The BMC Mini and the Ford Cortina represented two contradictory strands of the British character.
Soon after its release, Ford, notoriously, took apart a Mini and realised what BMC hadn’t worked out, that each car sold would lose the company money. It wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Ford Germany inherited the abandoned front-drive ‘Cardinal’ project from the USA to become the Taunus 12M, but Ford Britain were having none of this fancy stuff and its ‘Archbishop’ (ho, ho) project was very, very conventional. But what the first (Consul) Cortina did offer was a lot of up-to-date looking car for the money. Less well recorded is that BMC, returning the favour, bought a new Cortina, took it apart and were appalled at the bodyshell’s lack of torsional stiffness. But even had this fact been publicised, it’s unlikely that it would have affected the Ford’s success.
Just as the Mini represented a certain ingenuity and resourcefulness, so did the Cortina represent a certain conservatism and dislike of pretension. These might all be seen as part of the British character of the time and, as such, so did both cars prosper through the 1960s in Marks 1 and 2 form. In 1970, though, the Cortina Mark 3 signalled a major change. Not only was the styling giving more than an overt nod Stateside, but the larger car shared its underlying structure with the previously, distinctly separate, German Ford Taunus, though the exterior styling was markedly different. On paper, too, its mechanical specification with front wishbones and coil springs all round, seemed a half-decent step forward. Once production glitches were sorted, Cortina sales remained on a roll but, in the days when motoring journalism was more gentlemanly, the various coded criticisms from road tests were brought to a head by the, then, more outspoken Car Magazine in an issue that itemised a series of perceived shortcomings.
Despite improvement, the Mark 3 generally remained a flabby dog. Dressed up in top spec form it looked the part, but it reeked of flashy cynicism, and the basic models were meanly half-hearted. In 1976 it was replaced, as the Cortina and the Taunus finally merged completely. Elsewhere on this site, I’ve chronicled my short career as a vehicle delivery driver. This occurred at the tail-end of 1976 so I started off driving a lot of Mark 3s and ended up driving a lot of Mark 4s. For a car that was, apparently, just a major facelift, the transformation was pretty radical. Everything about the Mark 3 seemed soft and imprecise. The Mark 4 felt far tauter, closer, though still not equal, to a Peugeot of the time, which back then still meant positive praise.
The restyle was by Patrick Le Quement, avoiding the Transatlantic flash of the Mark 3 and the rather dowdy squarer look of the Mark 3’s German cousin. It offered increased glasspace, a positive then, though apparently less appreciated now, with just enough of a nod to its predecessor’s Coke bottle side profile to retain interest. Gone was the glaring chrome and, a welcome change for those buying the basic models such as the 1.6L on the accompanying photos, is that the detailing didn’t immediately scream that fact to the world. The interior design was better, with more emphasis on function and comfort than glitz. This was the quintessential Cortina with the broadest appeal.
Mildly facelifted, as the so-called Mark 5, it continued in the UK until 1982, when replaced by the Sierra, only just falling from the top-selling position in its last year. In Turkey, Olosan kept it in production for another 12 years. Despite some people’s rosy memories, it was objectively speaking, never more than adequate, though poor rustproofing has ensured that there are few decent examples left, should you wish to confirm or dispute this opinion. My own choice would be a 2.3 litre V6 GL in Sahara Beige, though it might be fun to try one of the understeering, Australian 6 cylinder Falcon engined Cortinas.
Oddly, it’s hard to reconcile that the Taunus/Cortina was almost a World Car, being made in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. To us Brits, the Mark IV/V will always be, somehow, absolutely British, taking us back to a time when the UK was a funny little island in the North Sea, divided internally and rather run-down, yet still trading on its idea of past glories, keeping itself at arm’s length from the rest of Europe which it viewed, along with most the rest of the world, with a mixture of suspicion and resentfulness. Oh, just a minute……..
Incidentally, images of the pristine Cortina come from website www.newoldcar.co.uk which I hadn’t come across before. As you might guess, they feature photos of old cars in pristine condition.