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Ford Corsair

Published: 14th Apr 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Corsair
Ford Corsair
Ford Corsair
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Sail Time

Ford’s Corsair was a more imposing Cortina for the better off and understandably it never sold as well. But it was the better car contends Andrew Roberts

In October 1963, the avid motorist might have eagerly read the latest edition of Ford Times to learn more of the new “Cool, Keen Corsair”. The magazine’s road test of this fine machine was none other than Jim Clark who sped a selection of the Ford Consul Corsair around Chobham, learning in the process that the 1.5-litre engine “has a remarkably powerful punch even at low rpm” and that the doors “close like a dream”. It was also Mr. Clark who was seen pouring champagne over the first Corsair to leave the Halewood production line and in the company of top model Jean Shrimpton, the latter decorating the bonnet, in an especially beguiling print advertisement. The message was clear; women would want you, men would admire you and Morris Oxford owners would envy you.

But Ford had not neglected the practicalities either; beneath the T-Bird- inspired styling was a 21cuft boot. As Ford themselves stated in its brochure under the headline Around the World in Forty Three Days – “On October 12th, 1963 two very weary men climbed out of a battered looking Corsair at Dagenham to face a battery of photographers and Ford top brass. They were Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers, and they had just completed the most fantastic reliability demonstration in the history of motoring, encircling the earth in just 43 days, notching up a total of 29,991 land miles”.


Project Buccaneer was a clever move by Ford to squeeze more profit from the Cortina, launched in ‘62 as it used as many Cortina parts as was possible, yet the Corsair did not immediately resemble its downmarket cousin. One reason for this was its extra length – Ford extended the Cortina’s floor by three inches – but the sharp T-bird inspired nose and some clever external detailing, such as door handles incorporated in the chrome trim lines, gave the Consul Corsair a sharply contemporary middle-class appeal. Furthermore, clever deployment of sound-deadening material, and the double-skinned steelwork would make the new Ford more refined than the Cortina – just close one of their respective doors and you can feel the difference. As one magazine put it, you either viewed the Corsair as a rich man’s Cortina or a poor man’s Zephyr Mk III which was also launched the same year.

The initial line-up was standard, deluxe and GT with a choice of two or four-door bodies although the former was only available to special order. The standard model (only one of which is believed to survive in the UK) came with a four- speed column gearchange and virtually no equipment asides from a steering wheel for £653 1s 3d. A grander de luxe offered duo-tone interior finish, windscreen washers and even a second sun visor plus the welcome option of separate front seats and a floor change. Meanwhile, drivers who considered themselves to be the Rotary Club’s answer to J Clark or G Hill were tempted to part with £816 3s 9d for the GT, the Corsair that had it all just like the lighter more lithe Cortina GT.

Small wonder that by the end of the year there was a 12 week waiting list for the Corsair to be parked in the drive of your Wimpey built link-detached villa. It was as much a sign of 1963-vintage affluence as dining on Chicken Maryland and Ananas au Kirsch once a week.

One link to the previous decade was the prefix on both the Corsair and the Cortina but when Ford badged its 1962 four cylinder ‘E’ class model as a Zephyr, the Consul badge helped to establish its new generation of family cars with their traditional customer bases. The prefix was finally dropped in 1964, the same year that automatic transmission was offered as an optional extra. For 1965 the Corsair could be had in the vibrant new colour scheme of ‘Malibu Gold’, with which put your neighbour’s Victor 101 in the shade.

Two other major changes occurred in October 1965 – the first was the fitting of the excellent Aeroflow ventilation system, the second was that the Corsair became the first private car built by Ford to be powered by the Transit’s 60-degree 1.7- litre V4 engine. It was a move heralded by Ford as one that transformed the Corsair into “The Car That Is Seen But Not Heard”, a car with “V-Power”. Meatier front disc brakes were fitted to compensate for the larger engine.


V-engine was a radical step in the Corsair’s sector of the market, but not all were taken with unit. Despite Ford’s claims that the V4 Corsairs were “elegant, swift, exciting, comfortable”, drivers complained that any gains in performance were marred by a marked decrease in the refinement that was the model’s raison d’etre, with complaints that the V4 unit was far less smooth than the Kent unit. The 1.7 was supplanted in late 1966 by a 2-litre unit equipped with a twin choke Weber carburettor but even thus powered, the Corsair was not the most smooth or swift running of machines.

For the exceptionally well-heeled Corsair owner 1966 saw the debut of two coachbuilt versions. Crayford offered an exceptionally handsome drophead conversion whilst Abbotts of Farnham, who had produced station wagon versions of the Zephyr/Zodiac for over a decade, offered the Corsair Estate, complete with a GRP tailgate. Brochures for the estate – featuring a pre-007 George Lazenby – promised even more glamour than the standard saloon could offer and if the five-door body offered no more luggage space than the Cortina it was a very good looking machine.

The Corsair 2.0 litre GT Estate provided a quirky alternative to the Volvo 221 offering “The best of both worlds – speed, comfort and space”, according to Autocar.

And the following year saw the launch of a Corsair that put even the Cabriolet in the shade, one that bespoke pure class from its star-studded hub-caps to its vinyl roof – the 2000E. For a mere £1008, against the £1300 Rover asked for its 2000, the proud owner could drive a Corsair with a walnut veneered dashboard, a MW/LW radio, cigarette lighter, cut-pile carpet and lights for the boot and engine bay. Motor may have sniffed that the aforementioned hubcaps were “ornate” but 2000E owners knew that they had finally joined an elite world of semi-regular outings to The Talk of the Town and wild all night parties accompanied by the happening sounds of The Seekers. Yet for all that the 2000E was no 1600E and was £40 the dearer.

Production was transferred to Dagenham in 1969 and in autumn of the following year the Corsair, together with the Mk2 Cortina, was replaced by the Cortina Mk3 after 310,000 examples were built.

Was the Corsair one-upmanship over Cortina drivers? On the road it certainly exuded more luxury and smoothness and was much less Dagenham dustbin than the Cortina it was based upon and yet it was as cheap and easy to run.

The V4s were certainly no advancement over the in line Kent engines and it was only a hurried revise, which saw 88bhp, that gave 2-litre Corsair drivers something to crow about as well as powering a much overlooked Capri GT at the same time.

In 2000E form it’s a car that’s as quick as the Cortina 1600E, just as plush yet now much cheaper to buy – if you can find one. All it lacks is the character of that Mk2. By the time Practical Motorist tested one in ‘69 the Vee’s reliability weakness to sheer its timing gear and oil pump drive was becoming well known but the magazine still concluded that: “This 2000E is a car that grows on one” adding, “The practical man will also appreciate the accessibility in the engine compartment”. There again he probably needed to?

Survivors of all types of Corsairs are now rare, especially the Consul-badged models. Nearly 50 years after its debut, it stills conveys a sense of dramatic style combined with memories of an era when it was an unofficial law that everyone in the UK had to have a fairly affluent uncle who drove a gold Corsair…

When The Car Was The Star

In recent years the Corsair has been starring in George Gently and River Cottage plus featured roles in Made in Dagenham but a ’69 V4 blows up in The Persuaders whilst a 2000E lurks menacingly in the background of The Protectors. But possibly the best show to feature a Corsair is the white Consul version in the Murdersville episode of The Avengers.

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