Be it the Model T or Mondeo, Ford’s been selling a sedan-bodied vehicle across the globe longer than most companies have been in operation. However, very few slip under the radar quite like the Mk I Ford Cortina two-door, sold in America well before the likes of the Mercury Capri, Merkur Scorpio, or Ford Contour.
The Cortina was designed as a relatively large car for its English homeland, but it came to America as a smaller alternative to the Ford Falcon. The small dimensions didn’t escape the gaze of Lotus, and its take on the Cortina resulted in 1000 homologation specials to open the door to Group 2 Touring racing. While not a Lotus-bred example, this Honda S2000 swapped 1965 Ford Cortina currently listed on Bring a Trailer takes the twin-cammed concept to the next, most logical level.
The current owner has owned this Cortina since 1996, purchasing it already modified with a Fiat DOHC four-cylinder motor and five-speed manual. After putting nearly 80,000 miles on it between 1996 and 2005, the owner took the plunge and installed the powertrain from an AP1 Honda S2000 that met an untimely fate thanks to an unscheduled meeting with a pole. The entire build is documented here in great detail.
Around the time of the build, I met the Cortina’s owner, Jeff, at the 24 Hours of Lemons, eventually working side-by-side with him at races in the great state of Texas. Jeff has the patience and attention to detail needed to manage a complex operation involving 100+ vehicles of dubious racing heritage, so of course you can see his caliber of work in the Cortina’s conversion. But he couldn’t leave well enough alone, going the extra mile to convert the Cortina to U.K.-spec right hand drive: a clear indication of how far Jeff will go to make his vision into reality. While I never saw the Cortina in person, it’s clear the S2000 swap is the most logical extension of Lotus’ engineering efforts to make Ford’s Cortina into a track-hungry monster.
Probably my favorite part of the swap is the attention to detail, as visible in the dash bezel that houses the S2000’s signature gauge cluster. Our own EIC, Larry Webster, tested the original S2000 back in the day and noted the lack of low-end grunt. That predicament meant the engine had to be revved significantly in each gear to move with authority. To the contrary, Jeff states the Cortina’s lighter weight—700 pounds lighter, possibly more—makes the S2000’s mill feel torquey at low rpm and shockingly quick when the VTEC kicks in and rips up to 9000 rpm. And yet, just like any other late-model car, adding a catalytic converter had zero impact on performance. Jeff added that the Cortina’s idle actually improved after adding the catalyst, but the best perk for him was no longer choking on his own exhaust in traffic.
We haven’t even covered the chassis and suspension modifications that make the Cortina handle the extra power with passion and precision. Do yourself a favor and watch the two YouTube videos in the auction—the work speaks for itself.
The conversion was a nine-year labor of love, with even more details sorted out during the pandemic. So what motivated Jeff to sell after a decades long romance? After 20,000 miles on the new motor, sometimes the heart knows when to let go: Jeff is ready for someone else to enjoy the Cortina and modify it to their tastes. Maybe the next owner wants to make it a serious track machine, in which case the brakes might need an upgrade. Or maybe a street cruiser with a Slimline Vintage Air setup fed by an S2000 A/C compressor? Maybe it’s time for a show worthy paint job? No matter, Jeff will be happy to move on and let the Cortina live happily ever after, with its third heart of solid gold cast aluminum keeping it relevant for a new generation of automotive enthusiasts.