Cortina, Maxi and Victor group test. By Archie Vicar.
From “Driving & Leisure” April 1970. Photography by C. Wadsway. Owing to the unexplained disappearance of Mr. C. Wadsway, stock photography has been used.
When Harold MacMillan declared a few years ago that “you have never had it so good,” he wasn’t thinking of motor cars but perhaps he could have been so doing. Mr and Mrs Average now enjoy the comforts of cosy semi-detached homes away from the bustle of the city and all around England´s towns and villages, the large new supercentres and shopping markets that are sprouting up are a clear sign of the advances being made by business and enterprise. The old is being swept away.
It seems that things can only get better and better so our expectations are high. Following this trend of the greater conveniences now available to the ordinary working class man as well as to professional chaps, our cars are now also better than ever before, with hitherto unimaginable features fitted as standard to the present crop of family vehicles.
Who amongst us could have conceived that a radio would be a normal accessory in a car? Who would have imagined reclining bucket seats would be available other than in exotic sports cars costing thousands of pounds? Wind-down windows? It is a brave new world and promises only more improvements to come!
This is the picture into which Ford’s new car is being placed. So, the question is, how have the good gentlemen at Ford responded to the challenges from their competitors at BLMC and at Vauxhall? Does their new saloon live up to the higher standards to which the British motorist has become accustomed? The response comes in the shapely form of the all-new “Cortina,” an updated version of that trusty stalwart of contemporary motoring. This fine family car must do battle with Vauxhall’s Yankee-inspired Victor and BL’s unorthodox Austin Maxi. Which one is best and why?
“…a variety of different roads…”
To effect a test of the three cars, we donned our driving gloves and conducted them on a long route, commencing at Ford’s proving ground in Boreham Wood, Essex, to Leyland’s home in the heart of the British Midlands, via the modern “New Town” of Luton where Vauxhall assembles their cars. Along the way we tried a variety of different roads, from modern free-flowing motorway to local laneways that we might assess their handling, comfort and performance.
At Ford’s testing ground we picked a car representing the heart of the very extensive Cortina range, the saloon (in GT form) with the venerable 1.3 litre overhead cam Kent engine, a simple and robust straight 4-pot unit which surely any mechanic can service. The top speed is 88 miles per hour. In what seems to be a growing trend, the car is bigger than its predecessor, having a 101 inch wheelbase and being four inches broader about the beam. It has a good-sized 12-gallon fuel tank.
The new model replaces both the old Cortina and the popular Corsair. Four dashing headlights and sporty Rostyle wheels visually differentiate the GT from the other mechanically-similar cars in the range. The styling is modern and rakish and will appeal even more to the keener driver. Inside, you will find a steeply reclined vinyl dashboard with sporty recessed dials showing speed and engine temperature. The car has coil suspension with telescopic dampers all round which will doubtless help getting to the supermarket at a good clip!
“…it puts one in mind of a cola bottle…”
At Vauxhall´s offices in Luton we collected a Victor with four doors and the 1.6 litre straight four engine. Power output was an unimpressive 88 hp. In terms of styling, Vauxhall’s boys have delivered a rather North American-looking car but this is no surprise as Vauxhall is part of the American firm, General Motors. Among the questionable styling devices there is a pronounced bump over the rear wheels which puts one in mind of a child’s bottle of cola. A strangely sloped rear windscreen cuts into the rear headspace. The gearchange is a 3-speeder which should probably manage most things asked of it. A bulky 12 gallon fuel tank is needed in order to keep the thirsty and slightly too-large engine properly nourished. In a nod to contemporary taste, there is available a set of bucket seats for the driver and the front-passenger, but fortunately bench seating is still available for the typical Vauxhall customer.
“…the more cautious British motorist finds the hatchback off-putting…”
Finally, we arrived in the Midlands to collect a Maxi from Austin’s offices in Birmingham. Unlike the other cars, the Maxi comes with a fifth door, aping the peculiar Renault 16 which has been on sale for the last five years. While the French seem to accept this eccentricity, the more cautious British motorist will find the idea of a “hatchback” somewhat off-putting. The Maxi has been revised for 1970 in attempt to compensate for some its more obvious shortcomings but it’s still a “hatchback.” A badge has been added to the grille along with rubber side stripes.
There are new gearchange rods which replace the loose and unreliable gear cables of the original. The old car was a noisy beast and to ameliorate this defect there is more sound insulation (making the car heavier). A wood- effect dash and a revised steering wheel complete the transformation but can not hide that the Maxi is still a low and strange-looking motor car. The engine falls in between the thrift of the Cortina and the Mid-Atlantic excess of the Vauxhall, being a 1485 cc installation. The fuel capacity is a rather paltry 10.8 gallons, meaning that one will quickly learn the location of all your local petrol stations.
“…front wheel drive might suit the ladies…”
Having covered about 180 miles in the cars, we came to a swift conclusion very early on. Austin’s unorthodox approach to their engineering has not paid dividends. While Mr Issigonis is to be commended for his brilliant Austin Mini he must reconsider whether or not this rationale really applies to a large, man’s car. Front-wheel drive might suit a car for ladies, but it does not work for the enthusiastic motorist.
In point of fact, despite its size, the car feels small to drive, as if designed very much with ladies in mind. Though the Maxi is a relatively smooth-riding car, its understeer is hard to manage and the small steering wheel is fiddly to use. While we admired the bold and futuristic Bull Ring in the middle of the Maxi’s home city, we felt less keen about the Maxi’s driving ability as we drove through it. Britain’s motor city deserves a car as well-executed as the progressive new architecture of Birmingham.
“… spacious oddity…”
The so-called hydrolastic suspension promises to be as troublesome as Citroen’s notorious oleo-pneumatic system. The rod-linkage must come in for special criticism as the gearchanges were always slow and awkward. The spacious interior, comfortable accommodation, competitive prices and reasonable costs are not enough to make this spacious oddity anything but the choice of the minority.
“…which features a live-axle with trailing arms…”
Taking the silver medal is Vauxhall’s mediocre Victor. Vauxhall have not made it easy to buy this car. Customers at the Vauxhall showrooms will be confronted by a very long list of options, engines and body-styles. In theory, the new 1599 cc slant four sounds advanced, as might be the suspension design of the car which features a live-axle with trailing arms, Panhard rod and coil springs.
The Victor’s wayward handling, wallowing ride and sloppy roadholding make it a menace under any conditions other than on the smooth and gentle curves of the motorway. If you live at the end of the M6, perhaps you might consider the Victor but otherwise we would have to advise you to stay away.
Finally, the Ford Cortina, at the top of the winner’s podium. Ford’s philosophy of the taking the average and adding that little bit extra has worked wonders again. The car has a good, traditional construction and attractive, contemporary styling. The double-A suspension gives it a soft and floating ride, suitable for Britain’s growing network of fast roads and motorways. The oil-sump contains a best-in-its-class three pints and there are four forward gears plus reverse. The over steering characteristics offer the car a challenge for the skilled driver while Mrs Passenger will enjoy the commodious ashtray and optional mirror built in to the optional sunblind.
All in all, it is not hard to see why Ford has maintained its leading position as one the most popular British car makers. Their “something for everyone” model of above-average cars offered at a good price seems to suit the mood of the times and the taste of Britain’s typical motorist. So, when we paint a picture of modern suburban England with its roundabouts, Wimpy Tudor-style semis, its motorways, shopping centres and large industrial estates, it’s natural to add a new Ford Cortina to the scene to make it complete.
[Driving & Leisure was part of the same Dundee publishing empire that owned Whoofle for Girls, Bang! (a boys’ comic) and Knitting Patterns for Modern Women Weekly.]