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Patrick Miles has owned his 1966 Lotus Cortina for four decades, in that time it’s been stolen, then restored and now very much enjoyed.

The fact that Patrick Miles bought this Lotus Cortina for £1300 tells you how long he’s owned it. “I saw it advertised in the Bristol Evening Post in 1980,” remembers Patrick, “and it was in pretty good condition. It’s a September 1966 car so one of the last built. I’d owned Mk2 Cortina Lotuses and everyone told me the Mk1 was the one to have. I was 23 years old and fell in love with the car. It had tinted windows and bucket seats. I drove it for about five years then put it in storage while I worked abroad.” 

That time in storage wasn’t kind to the Cortina. “When I got it back out,” continues Patrick, “the brakes were seized and I noticed some rot in the A-pillars so in 1997 I began a restoration on the car. It was my first complete rebuild on a car and, frankly, if it hadn’t been a Lotus I probably wouldn’t have bothered.”

The three-year-long restoration commenced with rust repairs to those A-pillars. “It was rotten on both sides and there was more rust underneath around the chassis rails. I put on two new front wings bought from the Mk1 Cortina Owners’ Club and they supplied 95 per cent of the replacement bits. The wings were repro panels since genuine Mk1 front wings just didn’t exist. I put on two new door skins, later replaced with doors from a donor car. The rear valance turned out to be made from newspaper and filler, so I hacked all that out and put in a new panel. I also made a new rear wheelarches and welded them in.

“I’m self-taught, the book Panel Craft by Tommy Sandham was very useful and dealt with old Fords so I read it cover to cover. I did my apprenticeship in industrial electrical systems so have a practical nature and when I start something I have to finish it. I made up new repair sections using hammers and dollies, the wheelarches were a case of copying the one on the opposite side. I put in new metal round the spare wheel well and a Y-panel for the battery tray support. Some repairs were welded, other sections were brazed in place, I asked the club’s advice about how the car would have originally been constructed and tried to replicate those methods.”

The inner wings needed repairs to the top plates then were seam welded and ground back as per the original, the floor needed a plate on the driver’s side footwell. Then came a major change. “I’d replaced the Webasto sunroof a couple of times and I never liked it,” admits Patrick, “it was an aftermarket item that just didn’t look right.” If you’re now studying the photos trying to work out how the sunroof was filled don’t bother.

“I cut the roof from the donor car then the MG Centre in Bath welded it on. I collected the car two weeks later and everything, glass, window rubbers, all fitted perfectly.”

lotus cortina

Bare metal

With the bodywork repaired, Patrick took his Cortina back to bare metal with a DA sander and put on a couple of primer coats.

“Working entirely in a single car garage wasn’t easy so I painted the cellulose white in the open air. After a few days I masked it and painted the green stripes. It seemed every example I saw was slightly different as to how far the green went below the bootlid rim and the size of the curves by the tailights, so I based mine on old photos. I sanded it with 1000 then 2000 grit on a buffer then polished by hand. I didn’t add any lacquer and was really pleased with the results.” 

lotus cortina

Now it was time for the greasy bits. “The car was stolen in 1982 and they got 3 miles before they broke the crank. My insurance wrote the Cortina off so I’d bought it back and had the engine rebuilt.” It was rebuilt again in 2001 by Nick Stagg Engineering in Bristol who stripped the engine, re-bored it 20-thou’, surfaced the block and re-faced the flywheel. They also polished and balanced it, re-baffled the sump, overhauled the head — including an unleaded conversion, added bronze guides, fitted a new water pump assembly and warmer camshafts. Patrick has since added a Powerspark electronic ignition.

“The gearbox has always been perfect so I’ve left it alone. I rebuilt the diff last year and put in a 3.54:1 ratio, which has made first gear a bit high, but motorway driving much easier since it now sits between 2000-3000 rpm. I also put in new rubber suspension mounts and track rod ends and Polybushed the anti-roll bar; otherwise the suspension was in great shape.

“I also rebuilt the steering box then stripped and rebuilt the brakes and the servo, I added Greenstuff pads to the front since I work for EBC — the brakes are the best they’ve ever been. I was lucky when it came to the exhaust; a friend spotted a stainless steel system for sale in a classic car magazine so I rushed out to buy a copy and phoned the seller. He explained it had sold but the buyer was messing him about over payment. I said I was on my way straight over with cash. Just 2 hours later I arrived in London, paid £200 and he gave me a stainless manifold, too!”

Crude cuts

When it came to the interior, initially Patrick had cause for concern. “When I first stripped the dashboard I noticed the area behind the binnacle that holds the dials had been crudely cut out with a hacksaw and the edges covered with masking tape. I thought maybe the car had been faked and wasn’t a genuine Lotus, so I was relieved when the Lotus Cortina Club explained that meant it was genuine, later the DVLA confirmed it.” Those original gauges were fitted into a new brushed aluminium surround while the steering wheel was a great find via a club member.

lotus cortina

Aldridge Trimming got the call to supply new seatcovers and doorcards, then a new carpet went in too. “Fitting the headlining was one of  the hardest jobs of the restoration,” admits Patrick, “it took patience attaching those little clips and gluing it in.” Both bumpers were rechromed but the rest of the trim only required a good polish. The car was fine electrically too, needing just some insulation re-covering. 

Yet once his Cortina was finished Patrick felt the handling wasn’t quite right. “I took it to Brian Moorcroft — one of the club gurus — and he spotted I’d fitted the anti-roll bar upside down. I hadn’t even realised that was possible! 

lotus cortina

“It was certainly never intended to be a concours restoration,” admits Patrick, “but it’s won 60-plus prizes over the years. I’ve met some great people through the car although every one asks if it’s a genuine Lotus. It drives really well but I mainly do local shows now. I’ve owned exotics like Ferraris but still find myself choosing to use the Cortina, and it certainly gets the most attention.” 

Words Mike Renaut

Photos Andrew Saunders

See more photos and get the full story behind Patrick’s Lotus Cortina in the December issue

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