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Ford Cortina

Ford Cortina Published: 31st Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Cortina
Ford Cortina
Ford Cortina
Ford Cortina
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Codenamed Archbishop, but the practical and pragmatic Ford Cortina provided just what a broad buying church wanted for 20 years. And maybe still does…

Cortina gave the paying public what they wanted the most; value for money. After seeing BMC lose around a fi ver on every Mini it made, when the Cortina was being designed, simplicity over sophistication was the watchword and as a result it was the complete opposite to the BMC 1100 which was launched at the same time in late 1962.

Primitive it may well have been in comparison to the front-wheel driven, transverse powered, fl uid suspended alternatives from the Midlands but it kept running costs down to please fl eet buyers and always boasted big boots for the family motorist – no wonder it became a UK favourite and remained so even once the Sierra replaced it.

With a range spanning from a 1200 Basic to a race winning Lotus, there was a Cortina Mk1 for everybody, and this even included Henry Ford II.

Folklore has it that, when Mr Ford was invited to test the British and German designs, before their respective launches, our boys had a secret weapon – the GT. Ford had used a hotter 1500 engine for the racing and rallying, so it wasn’t difficult to make a usable road unit from it. Just before the meeting, a set of GT badges – purchased from high street store Halfords so it’s said – were stuck on at the last minute. “What’s this?“ asked Henry Ford II. The UK big wigs replied that it was just an idea. “Can I try it?” he asked. Well, you don’t say no to the big boss and the son of Edsel revelled in the 78bhp power, taut GT suspension and assuring disc brakes. Upon returning, he demanded the car was made! Well, you can’t get higher official approval than that and the GT accounted for some 25 per cent of the million plus Mk1 sales.

Enter the MK2

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 – again at the height of its considerable powers.

The original Cortina was simple and staid, but safe for the fleet manager and family buyer, thus equally conservative UK motorists took to it in their 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 denying 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 it the next best thing to full blown air conditioning.

Cortina was two-and four-door saloons in Fleet, Deluxe and Super trims plus the practical and pragmatic estate. For the first time, the latter 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-a hurry 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. 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.

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.

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 Lotus-powered 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 Autocar) that sold better too – 4032 against 3301 Mk1s. But king Cortina simply 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) the 1600E (E for Executive) was the BMW 3 Series of its day, naturally without such sophistication and similar 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 3-2 to West Germany that June!

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 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 seamless 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 and, worst of all, were badly put together plus the new Pinto engine was either drinking oil or wearing camshafts.

Ford gave a pre-production GXL gladly for science programme Tomorrow’s World to blow and then reverse the film for its opening title…

A major nine week strike at Ford gave engineers time to sort things out and after a shaky start, the smoother if plasticy all new (engines, chassis, suspension etc) Cortina for the 70s was accepted and did carry on where earlier versions left off with more performance (the 2000GT was as fast as the Lotus Cortina) more luxury (although Ford never truly replaced the classy 1600E) and more 70’s glam and glitz. However, the floppy handling wasn’t addressed until 1974 by which time the Mk4 was well and truly on the cards.

By now the competition was closing in fast plus buyers’ tastes were evolving, leading to a top Ghia trim plus smooth V6 versions – but discerning motorists could now just about afford an Audi or a basement BMW or Mercedes.

The final fling was the facelift ‘Cortina 80’ of 1979 which quickly unofficially became known as the Mk5 in the trade. It looked similar but in fact virtually every panel was new or revised. A successful revamp but the new decade demanded more sophistication with style and the Cortina name conjured up neither so the inevitable replacement of 1982 became the hatchback Sierra – and such was the buying backlash to the dubbed ‘jellymould’ that Ford had to introduce a booted saloon to appease traditional motorists called the Sapphire. But that’s another story… only to add that the Cortina still remains a family favourite.

Why we love them

Certain quarters of the press derided them but Cortina was a working class hero, preferred by pragmatic owners less concerned about revolutionary powerplants and 10/10ths cornering abilities in favour of the ability to get them fixed without fuss or financial fear. Cortinas always did what they said on the tin “you get plenty of car for your money” admitted one Motor road test after criticising the car for obvious penny pinching.

Yet anybody who owned a Mk1 GT, the 1600E – or one of the upmarket later variants – had a right to feel contended with their choice. Perhaps this family favourite wasn’t “The car you always promised yourself ” like the Cortina-in-prettier-clothes Capri always ever was, but this frumpier Ford delivered what it promised – be it in a 1300 or Lotus. No wonder Cortinas were a religion to so many of us.



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