is awesome!”

Peter has also reunited the car with its siblings, those Hertfordshire-registered VUR survivors, as well as a former owner.

“When we went to the 50th anniversary of the Lotus Cortina in 2013 at Brands Hatch, we had numbers 25, 26 and 27 sat alongside each other.

“And a previous owner put on the car club forum a ‘where is it now?’ message. I got in touch with him and he didn’t live far away so he came over, we had a chat and he had a picture taken with his old car.”

With the car restored and back on the road, and its value spiralling, Peter would be forgiven for cashing in.

Legendary piece of automotive history

But, despite temptations, for now the memories, and the sheer pleasure of owning and driving a legendary piece of automotive history outweigh the lure of mere money.

“My wife thinks we should have sold it and we can use the garage for something else, but it’s not her department! I bought it, I’ve maintained it, I’ve restored it, it’s my toy. She’s never driven it, not even back then. It’s a bit of a handful compared with modern cars – no luxuries.

“It has a lot of memories – though faded memories now! While I was working I was thinking about buying an RS4 or 911 – I could afford to buy a car like that but they come with fancy repair prices too.

“These days I’m not thinking of selling it. That’s not to say that I won’t at some point in the future, but it’s been so long now it would have to be a fancy price and someone making me an offer I could not refuse.”

Should that impossible-to-refuse offer come along, there is only one other car Peter truly hankers after.

“I’ve always lusted after an E-Type, so I could be tempted by one of them,” he says. “I’ve always loved the E-Type Jaguars and thought ‘one day I might own one of them’. I was sorely tempted when I got to know one or two classic car owners in the area and had a look at theirs. Maybe if I got a good price for the Cortina, but E-Types start at around £80-90,000 for a series 1…”

There is, however, one other car that has got Peter’s nostalgia gene working overtime, the MGC GT he once owned and was forced to sell in a classic “growing family forces sale” situation.

“I liked it when I owned it and I’m currently trying to track it down, but not having much luck at the moment,” he says, having now enlisted the help of the MG Owners Club.

“I could probably afford to buy it without selling the Cortina. I know the car was SORNed in April 2015, so someone has it. It could be languishing in a garage like mine was.

“If they’ve owned it a long time I could have a difficult job prising it off them! If they’ve not had it that long, it might be easier. It’s just a question of finding out where it is.”

For now, Peter is content to devote his time and attention to his first motoring love, a car that sprinkled a little stardust on to the Blue Oval and instantly became a legend.


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