Whilst the engine was being developed Walter Hayes (Ford) was on a major motorsport drive and asked Colin Chapman if he would fit the engine to 1,000 Ford saloons for Group 2 homologation. Colin Chapman quickly accepted, although it must have been very busy in the Cheshunt plant what with the Elan about to be launched. The speed at which things started moving is incredible by today's standards the Type 28 or Lotus-Cortina or Cortina-Lotus (as Ford liked to call it) was born. Ford supplied the 2-door Cortina bodyshells and took care of all the marketing and selling of the cars, whilst Lotus did all the mechanical and cosmetic changes. The major changes involved installing the 1,558 cc motor, together with the same close ratio gearbox as the Elan. The rear suspension was drastically altered and lightweight alloy panels were used for doors, bonnet and boot. Also lightweight casing were fitted to gearbox and diff. All the Lotus factory cars were white with a green stripe (although Ford built some for racing in red). The cars also received front quarter bumpers and round Lotus badges were fitted to rear wings and to the right side of the radiator panel (from the drivers position).
Interior mods were limited to a center console designed for the new gear lever position, different seats and the later style dash featuring tachometer, speedo, oil pressure, water temp and fuel level. Rather special though was the good looking wood-rimmed steering wheel.
The suspension changes to the car were quite extensive; the car received shorter struts up front, forged track control arms and 5.5J by 13 steel wheel rims. The rear was even more radical with vertical coil spring/dampers replacing the leaf springs and two trailing arms with a A- bracket (which connected to the diff housing and brackets near the trailing arm pivots) sorting out axle location. To support this set up further braces were put behind the rear seat and from the rear wheelarch down to chassis in the boot.
The stiffening braces meant the spare wheel had to be moved from the standard cortina's wheel well and was bolted to the left side of the boot floor. The battery was also put in the boot behind the right wheelarch, both of these changes made big improvements to overall weight distribution. Another improvement the Lotus Cortina gained was the new braking system (front discs) which was built by brake specialist Girling, this system also was fitted to Cortina GT's but without a servo which was fitted in the Lotus Cortina engine bay. Firstly the engine's were built by J. A Prestwich of Tottenham and then Villiers of Wolverhampton this was done until 1966 when Lotus moved to Hethel in Norwich where they had their own engine building facilities The Lotus Cortina used a diaphragm-spring clutch whereas Ford fitted coil-spring clutches to the rest of the range. The rest of the gearbox was identical to the Lotus Elan. This led to a few problems because the ultra-close gear ratios were perfect for the race track or open road, but the clutch was given a hard time in traffic, so the ratios were later changed. The early cars were very popular and earned some rave reviews; one magazine described the car as a tin-top version of a Lotus 7. It was THE car for many enthusiasts who before had to settle for a Cortina GT or a Mini-Cooper and it also amazed a lot of the public who were used to overweight 'sports cars' like the Austin-Healey 3000. The launch was not perfect however, the car was too specialist for some Ford dealerships who did not understand the car; there are a few stories of incorrect parts being fitted at services. There were a few teething problems reported by the first batch of owners, (most of these problems show how quickly the car was developed) some of the engines were down on power, the gear ratios were too close and the worst problem was the diff housing coming away from the casing. This problem was mainly caused by the high loads put on the axle because of the A bracket it was an integral part of the rear suspension. This was made even worse by the fact any oil lost from the axle worked its way on to the bushes of the A bracket. There were 4 main updates made to the Mk1 Lotus during its production to solve some of these problems. The first change was a swap to a two-piece prop shaft and the lighter alloy transmission casing were changed for standard Ford items; this also included swapping the ultra close ratio gears for Cortina GT gear ratios, the main difference was 1st, 2nd and reverse were much higher ratios. It was also around this time in 1964 that standard panels were used rather than the light alloy ones. You could however specify all the alloy items and ultra-close ratios when buying new, and many people went for these options. The 2nd main change came in late 1964 when the entire Cortina range had a facelift which included a full width front grille and aeroflow outlets in the rear quarters because the Lotus Cortinas also gained Ford's new ventilation system which also included an update to the interior. The third and probably most important change came mid 1965 when the Lotus rear suspension was changed for the leaf springs and radius arms of the Cortina GT. This replaced all the stiffening tubing as well. The last update also came in 1965 when the rear drums were swapped for self adjusting items and also the famous 2000E gearbox ratios were used. These lowered 1st and reverse about halfway between the Cortina GT ratios and the ultra close ratio box. All these changes made the cars less specialized but far more reliable and all the special parts were still available for competition as well as to members of the public. The Lotus Cortina had by this time earned an awesome competition reputation. It was also being made in left hand drive when production finished around late 1966 and the Mk2 took over.
Ford wanted to change a few things for the Mk2, the Mk1 had done all and more than they could expect in competition, but the public linked its competition wins with Lotus and its bad points with Ford. Ford still wanted to build a mk2 Lotus and compete with it, but Lotus were moving from Cheshunt to Hethel so it was a bad time for them to build another model. Ford were also concerned with the unreliability of the Lotus built cars. So a decision was made at Ford that to continue with its competition drive and make the car more cost effective they would make the car at Dagenham themselves, alongside the other Cortinas. So the Mk2 had to be much easier to build than the Mk1 so it could be done alongside Mk2 GT production, just with a different engine and suspension. The Mk2 took a while to appear, 1st appearing in 1967. The main difference being the choice of colours and the lack of a stripe, although most had them fitted at Ford dealers at extra cost. The only cosmetic changes made was a black front grille, 5.5J x 13 steel wheels and lotus badges on rear wings and by the rear number plate. The badge on the front grille was an option at first. Unlike the Mk1 the Mk2 was made in left hand drive from the start of production. The Mk2 Lotus Cortinas also gained an improved and more powerful engine, which used to be supplied as the special equipment engine optional on Lotus Elan and the Lotus Cortina Mk1. The gearbox ratios remained 2000E ones but the car now used the Mk2 GT remote-control gearchange. The car also had a different final drive of 3.77:1 rather than 3.9:1. The Mk2 was a wider car than the Mk1 so although they look the same the steel wheels had a different offset so as not to upset the tracking, radial tyres were now standard. Another attraction was the larger fuel tank used in the Mk2. The spare wheel could now be mounted in its wheel well, but the battery remained in the boot to aid weight distribution.
The only real difference to the engine bay was the air cleaner mounted on top of the engine. The interior was almost identical to a GT. The Mk2 did exactly what Ford wanted, it was far more reliable whilst still quick enough to be used in competition, until it handed over to the twin cam escorts. The car did have a few updates but none as urgent as the Mk1's. Only a few months after production started the lotus badge on the rear panel was canceled and a new TWIN-CAM badge was fitted under the Cortina script on the boot lid. The new combined clock and center console was fitted. In late 1968 the entire Mk2 range had some cosmetic changes, for the Lotus this meant that the 4 dials on top of the dash were brought down and made part of the dash. An internal bonnet release and a more conventional mounting for the handbrake were also phased in. A new single-rail gearshift mechanism was used. The car stayed in production until 1970.
In 1964 a Lotus-Cortina leading around a bend with its inside front wheel in fresh air became a familiar sight, as the cars were set up with soft rear suspension and a hard front end. Jim Clark won the British Saloon Car Championship easily, in the USA Jackie Stewart and Mike Beckwith won the Malboro 12-hour, and Alan Mann Racing also performed well in the European Touring Car Championship, including a 1-2 victory in the 'Motor' Six Hour International Touring Car Race at Brands Hatch. A Boreham-built car also won its class, came 4th outright, and won the handicap section, in the 4000 mile 10-day Tour de France. Other Lotus-Cortina achievements included the Austrian Saloon Car Championship, the South African National Saloon Championship, the Swedish Ice Championship, and the Wills Six-Hour in New Zealand.
1965 saw the Lotus-Cortina winning everything in sight, the car being more competitive due to the increased reliability of the new leaf spring rear end. Sir John Whitmore dominated and won the European Touring Car Championship, Jack Sears won his class in the British Saloon Car Championship (a Mustang won outright), Jackie Ickx won the Belgian Saloon Car Championship, and a Lotus-Cortina won the New Zealand Gold Star Saloon Car Championship. Other wins were the Nürburgring Six-Hour race, the Swedish National Track Championship, and the Snetterton 500.
In 1966 Team Lotus registered new cars for the new series of the British Saloon Car Championship, which ran up to Group 5, as regulations had been changed. Fuel-injection and dry sumping were allowed, and with Lucas injection and tuning by BRM, the engines could put out at 7750 rpm, increasing their ability to stay with the Mustangs. The cars also had the McPherson struts replaced with coil-springs and shockers and a revised wishbone geometry. 8 class wins were racked up, many at the hands of Jim Clark. In the European Touring Car Championship, Sir John Whitmore pulled off another 4 wins, but that wasn't enough to give him the title, as Alfa Romeo had been doing their homework with the Giulia GTAs.
Ford's bean counters pulled a few more tricks for 1966, managing to homologate the car for Group 1, which requires 5000 cars to be built. In the Monte Carlo rally Roger Clark finished 4th only to be disqualified, and then Elford finished 1st in San Remo (Rally of the Flowers), only to be disqualified as well. Elford came 2nd in Tulip. Some luck went the other way when Bengt Soderstrom was named victor of the Acropolis rally, after the 1st-placed Mini Cooper S was disqualified. New cars were used for the French Alpine, where Elford's engine blew up after leading, while Roger Clark finished second. Clark was always competitive, but suffered with unreliable cars, coming 3rd in the Canadian Shell 4000, 2nd in Greece, and 4th in Poland. The Lotus-Cortina finally proved itself with an outright win in the RAC rally. F1 World Champion Jim Clark crashed his (twice), but Soderstrom saw his through to a 13 minute victory, with Gunnar Palm. Other victories in 1966 were in the Geneva rally by Staepelaere, and by Canadian Paul MacLellan in the Shell 4000. A final win before the advent of the Mk. II was also pulled off by Soderstrom in the snowy Swedish rally of February 1967.