6 Dec 2012

Ford Cortina 1500 Deluxe remembered

Sharon Endacotte remembers her dad's old Ford Cortina 1500 Deluxe - which he upgraded to go faster than a Lotus Cortina

Ford Cortina 1500 Deluxe
In 1962, Ford launched what was then known as the Consul Cortina, aiming to compete with cars such as the Vauxhall Victor and the Morris Oxford, as well as offering a larger alternative at a similar cost to buyers who might have been considering a shiny new Mini. This modest family car went on to have global sales of almost 4.3 million over five generations and twenty years, and by the time it was superseded by the Sierra in 1982, it had become one of the few cars to genuinely deserve the much-overused title ‘icon’. Its reputation was further enhanced by works race and rally successes, not least with Lotus versions of both the Mk 1 and Mk 2. And just as the Cortina was beginning to slip from the public consciousness, Gene Hunt squealed around the corner in a modified brown Mk 3 and brought Dagenham’s finest a whole new generation of fans.

Given that over 2.8 million Cortinas were sold in the UK – making it Britain’s best-selling car for much of the 1970s – it’s not surprising that so many of us of a certain age look back fondly on these classic Dadmobiles. Whether an original Mk 1, a stylish Mk 2, a Sweeney-tastic Mk 3 or 4 or the twilight years of the Mk 5, any mention of the Cortina is guaranteed to raise cries of “My dad had one of those!”

My dad did have one, and it was his pride and joy. What started out as a basic, yellow-painted Mk 1 ended up a bright orange monster so terrifying to my mother and grandfather that he was forced to sell it when I came along. And the blurry, orange-ish blob you can see here is the photo my dad has carried in his wallet for the last 40 years, a memento of the best car he ever had. I’ve grown up with the ghost of that Cortina, and it’s almost as much of a legend in my mind now as in my dad’s, even though I was never lucky enough to experience it for myself, and I think as much as anything, it was his sheer love of that old car that influenced my own passion for all things automotive.

Sharon's dad's Ford Cortina 1500 Deluxe
To put it another way, Dad, it’s all your fault.

We’ve had many a chat about what was done, when and how, and I could go into the details, but I think the best person to describe the modifications is the person who did them. So I’m going to have a cup of tea now and hand over to the old man to describe his car in his own words.

“My Cortina started life from the factory as a 4 door 1500 Deluxe, and that’s how it was when I bought it.

After a month went by a problem with the engine arose, and as it had a 3 months warranty I carried out the repairs with a few upgrades, such as high lift camshaft, lidium bearings, four branch manifold straight through exhaust, twin Stromberg carburation and a few twiddly bits. I then fitted 5.5j Rostyle wheels and G800 tyres.

With this all done it gave me a very fast car with wheel spin in all 4 gears - yes, all four. Of course, it gave me a new problem, like splitting the clutch pressure plate into three changing from first to second gear, but a heavier plate solved the problem.

In the end, I had what was very close to a Lotus Cortina 1600 - GOOD FUN.”

By the time he’d finished, the car could hit 90mph without too much trouble, and Dad maintains that if he’d upgraded the diff, it would have maxed out at somewhere in the region of 120 – beating the 108mph top speed of the Lotus Cortina by quite a bit. Another thing he didn’t upgrade was the front suspension, and it’s possible that this contributed to the car’s untimely demise, because following all the work Dad had done on the car, the handling was apparently pretty lively.

I wish I could say that this story had a happy ending, but instead it had a rather abrupt one. Having seen the modifications through from factory standard to street chariot, my dad was used to the car being a bit of a handful, but unfortunately, the chap who bought it wasn’t. Within 24 hours of the sale, my dad’s Cortina was no more, written off when the new owner lost control and wrapped it around a wall.

But perhaps that’s just as well. There’s little sadder than a once loved car slowly fading away to rust before that last unhappy journey to the scrapyard. Dad’s Cortina was a warrior, a hero that went out in a blaze of glory in its prime, and maybe that’s how it should be.

In Dad’s mind though, it’ll always be sitting on the drive on a sunny Seventies afternoon, chrome glinting and orange paint buffed to a shine, and whenever the subject of the Cortina comes up, he’ll smile and say, “I had one of those.”