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Ford Cortina MK1/MK2

Family Favourite Published: 19th Jun 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 1600E
  • Worst model: 1200 standard
  • Budget buy: 1200 De Luxe
  • OK for unleaded?: No; an additive is needed
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4279x1587mm (Mk1)
  • Spares situation: Generally good
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Barely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
1600E is the Cortina most hanker for thanks to the posh interior 1600E is the Cortina most hanker for thanks to the posh interior
GT Cross-flow pokey but harsh GT Cross-flow pokey but harsh
and those ‘knick-able’ Ro-Style wheels and those ‘knick-able’ Ro-Style wheels
Rear end always stayed the same apart from neater badging. Rust is biggest worry Rear end always stayed the same apart from neater badging. Rust is biggest worry
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Dagenham dustbin it may have been dubbed but the homely Cortina makes a great working class hero classic

Pros & Cons

Practical, easy to maintain, good club support, affordable
Many are optimistically priced, really good ones are becoming harder to find
£1000-10,000

Dagenham dustbin it may have been dubbed but the homely Cortina makes a great working class hero classic

The Cortina is 50 this year, and while it doesn’t have the sex appeal of the MGB or Lotus Elan that also debuted in 1962, Ford’s family favourite changed – and enhanced – many more lives than these desirable British sportsters. The first car to be built in the UK using proper product planning methods, the Cortina was a paragon of efficiency, with its lightweight construction; body engineer Dennis Roberts was drafted in from the Bristol Aeroplane Company to pare things back as far as possible, without compromising rigidity. The result was a car that was spacious, lively, frugal and comfortable – but most importantly of all, it was eminently affordable to buy and run too.

The Cortina Mk1 would prove such a smash hit that it went on to sell over a million examples in its four-year lifespan – a feat that the Mk2 edition would match (plus help launch the Hyundai car company). However, despite such ubiquity in period, the attrition rate has been pretty savage to the point where finding a good example nowadays takes some searching; here’s how to make sure you don’t buy a heap.

History

The Cortina story started back in 1960, when Ford of Britain’s chairman Sir Patrick Hennessey paid a visit to Ford US’s Dearborn HQ. In those days, Ford’s various outposts tended to work independently of each other, but Hennessey discovered on this trip that Ford Germany was developing a car which would leave Ford UK’s products for dead. Codenamed ‘Cardinal’, it would feature front-wheel drive, a compact V4 engine and very modern styling.

Hennessey hot-footed it back to the UK and told his chief product planner Terence Beckett that he needed to develop a new standard setter that would be as desirable and popular as the Mini or Beetle – and he’d have just two years in which to do it. Beckett’s team immediately set to work on the ‘Consul 225’ as it was initially known – a car suited to Britain’s new motorways.

The project was codenamed ‘Archbishop’ and within 21 months had progressed from full-size clay model to a production-ready machine – a record for the industry. Even more impressively, it came in under budget. Known as the Consul Cortina 113E, the two-door model went on sale in September 1962 and essentially it relied on a lot of Anglia 105E know how and mechanicals so it was utterly – almost boringly – orthodox. But that was the Cortina’s attraction because unlike its fierce rival, the BMC 1100 which was also launched the same year, the Ford’s simplicity made it a firm favourite with fleet managers who feared front-wheel drive and ‘wet’ suspension. And the Cortina came with a massive boot that was great for families and sales reps alike.

Yet under all that conventionality lurked a fair bit of innovation, not least the adoption of aircraft-style stress and strength calculations. This allowed surplus metal to be shed without affecting the car’s durability. Ford always made play of the fact that a Cortina weighed typically 150lb less than a rival and the savings in manufacturing metal were substantial – 75 tonnes per day!

Priced at £639 (but the heater was a £17.19p extra!) first there was just a 48.5bhp 1198cc engine fitted, but buyers could choose between standard or De Luxe models, and within a month there was also the option of a four-door saloon. By January 1963 a much worthier 60bhp 1498cc engine was available too, standard on the Super and optional on the de Luxe. The range continued to grow further with the introduction of a five-door estate in March 1963, a month before the GT went on sale. This sporty edition packed a 78bhp 1498cc engine (with the famous 28/36 DCD Weber cabrurettor, uprated suspension and disc brakes at the front and while it lacked the charisma of the Lotus alternative it was cheaper and a whole lot more reliable!

The story goes that the Cortina GT was quickly mocked up to show something special to Henry Ford II when he visited the UK. The engine was already used in the Capri so the Cortina was an obvious candidate but the end product was so much better (and lighter) than the Capri that Detroit demanded Dagenham make it. And so the affordable sports saloon was born.

From December 1963 there was an automatic option for 1498cc cars, then in September 1964 a facelift brought a more expensive looking fullwidth grille, disc front brakes, the brilliant Aeroflow ventilation, interior upgrades and a touch more power. From here on it was a question of Ford rationalising the range, with the entry-level saloon dropped in September 1965, the final saloon of any kind being built in September 1966 and the last estate in November.

But Ford wasn’t giving up on the Cortina of course. Despite its undoubted success, Ford didn’t rest on its laurels and in 1966 a cleverly reskinned Cortina was unveiled; the MkII. There was a choice of 1.3 and 1.5-litre (the former was a down-sized version of the latter) engines, while buyers could choose from options such as an automatic gearbox, column gearchange and bench front seat plus a thunderous Zodiacpowered version called the Savage (from ex racer Jeff Uren) if they wanted.

With its cleaner, more modern looks, added interior space and a better turning circle, the more cultured Cortina got off to a great start, with sales easy to come by, but that didn’t stop Ford from further expanding the range in 1967 with the arrival of a line up of estates along with the MkII Lotus Cortina, this time made by Ford not Chapman for durability it always lacked. Also, and at long last, the GT also got revised gear ratios to rid itself of a dreadfully low second gear cog which had the engine revving its head off before it got to 50!

For 1968, the Kent engine was extensively modified with cross-flow cylinder heads while the old 1500 was jacked up to 1.6-litres. Apart from making the enginemore free-revving, the 1300 saw its power raied by 5bhp to 58bhp and the standard 1600 was only 7bhp shy of the old 1500GT – the sporty 1.6 now boasting a healthy 88bhp.Then in September the iconic 1600E arrived, complete with 1600GT mechanicals and Lotus-spec suspension. But the real tempter was the appointments which did the Zodiac proud. Equipment included a walnut dash and door cappings along with comprehensive instrumentation.

It’s said that the 1600E started out as a £400 project where coachbuilders Hoopers was commissioned to come up with a luxurious interior and it’s a sign of how lovingly the car was received that some 55,000 were made and it was the first Cortina to gain its own owners club even though The Motor reckoned the “indifferent ride” and “too much noise” meant that the Executive tag was a tad optimistic.

In 1968 a revised range was launched, with a delightful remote gearchange for all models and reclining seats available as an option (but standard on the 1600E) – there was also a new dash and revised seats. The electrics gained more fuses, plus the grille was altered. But really the four-year reign of the MkII, saw relatively little development not least due to the fact that Ford clearly got it right, judging by the sales of around a quarter of a million each year.

Driving

When Motor tested one of the first Consul Cortinas it was the car’s size, price and comfort that impressed the most. The magazine tested a plain and simple two-door saloon albeit with individual front seats and a floor change; a bench front seat was optional along with a column change. It wasn’t just the cabin space as a whole that impressed though; even tall or large drivers could be accommodated because of the ample front seat space available,

Nippy, even with just a 1198cc engine, the Cortina could achieve a 75mph top speed; as Motor put it: “Our Cortina was more at ease when travelling briskly than when pottering… Once above 40mph in top gear, the Cortina was thoroughly effortless in its manner right up to the wind-assisted highest speed of about 80mph”. Even more impressively, the reviewers claimed that: “Even with a full load of passengers on board, the Cortina pulled extremely well on hills”.

One of the chief reasons for the Cortina’s peppy performance from just a 1200 was its lightness. Tipping the scales at a little over 15cwt (787kg), to put it in perspective, today’s equivalent Focus is almost double the poundage – indeed an original Lotus Elise is only fractionally lighter at 723kg!

So if Motor liked the performance, it liked the ride even more, stating that: “It comes as something of a surprise to encounter the sort of riding smoothness which one normally associates with expensive and heavy cars… Even at quite low speeds, big and sharp bumps are swallowed up, yet the ride does not become unduly lively at high speeds”.

When the weekly tested the upmarket Cortina 1500 it was just as impressed by the comfort and performance, this time achieving an 80mph top speed. The 1500GT that it tested later in the year would prove just as comfy, and even faster thanks to its twin-choke Weber; the magazine notched up a rousing 91mph top speed.

On to the Mk II and it was much the same again although Motor wasn’t raving over the new Cross-flow engine, claiming that it wasn’t as smooth as the old unit (due to the heavier pistons employed). “To the average owner the advantages of the new engine are not dramatically conspicuous,” it said, although with a 0-60 skit in 15 seconds admitted that for a family car “acceleration is now very lively.”

it went on and commended the new turning circle which was better than a Mini and rivalled the Triumph Herald. “The Cortina’s behaviour is so completely predictable and viceless that even hard provocation on a test track failed to reveal any bad manners.”

Of course the 1600E was well received and a 0-60 in 11.8 seconds was impressive pace back in ’68 but again it was criticised for its surprising harshness at the legal limit but praised for it’s handling thanks to that Lotus chassis. “It will take corners at speed that you think must provoke a tail slide yet you come out thinking ‘Gosh I could have gone through that even faster’ ”.

Coincidentally, Luton-based LuMo offered a 1600E with the Lotus engine for £1400 but the real dark horse in the range was the GT Estate, made to special order. Offering the practicality of the mainstream station wagon with GT verve it was very much in a class of its own. Costing £1100 (£200 dearer than the 1600E saloon – and £15 more than a Lotus) quite rightly Autocar labelled the car expensive for a Cortina “but not for what it offers.”

Prices

The Lotus-fettled Cortinas are easily the most valuable Mk1 and Mk2 Cortinas, but we’ve excluded them from this guide because they warrant an article to themselves (and get it-ed). That leaves just the regular models, with projects worth anywhere between £100 and £500. Good examples of the smaller-engined models fetch £1000-£3,000, while those with the bigger engines are worth an extra £500-£1000.

GTs and 1600Es are worth the most, naturally; worthwhile cars cost £4000-£6000, while really nice examples fetch between £7500 and £10,000; absolute minters can be worth even more. As a rule, two-doors carry a premium, automatics are worth less than manuals, and estates are worth about the same as an equivalent four-door saloon. The Ford Cortina (MK1-Mk5) Owners Club, who helped withthis feature and well worth joining even if you don’t own one yet, estimates that there’s well over 600 left so you can be quite picky.

What To Look For

  • Rot is endemic and original panels have disappeared, so check everywhere carefully, inside and out. Work your way around the car methodically, starting at the front offside corner. The area around the headlamps corrodes readily along with the front bumper supports, the anti-roll bar mountings, the wing bottoms and the wheelarches.
  • Also inspect the MacPherson strut tops, inner wings and bulkhead; if the latter needs repairs, you’ll need to remove the front wings, which are welded on but flitch plates for the suspension tops can be still be found at autojumbles.
  • As you work your way along the car, check the bottoms of the doors, the A-posts and the sills. Don’t miss the B-posts or the closing panels for the rear doors, the rear wing bottoms and wheelarches plus the rear valance and boot lid. Floorpans rust too, the jacking points can dissolve, and so can the main members above the rear axle. The rear spring and shock absorber mountings also give problems.
  • Panel supply remains pretty good and NOS regularly surfaces at car shows. New front wings can go for £600 so be warned.
  • Whichever one of the various engines is fitted to the car you’re inspecting, it’ll be cheap and easy to overhaul, unless it’s a Lotus. At worst you’ll need to buy a whole new unit, but they’re cheap and plentiful enough so it won’t be a problem.
  • All the standard Mk1 powerplants were based on the pre-Crossflow Kent engine; MkII powerplants feature a Crossflow design. Engine rebuilds are straightforward, although some parts are getting scarce, including pistons and blocks; bank on spending at least £1000 on a DIY rebuild.
  • The first sign of trouble will be noisy valve gear, normally down to worn rockers, cam followers and the camshaft itself – by that stage the engine needs a top-end rebuild, although being ohv the camshaft itself is housed in the block.
  • Worn timing chains also cause problems – listen for rattle from the front of the engine – but compared with all these potential maladies, it’s worn rings and bores that will blow the biggest hole in your wallet. Fumes from the oil filler cap and blue smoke from the exhaust will give the game away – spot these and a bottom end rebuild lies in store.
  • All manual Cortinas boasted four ratios; from September 1968 a completely different ‘box was fitted to the MkII for a slicker change, but the configuration was the same and the two aren’t interchangeable.
  • Synchromesh wearing out on second gear is the first sign of trouble, along with the transmission jumping out of top gear. If you’re lucky it’s because there’s a broken spring in the gearchange fork rod, or the screw and lock nut which holds the selector fork rod together may have worked loose.
  • But if luck isn’t on your side it could be more serious – the gearbox coupling dogs or selector fork rod could be suffering from serious wear. If this is the case, it’s likely that there’s major wear in the rest of the gearbox, in which case a reconditioned unit is the best solution. You can expect to pick one up for around £400. Gear lever ‘zzzzz’ is common; just worn bushes.
  • There isn’t much that goes wrong with the Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic, but they aren’t that easy to track down.
  • Pinion seals can leak oil from the differential, so have a close look to see if there are any damp patches that give the game away. Take the car for a test drive and listen out for droning or whining as the diff doesn’t like six figure mileages.
  • Cortinas have a steering box, which was never that precise. Expect to have an inch of play at the steering wheel. While you’re checking the steering by rocking the wheel from side to side, get somebody to see what’s happening to the ball joints and the steering idler assemblies. Severe play in these will be immediately obvious.
  • Check the drag link pin and bushes which link the idler and steering box. New repro pins and bushes are available, but they’re not as durable as the originals. Rubber items cost £13.50 apiece while polyurethane ones are £12 per pair. While you’re at it, also check the bottom ball joints. Rebuild kits are £24 per side, or complete units are £75 a pair.
  • MacPherson struts were fitted to these cars, but pre-August 1967 examples have an upper mounting that incorporates a thrust race ball bearing, which give problems. Lack of lubrication and moisture getting in lead to it getting stiff, but later cars were fitted with tapered rubber bushes which don’t give problems. At least you can swap the struts yourself, although it is a bit involved – you’ll also need a spring compressor to do it. The units aren’t interchangeable unless you replace the whole of the strut, wholesale.
  • The rear hub bearings are a pain to replace, as they need 1200lb of pressure to remove them and the same to put them back. So ensure there’s no play by jacking up the back of the car and rocking the top and bottom of each wheel to see if there’s any movement.
  • If there’s a lot of shaking from the front wheels when you take the car for a test drive, it’s probably because the wheels are out of balance – something that Fords with MacPherson strut front suspension are particularly sensitive to.
  • The braking system is straightforward, and apart from most pre-September 1964 cars, all Mk1 Cortinas had front disc brakes with drums at the rear – in the case of the latter the cylinders can leak or seize. Pipes also need careful scrutiny, as they were originally steel, although most have been replaced by now with copper and kunifer piping.
  • Decent interior trim is virtually impossible to find, so don’t underestimate the task of reviving a tatty cabin. Seat frames can break while carpet sets and trim panels can get damaged – original or decent used trim is extinct, but new repro seat covers, headlinings and door panels are available from Aldridge Trimming. They’re of superb quality but a full resto will be dear.
  • The electrical system is extremely simple, and there are no standard problems that crop up. From September 1968 there was (at last!) a fusebox fitted, for the lighting circuit only. Although these don’t play up, they do go brittle and if you break yours you’ll struggle to find a replacement. Other than that, most things are easy enough to source, but not everything.

Three Of A Kind

BMC 1100/1300
BMC 1100/1300
It was no wonder this hogged the UK best-seller slot for years; its spacious interior, superb ride comfort (courtesy of Hydrolastic suspension) and a multitude of badges that included Austin, Morris, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas. There were saloon or estate editions offered, with 1098cc or 1275cc A-Series engines, but now it’s a question of buying whatever you can lay your hands on.
Triumph Herald
Triumph Herald
For affordability, club support, ease of maintenance and practicality the Herald is more than a match for the Cortina. But there’s no four-door option while the estates – now very rare – were three-door only. However, there’s a convertible option and while there were only 948cc, 1147cc or 1296cc engine options, if you fancy something sporty there’s always the ultrasmooth six-cylinder Vitesse.
Vauxhall Victor FB/FC
Vauxhall Victor FB/FC
While the Cortina, 1100/1300 and Herald are fairly plentiful, you’ll have to search hard to find one of these. Sadly the FB doesn’t have the charismatic trans-Atlantic styling of the F-Series but rots almost as badly! However, track down a good saloon and you’ll have comfort, practicality and serious affordability – plus a very unusual classic. FCs roomier but heavier’ VX4/90s are no Cortina GT rival.

Verdict

Although there was a Cortina for everyone when they were new, the rate of attrition for some of the lowlier editions means true poverty-spec cars are now very hard to find. Cars that are more desirable (and rarer) such as estates and two-doors aren’t worth any more than other derivatives, but they’re harder to find. The estate makes a brilliantly practical classic, but they’re usually sold before an advert ever gets printed which is why joining a club is essential. Most of the surviving Cortinas are 1600Es and Lotuses – De Luxes and Supers are now very thin on the ground, and of those that are left, few are in really good condition. Just about any mechanical malady you’re likely to encounter can be knocked into shape cheaply and easily. But overlook bodywork glitches and things are very different, so don’t dismiss a car with a good body but mediocre running gear.



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