The winning season of Jim Clark and the Ford Lotus Cortina in the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship
The British Touring Car Championship (better known as the BTCC) is hugely popular in the UK and quite well known in the rest of the world. Its races get extensive TV coverage as well as taking a fair share of space in the conventional and on-line press, but, even with such media attention, the BTCC is far from the dream of having among its contenders a works team entered by Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton at the wheel of one of their class A cars paired with his F1 team mate, Valtteri Bottas.
However, that’s exactly what its predecessor, the British Saloon Car Championship, had in the 1964 season. The then current F1 champion, Jim Clark, was the main star of the series at the wheel of one of the cars entered by Lotus, his team in the first of his world championship winning years. The Scot, and his new team mate in the F1 squad, Peter Arundell, drove the two Team Lotus entered cars, a pair of Ford Cortinas, as a continuation of their collaboration to spice up the modest road-car model.
It was a similar process as the one undertaken several years later to produce the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. Chapman’s marque fitted the not too powerful saloon car with a more high-performance engine. It was a four-cylinder, twin cam, 1600cc, developed by Harry Mundy and Keith Duckworth (the ‘worth’ from the already emerging ‘Cosworth’) that produced around 150bhp. Coupled with the chassis and suspension tuning designed by Lotus, it turned the humble family car into quite an interesting prospect. An exclusive livery, with the F1 winning team logo and its green colour flashing on the sides of the body completed the transformation of the mundane Cortina into a far more attractive car, both in aspect and performance.
The next step was to race it in competitive events following the tradition of the American brand clearly stated in the words of its founder, Henry Ford: ‘Win on Sunday to sell on Monday’. After a promising debut at the end of 1963, the 1964 season will be the year of the Ford Lotus Cortina attack in racing and rallying. While on the special stages it was the British arm of Ford in charge of the proceedings, on the circuits there couldn’t be a better team to deal with the project than Team Lotus, even if there were some private drivers and other squads also entering the new Ford, albeit without any direct works backing.
The British Saloon Car Championship was based, at that time, on a points system that gave the same amount to the winner of any of the different capacity categories no matter their outright positions thus, all the competitors could have a chance to win the championship The classes were divided into four capacities: up to 1300cc, then 1301cc to 2000cc followed by 2001cc to 5000cc and finally, the most powerful cars, 5001cc and over. Obviously biggest engined cars were the fastest but driving one of them didn’t give greater chances to clinch the title. In fact, it used to be the opposite as in the top class it was not unusual to see some F1 drivers entering the most prestigious events looking for an outright win and, on the way, stealing points from the regular contenders. Jim Clark himself has been one of them in 1963 when he scored his first British Saloon Car Championship win on the 5th of August at Brands Hatch driving the mighty Alan Brown Ford Galaxie.
In 1964 the Scot was set to fight for the championship by winning Class B with the Lotus Cortina, although his huge skill and competitive spirit meant that he was also someone to bear in mind for outright wins against the drivers of the Galaxies if any chance arose. Obviously Team Lotus, with Clark and Arundell, were set to be the dominant force in Class B (up to 2000cc). In A (up to 1300cc) the fight should be close between the increasingly quick Mini Coopers and the still competitive, despite their age, Ford Anglias. There would also be more contenders for the title than in the previous year as the top class was split for the first time in order that the once dominant Jaguar MKII would still have some chance of winning in the new class C (up to 5000cc) as it was clear that they couldn’t hold a candle to the Ford Galaxie and their 7-litre V8 engines, now racing in Class D (over 5000cc).
The first of the scheduled eight rounds of the series was held in mid-March at Snetterton on a day typical of the month, windy, rainy and cold. The start was made under a heavy downpour with three of the four spots on the front row of the grid going to Ford Galaxies: on pole position the Alan Brown car, this time with another F1 driver at the wheel, Jack Brabham, next the John Willment car, driven by the current British Saloon Car champion, Jack Sears, and the privately entered car of Sir Gawaine Baillie. Dwarfeded by the huge American cars, the fourth spot of the front row was for the comparatively diminutive Lotus Cortina driven by Clark, ready to try his all in order to use the low grip and even lower visibility to possibly surprise the far more powerful cars of his rivals.
At the start, the Scot was second, only behind Sears, while Brabham and Baillie didn’t get off the line very well and were engulfed by the field and a thick cloud of spray. Despite this, the ever-determined Black Jack was soon recovering and by lap 4 he had caught and passed Clark, who couldn’t do anything to hold up the mighty Ford and its V8 engine. Ahead of them, Sears seemed to have the race under control… until four laps later when he couldn’t avoid hitting an errant Mini spinning just when he was about to lap it. As a result, his Galaxie received a damaged wheel that forced him to slow before finally retiring.
Brabham inherited first position and scored a commanding win with the Galaxie ahead of Clark in the Team Lotus Cortina who took advantage of the very tough conditions to beat the third-placed Galaxie, driven by Baillie. The Scot won the up to 2-litre class at a canter with a comfortable margin over the two Cortinas from the John Willment team, driven by the South African Bob Olthoff and the Australian Frank Gardner. Right behind them, in sixth, there was another driver taking advantage of the very slippery track, John Fitzpatrick, winner of Class A with one of the John Cooper Minis, and in seventh was first in Class C, John Sparrow’s Jaguar.
Two weeks later the second round of the Championship was held at Goodwood. This time, to the joy of the Galaxie drivers, the clouds over the Chichester area were lighter and far less menacing. And if, even at the very wet Snetterton, the virtuosity of Clark has not been enough against the bigger cars that were twice the weight of the light and agile Lotus Cortina but were also four times more powerful, on a dry track it would be impossible to challenge them. However, two of the three mighty American Fords were out even before the race started, Jack Brabham damaged the Alan Brown car beyond immediate repair in practice and a transmission problem sidelined Sir Gawaine Baillie on the warmup lap.
There was just one Galaxie left, on pole position with Jack Sears at the wheel and despite Clark and his team mate Arundell getting away very well to be first and second round the fast right hander of Madgwick, the V8 power took care of both before the end of the first lap, with Sears thundering past the pair of Lotus Cortinas along the undulating section before Woodcote. From then on nobody could do anything to catch the current champion and his powerful Ford, no matter how much Clark was trying to keep up with him driving to the very limit the Lotus Cortina, seeming to never have its four wheels simultaneously in contact with the track. At the end of the ten scheduled laps of the Saint Mary Trophy, the win went to Sears, with Clark around 13 seconds behind and scoring his second win in Class B that was dominated this time by Team Lotus as Arundell, in third, managed to handle the John Willment pair of Gardner and Olthoff. Behind them were two Jaguars, the only entrants in Class C, driven by John Sparrow and Chris McLaren, sixth and seventh under the chequered flag but to be later excluded from the results because of some technical infringements. In Class A, the Minis couldn’t beat the Anglia driven by Mike Young on a dry track, who resisted the final lunge from Mick Clare, almost side by side through the last chicane but unable to get by in the final meters of the race.
With spring arriving the British Saloon Car Championship competitors were greeted on the second weekend of April with warm temperatures at Oulton Park for the third round of the season. The Galaxies were again untouchable in practice although this time there were just two, Sear’s put the John Willment car on pole and Baillie was second in his privately entered machine. Beside them, on the three cars per row grid, was Clark’s Lotus Cortina and the Scot took advantage of the good traction of his car to arrive first at Old Hairpin, ahead of the two Galaxies that always struggled a little in the get away as their rear wheels fought to handle all the power without spinning too much.
But, as at Goodwood, Sears went ahead before the end of the first lap and started to pull away to what looked like a certain win. Behind him, Clark wasn’t giving up and was exhibiting again his two and three wheeled antics to keep the Lotus Cortina as close as possible to the unmatchable Galaxie of Sears and ahead of the other, driven by Baillie, who wasn’t able to overtake him. The strong pace set by the Team Lotus driver stopped the leader from relaxing as Sears had to push in order to increase his lead lap after lap until, on the fifth a brake problem sent him off the track, with a small fire caused by a fluid leak on the hot front drums. First position was now Clark’s, who was always on the limit in the 1.6 Cortina, improving the lap record, set the previous year by his F1 rival Graham Hill at the wheel of a 3.8 Jaguar, by no less than two seconds and he won by more than 20 seconds from Baillie.
It was the first outright victory in the British Saloon Car Championship for the Lotus Cortina and the third consecutive win for Clark in Class 2 of the series. In the championship standings the Scot was leading comfortably as in Class D there had already been three different winners, in Class C there was also a new winner, this time Chris McLaren, and only Young, in Class A with his Ford Anglia, had scored a second win after beating the Minis again, headed in this race by Phil Middlehurst. Furthermore, given that in Classes C and D there were never the minimum number of starters to award full points, their drivers were losing the chance of fighting for the title race after race.
In the next two events, held at Aintree and Silverstone, there were no failures for the Galaxies. At the former circuit, located within the famous horse racing track, Sears’ car was galloping like the thoroughbreds that raced there the rest of the year. Additionally, Baillie managed to give full rein to his Ford to finish ahead of Clark and the Lotus Cortina for the first time. The Team Lotus driver had to settle for third, on the way to scoring yet another commanding win in Class B, the fourth in a row.
Two weeks later, the British Saloon Car Championship race was included in the programme for the Silverstone International Trophy and it started on an almost totally dry track despite the rain that had fallen some hours before. The Galaxies took advantage of this to fly around the quick track set around the old Northamptonshire aerodrome. Sears was out of reach again, scoring his third win of the season while Clark delighted the crowd driving the Lotus Cortina beyond its limit to be third after fighting to the very last lap against one of his F1 rivals, Brabham driver Dan Gurney, in charge this time of Alan Brown’s Galaxie. In Class A there has been two different winners in the last two races (the Mini Coopers of Fitzpatrick, at Aintree, and Hopkirk, at Silverstone) so the points were shared in the only class whose winner could try to challenge the leader of class B in the fight for the title. With five wins in five races, and six results permitted as a maximum score for the final standings out of the eight races in the schedule, the British Saloon Car Championship was almost in Clark’s hands with barely half the season gone.
The ideal place to clinch the title and celebrate it in style was Crystal Place, the venue for the next round of the season. The circuit, set within the eponymous South London park, short and narrow, shouldn’t be so suited to the mighty Galaxies. Nevertheless, the indubitable skills of Jack Sears put the huge American car on pole position, this time ahead of a foursome of Lotus Cortinas headed by the two Team Lotus cars, driven by Clark and Arundell. At the start, Sears didn’t allow them to surprise him and he soon started to pull out a lead on the way to what should be his third win in a row. However, the tyres of his powerful Ford weren’t able to cope with the demands put on them by his driver in order to keep the heavy car at full speed ahead of the nimble Lotus Cortina of Clark and one of the rear tyres blew so Sears had to slow down before finally stopping. With the Galaxie out, the way to his second outright victory was open to Clark heading a 1-2 for Team Lotus with Arundell second. Two more Cortinas, one from John Willment’s team, driven by the Aussie Frank Gardner, and the privately entered car of Chris Craft, painted in a striking orange, completed the best overall result for the new model born from the collaboration between Ford and Lotus.
It was the perfect way to celebrate securing the title by their star driver, Jim Clark, who reached the maximum possible score with his sixth victory in Class B setting a number of wins that was already out of reach for the leaders of the other three classes. In Class A, run as standalone heat this time, there was yet another different winner, John Handley in the Broadspeed Mini who beat the works car of Fitzpatrick. In Class C there was just one Jaguar MKII, driven by Raylston Carpenter who scored his first points of the year, and in Class D the second victory of the season went to Baillie at the wheel of the surviving Galaxie with Sears retirement meaning nobody could reach six wins either.
With the title already clinched, Clark scored the first outright pole position of the Lotus Cortina in the penultimate round of the season, held in the beginning of August at Brands Hatch. The Scot was in great shape and completed one of his magic laps, full of slides, opposite lock and wheels in the air, to put the small class B car ahead of the powerful Galaxie of Sears. But it was one thing to do a single lap faster than the 500 bhp Ford with the barely 150 bhp of the Cortina, and a very different one to hold it up for 20 laps round the Kent track. As soon as the race started, Sears went by Clark and pulled away to score his fourth win of the season with the Galaxie. The Scot ended up more than 20 seconds behind but won again in Class B, followed this time by the South African Olthoff with one of Willment’s Cortinas. Among the smaller cars in Class A, the Superspeed Anglias driven by Mike Young and Chris Craft got to the finish line ahead of John Rhodes’ Mini but were later excluded after scrutineering. In the always sparsely populated Class C first position went to Chris McLaren despite being sixteenth overall, behind several cars far less powerful than his Jaguar MKII.
The final round of the championship was held in mid-September within the programme of the classic Oulton Park Autumn Gold Cup. It was the second visit to the track where Clark has scored the first outright win with the Lotus Cortina. Repeating such a result wouldn’t be easy as, once again, there were three Galaxies in the field as Jack Brabham was back at the wheel of Alan Brown’s car along with the cars of Sears and Baillie. Sears was determined to close the season on a high after a year full of disappointments. The previous year’s champion again took pole position in the white and red striped Willment Galaxie and this time he got away much better than in the April race, leading into to the funnel that was the Old Hairpin on the first lap.
But once again bad luck struck Sears with yet another mechanical issue to the powerful but fragile American Ford, an ignition problem forced him to slow down when he already had a good lead over Clark and he soon had to pull off and park on the grass. The new leader was the Scot from Team Lotus but there was still a dozen of laps to go and closing behind him was his F1 rival, Jack Brabham, recovering after a very bad start with the Galaxie, a car that wasn’t easy to get on the move in the opening meters of the race. Nevertheless, the combination of its huge weight and the demands of Black Jack on its brakes while getting through the several Cortinas and Minis that had passed him at the start took its toll and the tough Australian not only couldn’t he get closer to the leader but finally he was caught and overtaken by another of the light and efficient Class B Fords, this one driven by Olthoff who improved on his third position at Brands with an even better second at Oulton. Ahead of both, Clark was going on with his customary sliding, drifting and wheel lifting antics, a great show that was made even more eye-catching this time with the addition of blue smoke emanating from one of his wheels because of a locked brake. This issue didn’t prevent the sensational Scottish driver from crossing the chequered flag first to close his triumphant year with his third outright win and a perfect record of eight wins out of eight races in Class B.
It was the icing on the cake for an outstanding season, a David against Goliath battle won by the 1600cc-150bhp-800kg Lotus Cortina ahead of the 7000cc-500 bhp-1.5+ tonnes Galaxie. Additionally, it was done not only because the points system allowed the smaller class cars to fight for the title in their category. In fact, despite Sears scoring four outright wins, given that he didn’t finish any of the other four races, Clark’s three overall victories plus his two second and two third places would have given him the championship even applying the current points system that only rewards overall positions.
The Lotus Cortinas in action during the 1964 season (rallying and racing)
The 1964 season would be the last of a full commitment to the British Saloon Car Championship for Jim Clark, for the next two years he only raced there occasionally but, even then, he scored four more outright wins at the wheel of the Ford Lotus Cortina. Two arrived in 1965, one in the wet at Goodwood and another at a dry Oulton Park, again in the Gold Cup meeting race. Two more were added to his tally in 1966, one at Brands Hatch and the other, the final one, would appropriately be at the venue of the first Clark/Lotus Cortina victory and where they won most often: Oulton Park. Seven outright wins in total for the Lotus Cortina in an era of the British Saloon Car Championship dominated by the far more powerful V8 engined cars. To beat them it was necessary to combine Clark’s outstanding driving skills with the performance of a car designed to be an ordinary family saloon until it was transformed thanks to the magical touch of Colin Chapman’s Lotus team to become an icon of motor sport in the sixties.