(first posted 7/17/2015) Ford’s Cortina is a certified classic in the UK but it does not enjoy the same high profile in North America. While it is perhaps not known as an icon on this side of the Atlantic, the Ford Cortina MkI and MkII was sold in respectable numbers here. Further more I would wager a reasonable number of enthusiasts are at least vaguely aware that it was sold here. But how many have any recollection that the MkIII Cortina was also sold in North America, albeit briefly and only in Canada?
Before we jump straight to the MkIII we should very briefly cover the European Ford story in North America. In the 1960s American Ford dealers were hungry for a smaller product to offer would be import buyers as an alternative to a Volkswagen Beetle or GM’s Opel Kadett. While other European Fords had been offered in the past like the Anglia or the Zephyr/Zodiac twins (MkI and MkII) none had been sold in any large volume. Canada had more of a history in British Fords going back to 1933 which in part was due to a favorable tax status given to the United Kingdom.
The MkI version of the Cortina makes an interesting counterpoint to the Mini. While the Mini was innovative and experimental with front wheel drive, rubber cone suspension and tiny wheels the Ford Cortina was a much more conventional approach. The Cortina’s specifications were well within established norms with an iron block four cylinder engine, four speed manual and a leaf sprung live axle. Only front MacPherson struts up front were mildly eye brow raising. Even then they had been tested and proven on the earlier Zephyr/Zodiac. The Cortina was a certifiable runaway hit in its home market but sales started at a sluggish rate in the United States.
The chassis remained much the same for the MkII version but it sported a newer more square body. The Kent four cylinder engine was refined and increased displacements were offered. The 1.6L variant with a newly developed crossflow cylinder head offered brisk performance in a small car. A friend of mine had this 1969 four door in his storage lot for several years. I considering buying it off of him several times but the deciding factor against it was the automatic transmission. Last I heard it went up north and someone may have bought it just for the engine. That would be a shame as it was a very solid car.
For 1970 the English Fords were no longer sold in the US market. In Canada for 1971 only left over 1970 model Cortinas were sold. The newly introduced MkIII was finally made available in Canada for the 1972 model year. It featured very North American inspired coke bottle styling similar to the Ford LTD and Mercury Montego. The two door could perhaps be mistaken for a Mustang or Capri at 600 paces away. Maybe.
The updated styling gave the impression of a much larger car than its predecessor but it was an illusion at least in length as it remained exactly the same as the MkII. Width was increased a few inches and the wheelbase was stretched by four inches. Increased awareness of safety meant a stiffer body shell which resulted in a weight increase. For the home market the 1.3L and 1.6L Kent OHV engines carried over although the 1.3L engine was not available with an automatic any longer as the resulting car would have been quite sluggish. A single head overhead cam 2.0L engine was also introduced for the home market and became the base engine for Canada. The 1.6L was in theory optional but I suspect few if any were ordered that way.
Front suspension moved away from the MacPherson struts of the earlier car to double A-arms with coil springs and tube shocks. Rear suspension was improved over the the MkII’s leaf springs to a live axle with a more modern four link system. In later years the front suspension became a staple of the UK kit car industry so many Cortinas were scrapped either by rust or for their front end. Hyundai later used this chassis and suspension in their earlier model Stellars.
In Canada the L trim level was available in two door, four door and station wagon body styles. The sportier looking GT trim was only offered on the two door. The Canadian Cortinas had their own unique grill both in L and GT trim. The Canadian GT sported single headlights unlike the duals on the UK car. The GT featured full instrumentation, bucket seats, styled steel rims, leather covered steering wheel and shift knob but no performance enhancements.
This example I came across on Kijiji highlights the modified front bumper for the Canadian market.
While sales were steady in Canada the 1974 model year brought with it more stringent safety standards which the Cortina would not meet as is. Add in other factors like currency fluctuations and internal competition by the Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet and even the smaller Pinto the case for importing the Cortina was not strong enough to continue. So while the home market Cortina was given a facelift for the 1974 model year it would not reach the Canada. Canadian Lincoln-Mercury-Meteor dealers were given a badge engineered version of the Ford’s smaller Pinto as compensation for its loss. The Mercury Bobcat debuted as a Canadian exclusive for 1974 before being offered on the American market a year later.
While just over twelve thousand examples were sold in Canada for 1972 a survivor is extremely rare. I cannot remember ever seeing a Canadian one in the flesh even in the 1980s. I do recall my Grandfather owning a yellow L-specification Cortina back in the UK however. At the time I was more interested in my Grandmother’s Mini and only vaguely remember a few rides in the Cortina but given his frugal nature I would wager it was a 1.3L poverty specification example. His was definitely the more plain single headlight model like the above example except in four door saloon form.
As hinted at previously I came across this four door example on Kijiji lacking a firm price which likely reflects the tiny market of people that would be interested in adopting an almost unknown orphan. A four door orphan no less that will likely be constantly mistaken for a Maverick at any distance. The two door certainly wore the styling much better. It does mention a parts car that could be included and so between the two I suspect they represent a lion’s share of the surviving MkIII Cortinas in Alberta. The seller does claim it is in running condition however which is an unusual bonus.
The excellent Life on Mars TV show has given the MkIII Cortina a bit of following in the UK these days. It is well worth checking out if you can and not just for the fantastic 1970s era cars and fashions. While the MkII was almost an instant classic the MkIII had long been considered a throw away or kit car donor. It is nice to see there are many examples of survivors being restored or restro-modded now. This particular car’s chances in North America do not seem as bright however.
The lack of instrumentation of evident here in the L specification interior. I have been known to adopt the occasional oddball car in need of work with no financial upside and I have to admit that I am mildly tempted by this Cortina. A four hour drive each way is a bit a barrier would where else would you find one? Of course its resuscitation could be derailed by something as mundane as a cracked windshield. I would perhaps be more tempted by a two door as I feel the coke bottle styles sit better with less doors.
Perhaps I should do what everyone else does these days and set up a crowd sourced fund to rescue this poor British Ford. Who will save the endangered Canadian Cortinas?