Once again we delve into the past to look at a modern classic, a real classic or perhaps not a classic at all in the eyes of the motoring elite but nonetheless a car that meant a great deal to many people. This week, there is no doubt this car’s first iteration is now a true classic but later models may not have quite reached stardom yet, it is the family favourite of the 70s the Ford Cortina.
Named after an Italian ski resort the Cortina was launched in 1962 and was sold right through until 1982, over its 20-year life span it saw 5 different versions launched and a multitude of engines, trim levels and other options. The aim of the Cortina was simple, to create a family car Ford could sell by the bucket load. It needed to be affordable, flexible and reliable but it also needed to be desirable too.
The car was designed by a man called Roy Brown Jr who had literally been banished from the Ford HQ in the USA after he designed a car called the Edsel. The Edsel was meant to be a big launch for Ford, with aims at taking large numbers of buyers away from the General Motors group among others, sadly for Roy Brown Jr but happily, for the UK, the Edsel failed spectacularly and never really got off the ground. It was when he arrived in the famous Dagenham Ford plant that he began work on the then-unknown quantity that was the Ford Cortina.
There is a number of versions fo the Cortina but not all of then really deserve an in-depth personal mention, however, the MK1 certainly does. This car came out in the 60s and certainly has that cool look to it. It was genuinely a family car that looked great and still does today. It had a strong and clear American feel which even lead to it being launched with a bench seat option for the front with a column shift gear change. For many British buyers, it was an easy choice and with multiple trim levels, there was something for everyone. Ford did make one error though, the standard model was launched with the same amount of trim as some of the higher models so people had literally no reason to buy it, this lower model is now by far the rarest and very few are ever seen.
One model that deserves a special mention is the GT version. This tuned option was a real winner on the track and the road, with lowered suspension and an engine, claimed to produce 78bhp instead of the normal 60 bhp it became a very desirable car. This then leads to another sporty edition which involved teaming up with Lotus to create a real racer with a Lotus-built engine and super light body panels to name just a few tricks it had. Both the GT and Lotus Cortina can often be seen at classic car races and rallies like the Goodwood Revival.
The Rest Of the Range
It is not to say the next 4 generations of the Cortina were not very good, they were great, but they became more and more “day to day” and lost a little bit of the flare the initial model had.
In 1966 the MK II was launched, it was longer, more modern looking and had some new engine options, one of which was a bigger 1.6-litre engine that came a little after launch. Rather than the 1.2 and 1.5-litre options of the MK1 the Cortina now had 1.3 and 1.6-litre options offering more power and better economy figures. In 1967 the Cortina became the most popular new car on sale in the UK, Ford had achieved its initial goal!
The Mk III appeared in 1970 and had some big shoes to fill. The design took a very different path for a new decade with what is known as a coke bottle shape, this style was taken directly from Detroit designed cars like the Ford Mercury and clearly showed Fords US roots even in a clearly British market. Early reviews were poor, citing a harsh ride at low speeds and a bouncy one at high speeds. Initial sales figures did not look good and fears of failure were rife, however after some suspension reworking and a few other tweaks the MK III got better. Eventually, people realised things had improved any by 1972 the Cortina was once again Britain’s best selling new car closely followed in second by the Ford Escort. The Cortina stayed in the top slot for the rest of the decade.
The MK IV saw a real change in the Cortina’s spirit. There was a clear aim to sell it en masse to the fleet market and with it came a definite drop in style. With larger windows and better visibility came more weight and less performance. Ford tried a number of different engine options including a big 2.3 litre V6 which sadly didn’t really take off as it wasn’t that fast and used a lot of fuel. However, the MK III continued to sell well and carried on taking the top sales positions from competitors like Austin.
The MK V was the final version of the Cortina to grace Britain’s roads. Essentially a facelift model rather than a total rebuild it carried various visual changes but maintained much of the underpinning of the MK IV. Initially launched as the Cortina 80 it was soon called the MK V by the public, the press and everyone in the industry despite Ford never actually giving it the name. It arrived in 1979 and although continued to sell well it soon started to feel threatened at the hands of the Vauxhall Cavalier, however, the Cortina was still the best selling car in the UK until it’s the final year in 1982.
A Good Innings
The Cortina was an undeniable success, with over ten years of being the best selling new car in the UK it is certainly safe to say Ford achieved their goal. It may not have always been cool, and it wasn’t always pretty as the later models show but it was always affordable, reliable and flexible and that meant it sold nearly 2.6 million units to many different types of people. It finally gave way to the Ford Sierra which in itself was a very important car.
You can still pick yourself up a Cortina but finding an MK IV will be all but impossible due to very poor rust proofing and the fact it was very popular with banger racers sadly. Prices for the MK1 sit at around £15000 which is getting into real classic car money, however, if you fancy a little slice of the very early 80s an MK V could be yours for just £3000. As always, do your homework, buying old cars is always a big risk, be prepared to spend money on it to keep it running.