1981 Ford Cortina 2.0 GL Roadtest

“The middle frontier ahead!” Archie Vicar, the well-known motoring scribe, has a closer look at the 1981 Ford Cortina 2.0 GL.

Image: bestcarmag

This may be a verbatim transcript of an article which first appeared in Laker Airways in-flight magazine, July 1981. Original photos by Cosimo Villiers-Montreux. Due to a catastrophic fire at the print works, stock images have instead been used.

As sure as mustard, the market is happy to keep on buying front-engine, rear-drive cars in the middle range. With its assured sense of the market’s whims – and they are whimsical, ask Citroen! – Ford has made sure that the fifth in the Cortina series is a front-engine, rear-wheel drive car. It would seem that no matter how willing makers are to

hop, skip and jump onto the front-wheel drive bandwagon for smaller cars, there is no merit in abandoning this tried and tested formula for the breadwinner, meat-and-potatoes, mainstream products such as the well-proven and mainstay Cortina, a monument on the car landscape for more nearly two decades.

In these increasingly competitive times, and what with the Common Market looming ever more closely in the minds of customers, Ford has revised the Cortina to help keep it ahead of the running hunt. Variety spices up life and, by that token, the Ford Cortina range is a veritable hot Madras: 30 models, from the excellent base model two-door 1300 all the way up to the superb 2.3 litre V6-engined Ghia which is not that much worse than some of BL’s offerings but with a much larger dealer network that (continued on page 34)

No legroom at all: Autocar, July 1981

(continued from page 21) and almost seven pork pies, which makes it a very large glove box indeed. Vauxhall’s entrant in the market probably only has room for sandwiches!

Turning back to the GL model, this one is located between the lower models such as base (excellent) and L on the one hand, and on the other hand, the higher models such as the luxurious Ghia. It might not be as obviously well-trimmed as a Maxi or a Peugeot, but the GL is, on closer inspection, actually very well finished and equipped, almost to the point of calling into question the value of the superb 2.3 litre V6-engined Ghia, preferred by solicitors up and down the land.

The GL is fitted with a 1,992 c.c. single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine which is capable of producing 102 horsepower (Ford claim 101 horsepower, though). That self-same engine can offer 112 lb ft of torque nicely high up the rev band at 4,000 rpm meaning it makes a satisfying growl if one is going at it hammer and tongs. Encouragingly, this motor uses a twin-choke downdraught carburetor and a four-speed gearbox of considerable refinement that kindly takes the drive to a live rear axle. Double wishbones up front demonstrate Ford’s commitment to handling and road-holding. Rack and pinion? Naturally.

Slow: source

It’s a light car – there’s no rev counter which saves weight though this means that as one accelerates to the red line there is no red line to speak of and only a horrendous mechanical din warns one to back off and change gears. The economy is acceptable, being the best of a bunch comprising the redoubtable Morris Ital, the charming Vauxhall Carlton, the provokative Datsun Bluebird, the all-British Princess 2000 HL and the Fiat 132 2000. Speaking of which, that car came second in the nought-to-sixty sprint. The Cortina came first and the Princess last. The Cortina has a creditable top speed of 102 mph, 5 miles per hour behind the class-leader, but as our roads get ever more choked with cars, such details are of little consequence.

Where the Cortina really loses fingers is in rear leg-room. There is almost none when the front seats are set fully back. That’s to be avoided.

In the service bay, the Cortina makes up for its legroom deficit with competitive spare parts prices. How does twenty quid for a brake pad sound? A 12 V 44 Ah battery keeps the lights on but Ford are still fitting drum brakes at the rear. They simply don’t always perform as one expects.

1981 Ford Cortina 2.0 GL: Autocar July, 1981.

Laker Airways flew me back from my road-test in great comfort.

That said, sensible driving should not over-tax the Cortina. The Cortina has an enviable reputation for selling very reliably and there are reasons other than price that make it a popular car (it is not cheap). The ride may be a little on the poor side but the excellent glove box and good economy can probably tip the balance for this very good saloon.

To read more of Archie Vicar’s acclaimed period car reviews, click here

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “1981 Ford Cortina 2.0 GL Roadtest”

  1. Well it weighs something, but when Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche et al want to save weight they usually turn to carbon fibre and remove electric windows, air-conditioning and the fancy stereo etc. I think removing the rev counter is quite far down the list as a weight-saving measure.

    1. You have a point but we can’t guess what Mr Vicar might have been drinking when this seems to have been written. There’s nothing about handling or steering, I notice. It looks as if it was badly edited too.

    2. Oh dear. Richard & I ‘discussed’ this before publication. I wished to add an editorial comment. He, showing his customary loyalty to AV’s memory, would not. Do remember that, by then, Archie was approaching the end of a long and a, if not always distinguished, distinguishable career. As such, some wilful errors crept in. The following edition of the Laker Magazine contained an overlong letter from Ford’s press department, guaranteed to give you a good sleep on long-haul, denying any intentional weight saving, pointing out that Ford’s instruments indeed displayed class leading lightness and claiming that the rev-counter’s omission was in response to the express wishes of ‘responsible family motorists’. I also believe that Archie received a private letter from Ford compaining about the state of the glove compartment on the test car and asking him to use wrapped pies for any future capacity tests.

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