Sunday 15th September 2002


40 years of the Ford classic

The original Cortina 1200 two-door saloon of late 1962 sold for only £573, which was much less than any other car in this category. In those days, incidentally, a heater was an optional extra – for £15.10.
The Cortina was Britain's best-selling car for 10 of the 20 years it was on sale: 1967, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981. It was in second place for eight years and in third for the remaining two.
For sale to Japan in the 1970s, Mk III Cortinas had to be slimmed down by a few millimetres to sell within a particular tax bracket which depended on a car’s width. This was done by clamping and squeezing, the newly-assembled body shells in a special fixture.
The largest engine ever fitted to a Cortina production car was in one version of the Australian-assembled Mk IVs of the late 1970s, which had a 4.1-litre straight-six cylinder power unit.
In 20 years, no fewer than 788,012 Cortinas were exported from Dagenham in kit form, for assembly in other countries. Straight-six engined versions (Australia) and 3-litre V6 types (South Africa) were never available in Europe.

Forty years ago, on September 21st, 1962, Ford’s new Cortina was launched. Costing £573 for the standard 1200 saloon, it became an instant best-seller and enjoyed a 20 year career in which 4.3-million examples were produced.

The last Cortina was assembled in July 1982, to be succeeded by the controversially styled jellymould Sierra, which was a radical change from traditional three box designs.

Conceived in 1960, the new car, code named ‘Archbishop’ until the Cortina name was adopted, was intended to fill out a range in which the Anglia 105E and Zephyr/Zodiac models were prominent.

When originally planned, Ford thought it could sell at least 100,000 Cortinas every year – yet more than 260,000 Cortinas, with their trademark bodyside flutes and 'ban the bomb' badge-style rear lamps, were sold in the first full sales year, 1963.

Those highly distinctive rear lamps on the MkI very nearly didn't make the production car at all. Charles Thompson, one of the design team, recollects: "We were going to have neat strips of angled lamps and the body tooling was well underway. Then there was a last minute change of mind and the circular lamps were adopted instead."

Derivatives of the Cortina – particularly the GT and the Lotus-Cortina – won races and rallies all around the world in the 1960s. Formula One World Champion Jim Clark, and the ‘Bearded Baronet’ Sir John Whitmore won race championships in Britain and Europe. ‘Works’ GTs and Lotus-Cortinas, prepared at the Boreham motorsport centre, also won the East African Safari, and the RAC rallies, two of the world’s toughest endurance events.

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Despite their popularity at the time, they're a rare sight on the roads these days. Probably because they've all been used for banger racing!

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