Cortina brings back memories of late great Jim Clark

Car: Ford Lotus Cortina Mk 1

Drive: Berwickshire backroads, Scotland (100km)

Images: Dawn Green


There’s a video that reminds me vividly of my limitations as a driver.

It’s a freebie that came with a copy of Classic & Sports Car magazine some years ago; a montage of memorable, motorsport moments.

Among the compilation is footage of the late, great Jim Clark racing a Ford Lotus Cortina in the 1964 Sebring 12 Hour sports car enduro.

For a driver whose touch of an open wheeler was as fine as peach fuzz, this mellowing, colour sequence surprises by showing the Flying Scotsman to be a veritable demon behind the wheel of a touring car.

Through the bendy bits of the flat and bumpy airfield circuit, he appears to be cornering the car nearly on its door handles.

Such is the approach and mid-corner speed, that he has to lift off on exit or risk running up the rump of the vastly more powerful Ferrari prototypes and Shelby Daytonas.

Now, back to the future: When planning a trip to Scotland, I thought how much fun it would be to see some of the countryside from a similar perspective – through the windscreen and side window of a precariously-poised, hard-cornering Mk 1.

A Google search showed up such a beast for hire through 

Deal done; we picked the car up in exactly the same condition as it finished its last rally.

That’s right, this was no nicely-restored, road-going version but a sing-for-its-supper, classic rally car complete with roll cage, safety harnesses, stripped-out interior, sundry performance mods, spotties and bodywork that told of some close encounters with errant hedgerows or worse. 

1 Ford Lotus Cortina in Classic Rally spec 1b
Ford Lotus Cortina in classic rally-spec


My better-half was more than a little gob-smacked at this, but she was soon belted in and calling the directions to Chirnside and nearby Duns, Clark’s home town.

We’re making a pilgrimage, visiting the great man’s grave, a museum in his honour (the Jim Clark Room) and driving some of the very roads he would have. 

At low speeds, the Lotus acts belligerently, the thirsty Webers demanding plenty of throttle to keep the engine from spluttering and complaining madly.

Like many a competition car, the secret is the faster you go, the easier it is to drive. 

A couple of hours later, we enter the picturesque, Gorse-lined B roads leading into Chirnside, the green and yellow colours of the hedges reminiscent of Team Lotus’s original race livery.

The parish church and cemetery hark back to the mid-12th century.

It is here, at the corner of Kirkgate and Berwick roads just a short walk from the High Street, where Jim Clark’s final resting place is located, the second-last-but-one grave to the stone perimeter fence

At just 6-degrees Celsius plus wind chill, the frigid scene is a world away from those hazy, crazy days of summer and the halcyon Tasman Cup series in Australia and New Zealand, when Clark and his various ‘Lotii’ were the combination to beat. 

There is a common denominator between then and now – a winner’s laurel wreath.

How many times did we see Clark with one draped around his neck during those unforgettable visits of 1961 and 65-68? Thirteen, was it? 

Statistically, his winning record of two World Drivers Championships in 1963 and 65, 25 F1 grands prix and the 1965 Indianapolis 500, is not as extensive as some others.

But then, Clark’s was an incomplete career, for on April 7, 1968, in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim which he really never wanted to race, he crashed and died while at his peak. 

In any case, statistics alone are not a measure of a man.

His peers were under no illusions just how good Clark was.

Graham Hill: ”Jimmy was unsurpassed in his era.” 

Jackie Stewart: ”To me he was the driver’s driver, for everybody he was the complete racing driver.”

Stirling Moss: ”Take any six top drivers and six cars, put them in any combination you like and Clark would win.” 

Pausing by the graveside, the echo of these plaudits inter-mingle with my own favourite memories.

But the time comes to cease reflection, respects paid and continue the pilgrimage.

We return to the High Street, to where a public clock erected in Clark’s memory takes pride of place.

Designed by his lifetime friend and motor racing associate, Ian Scott-Watson, the silhouette of a Lotus F1 car shaped in metal on top of the clock structure gives a ready clue as to its significance.

It seems a little incongruous, this memorial. After all, Jim Clark spent much of his life racing the clock, in search of those vital tenths and hundredths of a second, but, in the end, time was not on his side.

From the High Street, I head the Cortina west on the A6105, for while he may be buried in Chirnside, his life is also commemorated in nearby Duns.

At the town centre, we continue along the A6105 towards Greenlaw, passing the Jim Clark Room (a must visit) to the right before taking a left at Clockmill which leads to Langton, a five kilometre loop set inside a small valley that forms a stage of the Jim Clark Rally. 

Bumpy and narrow, it bristles with challenge: a number of tight 90-degree, left-and-right turns; a water splash and couple of places where you will get a little air under the wheels.

The-Cortina, wound up in 2nd and 3rd with engine note full of serious intent, is now in its element.

The moment is not lost on me.

It’s both a buzz and humbling to think that these are the swoopy, sinuous roads this great man – the drivers’ driver and champions’ champion – might have tackled in the very same model. 

Car: Ford Lotus Cortina Mk 1

Basic price: £992 (new, 1965)

Engine: 1.6-litre DOHC inline 4-cyl

Power: 78kW @ 5500 rpm

Torque: 146Nm @ 4000 rpm

Transmission: 4-spd manual

Weight: 876kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 10.5 secs


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