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History of Ford Cortina

History of Ford Cortina

The Ford Cortina would start with one man’s vision, the dream of a car that could win races that would sell over 4.3 million cars over 20 years.

That would change with fashions and become a thing of legend that would help a rep make his sale by taking the company’s latest cars from Slough to Swindon on the tricky Tuesday in the rain. That could take the kids and their luggage on a week’s holiday to Clacton while using slightly less fuel and with slightly more luggage space.

That car would be the Ford Cortina, and this is the story.

The Ford Cortina Story

The Ford Cortina story starts with a compact saloon project in Detroit code named Cardinal Ford. North America decided it didn’t want to produce it. So, offer the product to Ford Germany, who would transform it into the 1962 Taurus. Sir Patrick Hennessey of Ford UK was in Detroit at the time and figured something like this would work well in the UK. It says a lot about how Ford UK and Ford of Germany worked at that time. He didn’t consider developing the car with the Germans but decided to make their own versions.

Ford Cortina Mark I

Ford UK would beat Project Cardinal with Project Archbishop. The new tallness was slated for September 1960 to release an ever-competitive Ford. The UK took it upon themselves to beat that release date with a car they hadn’t even designed yet. Fred Heartwood lead development. After his successful 1959 Ford Angular, the chief designer was Detroit cast off Roy Brown Junior sent to the UK in disgrace after he designed the colossal failure that was the Ford Edsel. The project went from idea to production in just 24 months, with only 3 months to create a clean mockup.

That’s short today when we have a computer-aided design, speeding up development. And it was a crazy short time in the nineteen sixties. The car world is littered with corpses of cars that were rushed to market. But Ford UK in 1960 was laser-focused. They knew exactly what car they wanted to build. It needed to be:

  • a light saloon with lots of luggage
  • space for family holidays
  • for company reps to carry samples.

The strange thing was Ford was about to release almost the same car in 1961.

Ford released a Ford Consul Classic and as you can see, it was a very similar car. The wheelbase was essentially the same and both were two. The Cortina was lighter, but both used similar capacity engines as the Ford Cortina was originally slated to be called the Consul and will be released as the Consul called Tina. It was clear that Ford wanted both cars to be seen as variants of the same car, even though beneath they were completely different.

Ford Consul Classic

It seems crazy that Ford would build a new chassis willy nilly, where today one chassis is reused for multiple vehicles. The Cortina name was picked at the last minute just before the new car’s photoshoot.

Ford Cortina was used to evoke thoughts of exotic Mediterranean towns. It was a name on people's lips after the 1956 Winter Olympics have been held there. Ford would go on to use Mediterranean town names on the Ford Capri, Granada, Fiesta Escort, and Transit. OK, maybe not the last three :)

Despite the short development period, the car went through extensive tests with over twenty prototypes. It was launched in September 1962, the same month the German project Cardinal was released as the Ford Taurus. The car was shown off to the public at the October Earls Court Motor Show. Ford made sure there were few in every British showroom ready to sell, sell, and sell. The small one point to lead to Kent Engine got the car to 60 in 22.5 seconds with a top speed of 75 miles an hour.

Ford Cortina, 1966

The Kent engine was first used in the 1959 Ford Angella, and it was so long-lived. It was still being used by the Fiesta. There would be both manual and automatic gearboxes. The manual was a four-speed all-cincher affair and having Syncro on all gears was still a bit of a novelty. In the early 1960s, Ford was able to discount the courting of the light. The car used less metal, the contemporary styling caught on, and it was rapidly outselling its sister car.

The Consul Classic’s people love the iconic round rear lights, which are still a design classic. Today, the 1963 Ford added an estate to the range and worked with Lotus to create a competition version of the Ford Cortina.

Lotus had already worked their magic on Ford’s 1.5-liter engine for the Lotus. They produced the Cortina Lotus that would compete in motorsports in Europe, the USA, South Africa, and New Zealand. With its front unloaded will becoming a common sight on fast corners.

Ford Cortina Engine

It won the 1966 RC rally, but was more at home on the race track, winning many titles with drivers such as Jim Clark, Jackie, and Jackie Stewart behind the wheel. The white car with a green stripe was popular with enthusiast drivers, and its wins on the racetrack got the public flocking to Ford dealerships. Australia will produce and race its own version of the Cortina. Jim Clark drove a Cortina down the Cortina Winter Olympics bobsledder on taking the turns faster than any bobsled could.

In 1964, there was a small refresh. Doing what Ford called the arrow flow ventilation system. It had the ability to refresh the entire interior in less than a minute, useful for fatigued drivers. The car got operated from disc brakes and the biggest change was the name. The console name was now dropped. It was now just the Ford Cortina, and sales went from strength to strength. Soon it was second only to its main competitor, BMC Austin.

Lotus Cortina

Eleven hundred and thirteen hundred. With this popularity, Ford moved to sell the car in other parts of the world, producing it in:

  • The Netherlands
  • Australia – Ford Cortina
  • Taiwan
  • Singapore
  • South Korea – under license by Hyundai.

With a Cortina selling like hotcakes, Ford concentrating on producing a solid and equally fashionable follow up.

This time, Roy Haynes was responsible for the stylish design with a whiff of the American Ford Falcon about it. Roy would then move to British Leyland, where he follows up with a decidedly unfashionable Morris Marina. The new car was shorter but wider, giving more interior space, a more boot space which Ford Cortina customers were looking for. The car featured child locks and wraparound rear lights so that from the side the car could be seen at night. The car got a new 1.3L version of the Kent engine.

Credit to Big Car Channel

But Ford used smaller engines in some markets to get around tax restrictions, such as the 1.1-liter increase. The update in styling size, engine, and interior features meant they could keep ahead of the competition. The public loved it. The company was on a roll not just with the Cortina, but with other cars rapidly gaining market share by 1967. When Ford rolled out the estate, the Ford Cortina was the number one selling car in the UK.

Ford Cortina interior

The future was so bright it had to wear shades. 1967 was also when Ford debuted the high spec sporty 1600 at the Paris Motor Show. It got it right in suspension and a powerful 1.6-liter engine but also included high luxury items like a:

  • warm dashboard bucket seats,
  • leather steering wheel
  • front fog lights
    This was a luxurious performance. And again, the car manufacturer perfectly judged the public’s taste.

But for those who wanted stripping down performance, the Cortina Lotus was back. With Lotus moving factories at that time, instead of Lotus modifying each car, it was decided Ford would build them on their production line at Dagenham as well as reducing costs. This also increased reliability as the hand-built nature of the car was removed. Ford was a little perturbed that the Mach one Cortina Lotuses reliability problems have been attributed to Ford. Whereas the performance and cool factor were notched up to Lotuses sporting roots.

Ford Cortina

The Cortina Lotus was essentially a 1600 GT with a more powerful 109 brake horsepower engine and different suspension. Although it lost its iconic green stripe, dealers were happy to add it on for a small price. The car was now offered with the left-hand drive was known as the Cortina Twin Cam, likely to minimize the free publicity Ford was giving to Lotus. This would be the last Cortina Lotus as the next group to the competition car would be the Ford Escort.

Also with Lotuses help with the Cortina competing in USA motorsports, enterprising American dealers imported 1.5-liter Cortinas, with modest sales peaking at almost 23 000 in 1969. But 1970 will be the last year for the Ford Cortina in the USA, with Ford introducing its own small car, the Ford Pinto. At the same time in Canada, the Cortina soldiered on until 1973.


Basil Green Motors of South Africa was founded in 1967 and they soon became specialists at modifying Fords into wild animals. They began with the Ford Cortina, lowering the suspension, installing a Ford six three to six, calling a Perana. They would go on to convert the Escort, Capri, and Granada. There’s still around converting cars like the Ford Mustang, but tuned Cortinas appeared in the UK as well, such as the 3.0 L V6 Cortina Savage. The German Taurus and British Cortina showed just how much Ford was duplicating effort in Europe, and Detroit wanted this to end.

Ford conceived the Mark 3 Cortina as a world car, not the last time they would try and do it. Although thoughts of using the new Cortina stateside were dropped, it would mean that Ford in Europe would align the Cortina and Taurus cars under one common design, codenamed T.C. for Taurus Cortina. But in truth, this was just one step in the unification that had begun with a Ford Escort. Although the Taurus and Cortina would be based on the same body, there would be differences between the two.

If you thought the mark to Cortina was a miracle on wheels, the Mark 3 was so American. You think its horn played Yankee Doodle Dandy and it ran on Forestar Budweiser. Ford styling was more and more reflecting the US model such as the Ford Falcon and its Capri and Granada models would follow suit. Ford also killed off the slow-selling Corsair by making the Cortina a little larger and adding a 2.0-liter engine. The Mark 3 Cortina was 2 inches wider and the wheelbase was extended 3.5 inches, giving more legroom.

Ford Cortina

But despite being much larger inside, it was the same length as the old car. This would wrong-foot competitors British Leyland, who were designing their Morris Marina to compete with the old Cortina and now found its car was too small with a change in size forethought about renaming the car. But with such a radical styling change, they figured that keeping the same popular name would help transition customers to the new model.

The suspension was all-new, with coils at the back and double wishbones up front giving a much softer ride. It was heavier due to more metal to make the car more rigid for safety, and included more sound deadening to reduce engine and road noise. But badly fitting doors actually increase the wind noise. Ford quickly solve this issue as well as vibration problems to make the car a good, solid choice. The Cortina will be the top of the line model, replacing the 1.60L with a new 2.0-litre Pinto engine.

Ford Cortina

It could get to 60 miles per hour in 10.6 seconds. But reviewers found the interior trim used cheap faux wood and plastic, and customers were turned off. I find this a little surprising when faux wood and plastic were all the rage in the nineteen seventies. In October 1970, the Mark 3 Cortina was launched. But production was immediately hit with strike troubles that delayed getting this popular car into customers’ hands. It may have been a blessing in disguise that the new cars teething problems will be resolved.

While workers were striking, Ford was expecting even bigger sales from the new car and invested heavily in extra capacity. And they were right to do so. Once the strikes abated, sales took off with a Ford Cortina and Escort trading the UK number one and number two sales spots until 1982. Abbotts in the UK made a convertible variant and in South Africa, a pickup or baccy was produced. It proved to be so popular it was made into the Ford P100 that would live on in various forms until 1993.

Ford Cortina

Ford of Australia used the 3.3-liter and 4.1-litre Ford Phalcon engines to give the Cortina a little more power. Taiwan would continue production would make a special version of the Cortina that was 7 millimeters narrower to comply with Japanese tax rules. 1973 bought a facelift to the car, and the slightly bouncy suspension was tamed. Realizing the GSL felt cheap, the top model became using higher quality materials. The Ford sales juggernaut continued on, producing affordable cars that judge the public’s mood perfectly.

The car had its defects, but then in the 1970s, all cars had defects and Ford was the cream of the crop. The Mark 3 Taurus and Cortina were based on the same platform but had distinct differences from a Cortina Mark 4 in 1976. The cars would be identical except for the badge. The design would be done by Overbalance. And who handled Ford’s European styling until the mid-1980s, the car shed its wild American looks for a more conservative, angular approach.

Ford Cortina

Again, following the fashion of the time, the new design would have more window area, giving a brighter cabin and better visibility. The dashboard remained the same as it had been updated just three years previously, with a Mark 4 not being much more than a restyle of the previous car. Drivers felt right at home behind the wheel. The car will be available as a two or four-door saloon or a five-door estate that used the rear from the 1974 Taurus, making it a rather odd-looking car.

Ford Cortina Estate

The top of the range would be the gear style by the Gear Design House Ford had purchased a few years earlier. There was a hope that the name would exude luxury and an aspirational desire to trade up.

And Ford needed to keep updating the Cortina with other manufacturers offering strong competition. Volkswagen launched its Passat in 1972. That would compete with a Taurus on the continent. The Opel with its model appeared in 1970, and the second version came to British shores in 1975 as the Vauxhall Cavalier. Opel’s and Vauxhall will continue to be a thorn in Ford’s side. Ford was ever keen to use product placement to sell their cars, and the Mark 1 Cortina had seen the action as glam camps in carrying on.

Cinemagoers would see the mark for Cortina, the bill chasing James Bond in his Lotus Esprit, and the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me, the Cortina game with the V6 2.30-liter cologne engine in 1977. 

But it didn’t sell well as it used more fuel than the similar four-cylinder engine, while only being slightly faster. Ford of Australia continued to sell the Cortina, with the estate version surprisingly being produced by Renault in Australia.

Ford Cortina

Ford launched a refresh of the Cortina in August 1979 as Cortina 80. It had a new roof and larger windows. Interior trim was improved along with slightly larger headlights, and rustproofing was a lot better. There’s a good reason you don’t see many of them fall on the road today, and rust is the main culprit. Although their propensity to be used in Bangor Racing probably didn’t help. The engines had better performance and fuel economy, the estate kept at the end of 19970’s was looking hopelessly out of date.

But the Cortina was still a top seller until production ended and the special crusader edition was especially popular, selling over 30 000 cars behind the scenes.

Ford was working on an aerodynamic Cortina replacement that would be called the Sierra. But with a less Cortina rolling off the production line in 1982, Ford could be proud of their little car that sold nearly 4.3 million cars over 20 years. Alone in the UK 2.6 million of Ford Cortina found buyers.