The earliest ones are over 50 years old now, but you can grab a great Mk1 Cortina with the help of our know-how.
Words Christian Tilbury
Photo Jon Hill
Despite ample opportunity to lead from the front in every sense with its new Cortina, Ford of Britain chose instead to follow the traditional formula for success in the mid-sized family saloon market. Shunning the front-wheel-drive configuration that its German counterparts had developed for the similarly-sized Taunus P4, Ford of Britain launched the crisply-styled Cortina with a tried-and-tested rear-wheel-drive layout on 20 September 1962.
While it might have seemed an own goal, there was method behind the arguable madness. Designed to go head-to-head with the likes of the ageing yet dependable Vauxhall Victor and Morris Oxford, and be cheap to build, the need wasn’t for an innovative model but one which would provide affordable and reliable family transport.
However with its angular looks and neat design cues — most notably the rear lights — the Cortina added a slab of style to the mix too, disguising the fact that its running gear was pretty run-of-the-mill. Beneath the bonnet was an enlarged 1198cc version of the Anglia 105E’s three-bearing engine plus there was the well-proven MacPherson strut front suspension and recirculating ball steering.
There was little out of the ordinary inside the Cortina too, but its spacious interior was welcoming enough and those seeking a little bit of extra comfort could opt for the slightly plusher Deluxe level of trim over the standard specification. Two and four-door models were available from launch and extra choice followed in January 1963, both the 1498cc five-bearing engine and the chrome-adorned 1500 Super being introduced. Further improvements followed, including revised instrumentation, the availability of the Borg Warner automatic transmission and the 1964 arrivals of the aeroflow ventilation system and front disc brakes as standard. The confusing Consul Cortina nametag the model was launched with was also deleted in 1964, the car simply being known as the Cortina thereafter.
Superbly packaged and far cheaper than its appearance suggested — even the Deluxe cost £11 less than the smaller and less powerful Morris 1100 — the Cortina was an instant hit, going on to sell over 1,000,000 examples before making way for the Mk2.
Fifty years later and it’s still got plenty of admirers. It might not be the most dynamic classic Ford, but with great spares and club support, not to mention lashings of style, the Mk1 Cortina’s a fine example of something that really has got better with age.
Whether a Cortina has the later front disc set-up or drums all round, the biggest maladies arise from inactivity or age. Callipers get sticky with little use, drums can go oval and wheel cylinders can seize. Replacement parts are readily available and cheap to boot too, the Mk1 Cortina Owners’ Club offering an extensive range of new braking components.
Serious rust is likely in the A-posts, floorpan including the boot floor/petrol tank area, sills, front jacking points, rear chassis rails in the area around the spring hangers, and the inner wings and strut tops. Look especially at the wings — they rust around the headlamps and down the rear edge — as they cost circa £600 apiece to replace, while other visible rot spots are the lower rear quarters, the rear wheelarches and bottoms of the doors. Missing badges are easily replaced but decent, second-hand brightwork, such as bumpers and grilles, is now thin on the ground.
Inside the Mk1 is fairly straightforward and a surprising amount of replacement parts are available if anything has suffered from wear and tear.
Much of the interior can be bought new, including foam and covers to refurbish seats, door cards, carpets and headlinings. However quality replacements don’t come cheap and the cost of rectifying a tired interior can soon mount up, the likes of a new headlining and carpet set costing circa £130 and £200 respectively.
NEED TO KNOW
Clubs & Forums
MkI Cortina Owners’ Club
Ford Cortina Owners’ Club (MkI-V)
Old Ford Auto Services
020 8518 9127
Ford Cortina: The Complete History by Russell Hayes
Cortina: The Story of Ford’s Best-Seller by Graham Robson
Autohists Ford Cortina MkI by Jonathan Wood
MoT’d four-door runners needing some bodywork.
Presentable to tidy and straight examples.
Good to excellent condition show cars.
STEERING & SUSPENSION
Steering isn’t the most precise but if it’s very vague then expect the rubber drop links to need replacing. Expect a bit of play in the steering, although too much is a problem as while it can be adjusted out it involves fully stripping the steering box. Clunking noises from the front over bumps is usually down to worn strut top mounts, while the rear springs can get a bit saggy and it’s not unusual for compacted mud between the individual leaves to cause corrosion and force them apart.
Larger 1498cc motor is more durable than the 1197cc engine, the smaller unit prone to premature bearing wear that’s identifiable through a rumbling bottom end. Blocked breathers pressurise the crankcase — fuming from the filler cap or an oil splattered engine bay being the tell-tales — but along with any smoking it can mean that the piston rings are failing. Look for oil leaks, particularly around the oil seal of the crank and the timing gear cover, while the core plugs can often rot out too. Tappet noise is commonplace, although timing chains can also rattle from wear in the tensioner. Original Solex carbs can suffer from flat spots.
As usual with classic Fords of this vintage, there is not a great deal of electrics to go wrong in the Mk1 Cortina — but it’s still important to check everything works. Front indicators can fail due to their housings corroding and upsetting the earth connection. Wiring needs careful inspection as it’s largely unprotected, the only fuse being that of the flasher units, and be aware that the fuel and temperature gauges for later cars can be a bit erratic in operation. Faulty indicator stalks can be costly to replace.
The tree-rail gearbox is unstressed but will suffer from age and hard use, the most likely fault being that it will jump out of gear on the overrun due to wear in the baulk rings or synchro hubs. Selector problems can also occur and any rumbling that increases with speed points to collapsed bearings. Vibration is often down to worn universal joints and the harshness is transmitted to the ’box, accelerating wear to its output shaft bearing. Washers on the bottom of the gearlever can wear, and some people get the impression the box is shot — even though it isn’t.. Clutches last well and are easily sourced. Rear end is also more than capable — a bit of whine isn’t a major worry, but do look for oil leaks around the diff and halfshafts.
ONE TO BUY
Mk1 1500 Super
On sale at: DRC Motors, Hertfordshire, 01923 268000
For: Ready to go, colour, spec
Against: Priced at the top end of the market
Finished in attractive Goodwood Green with original interior trim, the latter benefitting from a recent new carpet set. Advertised as a ‘lovely example ready for immediate use/show’ and ‘running and driving well’, the 1966 Super has the extra appeal of only having had two owners and being MoT’d until November.
Two-door or four-door saloon, pressed steel monocoque
1198cc, four cylinders, in-line, 49 bhp @ 4800 rpm, two valves per cylinder, pushrod overhead valve, chain-driven camshaft, cast iron cylinder head and block, Solex B30 PSEI-2 downdraught carburettor, three-bearing crankshaft, 63 Ib.ft torque @ 4800 rpm
Four-speed manual, all-synchromesh
Front: independent by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar
Rear: live rear axle with half-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers
Burman recirculating ball
Hydraulic, no servo assistance
Front: 8 inch drums
Rear: 8 inch drums
Wheels and tyres
4x13 inch steel wheels, 5-20-13 crossply tyres
Maximum speed: 76 mph
0-60 mph: 22.4 seconds
Price when launched
£666 10s 3d (two-door)