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?
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.
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
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.
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".
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!
David Griffith (Article first appeared in the Press & Journal