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Homepage. This page: Ford Cortina - The Complete History.

Ford Cortina - The Complete History.


Russell Hayes.
ISBN 978 1 84425 988 5
Published 2012. (Hardback, 288 pages).
Review date March 2012.
Book on Ford Cortinas

UK RRP 35.

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Ford Cortinas were at one time as frequent a sight on the roads of Britain as Cannon and Ball were on weekend television, or The Beatles were on the wireless. As a youth, I remember a neighbour doting over his immaculate Mk1, his car painted a fetching shade of dark blue. Every weekend it would be rolled outside, given a fresh waxing, then pushed back away into its garage, with infrequent local drives keeping its systems in tip-top condition. Our family never owned a Cortina, but growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, they seemed to be everywhere.
This book, published by Haynes in 2012, takes the reader on a nostalgic trip into the history of probably Ford's best-remembered post-war car, in Britain at least. Included within the book's 288 pages is a wealth of contemporary imagery, much of it in colour, assisting the author's text as each model is reviewed in turn.
The first chapter ventures into the most distant years in Ford's motoring heritage, painting a picture of the early years of the marque's presence in the UK, beginning with the Model T and into the Dagenham era, with the 8hp Model Y. Cars of the post-war era, such as the Consul and the 100E, help to explain Ford's growing presence in the saloon-car sector during the 1950s, all the while battling with the giants Austin and Morris, by now part of BMC. While BMC, in the pre-Farina days at any rate, produced cars as English as English could be, with comforting names such as Hereford and Somerset, Ford looked to its American roots and produced cars such as the Zodiac and the Zephyr, in Mk2 guise at least looking very much like American cars reproduced in 2/3 scale. The Consul Classic 315, and the Classic Capri, continued the Americanised theme but would only serve as stop-gap models until a new car, the Cortina, was ready to take the fight squarely to its opposition. The Anglia 105E had already proved to be a great success, and much was expected of the new car in the mid-size saloon market.
The genesis of both the "Cardinal" and "Archbishop" designs is then discussed in some detail. The former started out in life as a Ford US proposal for a Falcon replacement, and later became the basis of the new Taunus in Germany. Archbishop would be Ford of Britain's new car, resulting in the new Consul Cortina, or just plain Cortina as it would become to be badged. Several of the individuals who played a key part in the design phase for the new Cortina are featured, as the background story to the (retrospectively-named) Mk1 unfolds. Regular references to rival products from other manufacturers provide a context for the decisions being taken behind the scenes at Ford - while the latter wasn't overly-impressed with the accounting procedures at BMC, they were clever enough to recognise the strong opposition fielding by the many variants of ADO16 (BMC's 1100/1300 and re-badged variants), not to mention the cars of both Vauxhall and Rootes.
Competition activities with the Mk1 receive appropriate coverage also, as do interesting one-offs such as the Saxon proposal (a two-door coupe) and the Ogle/Stirling Moss GT fastback. Crayford's convertible version, offering wind-in-the-hair motoring to those who lamented the disappearance of such a vehicle in Ford's line-up, once the Mk2 Consul/Zephyr/Zodiac had made way for the new range. Improvements made to the Mk1 during its production run, and the successes of the sporting GT and the Lotus-Cortina, are documented as the 1960's roll on, the latter being the sole focus of chapter 3, a mark of how successful a machine it proved to be in the hands of Jim Clark, Alan Mann, Vic Elford and others, in both rallies and circuit races.
While the new Cortina was receiving a loyal following with both fleet and family buyers alike, Ford were hard at work behind the scenes with a new, slightly larger saloon, that would make its debut in 1961 - the Consul Corsair, slotting in between the Cortina and the larger be-finned Zodiacs and Zephyrs. The new car's inception, and the new producting facility built at Halewood to produce it, are described in detail. As with the Cortina there would be an estate car version of the new Corsair, but no Lotus-powered version would be offered.
Page 156 sees a return to the Cortina story, and the new square-rigged Mk2. Gone were the moderately rakish lines of the Mk1, to replaced by a simple three-box design, not unlike that of the Hillman Hunter, and arguably less fussy albeit perhaps less recognisable than contemporary big Farinas rolling out of BMC dealerships. Again, two- and four-door saloons would be offered, along with an estate. The 1600E and GT models were designed to appeal to the keener motorist, who was looking for a little one-upmanship and extra performance over the base models regularly seen ploughing up and down the motorways of Britain. A Lotus-powered version would again be available, built this time at Dagenham and now referred to officially as the Cortina-Lotus, a separate chapter does a fine job of recalling its evolution.
With the 1970s looming closer, and competition from the likes of the Vauxhall Victor showing no sign of receding, Ford re-discovered curves and began work on the new Mk3, incorporating the distinctive Coke-bottle line along its sides, kicking up over the rear arches. While the freshness of the new design drew praise in the early roadtests, not everything was as Ford would have liked. Issues with harsh-riding suspension and some dubious handling traits at higher speeds, illustrated that Ford's designers would need to continue their late nights to rectify these early niggles. All the usual body styles were put on sale, although there would be no more Lotus power, much to the chagrin of the string-backed driving glove brigade. Available in a multitude (and often bewildering) array of trim and specification levels, the new Mk3 - despite a few wobbles - was more than capable of seeing off the challenge from British Leyland, who could only field the Marina, the Maxi and later the Princess in response to Dagenham, a collection of rivals that at best were pretty average in their abilities. Vauxhall could offer the Mk1 incarnation of the Cavalier as a rival. If anything, the real challenge and a growing concern within the corridors at Ford HQ would be that of producers based in the land of the rising sun, as Datsuns and Toyotas (to name just two) began to make their presence felt.
The fourth generation of Cortina landed in the showrooms during 1977, and Hayes devotes chapter 8 to their birth. Buyers with a firm eye on their s might have opted for a base-level car, while junior company directors, not quite able to achieve Jaguar levels of motoring, would no doubt have eyed the well-spec'd Cortina Ghia models (available in four or six cylinder guise) with some relish, with its crushed velour seating, and natty vinyl roof. In 1979 the Cortina series received a make-over rather than wholesale re-design, resulting in Cortina 80, or better known as the Mk5. Versions designed for both fleet and private buyer continued. This model would ultimately draw a curtain over Cortina production for good, with the final models leaving the factory in 1982, to make way for the radically-different Sierra, a new car for a new world.
The jellymould-like Sierra would take time to find acceptance in all corners of the previous car's traditional heartland, so radical was its styling compared to the "safe" but rather dull Cortina of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Aerodynamics were the "in" thing at the time, with manufacturers such as Audi vying to produced wind-cheating models with the lowest possible Cd rating. Ford wanted a piece of that action, and the result was the Sierra. Experimental cars such as Probe 3 had already hinted at the way Ford's designers were thinking. The final few pages of this book cast an eye over the new replacement, a model that - initially at least - was only available as a hatchback, the Sapphire saloon not joining the party until 1987.
This book does an excellent job of recalling the design and build of cars that, for so many people, bring back memories of a simpler time, when the option of a rear seat armrest, a rev counter, a clock, or a pushbutton radio could influence a buyer's choice of model. And just as there are still fans of Cannon and Ball out there, there are plenty of enthusiasts actively seeking out and preserving Ford's mid-sized saloons of the '60s, '70s and '80s.
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