Ford Corsair 2000E & Ford Cortina 1600EFord Corsair 2000E & Ford Cortina 1600E Published: 18th Apr 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
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Half century ago, Ford launched two high style derivates of its family saloons – but only one is remembered. Unfairly so suggests Andrew Roberts
In January of 1967 Ford introduced a model to dazzle all suburbia – the Corsair 2000E. The price was a very reasonable £1007 18s 4d, and the standard of finish and equipment was lavish, with deep pile carpeting that ‘would look luxurious in a penthouse’ – according to the brochure at any rate – and upholstery that helped to maintain an ‘atmosphere of leisured luxury’. There was also boot and bonnet lights, warning reflectors on the doors, a dipping mirror and, to distinguish the 2000E from its cheaper stablemates, a vinyl roof and some splendidly elaborate hubcaps that were only found on the Zodiac. Most notably of all, the list of fittings even included a push button radio, so the owner could receive the BBC Light Programme or those naughty and soon to be banned pirate radio stations as they cruised along the newly 70mph limited M1.
The ‘E’ stood for Executive, the name used by Ford GB for its rangetopping cars since the introduction in January 1965 of a decadently equipped special version of the Zodiac MkIII.
The Zodiac Executive MkIV followed in April 1966 while the Corsair 2000E was aimed directly at the burgeoning ‘compact prestige’ car market. In an early road test, Motor praised the “superbly refined” gearchange of that famous 2000E ’box,(that’s been a must have for any serious Ford enthusiast for decades) and the ‘enormous boot’ although they did grumble about the 2000E’s ‘slightly flashy’ appeal.
In fact, this was possibly the key to the Corsairs attraction, for not only was it £150 cheaper than a Triumph 2000 and a considerable saving of £350 over the P6 it represented a rather different form of motoring. The Rover was aimed at smooth young solicitors while this cultured Corsair was transport for a brash up-and-coming property developer who modelled his appearance on Simon Dee.
The Achilles Heel of the Corsair was the V4 engine which several owners complained was lacking in refinement – small wonder really it was predominately designed for the Transit van. The powerplant was first fitted to the in rep’s 1.7-litre from in late ’65, replacing the smooth 1.5-litre straight four unit to create ‘The Car That Is Seen & Not Heard’. From late ’66 it was augmented by a 2-litre with a twin-choke Weber carburettor while the 2000E sported a racier camshaft to give it a sporty edge. It also boasted extra sound deadening to compensate for any rough V4 overtones that might potentially disturb the chic ambiance.
When Motor Sport tested one, they thought it “an excellent car” although the writer also bemoaned the décor, pointing out that a vinyl roof was “becoming the mark of the pseudo-executive automobile”. However, it could also be argued that the fabric covering not only complemented the Corsair’s lines it also gave a longestablished model a more contemporary appeal. The T-Bird inspired coachwork clearly dated from the early 1960s but with metallic silver paint and those truly amazing hubcaps the 2000E looked as hip as a Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass LP. It was also better equipped than the new Victor 2000 and more dynamic-looking than the very agreeable Wolseley 18/85 ‘Landcrab’.
And the autumn of ’67 was to see the début of another executive class Ford in the form of the Mk2 Cortina 1600E. For £982 2s 1d – just £100 more than the price of the 1600 GT – the proud motorist gained reclining front seats, twin Wipac 562 spot lights, a clock, reversing lamps, a cigar lighter and some splendid Ro-Style wheels.
The fascia and door cappings were trimmed in polished wood, and the steering wheel rim was covered in leather, but the 1600E managed the difficult trick of creating an atmosphere of opulence without resorting to a parody of a gentleman’s club.
Crucially, the 1600E was more than a better trimmed GT – the engine and rear axle were the same, but its lowered suspension with stiffer damper and spring settings was taken from the Lotus model. British market 1600Es always came in four-door form, although Ford made a small number of two-doors for export territories.
For what started off as a £400 PR excercise, the 1600E exceeded Ford’s sales expectations, and after 50 years it is still easy to understand the reasons behind its impact that is still highly regarded among Cortina devotees.
Firstly, there was the clean appearance of the Mk2 Cortina, a car that looked as mid-Atlantic as any ITC spy drama but not so flamboyant as to terrify the average fleet manager and there was the fact that the 1600E had very few rivals. The new and ultra sylish FD Series Vauxhall Victors (an appearance Ford copied for the Mk3 Cortina) were larger than the Ford and it is nearly impossible to envisage a potential 1600E owner considering a fuddy-duddy Riley 4/72 which, by 1967, looked about as groovy as Edgar Lustgarten.
One contemporary was the even more luxurious Arrow-series Humber Sceptre, which was of similar dimensions but cost slightly more at £1047 and somehow lacked the Cortina’s younger,sportier appeal. Possibly the nearest alternative came from abroad, in the form of the highly entertaining – if corrosion prone – Fiat 125.
As with the Corsair 2000E, the new Cortina created a distinctive niche in the British car market. Before the 1600E, ‘Super’ or ‘GT’ badges were sufficient to show status in the company car park – the Lotus was always a Cortina apart – but here was a reasonably priced Ford for the sort of motorist who knew their way around The Len Deighton Action Cookbook.
Top speed approached the then magic ton figure and when owners of Cambridges or Oxfords saw that matt black grille and culinary lamps in their rear-view mirror they knew they were about to be overtaken by a truly executive class car. Indeed, the text of this very 1960’s advert brilliantly encapsulates the world of the 1600E driver:
You’re driving along in your spanking new Cortina 1600E and your wife starts nagging you so you suggest she reclines her seat and before long she’s dozed off because the 1600E is so quiet and you look at your reflection in the plushy walnut dashboard and think how closely you resemble Gregory Peck and with a roar of the 1600GT engine, you twiddle the aluminium steering wheel and the sculptured racing wheels screech as you take the chicane at 85 and tap tap, the man on the Ford stand wakes you up.
When you further consider that this was a time when prospective 2000E owners were urged to ‘slip into something comfortable’, the Britain of Harold Wilson really does seem to be a different world.
Production of all Mk2s and the more upmarket Corsair (which was always based upon the Mk1 Cortina) ceased in 1970, to make way for the Mk3 Cortina but although the 2000 GXL may have been a worthy successor to the Corsair 2000E, it never captured the zeitgeist of the 1600E. When Ford introduced an E-class version of the Mk3 for 1974 the advertisements were even headed with the words “Now will you please stop writing to us about the old 1600E?”.
They didn’t. Indeed, the allure of the 1600E became even stronger as secondhand motorists decided to make their Deluxe models look like a 1600E – usually with bits pinched from one. Ford later added prestigious Ghia badge to its ranges which did little and then even badged anything it could get away with to recapture the good old days, but they all failed. The 1600E was a one off and couldn’t be replicated.
Today, the Corsair 2000E has a growing following as a handsome – just note the attention that any surviving model attracts at a car show – and very usable classic with American T-Bird styling cues. Those who drove one would even admit that it was better than the Cortina in certain departments and in fact Motor judged it one of the most improved cars of ’67 and “the most lively and competitive 2-litre on the British market” – but it lacked that wow appeal, even before the Cortina one came along.
As for the 1600E, 50 years after its launch, Ford’s achievement is even more apparent, as they created a compact luxury saloon that looked smart and contemporary without seeming flamboyant or particularly ostentatious. When it débuted, there may have been some snobbish complaints from Motor Sport – “I do not think a wooden interior décor looks right in a modern ‘tin’ saloon” – but 58,833 motorists could not resist the lure of that aluminium spoked steering wheel. And, as Ford so accurately in retrospect claimed, in the late 1960s, the 1600E was their ‘best advertisement yet’.
The car is the star
The same silver fox coloured 1600E pops up in The Time to Die episode of The Saint; they were shot in Elstree at about the same time. The 1600E also surfaces in other ITC programmes, guesting in The Secret Service, the first episode of Randall & Hopkirk (where it crashed into lamp post without a scratch), The Persuaders! and The Proctectors. It’s most obscure role has to be in the 1972 British horror fantasy Neither the Sea Nor the Sand but in recent years its highest profile part was in Made in Dagenham.
Their first full year of production, ’68 was a more violent year than ’67 with few lighter times to lift the gloom – like buying a fancy family Ford!
After the disaster of the Apollo 1 Fire, NASA fast tracked to put man around the moon less than two years later, when Borman, Lovell and Anders saw ‘Earthrise’ for the first time.
Following Peace and Love and ‘flower power’ of ’67, 1968 was a far more brutal year with riots in the streets across the globe; the student protests in Paris being particularly famous.
Richard Nixon became the new US President in a campaign year which saw favourite Robert Kennedy shot dead at a convention meeting, months after Martin Luther King was also killed.
In sport, motor racing lost an all time great when Scot Jim Clark (32) was killed in April during a German F2 race. Lotus team mate Graham Hill became World Champion at 38.
Rarified atmosphere in Mexico’s Olympics saw the 100 metre sprint record broken by Jim Hine, the first man ever to crack the ten second barrier. It also saw Bob Beamon jump a staggering 29 feet, a feat that stood for decades!
In the charts were The Rolling Stones with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Beatles’ Hey Jude, Jesamine by The Casuals, You’re just too good to be true by crooner Andy Williams, Ice in the Sun by Status Quo, Honey by Bobby Goldsboro and Fire Brigade from The Move.
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