© 2001 David Griffith

Like the ebb and flow of the tide, or the cycle of the seasons, some things always come round again. And so it is with fashion, and the current obsession with the decade that taste forgot - the 1970s.

We've had the clothes, we've had the music, but what about the cars? More to the point, what about THE car of the 70s, the Mk lll Ford Cortina?

Launched at the 1970 Earl's Court Motor Show, the Mk lll variant of Ford's family motor started the decade off in fine style, with it's distinctive 'Coke bottle' curves. The growing popularity of Japanese imports sparked a wake-up call to British car manufacturers and Ford responded by offering greater comfort and glamour in its mainstream car range. Paradoxically, the new styling and 'under the skin' technical innovation marked the growing influence of Ford of Europe in independently developing models from its Stateside parent. It was also in mass production in what was then West Germany, under the 'Taunus' moniker, marking a radical departure from the gradual, centralised evolution of previous Fords.

The Mk lll Cortina began the obsession with different specification and trim levels, with 35 variations available initially - ranging from the wheezy, threadbare 1300, to the cosseting and sprightly 2000GXL, complete with obligatory vinyl roof. All models offered a lot of car for the money but the 1300 model was always going to be a struggle to hussle along the Queen's highway, and was described as a 'sheep in wolf's clothing' in one road test. The 2000GXL was nearly twice as quick to accelerate to 60mph and had at its heart the remarkably durable 2.0 litre OHC 'Pinto' engine, beloved of generations of Fords throughout the previous Millennium.

On the road the Cortina was easy to drive, with admirably light controls, but it suffered from considerable body roll and a very soft suspension setup - hence its popularity as a motorway car. Together with its 'big car' feel it explains why the Mk lll Cortina was never a force in motorsport - particularly with its stablemate, the Ford Escort, already a rallying icon. Indeed, the nearest the Mk lll Cortina got to proving its motoring prowess was as the chosen vehicle for Jackie Stewart's popular 'Formula Finesse' competition - a display of driving skill that consisted of trying to manoeuvre the car without losing a ball placed in a container on the bonnet...

Ford knows a thing or two about giving the great British public what it thinks it wants, and the Cortina soon became Britain's best-selling car - despite our reputation as the strike-happy epicentre of the universe - and millions of cardigan and flares-attired owners came to rely on it.

Attempts were made to inject a bit of decent performance and handling into the Cortina when independent conversion specialist Jeff Uren introduced the 'Cortina Savage' in 1972. By slipping in the 3.0 litre V6 from the Ford Zodiac and uprating the suspension, carburation and brakes, the Savage pumped out 218 bhp at a giddy 6400rpm - taking it from 0-60mph in 7 seconds, and on to a top speed of 130mph. For the ultimate in Cortina style there was even a convertible Cortina, converted by the Kent-based firm of Crayford.

But for the top dog rep on the road, or the family man with with more cash than dash, the peak of Mk lll Cortina ownership came with the introduction of the 2000E model in 1973. Ever since the demise of the Mk ll 1600E model there had been a desire for something a bit special - and as Cortinas became more and more commonplace those trim level badges took on a definite pecking order in the company car park. The 'E' stood for executive and the 2000E ladled on the 'class' with deep pile carpets, sumptuous velour upholstery and, to quote from Ford's own ads at the time, "...a lot of wood".

Cortina owners are an enthusiastic bunch and there's quite a following for the various Cortina lookalikes that made their way to Australia, South Africa and Europe. Although the basic shape was the same, they were available with quite a variety of engines, such as the bonnet-bulging 4 .1 litre straight six fitted to Australian cars.

What of the Mk lll today? From being ubiquitous in their day they are now surprisingly rare, yet have never suffered from being overvalued. Even the best examples only fetch a few thousand pounds, whilst the majority are worth only several hundred pounds. They shared the same running gear as later Cortinas and some Sierras, so any scrapyard worth its salt should be able to kit you out mechanically. Trim items can be hard to source though, so it's best to join one of the many clubs devoted to the marque. Nothing comes close to better representing popular motoring culture in the 1970s - and if you do see one, watch the windscreen carefully for the furry dice!

© 2000 David Griffith (Article first appeared in the Press & Journal newspaper)