These two imports, one from Great Britain and one form Germany, represented the beginning of a new breed of European low-cost cars, having applied the same formula as American muscle cars like the GTO had just a few years earlier: bump up the power with a bit of engine tuning, add some stripes and other external signs if its intended image, and give it a sporty name, like Rallye or GT.
Road and Track decided to do a dual road test, and it makes for interesting reading. I was initially a bit surprised at this pairing, as the Cortina was generally one class larger and more expensive than the Kadett in Europe, but their prices in the US were almost identical. The specs here all favor the Cortina GT, but the Kadett Rallye didn’t give up the fight easily.
R&T points out that these captive imports have the benefit of a larger dealer network in the US, a sore point for many of the other import brands except VW. They also point out that not all Ford dealers carried either the Ford of England or German Ford lines, although by this time the German Ford line had disappeared here several years earlier. And then there’s the fact that Buick dealer basically walked away from Opel in the early 60s, orphaning the owners of the quite popular Opel Rekord, only to take up the brand again in 1964 for the new Kadett, which had become the #2 selling import by this time.
The Cortina looked more conventional compared to the fastback Kadettm especially in Rallye guise, with its bold stripes and such. The Cortina was bigger all-round, and weighed 270 lbs more. Its 78 hp 1.5 L four was considerably larger than the Kadett’s 67 hp 1.1 L mill.
Both were of course conventional RWD cars, but the Cortina’s front suspension of struts and coils was more modern than the Kadett’s IFS of upper control arms with a lower transverse leaf spring. And at the rear, the Cortina’s had radius rods to help control its leaf-spring suspended live rear axle; the Kadett had a torque tube and leaf springs.
Not surprisingly, the Cortina was roomier and more comfortable inside, it had better ventilation, and its instrument panel was preferred.
When it comes to driving, the Kadett “invites brisk driving…the seating position is high…extremely responsive steering to inspire confidence even in close-quarter maneuvering… the engine is very revvy…and it doesn’t object to being kept towards the top of the dial (tach)…all the drivers commented on its smoothness…but the noise level is not low”.
All this sounds very familiar, having both spent quite a bit of time in my father’s ’65 KadettA as well as driving some Kadett Bs. It truly invites full-on driving, even if it isn’t truly a fast car. But fun, yes.
Not surprisingly, the Cortina GT accelerated faster, although the difference wasn’t all that great, thanks to the Kadett’s 1770 lbs of flyweight. In fact the Kadett went exactly as fast ultimately (91 mph) as the Cortina, despite its smaller and less powerful engine, thanks to less frontal area of its slim body.
It made the Kadett a great city car, but it also did better than average on the highway simply because its little four didn’t create the vexing boom and resonances of larger fours. But its primitive suspension didn’t take to rough roads very happily.
The Cortina was rightfully deemed “one of the best handling sedans we’ve ever driven”. Refinements to its front and rear suspension paid off, and now it both cornered smartly but still rode well over rougher pavement. It was simply a more sophisticated car, and made it more suitable for longer trips or over poor conditions. And that means it was better suited to being an only car, whereas the Kadett was deemed to be better suited to second car status.