(first posted 2/1/2014) The Ford Cortina Mk3 enjoyed a high profile. It was a commercial success with a strong following across a huge range of buyers. It was the automotive Swiss Army knife: there was something in the Cortina’s armoury for every purpose.
Need a car to carry a family of four or five on holiday? Try a 1600L saloon.
Need some space for kids and dogs and everything else–look at a 1600L estate.
A car to run three or four growing kids to school and all the other day-to-day stuff? A 1300 saloon should do, and it’ll be able to get you to Grandma’s at the weekend too, no problem.
A rising profile in sales and marketing for widgets? A 1600XL saloon should be offered. Big widgets you say? Then a 1600XL estate. Heavy widgets? A 2000L estate.
Need to show you’re at the edge of style and fashion, that you know where taste is going? 1600XL saloon, perhaps with metallic paint or in a 1970s bright colour?
Had enough of the same old from BMC? Well, a 1600L saloon is what your Morris Oxford should have been by now.
Had enough of BMC’s quality issues? Try a 2000XL, with the unstressed engine.
Small children? Well, they don’t mix that well with rear doors but they’ll always bend as necessary–a 1300 2-door saloon sounds ideal.
A sports profile but you need a decent boot space or space for the kids at the weekend? A 2000GT saloon, 2 or 4 door would do–think of it as a Capri with a decent back seat.
Just made it to senior management level? A 2000GXL saloon with every luxury offered by a Triumph 2000 or Rover 2000 but with a big cost saving.
Ford Escort now too small for you and yours? A 1300L saloon will tell the neighbours you’re doing OK as well.
Want to move down from the dated and heavy Zodiac or Austin Westminster? Again, 2000GXL will have all you’re used to, and you’ll save a lot of fuel.
Running a taxi business with airport runs? Need a lot of space and capacity for people? A 2000 estate with taxi pack and strengthened rear suspension.
Police car, capable of taking some stick from the Bobbies and their passengers? 2000 saloon, with police kit.
Undercover policeman? Nothing is more anonymous than Britain’s best selling car in a discreet colour.
Hire car business? Well, no one is going to go away because they’re cautious of driving a Cortina, or unsure of the impression they’ll make. It’s not a Renault 16, after all.
Want something a bit different to everyone else? Check out the option packs–vinyl roof, wheels, fog lights, a radio, a better radio, an eight track stereo, metallic paint.
Even more distinction? Look into the specialist Ford X-pack range? Upgrade your brakes, suspension, wheels, engine (in that order, I suggest).
You like your car but can afford a bit more this time – trade it up for 1600 or a 2000, L to XL, XL to GXL, the Mk4 will have a V6 option soon
A failed computer expert who is hired as a local radio station’s crime investigator? A red 1600L estate is the obvious choice
OK, a little bit of fun there, but I think you get the idea.
The Cortina originally appeared in 1962 at the same time as the Morris 1100 (ADO16), and although it was not a direct response to the ADO16, the two can be looked at together. The Ford was a little larger, had a bigger boot, a range of engine options (1200 and 1500 cc) and body styles (2 door, 4 door and an estate). It was as conventional as the Morris was unconventional, with four-cylinder OHV engines, four speed gearbox, leaf sprung rear suspension and contemporary style by Roy Brown, of Edsel fame (or infamy).
The Morris had, of course, the BMC/Issigonis transverse engine, front wheel drive, hydrolastic suspension and Pininfarina styling. Partly it was a choice between front wheel or rear wheel drive, modern or conventional, comfort or a big boot. Fleet buyers preferred the Cortina, partly because of the perception of increased maintenance costs for the Morris.
The product planning and costing of the Cortina was completed meticulously, by a team led by product planner Terry Beckett, which highlights another difference between Ford and BMC. Legend has it that the steering wheel was redesigned three times to reduce manufacturing costs by a few pennies. Beckett also led the team that tore down and discovered that the Mini cost £50 (or 10%) more than BMC were charging for it. Cortina production was at Ford’s historic Dagenham plant.
Ford struck lucky with a certain Colin Chapman, who was looking for an engine to power his own lightweight sports car, and asked Harry Mundy of Autocar to design a twin-cam version of the Ford Kent engine, used in the first Cortinas. The car was the Lotus 23, raced by Jim Clark (it gets no better than that, a fact!) and the engine soon appeared also in the Lotus Elan. Ford perked their ears up, realised what had happened, and put 1000 of the engines into Cortinas. The Lotus Cortina was born, and with it the start of 50 years, and counting, of class leading fast Fords, right up to the Fiesta and Focus ST models of today. Nothing else offered in the UK for the money could match the performance or the image.
The Cortina range was supported by the Ford Corsair from 1964–sold above the Cortina with 1500–and by 1966, was aided by 1600cc, and 2000cc engines, and attractive but unusual styling, allegedly based on the Ford Thunderbird. The V4 engines used in the 1600 and 2000 versions were British Ford engines and not the same as the German Ford V4s used in the Ford Taunus. The British engine was related to the 3-litre Essex V6 used in the Ford Zodiac and later the European Granada, and was also used for various other British Fords, including the first Transit vans. The Corsair was offered as a 2-door, a 4-door and as an estate, albeit with an emphasis on style rather than space.
Ford replaced the Mk1 Cortina with the related but completely restyled Mk2 in 1966. Again, it was offered with 1200cc, 1300cc and 1600cc engines, contemporary styling (very similar to the 1966 Hillman Minx incidentally) and a range of engines, body styles and options.
One key image building variant was the Cortina 1600E from 1967 – it combined the lowered suspension of the Lotus Cortina, visually very effective in its own right, with extra trim including burr walnut wood effect dash and doors, additional instrumentation, fog lights and Rostyle wheels (which deserve a CC of their own). In hindsight, this was the first inkling that the Cortina and Corsair were on path of convergence.
The 1970 Mk3 Cortina was a step up from here, though. Not only was it larger than the Mk2, it offered 2 litre engines, four-link coil sprung rear suspension, the full-on 1970 Coke-bottle style, and was clearly aimed at a market above where the ADO16, the Cortina’s initial rival, had sit. The ADO16 was in exactly the same place it had always been, as the only development it had had in eight years was a 1300cc engine, more badge engineering, and an all-synchromesh gearbox in 1968. But it was still Britain’s best selling car.
In the background, Ford was consolidating its European operations, a single entity with a single range of cars and vans. By 1970, we already had the Transit van, the first Escort and the Capri, and quietly we had now a pan-European mid-range car. The Cortina shared much under the skin with the German Ford Taunus (above), with a common floor pan and drive train as well as a clear visual relationship, although the Taunus had less of the American-influenced Coke-bottle hips. It doesn’t take long to look at the cars and see common key features, such as the windscreen.
The Taunus was also available as a Coupe, unlike the Cortina. Engines were a mixture of older British Ford OHV and European versions of the Pinto OHC four cylinder. At fourteen feet, it was no longer than the MK2, but it was four inches wider, with a 101 inch wheelbase–making it the largest in its class on the Continent.
Ford did something else to position the new Cortina in the market–not only did it replace the Cortina Mk2 but it also replaced the Corsair range entirely. All these moves assisted Ford in many complimentary ways: pan European volumes of scale on the engine and structure, the consolidation of UK production in just one plant, Dagenham, whereas the Corsair had been built at Halewood in Liverpool, and the ability to entice the prospective buyer of a Cortina 1600L with an XL package, a GT, a 2-litre engine or an options package.
All these paid off for Ford. After production and labour issues in early 1971 cost sales, the car was the UK’s best seller from 1972 to 1976. A facelift with a new interior, the usual trim and grille changes and some new model designations came in 1973.
The feature coke bottle styling remained until 1976, when Ford offered the Cortina Mk4, this time a direct twin with the Taunus, with strong contemporary style and huge range of models, engines and options, including for the first time, the Ghia badge and the Cologne 2.3 litre V6.
There was another re-skin in1979, to create the Cortina 80, or Mk5 as most people refer to it, again matching the Taunus. Bigger windows, a higher roof line, new front and rear lights, and another dusting of equipment kept the Cortina at the top. By the early 80s, though, the Cortina was now feeling some heat, from the Vauxhall Cavalier, particularly the 1981 J-car Mk2, and the Japanese competition for private buyers. So in 1982, the Cortina was finally succeeded by the European-wide Ford Sierra. But, from 1966 to 1982, the Cortina was Britain’s best or second best selling car.
The key fact to take away from the Cortina story is not a pure car fact, but a fact about consumer goods generally. Success can be achieved not by providing what the market can afford and buys now, but by offering what the market aspires to afford. In 1967, many private owners wanted a Triumph 2000 or Rover 2000 but couldn’t afford one. Company car drivers got what they were given, but still wanted difference and recognition. A Cortina 1600E was a pretty good answer to both needs and in 1973, there was a 2000E to upgrade to.
So, to come full circle, the Cortina Mk1 was a product planning response to the aspirations of the early 1960s; customers stuck with it as it moved upmarket through the 1960s and 1970s to the end of nameplate in 1982, by which time having a Cortina 2000 Ghia on the drive, whether you paid for it or your employer paid it, marked you as an achiever. A bit like a Rover 2000 would have done in 1964. No wonder that by 1978, Sir Terence Beckett KBE, was both Chairman of Ford of Britain and Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry.
As an aside, product planning to this level was something few, if any, of Ford’s European competitors achieved. For example, in 1967, BMC enticed Roy Haynes, the lead designer on the Cortina Mk2 to join them to lead the development of a Cortina competitor. The resulting Morris Marina of 1971 was an almost direct competitor to the Cortina Mk2, not the wider, longer wheelbase, 1300 to 2000cc Cortina Mk3. Similarly, the Vauxhall Cavalier/Opel Ascona B of 1975 had a shorter wheelbase than the Cortina and Taunus. It was as if Ford’s success deterred competitors from fully competing, instead choosing to find a niche between the Escort and Cortina, or Cortina and Capri. In terms of volume, they all lost.
why ford never produced a mk3 cortina coupe and a pillarless one at that it would have been a real smash and head turner
Since the Capri used the Cortina MK3/Taunus chassis, I guess Ford thought then a Cortina coupe might had step into Capri’s territory at some point.
Isn’t the Capri on the Mk2 Cortina floorpan? The Capri was developed before the Mk3/Taunus TC were. But yeah, that was likely the reason.
Ford of Europe contemplated coupes at various points into the ’80s, but repeatedly decided that the market wasn’t worth the tooling costs. The Capri hung on as long as it did mainly because the Mk3 was really just a modest revision of the Mk2, which was itself a revision of the original platform with a hatchback and other nips and tucks. (The Capri sold pretty well early on, but dropped off rapidly and once the U.S. version ceased, total sales fell off even more.)
There was a Taunus TC1 in Europe as shown in the story, the green fastback. Between the Capri and the Granada coupe I dare say it was not missed in the UK
To some extent, the Cortina had two replacements: the Sierra, most directly, but also the Escort-based Orion, which was smaller, cheaper, and of course had FWD, but offered the same range of cheap economy versions and junior luxury cars. The Orion didn’t exactly offer a performance version to rival the XR4i or the older Lotus Cortina — the 1.6i Ghia was about as close as you could get — but it was the same idea. I assume a lot of them went to people who didn’t just like the looks of the Sierra (which was weird enough in the pricier trim levels and was pretty frightful in base trim with the non-body-color grille).
Worth mentioning is that a modest number of Mk1 and Mk2 Cortinas were sold in the States through dealers with an English Ford franchise. For a little while, you could even get a Mk1 Lotus Cortina. The U.S. only got the bigger engines, as you would expect.
Interesting to note then the old Cortina MK5/Taunus, continued to soldier in Turkey until 1994 http://www.clubtaunus.com.ar/English/Report/OtosanTaunus.htm
In South Africa, the Cortina was also available as a pick-up version http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifhp97/5599797154/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifhp97/5171288506/ and a little longer lifespan ending in 1984. I spotted a vintage Cortina test-drive from Car Magazine, South African counterpart of Motor Trend, Wheels, C&D
The Wayback Machine had archived the South African Cortina article minus the photos.
And it’s also re-uploaded at http://www.carmag.co.za/custom_and_classic/from-the-archves-ford-cortina-xr-6-series-5
Worth mentioning is that a modest number of Mk1 and Mk2 Cortinas were sold in the States through dealers with an English Ford franchise.
More specifically, that was commonly not an American Ford dealer during the 50s import boom, but sometime in the early 60s, Ford made a big push to have all Cortina (“Model C”) sales be integrated through their dealers.
To add to that the MkIII Cortina sold in Canada for a short time as well. They are fantastically rare these days however.
Regarding the Ford Orion: many of them went to fleet use, though it’s probably safe to say that the majority were privately-owned.
My main recollection of them was that at one time they were the workhorse patrol car (in naturally-aspirated diesel form) of the Garda Siochana, the Irish police. These cars were unbelievably slow, and one of the most excruciatingly frustrating experiences you could have would be to be caught behind one on a backroad, unable to overtake because a) it’s a cop, and b) if you came to a hill while still behind it, it was game over for momentum.
I can remember once seeing one having pulled over a motorist in a Jaguar on a new-ish stretch of motorway (the M11, for anyone who may be wondering), presumably for speed. As I drove by, all I could do was wonder as to why the Jaguar had actually bothered to stop; there was no way on earth the Orion could ever catch up with it.
The Lotus Cortina was ditched when Lotus ditched Ford engines and went to LV OHC engines LV denotes Lotus Vauxhall the poor old Kent was at the end of its usefullness by 66.
The first part is “not exactly.” The Mk2 Cortina was still available as a Cortina Lotus (rather than Lotus Cortina) with the Lotus twin-cam engine, although the cars didn’t have a lot of the specialist stuff of the Mk1 (aluminum exterior panels, battery in the boot, and particularly the coil sprung rear axle), in part because Ford was frustrated by the reliability of the Mk1 cars; the special rear suspension was a particular problem.
However, the main reason the Cortina Lotus fell out of favor is that when the Escort came out, Ford promptly put the same engine in a specially prepped Escort instead. The Escort TC was built by Ford, but had most of the same stuff as the Lotus Cortina except the rear coils and was a very successful racer.
As for the Kent, Lotus continued using the Ford-based twin-cam in the Elan until ’73 or so and Ford used the pushrod Kent cross-flow until 1983–84 — longer than that if you want to count the Valencia version used in the Fiesta and some cheaper Mk3/Mk4 Escorts.
What about the Ka? I thought that still used the old Kent engine.
In a manner of speaking. The Kent spawned the slightly smaller “Valencia” 957cc/1,117cc four used in the Fiesta and U.K.-market Mk3 Escorts, which had three main bearings, narrower bores, and wedge combustion chambers instead of Heron (bowl-in-piston). In late 1986, Ford created a 1,297cc version of that engine, sharing the 957/1,117 bore but again with five mains, for the Fiesta and Escort. That derivative lingered in the Fiesta line approximately forever and it’s that version that went into the Mk1 Ka.
Admittedly, by that point the engine’s relationship to the old Kent cross-flow was increasingly vague.
Australia went the opposite way for it’s replacements.Via Mazda we had initially the Meteor and later the Telstar take over the Cortina hole in the market.no 6 cylinders(the latter didn’t get one till the third generation in 1991/92,no wagons but were well built).These days we have the Mondeo taking over that end of the market.
“Modest numbers” is relative of course, but my perception was that the Cortina was quite popular in the US until the MkII was replaced by the Maverick. I had a friend in college with a Mk1 Lotus, another friend with a MkII GT, and my sister’s first car was a non-GT to which we added GT headers as a way to avoid the dreaded EGR retrofit which was briefly required as part of the early California smog checks. The EGR retrofits were installed by drilling and tapping into the typical cast iron exhaust manifolds, so cars with OEM tube steel headers were exempt. Cortina GT’s were common enough that the gas station mechanics weren’t surprised to see the headers and just checked off the exempt box, but the junkyards charged top dollar for them. Come to think of it, between the headers and the transmission(s), that Cortina was the last car I have been to a junkyard for.
I was lucky to see one or two BC plated MkIII’s in California; at the time they seemed modern but from today’s perspective the Mk1 looks classic and the MkII looks trim and simple, while the MkIII looks dated to me.
The Mk3 was a spectacular ruster.There’s supposed to be only 1000 left.We had a few Cortinas Mum had a Mk1 in a horrid pale green(Ludlow green I think),my brother had a Mk2 1600E in gold,Mum had a light metallic green Mk3.I had a waterlogged Mk3 that I got for braiding a girls hair like Bo Derek in 10,I got it going but it smelled awful and sold it to my brother’s mate after his bunny boiler girlfriend smashed the windows in his car.I later had a brown Mk4 like the pictured one which was stolen when I lived in one of Blackpool’s many war zones
Bunny boiler girlfriend? I can’t wait for the explanation of this obviously British term.
Do you remember what happened to the bunny in “Fatal Attraction” ?
YES It was cooked by Glenn Close.
Roger, this was a truly fascinating read. Having heard so many references to the Cortina, there is so little I knew about it. I now realize the sheer versatility the car and its subsequent desirability.
It is also interesting to note the common styling themes Ford used internationally as well as some shared parts. The wheels on the white Cortina 80 / Mk5 graced many a Mustang, Fairmont, and Fox-bodied Granada over here.
The alloys on the white Mk V are 13″ diameter and 4-stud (4×108 pcd, same as a number of Peugeots). I put a set on my 1986 Ford Sierra; they looked great but the offset was wrong so they would only fit if the brake disc pads were at least half worn – with all new pads the calipers were spread too wide and the wheel wouldn’t bolt to the hub.
There was also the 14″, 5-stud version, and the metric 5-stud versions of the design. I’m guessing the Mustang/Fairmont/Fox-Granada used the 14″ 5-stud?
That’s correct on the wheels Scott. 5 stud 14” rims were also on mk2 European Granada non-injected engine Ghia spec and the metric 5 stud version with Michelin TRX tyres were fitted to the 2.8 injection engined cars – I believe the model availability for injected cars was was ‘S’ and Ghia models for phase 1 and phase 2 was Ghia and ‘Injection’ models. My Dad had a couple of 2.8i Ghia X saloons with TRX rims – lovely cars. To keep on track with the post he had also had a run of top spec mk3 and Mk4 Cortinas too (after which he digressed to a couple of Peugeot 505’s and then back onto those Granada’s).
Also my first car was a mk5 Cortina 1.6 L (which many years after my ownership appeared in the BBC’s Ashes to ashes TV show – reg number COO357X) and in more recent years I owned a Mk1 pre-airflow Cortina deluxe too, so apart from a mk2 my Dad and I have owned every mark of Cortina between us…
Great read by the way – thank you!
That green coupe is a beauty !
It’s a 1971 Ford Taunus 2000 GXL coupe. The engine is a 90 hp 2.0 liter V6.
(I just checked its Dutch plate 21-91-SL)
Our neighbor bought a Taunus coupe some 40 years ago, he was already an elderly man back then.
Dark brown metallic, vinyl roof and a V6 engine ( I believe a 2.8) with an automatic gearbox. Nice set of big rims and fully loaded. It wasn’t brand new, but it sure was in a stunning condition when he bought it.
He didn’t drive it very long, he found out it was a bit “too much” for him and his wife.
After that back to a good ol’ 1.6 liter sedan with a manual !
In the late seventies and early eighties the Ford Taunus (Cortina Mk4 and Mk5) sold like hotcakes, year in year out. They were literally everywhere, the sedans and the wagons. They dictated the middle-class car market, together with the Ascona B. The VW Passat was lagging far behind, VW’s hotcake was the Golf.
A very basic, almost spartan, 1.3 liter 4 cylinder with a manual ? Ford had a Taunus for you.
A fully loaded 2.3 V6 with an automatic ? Ford had a Taunus for you.
2 doors ? 4 doors ? a wagon ? Ford had a Taunus for you.
I don’t know about the English ones, ours came from Germany, but there was nothing wrong with their overall-quality and rust proofing (certainly not compared to cars from Southern Europe).
A colleague of my dad was a very loyal Taunus driver, he always had the 1.6 liter 4 door sedans. Then the Sierra arrived…and the man switched to the more conservative Volkswagen Passat…
Things sure have changed since Ford and Opel dominated the “no-nonsense-car market” in Northwestern Europe in the seventies and eighties.
I wonder if bringing a modern Taunus/Cortina could bring back some customers as well as some new ones? What peoples thinks of the current Mondeo?
The Cortina had gained a “car star cult” status thanks to the British tv series “Life on Mars” since. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rossendalewadey/4487896444/
The point is Stéphane that the non-hatchback market in Europe has been completely taken over by Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Private buyers go for small/compact hatchbacks or compact crossovers like the new Renault Captur (based on the Clio hatchback) and Peugeot 2008. These cars are all reasonably priced, and they are roomy, practical and fuel efficient. And they don’t look like a boxy van. What’s more to desire for the average family ?
Eveything above that class has gone to the German brands I mentioned above. Not only Ford and Opel have to live with that….
Exactly. I think this is part of the reason why Ford is now trying so hard to market the Mondeo/Fusion in the U.S. If it doesn’t sell in the States, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to justify the development costs of doing another generation because the Mondeo is really becoming primarily a fleet vehicle in Europe.
+ 1. In the early 1970s my Citroën-loving dad got rid of his Ami 6 wagon and (to everybody’s surprise) bought a used, recent Taunus wagon with only 20 000 kms on the clock. Quite a revolution. That one was really basic – spartan indeed – with the small 1,3 engine, a manual and not a single extra, but it looked good (in a “small US car” sort of way), had good cargo space, twice as many cylinders as the Ami (wow!), and never broke down. We kept it for years. Back in the day these cars were a very sensible choice for West European drivers. They were everywhere (I loved the GXL Coupe!). That was just before the Passat era began.
We were a bit of a Ford family in that “Golden Euro-Ford Era”.
First a 1978 Ford Fiesta 1100S and then a 1979 Ford Fiesta 1300S, both bought new. (Total-loss crash for the little 1978 Ford, we only had it one year.)
My second own car was a 1987 Ford Escort 1.4 (manual everything, the choke included) and after that a 1995 Ford Escort 1.8 GT, that was also the first car I bought new.
At work dad drove a Ford Transit van (late eighties, the one with the sloping front and the direct injected diesel engine) and a 1994 Ford Escort van 1.8 diesel. For a diesel van the Transit was agile and fast. Unlike the 60 hp Escort van….
Thanks, Roger, for this Cortina history. I am one of the few Americans who spent some time around one, a Mk II estate (let’s use the British term, shall we?) owned by my scoutmaster.
He was a chemistry teacher and this would have been one of the few choices out there for a low cost wagon in 1969. I really liked it, but it did not withstand use all that well. By 1971, the paint was dull, one wiper had broken off, the shifter had broken off leaving a 2 inch nub that he clamped a pair of vice grip pliers onto, and finally the hydraulic clutch developed a leak so that after being parked at camp for a week, he had to add a lot of fluid and pump the pedal maybe 30 times to get the clutch back.
His other car was a 66 Dart that had none of these problems. Oddly though, there was something about the Cortina’s personality that made it impossible to dislike. I still kind of want one.
My Scottish immigrant grandfather drove a Mk 2 through most of the 70s until he was too old to drive. It had to be about the only one in Rhode Island. (Ditto its predecessor, a Hillman Minx.)
The rear quarter view of the Mk 3 looks disturbingly like a Hornet, especially in that shade of green.
South Africa & Australia got 6 cylinder Cortinas,the Perana Cortina from South Africa had the 3 litre V6 that came from Dagenham.The Australian Cortina had a Ford Falcon straight 6 around the 4 litre mark I think.I saw a picture of an Aussie Cortina doing a spectacular doughnut with lots of smoke.I think Bryce said it was very nose heavy and not a good handler
Speaking of Perena Cortina, I spotted an exterpt of a vintage magazine/newspaper ad of a Perana Cortina posted at http://www.africanmusclecars.com/index.php/ford/cortina-perana-mk-2
Nose heavy and developed large subframe cracks in service the public avouided them, The MK4 had the 4.1 6 and was much better sorted but buyers stayed away. The MK3 6 cylinder wagons were really tail happy and standing on the noise at 70mph just sent them sideways, doesnt bother me but lots of people cant drive like that.
Build quality wasn’t the best either, ditto for the AU market Escort. One of the reasons Ford AU went for the 626 and 323 based Telstar and Laser was that the production engineering of the Mazdas was far superior.
It was quicker and easier to build these cars right the first time, and warranty claims plunged as a result.
I had wondered about that. I have a Modern Motor around here that previewed the Mk3 Escort and sort of lamented that they wouldn’t have it.
A mate’s friend put a 302 into his. To make matters worse, it had a canvas sunroof. Structural integrity, you ask? My mate said that when Roger nailed it you could feel the floor twist under your feet. Although it was registered, I was never game to go in it!
Stationed in Newfoundland, friend of mine had one of these. A four door sdn IIRC.
He tried to talk me into getting rid of my new VW and buying one. Had already been made aware of british car reliability so it was no go. Never been sorry about that one.
One of the Art teachers at school had a woody Mk1 which was often patched up by boys in metalwork class until there was nothing left to weld to.Water had got behind the fake wood and the girderworm had a feast.Ages since I’ve seen one.I always liked the Corsair but they were never as popular as Cortinas
Most Corsairs had that awful V4 motor with its biodegradable oil pump/distributor drive that left many motorists stranded in their new cars. However in Aussie Corsairs came with Kent power and were more reliable though not popular.
No wonder Saab selected that engine.
Saab used the German V-4, which had only a vague resemblance to the British Essex version.
We didn’t get Corsairs in Australia. I was a car-crazy kid in Melbourne through the Corsair years, and never saw one – just my mate’s Dinky (or was it Corgi?) one. I did a project in school about cars, and the material I got from Ford just went Escort-Cortina-Falcon-Fairlane-Galaxie. Guess Ford thought that was a big enough range for our market.
Yes you did a friend ran a 1500cc Corsair for 4 years back and forth to Donnybrook WA from the east coast it was a piece of crap but it was sold new in Aussie 65 ford Corsair in red,
Sorry mate, I’m going to have to disagree. Read any history of Ford in Australia – I’ve double checked Darwin’s – and you will find that Ford did not sell the Corsair in Australia. Ever.
That’s not to say some didn’t get imported, either by Ford for evaluation or development purposes, or that some didn’t come in privately, but they were never sold from the dealers.
I’ve got all the 1965 issues of Wheels, I’ll have a squiz through them and see what they say. Who wants to place bets? 😉
Australia also didnt get the British Cortinas Ford AU developed their own version NZ wound up with both and they are quite different underneath the skin, good cars within their limits very popular in fleets though some fleets fared better than others Stock and station agents due to the roads they were on had a lot of suspension failures I dont suppose Ford UK ever imagined their family car would get driven hard on corrugated gravel roads by uncaring drivers at speed for most of their working lives the 1300cc cars were awful woefully underpowered, the 1600s were ok but the 2.0 was the pick of them NZ govt fleets were lousy with 2.0 L Cortinas built down to a tender price they all had the poverty pack vinyl interior but the big engine, These cars are quite sought after now very few have survived considering the numbers that were sold and they command good money especially GT models.
One interesting aside a lot of early Kiwi MK3s had the pommie wiring loom which lit the RH sidelights but not the left for overnite parking we dont have that rule and WOF failures because of it ,meant they had to be modified later cars used locally produced looms which eliminated the issue.
These Cortina took over the market in NZ they became the average car as Kiwis rushed to buy something more economical than the previous average the HQ Holden, 2litre motors were the best seller and werent bad cars Farmers trading co bought hundreds for their reps as did the dairy board and their cars spent their lives visiting dairying properties in rural settings,MK3 Cortinas rusted ok but the didnt fall apart like previous models. The MK1 Cortina pushed the Humber80s from the race tracks being lighter and a Cortina won Bathurst for Ford mainly because it had disc brakes and the faster EH S4 Holdens had drums and couldnt stop effectively. Quite good cars and many are still in use around here today.
(The Humber 8o was a rebadged Hillman Minx sold only in NZ alongside the very popular Minx. Humber was the up-market brand in the Rootes Group, although I think the 80/Minx had the same specifications)
The MKIII is my least favorite Cortina because of the styling and increased size. The MkIV Cortina 2.0 Ghia was a very nice car despite the vinyl roof.
The MkI had those odd tail lights. The MkII looked thoroughly modern Especially the MkII GT which had complete gauges, bucket seats, and floor gearshift.
These British Fords had a good reputation for reliability.
Not quite the Humber ten the later on 80 and 90 were a rebadge of the Minx and Super Minx with a few extra features but sold thru Humber dealers as their small car all Rootes brands had their own dealer network with the cars assembled by Todd Motors, A 59 Humber 80 tuned and driven by one Harold Heasley won the inaugural 1960 NZ saloon car championship against the likes of Jaguars and other more fancied machinery they could be made very fast indeed and handled well right out of the box, Cortinas had a rep as a tinny car they were very light which helped make them fast on race circuits.
Thanks for this good broad overview of Cortinas. Growing up in the UK in the 70s/80s, these were as much part of the scenery as trees and houses. We had two estates – a Mk III in the same green as the top photo, followed by a bright orange Mk IV that my mum rolled spectacularly in a moment of inattention. Being English, it would have seemed profligate to have any engine larger than 1600cc to haul around our family of 5 – probably we were lucky not to be wheezing around in the 1300.
I also had a 2 litre Mk V estate when I first came to NZ, that I bought off a colleague for $100. Chugged along very happily for 6 months, then failed its WOF with structural rot. It had many other issues, such as leaking coolant and the gearstick that broke off in the WOF inspector’s hand, but somehow Cortinas always felt like they could be fixed for very little and would keep soldiering on.
I also drove a 2.3 V6 from Southampton to Swindon, back in the late 80s. That was a really nice car, and the first time I drove above 100mph. I’d buy that car again in a heartbeat, if I could have it in that condition.
In my CC photostream (Charkle the 2nd) there’s a couple of cortinas – a Mk I (taken with a crappy cameraphone) and a rather nice Mk V that I saw down in Taupo. And there’s at least 2 that I see on a very regular basis locally. I’ve seen a ragged Mk III around as well.
That Mk V Ghia is gorgeous!
Wow, thanks for the extensive write up on the Cortinas and associated other models. Being raised in the States, I had no idea about all of those models. I was only aware of the older Lotus Cortinas (due to car magazines and seeing a few on the street) and after my adventures in Germany in the late 70’s I was aware of the Taunus and Granada models, also. Of course, when family members *live* in Taunus, that sticks in your mind, too.
Of course, growing up in the States, we missed these cars mostly, being subjected to countless variations on the Falcon chassis and then the fair to middling Pinto and related Mustang II chassis. Again, like we mentioned about Opel/GM, why didn’t Ford import (or just build) these cars here, instead of going through the whole list of less-than-spectacular cars? I guess that NIH (not-invented-here) wasn’t just a GM thing…
I know that we got a few of the Cortinas, and then Capri, but imagine a whole class of car better than the Pinto and the re-hashes of the Falcon (Maverick, Granada)? Ford even had a Granada model in Europe, IIRC, it was roughly the same size as the American Falcon-based Granada. Why not just bring that over here? They could have outclassed GM’s Seville with a *real* European car, rather than one named after a European city. It maybe could have been given to Mercury division (like the original Capri), to give it some *real* distinction. Other than the distinction of being the nicer Ford.
Just as I waited patiently for Ford to bring over the Euro-spec Escort (after the demise of the Fiesta and the announcement of the “world-car”), a revival of the Capri (not the Fox body Capri) and several other concepts they teased us with, I was repeatedly disappointed when none of those cars arrived. Or we had muddled, confused “marketing exercises” like the Merkurs and the Mazda based Capri. And then came the real dreck, like the EXP and the Mercury Tracer. Competent cars, but then what wasn’t at that point in time?
After my time in Germany, I came home with a new appreciation for what my European family had available to them, even from some lowly sources, like Ford. Either way, great post and pardon the rant. I miss Mercury some days…
I had a Mk2 Ford Granada(European) very comfortable and reliable.My favourite was the Mk1 as used in The Sweeney TV show.My parents had a dog poo brown Mk1 which even looked good in such a horrid colour
The tricky bit about “bringing over” European models is figuring out what that actually means in practical terms. Importing cars built in the U.K. or Europe puts you at the mercy of currency exchange rate fluctuations and whether Congress is in a protectionist mood; it also takes up capacity that might be better-used to supply local markets. Having the car built in the U.S. means either (1) building a new factory; (2) retooling one or more existing plants to assemble a product that wasn’t originally designed to be built in those facilities; or (3) redesigning the product for existing U.S. factories. The first two are expensive and the third leads to a lot of “Well, while we’re doing that, let’s make some changes to better suit U.S. tastes” thinking.
The other dilemma is that a lot of European products fall into different market and even social niches at home than they would here. Something like the Mk3 or Mk4 Cortina, which was a medium-size family sedan in Europe, would have been considered a small car in the States and buyers would have expected it to be priced as such. That means you either have to decontent it a lot to bring the price down or try to position it as a premium product.
At different points, Ford tried all of those things. The Capri and Fiesta were imported; the Capri ended up suffering unfavorable exchange rates while the Fiesta ran into capacity issues — Ford didn’t want to set up a U.S. production line because it was going to cost too much and the Fiesta was selling so well in Europe that Ford needed cars there more than in the U.S. (compounded by the EPA’s decision to only let Ford count 75,000 imported Fiestas a year toward CAFE). The Mk3 Escort got U.S. production, but was Americanized and decontented (to allow it to be sold as a bottom-of-the-line economy car) that it ended up being quite a bit different and arguably inferior to the European model. The XR4Ti and Scorpio weren’t dumbed down for American consumption, but that left them expensive, so Ford came up with the Merkur brand and tried to sell them here as premium cars, which didn’t work.
So, you see their dilemma…
While I understand the dilemma, my point is much the same as Paul’s point with Opel and GM.
These (smaller to the US domestic market cars) would have been competing in the same marketing space as the existing lower priced US domestic Fords at the time. This is the reason why I lamented that they didn’t come over and replace the many Falcon-based cars that were offered for sale. Done correctly, I believe there would have been the right marketing space and the right selling price for these cars. Unlike some of Ford’s later experiments.
At the point in time that it was time to re-tool for another version of the Falcon (Maverick, US Granada) or when they set up plants for newer cars (Pinto, Mustang II & variants), would have been the time to make the switch. They owned the intellectual property, just as today. In fact, I believe it would have been easier, as back as far as the late 1960’s (when the Falcon chassis should have been replaced with a Cortina or Cortina variant), due to the less onerous regulatory environment.
As an example, when it came time to tool up for the world car (FWD Escort), the changes were so extensive, they ended up being different cars. Was part of it due to regulatory and localization issues? Sure. But how much of it was provisional resistance or a “not invented here” attitude? It would have made sense and been easier for them to accomplish 30 years ago than it is today.
How much money could have been saved in having more harmonization between the Euro and the USDM Escorts, with regard to tooling and materials? The cars shared a very similar mission. While there were price leaders in both Euro and USDM lineups, the Escort was not necessarily the least expensive Ford at launch. Part of the reason why my mother purchased a 1981 Mustang was due to the fact that a similarly equipped Escort priced higher than the Fox body.
I’d agree that the Scorpio was not decontented, but the XR4Ti/Sierra was a hot mess. There were variants we’d never see and the car we got didn’t even get the “good” (i.e. SVO 2.3 turbo) motor, it got the regular turbo motor, for the higher asking price. At the time, the West German Mark was at a rather high exchange rate.
But again, in 1986 when I was shopping for my first new car, a V8 powered Mercury Capri (Fox body) was far more effective road tool than the highly touted XR4Ti. If the XR4Ti had the performance that the Fox body did, I would have spent the money to purchase. Similar to the SVO Mustang, the higher threshold of performance was not in direct proportion to asking price. To me, the X4Ti was a failure of marketing and engineering combined to take a highly regarded car in other parts of the world to end up with the odd duck that we got here.
Ford, like GM, could have been feeding us the better stuff much sooner.
By the time the Mk3 (FWD) Escort arrived, it was not Ford’s European price leader; Ford had the low-line Fiestas for that. The Escort was a bigger C-segment car, and while you could get it in basic 1100 form, it was aimed at people who wanted something bigger and more comfortable than a Fiesta. In the U.S., it was just small, cheap basic transportation. The European Granada would have been a midsize car in the U.S., but was big and expensive in Europe. (In Germany, a Granada GL V-6 with automatic was well into the realm of the smaller-engined 5-Series and what today would be the E-Class, and a Granada Ghia automatic was approaching the price of a 528i.) American buyers expected bigger engines, in part because of the insistence on automatic, so the money had to come out somewhere.
There was certainly some not-invented-here going on, combined with Ford’s marketing judgment that American buyers wanted a softer ride than Europeans did, but there were some fundamental issues of market position and cost that were hard to reconcile.
If you look at the track, the engines, the suspension design and various other mechanical components; it becomes apparent that the Pinto really was a Cortina MKIII with a shorter wheelbase and Dearborn execution.
The last model Ford Granada. (Continental Europe)
Simple and clean lines, nothing to be ashamed of.
What you see is what you get.
Nice,I really liked my 78 2.8 GL automatic.Very comfortable and ultra reliable.I never took to the hatchback replacement
You mean the Ford Scorpio… yes, that was the car everybody loved to hate… a far cry from the 1980s Granada, which was one of the best looking European sedans of its time… the Granada wagon was great too. My dad had one at some point… the one with the 2,5 Diesel engine unfortunately, it was a true lemon but at least it was roomy, comfortable and rock solid… a great family car. That was the first car I drove on a long distance trip. Today I would love to get my hands on a 1980s Granada wagon with a V6… not many of these left now, good ones are hard to find. I confess I have a soft spot for the 1970s Granada as well, as a kid I found them big and glitzy in a cool sort of way (come to think of it, it’s probably the one car to blame for my Broughamophilia…).
And the last big Euro-Ford, the Scorpio.
What you see is what makes you want to cry.
It made me wonder whether another company had deliberately planted someone in Ford styling to sabotage the look of Ford cars. Who could possibly think that was a better-looking car than the opposition? Or did they do it to see how ugly they could make a car and still sell some? IIRC its looks got panned in the press when it was released.
I have three. 74 Montego that’s been in the family since new, 76 Grand Marquis, and a 75 Comet 4dr. Sorry, I meant this reply to the guy above who misses Mercury.
A mark 3 Cortina was my first car. Unlike most Aussie young blokes, I went for the 2000 rather than the 200 or 250 sixes. I found the four was quite thirsty enough for my budget, and after fitting gas shocks and good radials I was quite pleased with the handling. A few minor underhood mods partially compensated for those two missing cylinders. Ride was always atrocious though, and the rear end used to hop wildly on corrugated gravel roads. Still, it always had plenty of space, and enough power for the time.
I sold the Cortina a few years back, by which time it had done 450,000km and was on its second motor and trans. They were an uncommon sight here by then. I couldn’t get a roadworthy for it due to body rust and shot suspension bushings, but passed it on to a guy who was going to restore it.
Yes the Mk3 Cortina was sexier than the Mk1 & Mk2 – it was sexier than most things you could buy in England in the 70’s until Vauxhall produced the coke-bottle Victor – BUT the Mk3 Cortina didn’t work for petrolheads. By 1970 we had the smaller, lighter, Escort, and once people realised the twin cam motor would work in that too, the Cortina was yesterdays’ car as far as the Ford competitions department was concerned.
Yup — they figured out that most everything developed for the Lotus Cortina/Cortina Lotus could be made to fit in the Escort, which weighed around 200 pounds less. Only the early Type 49 Escorts used the twin cam Lotus engine, though; most of the ’70s rally cars had the 16-valve Cosworth BDA instead, or you could have the Cortina 1600GT pushrod engine in the Mexico.
There was a 3.0L Essex V6 Escort developed but it never really made production.
That sounds like an amusingly terrible idea.
Oh, there have been a few Escorts here that have had the Essex V6 inserted; but even more amusingly terrible are the V8 Mk I Escorts I’ve seen over the years. One was fitted with an ex-Mustang 289, another had an ex-Aussie-Falcon 351. There was another one that attended the annual Ford show here for years and was capable of the most spectacular burn outs. Having owned a Mk I Escort 1300 20+ years ago, it was a fun car, but never felt like it needed another 4.5 litres and 4 cylinders…!
I think the coke bottle FD Victor came out in about ’66
My first car was a very rusty 71 FD Victor in gold.
The coke bottle Victor was on the market long before the MK3 Cortina it was concurrent with the MK2 but here the Victor came in 3300 SL form with Cresta powertrain they were a weapon on and off race tracks lots recieved V8 transplants back in the day.
You know Ford of Europe really had some foresight when designing the Mark 4 Cortina as they seemed to have anticipated the look cars would have from 1980-1986(i.e. before the rise of the Taurus and other jellybean shaped cars) and all this on a car which debuted in 1976. If you looked at this generation of Cortina in 2014 and did not know a lick about cars, you might confuse it for a car from the 1980’s
In the USA, Ford was content to sit on redesigning its cars until after GM rolled out the redesigned B body line in 1977 and the A Body (RWD) in 1978 to wild success and only then did they create the Fairmont/Zephyr(1978) and shrink the massive LTD/Marquis (1979)
Great write-up Roger! Having grown up with Cortinas I was thinking of doing a Cortina CC this year, but you’ve captured the story brilliantly!
The Cortina was the top-selling car in New Zealand for many a year, and was our all-time biggest-selling nameplate until being overtaken by the Toyota Corolla about a decade later. The Cortina was the default family and fleet car through the 70s/early 80s. In fact, they sold so well that many leftover CKD packs from other worldwide plants came here to allow the wagons to be assembled and sold into 1984. Because they were leftover CKD packs, those last few assembled included some interesting colours that were never part of our normal range.
The Cortina sedan was replaced by the Mazda 626-based Ford Telstar but it didn’t have a wagon variant, hence Ford NZ also assembled and imported Sierra wagons (and the V6 Ghia hatch, XR4i, XR4x4 and Cosworth variants). The Sierra wagon took over the Cortina’s fleet and family-wagon mantel and sold extremely well.
From the Mk III on, we received only 4 door sedans and wagons, generally matching the UK spec and trim levels (although the sliding sunroof was never available). The Mk III was available with the 1300cc engine, but it sold as appallingly as expected, and the Mk IV and V had only the 1600 and 2000. The Mk V also saw the 2.3 V6 arrive in Ghia sedan format only. Our trim specs were base, L, GL and GXL (‘Ghia’ from the Mk IV on).
We also received the Australian-built MK IV Cortina in sedan and wagon form, with the Falcon’s 3.3 and 4.1 litre straight 6 engine. The emission-control-strangled Australian 2.0 was imported as well, but would have been a slow and thirsty slug compared with the non-emission-controlled 2.0 in all the Cortinas assembled here.
In fact, that probably means NZ had the widest range of Cortina powerplants available from the factory! 1300, 1600, 2000 emission-controlled, 2000 non-emission-controlled, 2000 turbo (available as a locally installed option), 2300 V6, 3300 S6, 4100 S6. Loads of choice! Although the Aussie straight-6 Cortinas we got were a tad over-engined and front-heavy, there was one option they were available with that could be got in no other Cortina: factory-fitted fully-integrated air-conditioning. A/C was available in other markets, but as a kit with vents slung below the dash; only Ford Australia went to the bother of designing an integrated kit. The Ford Australia Mk IV interior had improved detail design over other Cortinas too – eg better integrated centre consoles, beefier doorhandles and centre-dash air vents that the rest of the world didn’t get until the Mk V.
When I was born in ’73 my parents had a Mk II 1600 sedan; it was around until ’77ish. I remember the chrome-rimmed warning lights on the dash and wondering why they didn’t click on and off when I put my fingers in them.
In ’77ish we got a ’75 Mk III 2000L wagon; then an ’80 Mk IV 2000L wagon in 1984, followed by an ’83 Mk V 2000L wagon in 1988. My parents remember the Mk III as being the favourite, although the Mk IV was by far the quickest and most economical. My favourite was the Mk V, an ex-Benson & Hedges fleet car. The Ford gold had been repainted slightly darker B&H gold; with our huge Hella spotlights on the front and a mesh windscreen visor, the car looked great! It was replaced by an ’85 Sierra 2000L in 1989. My parents last Ford wagon was a 1990 Telstar; they’ve driven Subaru Legacy wagons since.
Anyway, I’ve blathered on here for rather a bit. Reason why is that I’m very passionate about the Cortina/Taunus, especially the MK III-V. A Cortina Ghia is in the top-3 cars on my classic wishlist. #1 is a 420G Jag, but I suspect I have far greater chance of finding and affording a nice Cortina!
Thanks again for the great write-up Roger! 🙂
If anyone’s interested in curiosities, there’s a 1985 Mk V Cortina pickup for sale here at the moment. It’s a South African import.
Also on trademe is this MK IV Australian-built 4.1 litre wagon with the factory a/c. The a/c components run down the top of the left-side inner guard. You can also see how the straight-6 was shoe-horned in – note how the radiator is moved forward in the cross support panel.
Scott the Aussie Cortina had a reccessed firewall and some other differences as well it wasnt the same as the UK CKD kits NZ got if anything it wasnt as good.
That range of Cortina models doesn’t seem like a Swiss Army Knife to me. More of a matched set of specialist knives, sharing the same handle. Those iconic little red knives packed many functions into one– that’s why I used the allusion last week in talking about the SAAB 9000, a big, safe, fast, fuel-efficient, comfortable car with great utility…all packed into the same car.
I used to have a ’82 TC3 Ford Taunus (= Mk V Cortina) a few years ago.
It was one of the last ones sold in Europe, a special edition of some sort with blacked-out trim.
It had the 1.3 liter “pinto” OHV engine and stickshift.
I bought to be my daily driver next to my 1.9 liter Rekord D, hoping that the little 1.3 would deliver better mileage than my Rekord.
Well, I don’t know if you can call “success” doing 18 mpg instead of 15.
Yet, I liked that car, the 1.3 pinto was a lively engine and the weigthtlessness of the car made you feel like you were going fast (while the car actually topped 75 mph max on the highway…).
It was also a funny car to drive on curvy roads (albeit a bit dangerous because of a badly sprung-up live rear axle).
Unfortunately, it spent half of my 12-months ownership in the shop.
First, it was fitted with the sh****est piece of crap ever called a carburetor : a one- barrel variable venturi built by Motorcraft.
Replaced by a Weber 34-ICH with a manual choke when the car wouldn’t start anymore.
Then I blew up the valve seats on cylinders 1 and 2.
After that, I blew up the seats on cylinders 3 and 4 (I still wonder why the mechanic did not replace ALL the valves and valves when the engine was open).
The second time I was on vacation with my loved one which, at first, was really angry at me and then was considerably soothed when my insurance provided us with a loaded Citroën C5 as a replacement vehicle.
As soon as I was back home, I sold the Taunus at a huge financial loss.
And the Rekord became my daily driver…
Back in the 70’s, the rich and shameless bought this two door Ford Granada Coupe is they considered themselves too trendy to be seen in a Rover or Jag. Very few now left on the road and considered the holy grail of Fords……..but only if you buy one made in Germany!
Had a Cortina Matchbox car & really thought that was what the Fairmont should have been! (Not to mention the Maverick and Falcon during those eras!)…
The Cortina Mark III for some reason went to double wishbone front suspension from McStruts, and with a coil sprung rear always seemed quite a bit less direct to me than the previous Cortinas. Bit of a wafter. Very American, which the next iteration fixed in 1976, although it needed a new less throbby engine by then – the VW small fours were much nicer. The only decent Ford fours since then have all been Mazda based right up to the 2.0 Ecoboost. CVHs were nasty Ford designed throbbers.
The Escort Mark I took over the mantle of decent to drive small Ford from the Cortina. It must have cost them peanuts to make the bodyshell, but it made the Pinto my Dad had bought back in Canada seem like horrifying mediocrity, on my home visits/vacations.
An Escort 1300GT would have eaten the 2 litre Pinto automatic for breakfast. And it had better interior and trunk space, plus a suspension with, you know, actual travel. An all round better car, and probably even cheaper to make. Did many thousands of miles in a 1300GT, some at well over 7000 rpm in second gear quick overtaking on secondary roads, and upon return to Canada, Dad gave me that OHC Pinto, now complete with rusted out flapping outer door skins, and squashed cam lobes. Served till I got a real job – just – while I dreamed of a nice Escort Mark II 1600GT.
These cars were much nicer to drive than Toyotas and Datsuns of the day having rack & pinion steering and some art in bushing design, especially when Nissan dropped the IRS going from 510 to 610. I think Ford gave away the small car market in North America to the Japanese by sticking with the Pinto. Cynical rubbish, and then there was the Vega.
Could never understand why Ford didn’t make the Mark I Escort in North America, and Mr Severensen’s explanations of market placement above don’t account for it. Ford sold a couple of million worldwide so why not in the USA?
Be carefull what you dream for I had a MK2 Escort 1600 freeflow header wide wheels etc twinchoke weber it wasnt much of a car it was the Aussie version though not UK easy to spot which you have the UK car fills up via an opening on the side the Aussie the fuel filler is behind the number plate.
I’ve never seen a Ford Cortina in the metal. Thanks to Onslow on “Keeping Up Appearances” I’ve enjoyed a lot of laughs seeing his on TV.
Old article, but never too late to say well done, Mr Carr. You’ve got it well covered.
All the Cortinas were such good lookers, and despite the tech gulf to the BMC competition, leaf springs rwd and all, perfectly ok to drive. In fact, with a normal weight and angle steering wheel, a super-slick gearbox and good-enough handling for most, they felt a heap better than the FWD competitors, and easier to repair too.
Now, pretty and all as the Mk3 and 4 Cortinas were, I’m still not going to approve of them in any of their many masks as described. They all had rack steering that was somehow vague – just HOW do you do that? – and had handling of unique awfulness, being one of the only cars ever to understeer AND oversteer in the one corner, and then both at once. And I’m not even referring to the Aus 6 cylinder ones, which took any such characteristics and dialed it all up to 12 (yes, even beyond the 11 in Spinal Tap). Atrocious, and for the 250 six, 120 mph of sheer saucer-eyed fear.
This malarkey was not compensated for by some French squashy-croissant ride, oh no. I’ve never known a car since to handle as poorly while riding as rough, but for the crowning bum-puckerer, the damn things simply could not stay in a straight line if a bump happened. If you were also cornering with any verve when that bump popped up, you gained immediate religion, then and there. It’s no wonder to me our Old Pete here had one for years: it might even have been the cause of his priesthood choice in life.
However, unlike other bewilderingly popular cars of advanced incompetence, I do absolutely get the appeal. It looked mighty cool, was quite reliable, didn’t rust too much here, scooted fast enough, with a few mods could be made slightly capable, and was easy to drive – but all with the big, big caveat.
And if anyone doubts the handling descriptions, look at this 2 minute ’70’s clip (it’s been on CC before). I wasn’t lying!
Also, the clip’s huge fun.
Thanks for that, Justy… it made my Sunday morning. Though there should be a disclaimer that viewer discretion is advised for folks who are partial to Citroëns.
A lot of truth here, and amusingly put as we’ve come to expect from Justy.
With the Mark 3, it was evident that the car was built down to a price. Many parts either had a short service life or were poorly-specified to begin with. The cost-cutters at Ford had gone through this design with a vengeance, and in keeping the car for 25 years I became well aware of their insidious deeds. The body design was pretty, the interior looked and felt good, but once in your possession the flaws became apparent.
Most of that steering vagueness problem was the universal joint which regularly wore out. I’d notice the steering getting more play in it or juddering over bumps and bingo – time to replace that universal. Even with the 2000 four the car was designed for, the service life seemed to only be three to four years. In my hands, anyway. The last time it was replaced, the mechanic said it was the last one they could find in the state. I can’t imagine how it coped with the weight of the six. The longer I owned my car, the more thankful I was that I hadn’t succumbed to the lure of four-point-one litres’ worth of torque.
The handling? Yes, that caught me out a few times. Okay, more that a few, at first. Wider, quality steel radials helped a lot, as did gas shocks. Just a subtle improvement in specification over what rolled out of the factory, but what a difference. I could usually corner 20-30 km/h above the advisory limit signs on bitumen country roads, but only so long as the road was smooth. Put a pothole in the corner and you might (more likely than not would) end up facing another direction. Even after I’d had the car 20 years I still overcooked it on a twisty gravel road once and went up a 45 degree bank and almost into a farmer’s fence. You’d think a man in his fifties would have known better.
Ride was always atrocious; that seemed to be somehow endemic in the suspension design. I cannot imagine why Ford thought this suspension was good enough, especially after the Mark 1 and 2 Cortina.
And yes, I had the car before I became a minister, but I can’t say it was responsible for my change of vocation!
Belive it or not, this 1975 Cortina was an upscale car in 1975 in Europe. But as most of the european cars of the time it was underpowered, unreliable, uncomfortable and spartan. You were very lucky if you got an european car with power steering in 1975.
You lucky americans could buy a Ford LTD to use as a daily driver, a car who we european looked at in the same range as a Jaguar og a Mercedes S-class. So much power (even by 1975-standards and 2.5 tonn of weight…), som much equipment, so quiet, so comfortable, so roomy, so dependable and reliable.
We considered us self as lucky if we could afford a Volvo 244 with power steering.
Ford marketing was very clever. There was always a halo model. With the Mk1 you had the twin cam Lotus, with the Mk2 the the 1600E with the wood and leather and the Mk3 had the 2000GXL with twin headlights! Only top of the range Tiumphs and Rovers had twin headlights so this made it very desirable.
The Mk 1, with its signature Ferrari-like round lights which ended up on every kit car made at the time, and the Mk2 were primitive beasts with OHVs and cart springs. The Escort carried on this tradition whilst the Mk3 went up market, much bigger with supple suspension and sold like hotcakes.
It was soon apparent that the Mk3 had been built down to a price. It had none of the solidity of a Mk2 and quickly rotted away. The suspension and steering components were very short lived. The interior was flimsy in the extreme. Not many left now.