Anyone growing up in the Sixties was touched by the Ford Cortina Mk1. If there wasn’t one in the family, one of the neighbours would have one. The Cortina was one of the cars that defined the Sixties and it was a landmark model for Ford – a miracle of packaging, manufacturing efficiency and price. So it was no wonder that in just four years over a million examples were sold, to eager sales reps as well as families, keen to embrace the motorway age.
Although the Cortina was massively popular in period, few of those made have survived as they weren’t designed or built to last. Despite this, the Cortina remains as attainable as ever, with most derivatives worth very little. The Cortina’s original popularity hinged on a wide array of engines, trims and body styles being available, and things are no different now, although the Lotus editions have got very costly in recent years. For that reason we’ll overlook them here, but even without them there’s plenty to amuse.
Which one to buy
Cortinas are bought more on condition than specification, as is common at this end of the market. Although there was a variant for everyone when they were new, the rate of attrition for some of the lowlier editions means poverty-spec Cortinas are now very hard to find.
Just about any mechanical malady you’re likely to encounter can be knocked into shape cheaply and easily. But overlook bodywork glitches and things are very different, so don’t dismiss a car with a good body but mediocre running gear. The cost of reviving a project car can quickly run away with you, so be cautious about taking on a tatty or incomplete Cortina.
Unsurprisingly, the more powerful a Cortina is, the greater its desirability and value. As a result, GT editions carry a premium while autos aren’t very sought after as they’re rather uninspiring to drive, so don’t pay over the odds for one.
Estates are worth buying for their practicality, but they’re relatively unusual and most buyers prefer a two or four-door saloon instead. The former is especially sought after by those wanting a sportier look – and by those keen to create a Lotus lookalike.
Tech spec - Ford 1500GT
Engine 1498cc, four-cylinder Power 78bhp @ 5200rpm Torque 91lb ft @ 3600rpm Top speed 91mph 0-60mph 12.1sec Consumption 26mpg Gearbox Four-speed manual
What to look for
• Rust is likely and original panels are scarce and expensive, but some repro pressings are available. All inner and outer panels need to be checked carefully. The area around the headlamps corrodes along with the front bumper supports, the anti-roll bar mountings, the wing bottoms and the wheelarches.
• Also scrutinise the MacPherson strut tops, the bulkhead, the bottoms of the doors, the A-posts and the sills. Don’t overlook the B-posts, the closing panels for the rear doors, the rear wing bottoms, the wheelarches, the floorpans, the rear valance and the boot lid. Petrol tanks corrode too, along with the jacking points plus the rear spring and shock absorber mountings.
• Mk1 powerplants were based on the pre-Crossflow Kent engine. There were 1198cc or 1498cc variants, the latter in standard or more powerful GT forms. Engine rebuilds are straightforward, although some parts are hard to find. The first sign of trouble is usually noisy valve gear, because of worn rockers, cam followers and the camshaft itself.
• Worn timing chains also cause problems – listen for rattles from the front of the engine. But it’s worn rings and bores that will blow the biggest hole in your wallet. Even when really worn, blue smoke is unusual, so look for fumes from the oil filler and breather at the rear of the block.
• All manual Cortinas have a four-speed all-synchro gearbox. Worn second-gear synchro is the first sign of trouble, along with jumping out of top. This could be a broken spring in the gearchange fork rod, or the screw and lock nut which holds the selector fork rod together may have worked itself loose; both easy fixes. But it could be serious wear in the gearbox coupling dogs or selector fork rod.
• The Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic gearbox is very reliable, but also rare in the Cortina.
• The steering box gives an inch of play at the steering wheel. Check the steering by rocking the wheel from side to side, get somebody to watch the ball joints and the steering idler assemblies. Severe play will be immediately obvious.
• Look for play in the drag link pin and bushes which link the idler and steering box. New repro pins and bushes are available.
• The MacPherson struts’ upper mounting incorporates a thrust race ball bearing. Lack of lubrication and moisture getting in lead to it getting stiff.
• The rear hub bearings are a pain to replace, as they require 1200lb of pressure to remove and the same to put them back. Check for play by jacking up the back of the car and rocking the top and bottom of each wheel to see if there’s any movement.
1962: The Consul Cortina 113E two-door saloon arrives, in basic or de Luxe forms with an 1198cc OHV engine. Later, a four-door saloon appears. 1963: A five-bearing 1498cc engine is introduced; it’s standard on the Super and optional on the de Luxe. A five-door estate debuts and the GT arrives, with a 78bhp 1498cc engine, uprated suspension, disc front brakes. Also, the strip speedo gives way to a circular unit in a binnacle and there’s now an auto option on 1498cc cars. 1964: A facelift brings a full-width grille, disc front brakes, Aeroflow ventilation, interior upgrades and more power. 1965: The basic saloon is dropped 1966: The last Mk1 saloon and estate are built.