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Ford Cortina MK2

Ford Cortina MK2 Published: 24th Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Cortina MK2
Ford Cortina MK2
Ford Cortina MK2
Ford Cortina MK2
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Cortinas were never revolutionary but the Mk2 gave ordinary owners and drivers exactly what they wanted

What is it they say about keeping one step ahead of the competition? Ford knows this as well as any carmaker since, only one month after it produced the millionth Cortina Mk1, Dagenham bosses instantly replaced this best seller with the Mk2! A cardinal sin? No, this epitome of the 1960’s family saloon went on to bigger and better things, before it too was replaced – at the height of its considerable powers.

Cardinal was the project name for Ford of Germany’s Taunus model, which the UK’s Mk1 Cortina was actually competing against, before Ford of Europe was born in 1967, to stop all this in-house nonsense and instead work together, culminating in the Escort, Capri and, of course, the Mk3 Cortina (Cortina is a name derived from the location of the Italian Winter Olympics of 1960, in case you were wondering… or too young to remember!).

After comfortably seeing off the Taunus, Ford in the UK also thought it had the better of BMC, who it believed was not only selling the Mini far too cheap to make any decent profit (which it proved by costing the small wonder right down to the last bolt and rivet), but also felt the Brummie’s futuristic ‘Big Mini’ 1100 saloon, launched the same time as the first Cortina, complete with fluid suspension and front wheel drive, was far too complex for the suspicious and very important fleet market. The Cortina broke no new ground in terms of design, apart from being light in weight (care of aircraft stress testing principles) and posting an enormous boot for the rep’s goods during the week and the annual family holiday, when the kitchen sink had to come along for the ride.

1966 and all that

The original Cortina was simple and staid, but safe for the fleet manager and family buyer, and the equally conservative UK motorist took to it in droves. It was hardly surprising that its replacement served up much the same, albeit in a swish and stylish new body that raised a few eyebrows, not so much for its square-cut looks, but more for how closely it resembled Hillman’s new Minx, launched that very same month – both carmakers strenuously denied any copying. Besides, the Cortina shared similar styling cues from the MkIV Zephyr/ Zodiac Ford launched back in the Spring. Three inches wider than the Mk1, the Mk2 was certainly a lot roomier than ever before and Ford’s now famed and much copied Aeroflow ventilation system (which Ford strangely devalued over the decades) was now 25 per cent more efficient and hailed the next best thing to air conditioning.

Working class hero

Underneath, apart from a considerably wider track and with a softer suspension, the Mk2 was almost as before, but usefully improved. The chief change was to the engines, with the new £669 entry model boasting a bigger 1300cc engine, which in effect was a down-sized old 1500 unit and not simply an enlarged 1.2-litre that carried on in the Anglia. These were strange stopgaps, however, because just a year later the “Cross-flow” upgrade was introduced along with a larger 1599cc unit.

These Kent engines became legendary, instigating Formula Ford racing that fostered so many future World Champions over the decades and also powered many specialist road cars, such as Morgans, into the ’80s.

Cortina consisted of two- and four-door saloons in Fleet, Deluxe and Super trims and the commercial travellers’ delight in the form of the practical and pragmatic estate. For the first time, the estate could be had in GT guise, making it unique in its class; “Expensive for a Cortina but not for what it offers”, commented Autocar, whose only real criticism of this delightful holdall-in-ahurry was the absurdly low second gear ratio which Ford insisted upon equipping all its vehicles with, as an emergency bottom gear. Thankfully, after much complaining, Ford relented, but only on the GT, during 1968, to stop enthusiasts screaming their ‘Kent’ engine’s head off at 50mph before a change up to third caused the poor engine to slog as it built up speed.

To give the Mk2 a dash of colour, quite literally, were new options of certain metallic paints which, especially in the most popular Silver Fox (the default shade for GTs and 1600Es) was notorious for peeling off or fading as soon as it left the factory.

The lotus position

With the dropping of the trusty Mk1 came the decision to discard with the services of a certain Colin Chapman, who dreamed up the Lotus Cortina, or Cortina Lotus as Ford would have it instead. While this Elan-powered hot rod had the desired effect of giving this humble saloon the halo effect – apt as the Cortina’s original project name was ‘Archbishop’ – build quality at Lotus was, at best, lamentable. One Ford inspector, on his return to Dagenham from the Chapman’s Cheshunt factory, is said to have uttered “they’ve never heard of a torque wrench!” The car’s unreliability (mainly rear suspension breakages and resultant axle failures) was hurting the Cortina’s trustworthy reputation and dealers hated this sport saloon, which, along with the Cooper S, few insurers would touch.

However, by producing them on Ford’s production lines and then replacing the ‘Lotus’ badge with a simpler ‘Twin Cam’ boot moniker (to fall in line with the Lotuspowered Escort Twin Cam which eclipsed the Cortina in motorsport success) faith in Ford was soon restored, albeit at the expense of the original car’s unique character. “What it has lost in character has been made up in other ways”, commented Motor’s July ’67 test. True, while the Mk2 felt more like a Cortina fitted with a Lotus engine than that of a something more special, its more rounded and mature nature made it “immensely better and it is now a thoroughly satisfying high performance car” (said to Autocar) that sold better too – 4032 against 3301 Mk1s. But king Cortina has to be the 1600E.

Who would have thought that a splash of glitz on the outside, with an opulent Jag-like interior, would turn a working man’s commute into something fit for the thrusting 60’s executive? But that’s just what this one-off styling exercise (costing £400 of the PR department’s budget) for the ’67 Paris motor show turned into and, as a result, despite some 60,000 being made, this became an instant classic.

Based around the 1600GT four-door (although some two-door ones were made for export purposes), albeit with the Lotus suspension (a point often overlooked when such counterfeit Cortinas started to materialise, often from parts stolen from the real thing!) the 1600E (E for Executive) was the BMW 3 Series of its day, naturally without the sophistication and smoothness. But they were good enough to satisfy most of the 1970 England World Cup football team, all of which were given white ones bearing ‘GWC…H’ registration numbers to swan around in for a year, despite losing to West Germany that June!

Renowned Ford saloon racer, Jeff Uren, thought he had the answer to address this lack of power and pomp however. He looked at the new Ford 3-litre V6 engine and could see it would fit into the Cortina’s shell without too much trouble.

Uren’s ‘Savage’ was the blueprint for American-inspired big-engined, compact family cars that came to prominence during the 1970s, and received due acclaim, plus even enjoyed a Ford warranty (if only for the bodywork). But, as good as the stickler Uren was to seeing the job through to his satisfaction, you could tell it was a conversion rather than a proper factory job; transmission, brakes and, to a lesser extent handling, were the areas Ford was concerned about most if it was ever to ‘productionise’ such an idea, which it didn’t for a decade until the Mk4 Cortina was launched. Nevertheless, even at a costly £1365, that was £300 dearer than the Mk2 Lotus alternative, sales peaked during 1968/69 (before Ford’s own 3-litre Capri came along) with a regular 15 Savages turned out weekly. Comparing the car favourably with a Jaguar, Autocar wrote, “To us the Savage seems the ideal form of modern transport.”

The simple things of life

For many Cortina owners, the super and super swift Savage was something to dream about while driving their 1300 De Luxe, which was providing the simple, inexpensive, easy to maintain transport demanded. Cortina provided smartly styled family motoring that impressed on the drive and was good to drive, despite hardly being the height of sophistication (even the 1600E didn’t boast such niceties such as a passenger door lock). “The Cortina [1600 De luxe] cannot be described as a particularly quiet car…” opinioned Motor’s road test but admitted, “you get plenty of car for your money” which held a higher priority to many owners no doubt than raw power and sports handling. It was a true working man’s car, albeit only if you were of a certain size; thanks to Ford’s absurd pennypinching, using seat runners that dated back to the Anglia, which tipped you further down in the cabin the further the seat moved back, a point Motor highly criticised “for the sake of what…sixpence (2p)” it cried.

Penny pinching

Ford knew how to watch the pennies alright. It pioneered the cheap key-opening boot lock on the Mk1 and on the Mk2, saved a few more quid by dumping the old Solex carburettor in favour of its own cheaper ‘Autolite’ design which had fixed jets making the unit irreparable when worn. As a result, the aftermarket Zenith alternative became an almost mandatory fitment with secondhand buyers. Apart from an improved interior on the GT and 1600E versions for 1969, changes to the Mk2 during its hugely successful four-year run were remarkably few, and even when it seemed time to replace it with a Mk3 in 1970, sales were at their zenith as it consistently vied with BMC’s 1100/1300 the UK’s best seller, so much so that loyal dealers pleaded with Ford to leave the Cortina alone! Ford’s head Sam Toy commented as much at the launch of the all new Mk3 during the autumn of 1970. “The dealers couldn’t understand why on earth we were changing it. I said ‘Give it another year and it wouldn’t be as successful and getting back up is a darned sight harder than staying up there!’”.

However, the smooth change from the simplistic Mk2 to the more palatial Mk3 wasn’t half as easy as it was before. Ford, initially, committed its own Cardinal Sin by losing sight of what buyers wanted although, after a shaky start, the smoother Cortina for the 70s was accepted and did carry on where earlier versions left off. Perhaps the Mk2 wasn’t “The car you always promised yourself” like the Cortina-in-prettier-clothes Capri was, but this family-friendly Ford delivered what it promised with its practicality and pragmatism, be it in a 1300 or Lotus.

The car is the star

Cops and robbers, goodies and baddies regularly relied upon Mk2 Cortinas on the TV and big screen – John Thaw (Jack Reagan) in The Sweeney did both, a rather beat up scruffy four-door (1600 De Luxe?) which was the most realistic. Unlike the pristine 1600E that was far too good to crash in the first episode of Randall and Hopkirk. Private dick Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) was being chased by some hoods in the new fast Ford until the ghostly Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) blew a newspaper on to the windscreen, so causing it to crash against a lamp-post, yet without causing not so much as a scratch on it. At least Michael Caine (in Billion Dollar Brain) had the budget to smash out the windscreen in his new red 1500 GT.

Remember when… 1966

Continuing our look back at 50 years ago when the Mk2 Cortina was introduced

Moors murderers Ian Brady and his accomplice Myra Hindley were both sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of – officially – four helpless children that they abducted, and abused before murdering between 1963 and 1964; a crime that shocks half a century on. Hindley is now dead.

Only three channels to watch but some programmes were life-changing such as Cathy Come Home, a heart-warming play about a couple who fall on hard times and become homeless leading to changes in the law.

On 12 August three policemen stumbled upon a van which was to be used in a robbery in London before Harry Roberts opened fire and killed two of them, the third murdered by another gang member. It sparked the biggest manhunt the country has ever seen. Roberts was subsequently jailed and was recently released after 48 years.

Within days of the Cortina’s launch, the nation was horrified by the death of a town’s generation of children in South Wales when a coal slag tip slid down and engulfed a school in Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil killing 116 kids and 28 adults. The timing of the accident couldn’t have been worse; around 9am on the last day before half term when they were all at assembly, the hall area taking the biggest hit.

That August, Tony Benn puts through a bill which effectively outlaws the wonderful pirate radio stations, that revolutionised broadcasting in the UK, in 12 months’ time. The Beatles released their mould breaking Revolver album and the Beach Boys its Pet Sounds (pictured). Other hits ’66 include Summer in The City (Lovin’ Spoonful), Wild Thing (Troggs), Green Green Grass Of Home (Tom Jones), less the year’s best seller.

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