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Ford Cortina vs Vauxhall Victor vs Morris Marina vs Hillman Hunter

Go to any car show and you’ll invariably see a wide range of classics happily parked side by side. The cars may be diverse but w Published: 15th Mar 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Hate to call him an expert… but our editor has fair knowledge of all four, having owned every generation of Cortinas and a Hunter GLS plus has driven every Victor series as well as several Marinas. He largely concludes with the verdict but adds (after coming out of a 1600E 40 years ago) that the handling of his replacement Mk3 2000GT “wasn’t half as bad as the press painted it out to be at the time” although admits its suspension was further uprated from standard; a later GXL was much soggier! With its Holbay engine the Hunter GLS could have been a really capable sports saloon if the suspension had been properly sorted as “it was too skittish, especially in the wet” while, if nothing else, even basic 1.8 Marinas certainly provided “a lot of GT-like performance without the insurance costs”. Anderson almost bought one of the last VX490s in 1981 as it impressed him greatly “but all FE models have great overtaking guts and handle quite nicely”.

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Not everyone yearns to own a fancy Ferrari, even if they won the lottery – rather what really stirs the emotions the most is the “my mum and dad had one of those” factor. Yes, we’re talking humble family cars this month and what’s so wrong in that? Looks which bring back those fond memories coupled with the smell of that vinyl clad interior sharpening the senses – it all adds up to far more interesting memory lane motor than yet another super car pin up show off for many of us, don’t you think?

This family foursome is typical of the breed of saloons and estates that littered the driveways, supermarkets and schools back in the 1970s and 80s and while the vast majority have gone to that great scrapyard in the sky, there’s still enough of them around to tempt you back to good old pre Gatso days where families had time to go out for a Sunday drive just for the pleasure of it. Oh yes, we did…

This time though you’ll not be perched in the back, but in the driving seat to savour the simple delights of mundane motoring. But which car is best for playing happy families?

Which one to buy

1st Cortina | 2nd Victor | 3rd Marina | 4th Hunter

It’s a sad reflection on the state of our car manufacturing industry that the two British giant groups were struggling and it showed in their products where as the American-backed companies thrived, more so than Ford. Its Cortina went through five generations (technically there was no MkV, it was officially known as ‘Cortina 80’) as did Vauxhall’s Victor although this model was on borrowed time as soon as the Cavalier was introduced.

Where do you start with the Cortina? The Mk1 and Mk2 were simple fuss-free family ferriers where as from the Mk3 onwards the car became more palatial and upmarket, witness the Ghia trim introduced on the MkIV as well as power steering and a sweet 2.3 V6 option. For all that, the sporty S models were never as revered as the older GTs and especially the 1600E while there was no halo version such as the earlier Lotus lovelies. Ford never succeeded in replacing the old 1600E as the Mk3 2000E may have had the luxury and frippery but certainly not the class.

Vauxhall’s Victor had the march on the Ford – especially the FD range by three years – in many respects but it did not equate to showroom sales and they increasingly dwindled during the 1970s before it was replaced by another rebadged Opel; the Carlton. The Victor was always an honest if somewhat staid saloon burdened by the unfortunate ‘rot box’ reputation Luton’s products always suffered as a result for decades.

Without doubt, the Victor with the most character was the simple FB (1961-64) although as the design became more advanced with the FD the build quality never lived up to what was considered to be a Rover and Triumph rival in its day. The FE replacement was an improvement but was a curious size, being dimensionally midway between a Cortina and Granada. When (the rebadged Opel) Cavalier arrived Vauxhall moved the FE upmarket and ditched the Victor name in favour of simply the VX; but the range lasted just two years.

The ‘original’ VX, was the sportier VX4/90 albeit was more a rival to the MG Magnette and Humber Sceptre than the Cortina GT, majoring on touring luxury rather than performance. With the advent of the FD, it gained standard overdrive although the last of the line sported a five-speed gearbox and welcome more power. Vauxhall’s ace in the pack was the Ventora; a six-cylinder Cresta-powered Victor which can be likened to a 1960’s BMW 5 Series of its day and very competent lazy, yet sporty, saloon which was given its name by a certain Murray Walker…

Launched within weeks of each other, in October 1966, Rootes’ Arrow range was almost a carbon copy of the Mk2 Cortina but unlike the Ford, development quickly stagnated (not helped by the introduction of the superior if smaller Avenger) and apart from minor trim and appointment changes, remained much the same for the next 13 years. Mainstream models were Hillman’s cheaper Minx and Hunter with upmarket offshoots from Singer (Gazelle and Vogue) and Humber with its Rapier-engined Sceptre although a few Sunbeams were also made in 1970.

Sporty versions were the strangely named Hillman GT (basically a boy racer looking Minx with a Rapier engine to commemorate the car’s unexpected victory in the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon) and the equally oddly badged Hunter GLS of 1972 essentially a Hunter with the higher power Holbay-tuned (Rapier H120) engine. Aside from a not overly successful facelift on a shoe-string during the mid 70s precious little else changed although a plush American station wagon looking Humber Sceptre estate was introduced in 1974.

It’s a similar story for the Morris Marina although British Leyland did at least refresh this old fashioned when launched design during its 13 year lifespan, with much needed suspension upgrades for 1976 (Marina II), a new O-Series overhead camshaft engine a couple of years later and a major revamp when the car was renamed Ital (after the Italian styling studio) who, with hardly its best efforts, face-lifted the bodywork in 1980.

Fundamentally, the Marina replaced the Minor and used much the same running gear layout but with an upgunned 1275cc A-Series plus the 1798cc B-Series engines; two-door models were known as Coupés in a variety of trims depending on year, some pretty plush. The big talking point was the MGB-powered TC (replaced by the GT) in both body styles and could out perform the much-loved sports car with room for all the family. At the other end of the spectrum, the estates were highly roomy and practical and a good Cortina/Hunter alternative with the Vauxhall more tailored for style than hard work.

Anyone new to this sector of the classic market would probably steer towards the Cortina because it was progressively modernised but the numerous ‘Rootesmobiles’ were always considered to be quite classy and upmarket – the Singer models in the main – although in truth the personal preference probably lies in past memories of what car you were taken to school (or on holiday) in.

What’s the best to drive?

1st Victor | 2nd Cortina | 3rd Marina | 4th Hunter

A difficult one to decide as it largely depends on what you are after but overall perhaps the later FD and FE Vauxhalls just about edges it due to their better handling and gutsy overhead camshaft engines, a world away from raw roly-poly feel of the FC ‘101’ range, many of which still sported antiquated three-speed transmissions (right up to 1972 in fact!).

Thankfully, when the all new FD came along it all changed care of its ultra modern chassis based upon the Viva. Not that it’s not without faults mind; the engines are disappointingly breathless at high revs (only properly dialled out for 1976), the higher geared VX4/90s are scarcely any zippier than the humble Victor and all are none too economical for their respective sizes (1-5-2.3-litres, depending upon model and year) although overdrive – optional on certain Victors and Ventoras yet standard on the VX4/90 makes for less stressed cruising.

The later VXs added much welcome and needed refinement (early FE could be quite boomy) with standard power steering on the Ventora replacing GLS, but the former offered a very nice VIP special edition in 1973. The last of the line VX490 boasted a true five-speed gearbox too. The Mk1/Mk2 Cortinas had characters of their own, lost once the indifferent handling Mk3 took overa although this was greatly improved for 1974 and the successive MkIV and Cortina 80 are better still. And for their engine sizes, most Cortinas performed pretty well. Ignoring the GTs, 1600E and Lotus, the best are the (post Mk2) 2-litre ‘Pinto’ and the 2.3 V6 – both quicker than the iconic Lotus versions – with the V6 adding smoothness to the swiftness; a six-pot Ghia is a particularly nice saloon or estate indeed if you can obtain one.

Morris Marinas were heavily slated from launch for many things but chiefly the handling, the consequence of using an outdated Morris Minor layout but compounded by heavier, more powerful engines. But, unlike Rootes/Chrysler, British Leyland did at least have stabs at improving the situation with anti-roll bars and altered steering geometry in late 1975, the end result being fair enough handling.

Where the Morris always scored well was with its lusty engines and even the basic 72bhp 1.8 Super/HL/Special cars possessed GT-like pace and a good Marina can easily keep station with the heavier MGB. What let the Morris down varying build quality and lack of refinement but the TC/GT has the character of the MGB about it – and that can’t be bad – and while it’s no looker the Ital was a vast improvement to drive.

The 1725cc Hunter was also an innocuous but fairly fleet-of-foot saloon in standard trim; GTs were on par with the Cortinas with the Holbay-tuned Hunter GLS as quick as any Lotus even if this understated luxury four-door (which did well in production saloon car racing and in common with most of the Hunter range could be had with overdrive) lacked the same pedigree. The handling was never as sporty as the Ford and lack of progressive development in conjunction with constant cost cutting by its car-strapped maker means the earlier pre-1975 models are better. “A car with few outstanding facts or virtues” is how Motor described the Hunter in 1975 and sums the range up nicely.

Owning and running

1st Cortina | 2nd Marina | 3rd Hunter | 4th Victor

No contest here as the Ford badge is passport to easy ownership, even though Cortina components aren’t anything like as prolific as those for Escorts, for example. It’s mainly certain body parts as the mechanical bits are easy to come by plus there’s enormous parts interchangeability through the Ford ranges. There’s no shortage of respective Ford and Cortina owners clubs to choose from either.

Marina parts aren’t plentiful, but, like the Ford, the mechanical hardware can be found on many other BL products and all that you need can be found. Thanks to the unstinting efforts of The Association of Rootes Car Clubs, owning any Hunter shouldn’t prove too difficult as it was produced up to 1979 before being made in Iran as the Paykan right up to 2005 – complete with Avenger and Peugeot 504 engines with five-speed transmissions!

And The Winner Is...

1st Cortina | 2nd Victor | 3rd Hunter | 3rd Marina

You tell us! Although no head turners, all four have their merits so it’s very much a personal choice of what tugs the heartstrings the most. But on a purely objective basis the Cortina has to be the logical buy due to sheer choice, ease of ownership and the strength of specialists and owners clubs that comes with the badge but their prices are much higher than the others. As the Victor was successfully developed over successive generations it’s the next best plus they drive well although there’s considerably less ‘good ones’ around. Equal third goes to the Marina and Hunter – but you may think entirely differently…


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