The Ford Cortina Mark IV at Forty.

The quintessential Cortina.

Image: bildata

Editor’s note: To coincide with this week’s Cortina article, we are re-running the following piece, first published on DTW in October 2016.

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. The blue oval wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Ford of Germany inherited the abandoned front-drive ‘Cardinal’ project from the USA to become the Taunus 12M, but Ford of 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.

1974 Cortina Mark III. Image: DTW

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.

Ford Cortina 1.6L – image :
image :
Ford Cortina 1.6L – image :

The restyle was by Patrick Le Quément, 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.

Ford Cortina 1.6L – image :

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 final 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, although 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.

Image: classiccarcatalogue

Oddly, it’s hard to reconcile that the Taunus/Cortina was almost a World Car, being made in ArgentinaAustralia, 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…


22 thoughts on “The Ford Cortina Mark IV at Forty.”

  1. Ford was quite a bipolar company. You had Ford US, and Ford EverywhereElse, pretty much. At least when it came to Cortina size. We had our own loosely-US-derived Falcons above, and UK Fords below – until the Escort went FWD, when we got the Ford Laser from Mazda! Then we got the Telstar instead of the Sierra, and….. can you have tripolar?
    It’s funny, through the seventies I always thought the Mark 3 ‘Tina looked old, more like a sixties design. They seemed to take forever to replace it, and I liked the Mark 4 except for the heavy bumpers it got in Australian trim (no legal requirement here, so why?) But when I bought my first car it was a Mark 3. With the 2000 four, which didn’t stay standard for long. Much better handling than the six; with one of these you need all the handling you can get! And the 2000 was quite thirsty enough. If you feel tempted by an Aussie Cortina 6, check out Hubnut’s drive report on one, done when he was down here last year.

    1. Here’s an Australian Cortina.
      How to have a Knudsen nose on a non-Knudsen Cortina.

    2. Apart from the bumpers, there’s the extra cooling slots under the grille, and I think the bonnet bulge has been subtly reprofiled to clear the by-then crossflow headed six. It doesn’t need the more obvious bulge the Mark 3 sixes had.

  2. In the Seventies an uncle was workshop manager at Munich’s largest Ford dealer. He told me that the Mk3s from the initial production run drove them mad with absurd quality issues and related warranty costs. The problems were fixed in the models with the black plastic triangle at their front door window frame and at least in Germany Ford more or less did a full re-launch of the model.

    When my wife’s grandfather died in 2006 we found a two door Taunus Mk4 in bright frog green in his garage. The car had rested there unused for about twenty years and everybody had forgotten about it. It was a nice time capsule.

    1. I’m not surprised about that, Dave. Quality of the Australian-assembled ones was shocking, too. Must have been something endemic in the tooling for quality to be bad everywhere. The first road test I read of one highlighted faults that should never have occurred in production, let alone on a press car, and made you wonder what the customer cars were like. Mine was a ’74 and still showed some slapdash assembly. I always wondered about that black plastic triangle. 🙂

    2. In the first cars the window winding mechanism was so weak that when you went faster than 100 kph and tried to close the window the glass would sit outboard of its frame due to the aerodynamic low pressure there. The plastic triangle just made the glass slip back into the window frame.

    3. Good morning Dave. By “black plastic triangle” do you mean the little clip that sat about two-thirds the way up the leading edge of the front door window frame? It’s just about visible in the following photo:

      I remember travelling in a Mk3 Cortina as a front seat passenger and winding the window up while travelling at some speed. The glass was indeed being pulled outwards as it approached the frame before being guided back in by the plastic clip. Strangely, in the vast majority of photos of the Cortina Mk3 online, the clip is nowhere to be seen, which makes me wonder if they were not fitted in the first place or have fallen off.

    4. We alread had this ‘magic triangle’ some time ago.
      Yes, it’s the small plastic piece sitting ten centimetres below the top corner of the leading edge of the window frame.
      It either gets lost over time or current owners remove it either because they don’t know what it is or because they prefer a ‘clean’ look.
      In case of the Taunus TC nobody would have bought a used example without those black triangles because they were the widely publicised detail to tell apart problem ridden cars and improved ones.

      Many cars had such afterthought solutions when one-piece curved sideglass without quarterlights became the norm. It disappeared when window design changed from glass sliding in a U-shaped seal to glass sliding on top of an L-shaped seal to get the glass further outboard for a smoother, more aerodynamid surface without the mad Audi (100 C3, 80 B3 and B4) solution with a hole in the glass and a hook to hold it to the window frame.

  3. My grandfather had a Taunus Ghia V6 (I’m not sure if it was a 2.0 or 2.3) in the same specification as the one pictured below. He sometimes drove me to the public pool where I had my swimming lessons. I can remember sitting in the back and leaning on the passenger seat and looking at the gauges on the dashboard. My grandfather was very fond of cars and he must have liked my interest in them as well.

    My grandfather passed away when I had just turned nine years old. The Taunus was sold and never seen again.

  4. A hilarious car chase from a seventies Danish film, starring the Ford Cortina, together with a Citroën CX Break (Safari) and supporting roles for a 2cv, a Renault 5 and a Morris Minor:

    1. It almost makes one remember the early 70’s French “car pursuit” movies
      What a shame USA movies never attained such degree of realism

  5. Great to read Sean’s writing once more. I re-read the article accessed by the link about his some-time delivery driver work for Hertz, which is a wonderfully evocative and amusing piece.

    The MkIV and V were deceptively good pieces of design – simple forms and details, but nicely balanced and nearly finished.

  6. My uncle bought a brand new Taunus 1.6L in 1981, not much after Ford started to import the Taunus, Capri and Granada to the Spanish market. We didn´t entered the EEC until 1986 and imported cars were still expensive, but somehow Ford brought them at very competitive prices, to the point that Seat, Renault and Citroen, that built cars here, complained of Ford making “dumping”.

    Anyway, that Taunus was typical Ford: superficially very attractive, nicely finished and gave the impression to be better than what it really was. It looked a lot more professional job that the equivalent Seat 131 Supermirafiori 1600, but I would have chosen the twin cam 131.

    1. One of my parents friends had four kids and bought a Ford Granada in the early as these were some of the bigger cars on sale and wide enough to carry the four kids in the backseat (of course, no restraints or any safety implements). I was a kid too and to me it looked big as a barge, with very soft seats although I remember it not being cheap at all (although it was probably a top spect model). The car was replaced in the late 1980s by a black Saab 9000 with leather upholstery which was to me beyond cool and ridiculously expensive for the time (more than five millon pesetas, some EUR 93000 in today`s money

    2. In Spain in the early ’80s no car was cheap (especially when you couldn’t finance it for more than three years) but a Taunus 1.6L, at 720000 pesetas, was only a bit more expensive than a Supermirafiori 1.6 and it had the “cachet” of being an import, something of a novelty in Spain.
      In 1981 a Granada 2.3 GL was 1.2 million pesetas while a Spanish-built CX 2400 was 1.1 million. Again, the Granada’s “import” tag was very desirable.

      In 2006 I bought an eight year old Saab 9000 Aero for 4200 euros; it cost new about 42000 euros. That’s what I call depreciation.

  7. The Cortina/Taunus almost made its way to Brazil in 1972/73 as well but the Brazilian Ford decided to go with the Maverick. It was a horrible decision, the car didn’t last beyond 1979 in the market, but the Brazilian Maverick became a superstar in the domestic classic car market 30 years later.

  8. ‘though it might be fun to try one of the understeering, Australian 6 cylinder Falcon engined Cortinas’. The odd word in this sentence is ‘fun’. A friend was provided a dark brown mark 4 as his first car, quite deliberately chosen by his father from his family firm’s carpool for its inability to stimulate anything resembling automotive fun.

    1. I’d love to expound on understeer, but to not change the subject: consistent understeer invites me to provoke the beast, what I don’t like is how modern vehicles make a play at neutrality until you enter a corner a bit faster than the engineers accounted for, upon which the nose starts to plow, egging on a rapscallion like me to attempt to power through the corner like a true champion. It’s a problem in a “high riding” vehicle, such as that some here have vocalized a preference for because absent sagacity, the situation invites a potential rollover. This more than anything is why I detest these bloody life guard chairs that call themselves “cars”.

      While I am ranting, I just actually paid extra for a Guinness “draft”, nitrogenated (not carbonated) and practically tasteless (comes in a tall can). It wasn’t the drink that I thought I ordered (that’s labeled “extra stout”, thankfully still imported here). So they’ve ruined cars, and now Guinness. Sorry I changed the subject a bit, but I’m getting old… and not that I’m at all religious, but is nothing sacred?

    2. gooddog: Back home in Ireland, Heineken recently launched a ‘rival’ stout (have they not heard of Beamish or Murphys?), called Island’s Edge. It’s aimed allegedly at drinkers who find Guinness too Guinnessy. Out of idle curiosity, I tried it. It tasted of the future. It tasted of nothing. It was just dark liquid with a sort of faux creamy head. What an exercise in pointlessness. I give it about a year before it’s quietly withdrawn and the marketers who dreamed it up find alternative employment.

      I like Guinness Extra Stout. In bottles. Lovely stuff. Tastes Guinnessy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: