Sport Wagon: The Lotus Cortina Estate

[Editor's Note: We originally ran this story in our November 2015 issue. Some information may be out of date.]

Pop quiz: How many Cortina Estates did Lotus build? Answer: zero–but you wouldn’t believe that if you stood in front of Bob Herzog’s one-off creation.

There are no fancy tube subframes, custom body pieces or one-off parts. Instead, he collected everything necessary to make this 150-horsepower screamer look just like it would if Colin Chapman had assembled it himself.

Just what is a Lotus Cortina? Good question, and fortunately a fairly easy one to answer. Here’s a simple analogy: The Shelby GT350 is to the Ford Mustang as the Lotus Cortina is to the Ford Cortina.

Ford of Britain wanted a car that could win races, and Lotus had just finished developing their famous Ford-based, twin-cam engine. Ford asked Lotus to spice up Cortinas for homologation purposes, and just like that, the Lotus Cortina was born.

Goodies over the standard car included that twin-cam 1557cc engine plus a lightweight transmission, reworked suspension, sportier interior and aluminum body panels: doors, hood and deck lid. To top things off, each Lotus Cortina received the same paint job: white with a green stripe down the side.

To the average person, the visual cues were all that separated a Lotus Cortina from the rank-and-file cars–until the Lotus Cortina driver nailed the gas. The Lotus engine produced 105 horsepower in stock form, which nearly doubled the output of cars like the Triumph Spitfire.

Though not a rocket by modern standards, the Lotus Cortina was a screamer in its day. With a curb weight of just over 1800 pounds, it was quick through the corners, too, and quickly became a major player in the day’s touring car races.


But Will It Haul?

As far as sporty cars go, the Lotus Cortina is actually quite practical. After all, it’s basically a boxy Ford saloon with a huge trunk. However, cargo capacity can always be improved, and as the saying goes, “Go wagon or go home!” A number of Cortina Estates were built, though none were ever subjected to Colin Chapman’s touch–until now, that is.

Bob Herzog has been a Lotus enthusiast for years, and he’s restored nearly a dozen of them. He literally wrote the book–well, books–on the subject, and one of them is specifically about this particular project.

With that résumé, it’s no surprise that an accident like this wagon occurred. As many of us can attest, bad things can happen when the Bring a Trailer website and late hours mix. This Cortina Estate popped up for sale, and Bob happened to be between projects. Before his brain could catch up to his mouse cursor, he was the proud owner of a 1965 Lotus Cortina station wagon.

Restoration First

With the wagon in his garage, Bob needed a plan. Coming from a background in Lotus Elans–which shared the Lotus twin-cam engine with the Cortina–he knew what had to be done: It was time to build a fitting tribute to the Lotus Cortina, one that would haul ass and quite a bit more at the same time.

The bodywork part of the project was fairly easy, as somehow this car was mostly free of rust. Before long, Bob’s wagon was a solid foundation for the rest of the conversion.

The Lotus Cortina debuted for the 1963 model year, but by 1965 it had lost some of Colin Chapman’s original sorcery, including the lightweight bodywork and trick-but-fragile rear suspension. For Bob, this just meant his 1965 wagon would be identical to what Chapman would have built that year.

The engine came from a Lotus club member’s Caterham, and it’s claimed to make almost 150 horsepower thanks to a mild cam upgrade, some head work and a larger, 1.7-liter displacement. Bob swapped in the five-speed transmission and rear disc brakes from a later Merkur, while the interior and exterior sport all of the correct Lotus touches. Bob thanks eBay and Lotus Owners Group members for helping him find all of the necessary bits and pieces.

The only notable differences from stock are the driver’s seat, which is a new-old-stock Recaro from the ’70s, the protective wood strips in the cargo area, and the 15x6-inch wheels. Why the changes? Simple: “It drives down the highway just like a new car, and I could spend all day in it,” Bob explains.

Now Use It

This Lotus Cortina Estate is one of a kind, and Bob wants to see it admired. He’s not afraid to drive it–and has even taken it around Watkins Glen–but his favorite venues are shows “where people know what it is, and will appreciate that.”

Would he change anything? “A Lotus is never finished, but I enjoy working on it as much as anything else,” Bob answers. With the hot engine and wide tires, this Estate is faster than any stock Lotus Cortina. Plus, you could carry a love seat home in it.

If that isn’t the best of both worlds, we’re not sure what is.

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Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
9/19/19 8:22 a.m.

Yes, please. 

Billbagley New Reader
9/20/19 4:24 p.m.

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :


Billbagley New Reader
9/20/19 4:33 p.m.

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :

I replied, that i love a story like this. The LOTUS ‘Wagon”  But my finger hit wrong button so start over.

U guys inspired me to buy a Alfa Spider, in intermediate to sad shape.  82 yrs old it is only 40.  yes the 79 ugly bumpers. But beautiful 40 DCOEs, headers, wheels, Am working along on it.

U had a project on a early Alfa going, it died??     or like me start stop?

keep the good work up.


BonBou New Reader
9/5/22 4:01 p.m.

Beautiful work Bob. I love the story. I had a Cortina (4 doors) for years. They were nice cars to drive and very reliable. Wish you would take it to Lime Rock.

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