The joke’s on me: Cortina isn’t just a 70’s Ford. The 1956 Olympics took place there. The car came in 1962.
Ford make decent affordable cars for people like you and me. Even if we may never buy one, most people could imagine owning a Ford whether they really want to or not. So, how plausible is the Cortina name?
I will immediately admit that until I started writing this, I knew nothing about Cortina other than that it was a town in Italy. Prior to that (sometime about a year ago) it dawned on me it was a place-name. If you knew about Cortina the Italian town, please forgive this show of ignorance.
Think of it as a case study in the problems of borrowed names. As I said in my article on Ascona, a place name needs to be plausible. That means the image of the place and the image of the car must be in some kind of synchronisation. If the brand name itself is neutral then a model name can give it a lift.
That’s how Opel Ascona, Honda Sienna and Chevrolet Sierra work. An Austin Cap d’Antibes is bathetic. A Lada Istanbul creates a clash of images. Ford’s decision to name their fiercely cost-competitive and workaday Cortina for town known for skiing aristocrats (if known at all) strikes me this morning (as I write) as humorous.
Luckily, it’s too late for the humour to do any harm. I am aware that the potential humour rests on an unkind and uncharitable snobbishness. I am not a snob – I place a huge value on treating people as individuals with their own intrinsic worth. Snobbery depends on feeling you and your values are the best and, also, critically, exercising your status advantage at every opportunity. It’s really bad manners.
No, the irony of the Cortina name lies in how others less kind may see the Cortina owner in contrast with the Cortina visitor. The Cortina had the good luck to be Britain’s best-selling car and a national institution in the way I think only the British do such things: Marmite, Corby trouser presses, Cavaliers, Cortina’s and Geo. F Trumper.
At the same time, the Cortina got entrained with complex notions of class, status and social values. So successful was the Cortina name it became bigger than the car: a short-hand for a way of life, from new to second-hand to stolen. Ford could not control the car’s afterlife.
In selling so many, there was no alternative for second-hand values to do anything but fall making the car not only an economical and efficient tool of commerce and family work horse but a cheap car for anyone with a paycheck to purchase used. I don’t look down on Cortina owners but I am very well aware that a lot of others may have.
Not all it’s cultural associations are negative. Tom Robinson used the name as a short-hand for boy racer culture in his song “Grey Cortina”. In 1982 Alexei Sayle made a film about “The Private Life of the Ford Cortina” (a rather admiring piece) and his song “Ullo John, Gotta New Motor” makes use of the car in the accompanying video film.
So, on the one side is a democratic or “proletarian” car with used-values in ponies and, on the other, a name for a town that only the very rich know much about.
This is Cortina: a town and commune in the Dolomitic Alps, situated on the Boite river and a popular winter resort known for skiing and its jet set, aristocratic European crowd (paraphrased from the source of all knowledge). Hemingway, Bellow and Buzzati holidayed there. Hemingway even wrote a book while staying in the town.
Eon Productions filmed “For Your Eyes Only” there in 1981 (the ski chase is notable in addition to the hotel scenes). I wonder did Ford UK pick that name because someone had been there or because a chap in marketing had only read about in the London Illustrated News?
The joke is mostly on me though, isn’t it? Clearly Cortina is a shibboleth. If you are not really lucky, it means an old Ford. And if you are very lucky you may not even know what a Ford Cortina is and the associations with rusty bangers won’t touch you high up in the Dolomites.
Post-script: This blog suggests that Cortina is even today not very well known.
(Slideshow credits: Cortina 3, Honest John, Wikipedia, Cortina Club.)