Cortina Story 1962 – 1982

Towards the latter part of the 1950s, Ford identified a need for an all-new family car. This was the start of the Cortina Story which was to last for exactly 20 years.

Ford research established that this new car range would need to be larger than the 100E Anglia but smaller than the Mk2 Consul/Zephyr/Zodiac models. Interest was growing for cars that working families felt they could afford.

Ford engineers and market planners were tempted by the mini-car concept epitomised by the BMC Austin and Morris Minis but, after stripping an example down to the very last nut, bolt and spot weld, it was decided that this was not to be the way ahead for Ford.

Instead they chose to design what was to become the benchmark for family and business motoring that would last for exactly 20 years.

The name – Cortina.

Mk1 – the Consul Cortina 1962-1966

The first Cortina which appeared in September 1962 was designed under the codename “Archbishop” at a cost of Stg£13 million.

The body was styled by a Canadian, Roy Brown (he also was the stylist for the disastrous Ford Edsel in the USA) while the overall coordination of the project was the responsibility of Terence (later Sir Terence) Beckett who would later become Chairman and Managing Director of Ford in Britain.

Cortina was to combine contemporary design within an overall package that was lightweight and spacious internally, yet compact in its overall dimensions. The body design was arrived at using aircraft technology that not only optimised the metal to strength ratio but gave a weight saving of at leas 150 lbs.

Why Cortina ?

In Britain the car was expected to carry over the respected “Consul” name which did in fact appear on the earliest models alongside the name “Cortina”. The name helped to add an interbational flavour being the name of a town in the Italian Dolomite mountains, Cortina D’Ampezzo, home of the 1956 Winter Olympics. Also planned was 225/255 model designation which never materialised.

UK prices including purchase tax of £639 for the 2-door Standard model and £666 10s 3d (that’s Pounds, Shillings and Pence to all you pre-Feb’71 non-decimal gurus!)

In Ireland the Cortina was launched with full page advertising by Ford at a price for the Cortina 1200 2-Door de Luxe of £598.

The Cortina would soon become Ford’s most important car range, sweeping all competition aside to eventually become the best selling car for 11 years between 1967 and 1981.

The Mk1 Cortina was launched in September 1962 with just one engine size of 1195cc.The initial production of only 20000 also carried the Consul bonnet badge.

By January 1963, a 1500cc-engined model was available with larger brakes and the addition of chrome body strip embellishments on a newly introduced “Super” model option.

Estate cars including “Super” models borrowing “woody” side panelling popular in America and 2-door and 4-door “GT” models…and a column change, 3-speed automatic for the 1500cc engine were all introduced in 1963.

A bench seat with column-mounted manual or automatic gear change was also available and was a very popular option in Ireland.

Lotus Cortina – a Rally star!

Also in January 1963, Ford presented its ace card with the introduction of the limited production Lotus Cortina in collaboration with Colin Chapman of Lotus which was to set motoring enthusiasts alight with its 105 BHP twin-camshaft 1558cc engine. This set the Cortina name up for some spectacular rally and racing circuit successes in the mid – 60’s including the RAC Rally and the East Africa Rally.

Cortina Mk1 models also saw the introduction of a September 1964 face-lifted version known as the “Aeroflow” model named after Ford’s patented Aeroflow heating and ventilation system and also the adoption of front disc brakes on all models.

By the time Mk1 production ceased in September 1966 no fewer than 1,013,391 cars had been produced.

Mk2 – Cortina 1966-1970

After the Mk1 model span of 4 years, Ford introduced the new Mk2 version in October 1966. It offered a crisp, clean, almost timeless European styling appeal which was much different to its predecessor. Running gear was similar but saw the introduction of a more powerful 1300cc engine complementing the 1500cc unit. From February 1967, the Lotus saloon was added to the range.

The distinctive “kick-up” style over the rear wheel arches not only enhanced appearance but also significantly increased boot size and space which at 21 cubic feet was more than any other car in its class.

The Cortina Mk2 Estate was also a class leader offering 70.8 cubic feet of capacity and a load floor length of 6.33 feet. Safety at night had also been considered with wrap-around lamp clusters so that, even from the side, the rear of the car was clearly defined at night. Other safety features included door handles, window winders, light switches and a windscreen wash/wiper control all designed to “break away” in the event of an accident. Childproof locks were also fitted to the rear doors and steering wheels were deeply dished for safety.
Power was delivered to the road wheels through a 4-speed, all-sychromesh gearbox controlled by a fully-remote floor mounted gear lever – or a column-mounted gear lever. These transmissions were available across the entire range with the exception of a special close-ratio gearbox developed for the GT/E/Lotus models.

A column-shift automatic transmission was a regular production option on all models with the exception of the 1600E and Lotus – and special order only on the GT.

Hydraulically-operated front disc brakes and self-adjusting rear drum brakes were also standard across the range with a vacuum-operated servo assistance in the Lotus only. Front suspension – as in the Mk1 – was fully independent using front McPherson struts and utilised longitudinal semi-elliptic springs at the rear.Rear axle location was further assisted on the 1600E and Lotus and early GT models.

As per the Mk1 Cortina, a bench seat with column-mounted manual or automatic gear change was also available on the Mk2 Cortina – still a popular option in Ireland.

From August 1967 there was the new and soon-to-be-famous Crossflow engine. These more powerful engines were available in 1300cc and 1600cc sizes with an uprated version of the 1600cc engine for the GT.
With the exception of the Lotus model which featured a special 115 bhp twin overhead camshaft engine with a 2 x Weber DCOE carburettors, all later Cortina Mk2 engines had the Ford crossflow cylinder head and bowl-in-piston combustion chamber arrangement.

Cortina 1600E – A Revelation!

The Mk2 Cortina range will probably be remembered by most for the introduction at the Paris Motor Show in September 1967 of the Ford Cortina 1600E….famous for its Lotus and GT running gear and big-car luxury motoring feel.
The E – which stood for Executive – brought a touch of high level luxury motoring to a medium size family car at an affordable price for the first time – and all this allied to a high performance 1600GT engine and running gear and a Lotus-spec suspension.
The E’s matt black grille (and back panel on Jan’69 Series 2 1600E’s) and body coach line and elegant motifs placed discreetly on the rear roof quarter pillars together with unique 1600E RoStyle sculpted sports wheels and front fog lights and rear reversing lights marked the 1600E out as something special in the Mk2 range and was easily distinguishable externally from other models as it sat lower with larger tyres than most other Mk2 variants. Interior features included American-timbered walnut facia and matching door cappings, a centre console unit and reclining sports seats and special carpets and full GT-level dash instrumentation. About 55833 4-door and 2749 2-door versions were produced in 3 years excl. CKD export kits.

The 1600E was assembled in Ford Irish plant in Cork from CKD (completely knocked down) kits supplied by Dagenham UK plant. A 2 door LHD version was made for LHD markets….. although, unofficially, about 4 RHD 2-door version became available in the UK in 1970 due to a cancelled Special Order.

By the time Mk 2production ceased in September 1970 production figures stood at 1,027,869 cars.

Mk3 – Cortina 1971-1976

By 1970, the Cortina name had become synonymous with success. Both the Mk1 and Mk2 versions had been sales chart-toppers and each had proved itself with a million-plus pedigree.
The UK Dagenham plant’s Ford Cortina had assuredly become the industry’s benchmark by which cars in that class were judged…….so much so that a new market segment class called the “Cortina-class” had evolved – all serious competition had to have a model in this class.
Cortina’s broad appeal together with its success in motorsport entered the 70’s with a new look, a wider range of models and engines as well as increased levels of refinement and equipment that were needed to beat off Continental Europe and Japanese import which were slowly but certainly gaining ground.
Dagenham’s answer came with the elegant, curvaceous lines of the new Mk3 Cortina, humourously dubbed the “Coke bottle” due to the side elevation appearance.
The launch of the Mk3 Cortina was affected by the aftermath of the longest industrial dispute in Ford’s UK history which also affected its Cork plant in Ireland – but launched it was in October 1970 for the 1971 market.
The larger but sleeker Cortina Mk3 went “upmarket” to fulfil motorist’s desire for more car for their money as well as wider choice of engines and extra motoring comforts.
At launch there were 2 and 4-door saloons and a 4-door Estate in Standard/L/XL trim levels featuring 1300/1600 OHV and a new 2000cc OHC engines. GT and top-of-the-range GXL models were offered with the new 1600OHC and 2000OHC engines only.

As per earlier Cortina marks, there was also a bench seat with a very long floor-mounted manual gear change made available especially for the Irish market……these options were only available on the early Mk3 models in Ireland and were discontinued shortly after launch.

Within 4 months the range was rationalised with the elimination of certain “lead-in” models such as base derivatives and 2-door L saloons. The revised range continued until September 1973 when the entire range was face-lifted. Major improvements included: revised front and rear suspension settings with anti-roll bar front and rear; new dash and instruments layouts; revised gear ratios on 1300cc and 1600cc models and the deletion of the 1600cc OHV engine in favour of the 1600OHC engine. The GXL badge also gave way to a new 2000E (Executive) model in both saloon and estate car forms.
In 1975, standard specifications were again improved via Ford’s VFM programme – Value For Money. All models received tailored carpets, cloth trim, servo brakes, heated rear windows, hazard warning lights and cigar lighter. Appearance of the 1300 and 1600L was changed significantly by the use of rectangular headlights. Estate cars (except Base) were now fitted with tailgate wash/wipe.

Production of the Mk 3 Cortina in September 1976 closed at an impressive 1,126,559 cars.

Mk4 – Cortina 1976-1979

Again, by 1976, styling improvements in the Mk3 Cortina started to show the need for revision in the face of ever-increasing competition from both Continental Europe and Japanese competitors.

The response from Ford came in September 1976 with the introduction of the more “square look” body styling of the Mk4 Cortina. The new design featured an increased glass area, lower waistline and integral front spoiler.

With firm control of the top-selling spot , the Cortina continued to be improved with the addition of V6 power from a 2.3 litre engine (Cologne) available in GL, Ghia and S (for Sport) models.

In 1977, the Cortina range was complimented by the 1600 Ghia in response to the needs of both private and business users who were looking to combine improved fuel economy with prestigious “Ghia” refinements.

One of the rarest Cortinas to find at the moment is the “S” sport versions which were available with a 1600/2000/2300 engine options and distinguished by the zany pyjama type seat upholstery and the de- chromed black look on door handles and bumpers and door surrounds and roof gutter trim. Twin driving lights (with black backs, of course) were also fitted to Sport versions.

The Mk4 range stretched Cortina range from a Base 1300 2-door to a 2300 Ghia 4-door Automatic.

Mk5 “Cortina 80” – Cortina 1979-1982

Being a sales leader is not an easy achievement to maintain. Ford aware that customers expected improvements and fresh approaches to design to encourage them to rem,ain faithful to a manufacturer’s product, made yet more improvements to the Cortina.

Ford never acknowledged the Mk5 as a separate model but rather as an extension of the Mk4 concept – but Cortina fans are having none of this and named it the Mk5.
The revisions of 1980 changed the appearance of the Cortina sufficiently for the trade and public to dub the new car the “Mk 5”, although this was not officially a Ford marque.
It gave Ford a a family design image as it provided the Cortina with an appearance closely resembling that of the larger Granada range.

In truth, the Sierra project planning timetable had fallen behind and Ford needed the Cortina for an extra 2-3 years before the Sierra concept was ready for launch.

Glass area was again increased, larger wrap-around bumpers gave more protectuion to the bodyshell and a new aerofoil grille further improved both appearance and the delivery of cooling air to the engine bay. Viscous-coupled fans were also fitted to all engines.

The Mk5 also had the unique distinction of clocking up the four millionth Cortina – a 2 litre GL model – which was driven off the production line in Dagenham on July 22nd 1980.

Keeping the Cortina at the top of the sales charts became a dedication epitomised by Ford’s “Added Value Programme” which offered improved equipment levels, often at no extra cost to the customer.Examples of this were interior seat trim upgrades and electric door mirrors.

Cortina “Special Editions”

As competitors and the motoring press learned of revolutionary changes that the new Ford Sierra would bring to the Cortina-size sector, Ford kept a firm grip on its valuable market share with special-edition models.

In the UK the first was the Carousel launched in June 1981 with 1.3 and 1.6 engines. It had attractive two-tone paint schemes as well as additional equipment such as sports wheels, remote-control door mirrors and a fitted radio and console.
The last UK special edition was the Cortina Crusader based on a 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 saloons and estates. Crusader offered two-tone paint schemes, sports wheels, a remote-control driver’s door mirror, locking fuel cap, push-button radio with console, Ghia- style seats and additional sound-deadening. The Crusader was pitched between the Ghia and GL options with prices less than the GL!
In Ireland these “special editions” equated to the Corrib, Cashel and Tara models launched in 1981 and 1982.

In total, production of the Mk4 and Mk5 between 1976 and 1982 reached 1,131,850 units……as well as 1,333,993 Taunus models from Ford’s Cologne and Belgian plants – the Taunus being the EU- equivalent to the Cortina in LHD markets.


Throughout two decades, oil crises, world trade recessions and three-day working weeks and strikes, the Cortina had carried Ford through with its much covetede “best seller” image. Poets and pop stars had even written and sung of the Cortina’s importance as part of social history.

A generation had relied on the Cortina which had found favour with a wide range of people from the high-mileage taxi driver, commuters and even competition drivers. It also became the workhorse of the business man and an army of sales representatives.

The UK’s Poet Laureate from 1972-84 Sir John Betjeman epitomised this place in history in the opening couple of lines of his poem “The Executive”

I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner,
I have a Slimline briefcase and I use the firm’s Cortina

The Cortina had been sold in almost every corner of the world including even Japan where high tax penalties for cars above a certain size meant that the width of the car had to be reduced by a few centimetres. With the onset of the 1980’s Ford had anticipated the need for more technically advanced and aerodynamic, fuel-efficient cars for the next decade with the Sierra design.
The long-serving Cortina and Taunus ranges were replaced by the Sierra in September 1982 – exactly 20 years to the day that the first Cortina had been launched.

Truly – the End of an Era !


  • Sales History – in 20 years.

Cortina was an annual No.1 Best Seller in the overall UK/Irish market on 10 occasions.
Cortina was an annual No.2 Best Seller in the overall UK/Irish market on 8 occasions.
Cortina was an annual No.3 Best Seller in the overall UK/Irish market on 2 occasions.
Never out of the Top 3 in 20 years!

  • The Ford Sierra never made No.1 in 10 years and the Ford Mondeo never made No.1 in 20 years.
  • The Cortina is the 3rd Best Selling car ever in UK/Ireland for Ford – even though it is 31 years out of production.
  • All marques of Cortina were assembled at Ford’s Irish plant at Cork – in fact many Mk5 models were exported to RHD markets including UK in the early 80’s.
  • The Cortina was named after the Winter Olympics venue in the Italian Dolomites called Cortina D’Ampezzo…….some observers still think it was 1960!