This particular COAL came into my ownership in a somewhat strange story. My best friend’s mother was a very hard-working librarian who was raising three children pretty much on her own. In that sort of situation a little solid reliability is a valued commodity, which helps explain her 1964 VW Beetle family car chugging on through our high school years. In fact, this quality of reliability can be taken for granted, so when my friend urged his mom to buy another car around 1969, the idea of another VW did not seem like a good one. There was obviously more to life than just getting there, and (at least by the automotive magazines) there were more modern vehicles that promised to make those journeys a little more memorable. As far as my friend’s family was concerned this would prove to be very true.
The vehicle of choice was a two-door red Fort Cortina GT: 2,180 lbs, 88 hp from its 1600 cc “Kent” ohv four, four-speed standard transmission and radial tires. The Ford salesmen discouraged them from special ordering this car and encouraged the purchase of a four-door Torino. Undeterred, they proudly took delivery of a vehicle very much like the one pictured at the top (the wheels were not anywhere near as stylish).
About a week after they took delivery, my friend kindly let me test drive it–and after I figured out the four- speed (I had watched my father row the four-speed column shift on his two-stroke Saab, so I transposed it to the floor) I found it to be a really nice ride. Things looked good for them; library hours freed up the vehicle for my friend’s after school use, and the heater was a lot better than the VW’s.
The next 20 months or so encapsulated what the British Auto industry had to contend with. Apparently it was one of many such sagas, a somewhat primordial class action suit by Cortina owners that percolated through the U.S. legal system later. I was on the periphery of nearly all of this, hearing mostly the disappointment from all of them when, as his mom pithily put it (in a turn of phrase bespeaking the benefit of a Wellesley education), “It cost (me) $300 every time it left the driveway”.
By the time I came into possession of it, the towing and repairs were being done by a patient nearby neighborhood mechanic (the aforementioned Angelo). With the inexplicable failure of the clutch (at less than 40K miles) his mom decided memorable was not enough and besides, she needed to get to work. As the trade-in value was $400 “as is”, my father and I made a virtue out of our ignorance and bought it, also paying the towing charge.
My ownership was nowhere near as exciting.The clutch problem turned out to be a ruptured hydraulic line, fixable by a simple part and very thin arms. For a few weeks I had delusions of somehow setting it up as a sports car and even sprung for a rear anti-sway bar from JC Whitney (don’t ask!). But the actual costs of doing much, my economic circumstance and, frankly, my boring style of driving soon disabused me of any of these notions. I did put my first stereo in it (8 track tape deck, for $19.95) which was a lot better than AM radio. The Cortina probably deserved a more exciting owner–I sold it about two years later for what I paid, and changed over to a far more pedestrian vehicle.