A Year with a Ford Cortina GT

12,000 Satisfactory Miles in a Very Fast and Accelerative £781 Saloon

When the Ford Motor Company of Dagenham introduced the original 1,200-C.C. Cortina it Seemed to me a disappointing car, underpowered and conventionally suspended. Very soon they gave it a fine new 1,500-c.c. five-bearing 122E engine and revised suspension, .and the Cortina became one of the medium-sized family cars most in demand.

When the 118E Cortina GT was announced I was naturally interested, and experience of this model showed it to be fast, accelerative, well-braked and more stable than its forebears. So, when an opportunity of putting one of these Cortinas to a prolonged test became available, I was happy to accept.

The car concerned was a completely standard 4-door version. It was not a carefully-selected Press car but one of the works hacks, which had run a considerable mileage-no-one seemed sure whether it was 10,000 or 20,000 miles-but which had been given a quick check-over and the later-style instrument grouping, with the tachometer and other dials on the facia in front of the driver. It had already survived the full road-test treatment by a weekly contemporary.

I took the car – 169 FOO – over from Lincoln Cars on November 2nd last year, after towing the 1898 Decauville I was driving in the Brighton Run up to London behind an M.G. The next day, after the Decauville had broken down at Redhill, I got home by train, taxi and Cortina GT, and was exercising the (temporarily non-motoring) dog on a Hampshire Common an hour before the last veteran was due to clock-in at Brighton.

This was made possible partly by the efficiency of one particular section of British Railways, partly by the London taxidriver’s flair for dodging round London’s back streets, to my hotel in Kensington, hut largely due to the excellent acceleration of 169 FOO, which made light of the leisurely “mimsers” who were out along the middle of the A30 road on this Sunny November afternoon. The clean, willing acceleration provided by the Weber carburetted 78 (net) b.h.p. engine is one of the outstanding features of the Cortina GT. Its superiority in respect of performance over other cars in its class is well illustrated by the following table:


I have, of Course, compared the 1963 Ford with 1963 models. Continuing on this theme, this remarkable GT goes surprisingly well in comparison with many larger and/or more expensive ears, and even sports cars. I have chosen some at random, haying no desire to do down any particular makes:


Enough, I think, to emphasise the performance of the Cortina GT, even allowing for the fact that performance figures vary somewhat test against test. The excellent acceleration of the Ford product has been set against its comparatively low weight, achieved by economy of steel and the use of light-gauge body panels, resulting in a kerb weight of 17 cwt., against 22.6 cwt. for the M.G. Magnette, for instance, or 18.1 cwt. for the 1963 Fiat 1500 – but this seems to have brought no disadvantages in its train even in 4-door form, the body being free from judder and all four doors, and the boot-lid, of 169 FOO shutting far better than those of most low-price cars and many intended to be in the luxury class. The high-output 122E GT engine is not only essentially reliable but extraordinarily economical, as you shall see.

In case I am accused of trying to obliterate all my hindsight .about the advantages of unconventionally and independently suspended wheels, I will readily admit that the Cortina’s cart-sprung ride is pretty grim, the back suspension more akin to that of a jaunting-car than a donkey-cart. Fortunately, I never occupy the back seat and, naturally, the dual-rate spring leaves of the GT model contribute to a bucks’ ride. The steering lacks “life” and has no special merit, road-holding is more accurately described as adequate than reassuring, and the plastic-upholstered seats are mediocre-after a week in a Rover 2000, getting back into the Cortina reminded me, non-nostalgically, of a model-T.

Cornering, again, is not a strong feature of the car but has never put me in embarrassing positions or caused alarm, and some people rate it better than that of a Capri GT in the wet.

The styling, too, may not be to your taste, the sleek lines being blemished by the dummy air-intake labelled “Consul” and those oversize rear lamps. Personally, I do not much care what the exterior of a car looks like, as I have little time to spend gazing at it, and from inside the external shape cannot be seen. Ford have already dropped the “Consul” label and for those who want a smarter car of the same engine size there is the Corsair, in normal and GT forms.

Those aspects apart, I am full of praise for this £781 car (£757 in the more usual 2-door form) which has served me so well. It has excellent (disc front) brakes and top-gear acceleration matches the outstanding pick-up in the indirect gears, although the engine doesn’t like to slog, frequent gear-changing being no hardship with the excellent all-syncromesh box. As 5,000-r,p.m. equals a cruising speed of 86 m.p.h., and that is 1,00 r.p.m. below the beginning of the red-sector on the tachometer, motorways hold no terrors for the GT driver.

Items like the pleasant action of the lock of the cubby-hole lid and of the cover of the so-useful locker between the front seats, the nice “feel” to the door and luggage-boot locks (one key suffices for these and ignition), the Sensible placing of the minor controls, the efficiency of the heater (on this 1963 model without the latest clear “Aeroflow” ventilation system) and the enormous capacity of the luggage boot, are all in the Curt ma’s favour. The presence of a tachometer is creditable on a saloon car of this price-class and this Smiths electronic instrument has never given a moment’s trouble; the small oil gauge, normally reading 30 lb./sq. in. (but 10 lb. when it should zero), is also appreciated, but, alas, the ammeter has been deleted.

The rather odd lamps and turn-indicator controls at the extremity of the r.h. stalk are something one becomes accustomed to, likewise the inability to switch-off the otherwise excellent facia lighting. The facia styling details have been further improved since 169 FOO was made. A good item is windows which wind fully down; a bad one, the horizontal fuel filler which won’t accept a can, although this has since been modified.

And what a reliable high-performance car it has been! Initially the engine idled rather roughly and stalled once or twice, but this difficulty has never recurred and now, after more than 12,000 miles in my hands, this essentially-quiet GT power unit idles without faltering at an indicated 800 r.p.m.

After 222 miles I had to tighten the screw of the o/s. rear door handle, and a little later the n/s. front door became rather difficult to open. The doors, by the way, are locked internally with the handles, which have a precise snap-action, while the friction-held quarter-light catches work well. Another simple but satisfactory detail is the choke, which pulls out and stays in any desired position by turning the knob, the wire stern being slightly bent to promote friction, thus providing a simple hand-throttle. Not that much choke is ever required, even from cold, the Weber carburation being notably efficient.

The bonnet-stay retaining clip snapped off after 4,174 miles (revised clips have since been devised), at which mileage the battery mysteriously went “flat” and the exhaust-pipe broke away from the silencer, the last-named probably clue to an onslaught by a hit-and-run parker.

This took me to the always cheerfully obliging service depot of Lincoln Cars, but the GT has really not been regularly serviced —in any case, it only requires greasing and an oil-change at 5,000 mile intervals,—has lived all the time in the open, and has seldom been cleaned. The appearance of paintwork and chromium is truly creditable in spite of this neglect, nor do the hard-used seats or carpets show any signs of deterioration.

The long intervals before servicing is due are of immense practical value, apart from saying money, but the clutch pedal squeaks in protest about half-way through the 5,000-mile intervals.

After I had been enjoying the performance and dependability of 169 FOO for 5,800 miles it went back for a check-over, the gearbox being given a clean bill of health, and new front-brake pads and a set of new Firestone F7 whitewall tyres being fitted, the latter normally run half-way between the 24 lb./sq. in. recommended for normal motoring and the 30 lb./sq. in. specified when driving at sustained speeds or Soi90 m.p.h. (After 7,000 miles these tyres show no appreciable wear, and have never punctured.) It then went on with not even minor attention and no serious maladies. At around 7,10o personal miles the starter solenoid went on strike on two separate occasions, but push-starts from co-operative bystanders set me on my way, and this nuisance never returned to plague an impatient motorist.

One Summer Sunday afternoon I set off to Frensham Ponds to attend a rally of the Morgan 3-Wheeler Club, with which, haying a 1927 Morgan-J.A.P. of my own, I am in considerable sympathy. I didn’t see any Morgans because I was soon almost completely immersed in water—not through driving into the picturesque ponds but because the mother-and-father of all thunderous cloudbursts engulfed us.

I had often driven in. torrential rain in my time but never before in anything like this. And I congratulated the Ford Motor Company that not a drop entered the body of the Cortina GT.

In fact, this had seemed too good to be true and in a way it was. A few days after this heavenly immersion I met the Continental Correspondent at London Airport and commenced to drive him to Wales. He has a strong sense of smell and great prejudice against anything in a motor car which isn’t absolutely spot-on, shipshape and correct.

He had scarcely finished telling me, as he bounced about on the back seat harshly-sprung above the beam back axle, that the car might pass as a TI but certainly not as a GT (I agree—as one who regards the term GT as applicable only to exotic cars like Ferraris and Maseratis, able to cross Continents at three-figure cruising speeds with just the driver, his carefully-chosen mate and the luggage aboard), when he discovered that the carpets under his feet were well and truly water-logged.

This proved to be only too true, they were sodden, so back the car went at 8,126 miles on the log. Ford expressed themselves concerned, and baffled. But they cured the ingress of damp completely and at the same time resprayed the body to remove evidence of a slight traffic Contretemps I had become involved in the previous Christmas Eve.

Some Considerable mileage later a piece of engine undershield dropped towards the road—it was surprising how observant fellow motorists were in spotting the thing —and as I was passing Lincoln Cars en route to the office I called in. They ripped off the offending piece of fibre panel, saying I wouldn’t want it until bad weather returned, and I was quickly on my way. A few miles before the end of the test the car needed some persuasion before it would start, after being idle in the open for 22 days in a B.M.C. car park. Four out of six cells of the B.M.C. battery were due for topping-up, admittedly, which raises the point that with 5,400-mile servicing intervals the battery is apt to be sadly neglected. But when it saw B.M.C. mechanics coming to its aid the Ford awoke to its sense of responsibility and quickly burst into life!

The heater spills some warm air when it should be off but this is hardly a disadvantage in winter and in summer can be countered by setting the clearly-labelled controls to “cold.”

Otherwise, the Ford Cortina GT has been almost 100% dependable; certainly far more reliable than any of the previous cars I have used as Editorial transport. It can be described as possessing something of the nonchalant ability of big American automobiles to swallow persons and much luggage and keep going reliably, while having a typically British rally and (saloon-car) race-bred engine which .displays no temperament in spite of being scientifically ” souped-up ” to increase the not b.h.p. from 59½ to 78 The advantages of buying such a car from the manufacturer instead of putting on a speedshop “conversion” are this inherent reliability, no insurance problems and no invalidity of the Warranty.

I had intended to keep an overall check of fuel consumption but the car was occasionally driven by other people, my eldest daughter took a few slices of driving tuition in it, and so the log was not always written-up. However, cheeks over appreciable mileages gave figures of 30.07, 29.9, 28.66, and 31.8, always of premium petrol costing a few pence under 5s. a gallon. The two-stage action of the efficient Weber carburetter assists economical running. At first the change-over was just, discernible to the driver but now there is considerable jerkiness, like a giant flat-spot. This does not particularly trouble me and is probably my fault for not having had the carburetter down for a twelvemonth. Nor have the brakes been adjusted (apart from when the new pads were fitted) or the Champion N4 plugs changed. The engine has been protected in the winter by Smiths Bluecol anti-freeze and is always lubricated with Castrolite, which it has consumed at the rate of roughly 700 miles per pint—the engine, of course, being between 20,000 and 30,000 miles old. A tankful of petrol takes the car on average the sensible distance of just over 237 miles. It is a quiet-running car in contrast to some of its fussy less-conventional contemporaries, but the back axle is now getting noisy. Twice I have, with consumate carelessness, caught the back bumper on a projection, which has shown the support brackets to be somewhat flimsy.

I have been particularly impressed with the reliability factor, having experienced no trouble, for example, with the special freeflow manifolding. I have also been impressed with the dependability of door locks, electric. (apart from the starter solenoid), light bulbs, etc. The driving seat has settled, so I use a shallow cushion.

The major criticism, the harsh rear suspension, has been largely answered, I imagine, by the proper location of the back axle by two radius arms in the latest Cortinas, so that wind-up of the axle is controlled without resort to the heavy-duty springs; while the facia layout has been tidied-up materially and the impressive new ventilation arrangements installed, along with minor but worthwhile improvements.

Under the circumstances I have no hesitation in saying that the Ford Cortina GT is not only pleasant to drive, sale by reason of its remarkably good acceleration and Girling disc braking, but is extremely good value at less than £760. No wonder so many of its kind, standard, de luxe. Super and GT, 2-door and 4-door, are seen on the roads of the World; no wonder ” The Car of the Year,” the East African Safari Rally victor, has made more than half-a-million sales since it came out of the Dagenham factory in 1962.

I had hoped to cover a bigger mileage in the year but the car has been shared with the much-liked Morris 1100 and many roadtest cars, although I have taken the Cortina on most of my long journeys, often extremely heavily loaded. It was completely standard apart from Ford front-seat safety belts for those passengers who wish to wear them. More recently an Italian made “Sprint” for which Phegre Engineering of Hartley Wintney, Hants are the English concessionaires, has been fitted above the Weber carburetter. It does not seem to increase the noise level, yet, being of plastic, is lighter than the original. Being about half the diameter it also provides a decent view of the engine, with its special manifolding, etc.—not that this extra accessibility was necessary to get at the dip-stick, which was always accessible. Whether this new air-cleaner gives better fuel consumption I cannot confirm, but the last check under unfavourable conditions gave a figure of 29.6 mpg. The car is fitted with a Ford push-button radio which takes some time to function after being switched-on, as it is of non-transistor pattern, but is otherwise in every way excellent.

* * *

Towards the end of this extended 12,000-mile test Of the Cortina GT I took it down to Ford’s Engineering Centre at the invitation of Mr. A. S. Wheelhouse, Manager of the highly efficient Public Relations Division of Ford Motor Company Ltd., to discuss the design with Fred Harr, Ford’s Chief Engineer, Passenger Cars, and Alan Worters, Chief Engineer, Power Units.

Mr. Hart told me that it was Vic Raviolo who was so pleased with the improvement which the 1½-litre five-bearing engine made to the Cortina that he demanded a high-performance GT (Or as I would prefer it, TI!) version within the limits of Ford’s passenger car production plans, no doubt inspired by cars like the Vauxhall VX 4/90, Alfa Romeo Giulia B.M.W. 1800 TI, Sport Prinz, Panhard Tiger S, And VW 1500S, etc. Two of the experimental staff, Claud Scott-Hall, then Light Car Design Manager, and Brian Peacock, a development engineer, who currently drives a competition 1,650-c.c. Ford Anglia, were given the task of devising such a car; outwardly a normal Cortina, the time limit set being the exceedingly tight one of six months.

The new “80-bore” 1,498-c.c. engine proved very adaptable to tuning. The compression-ratio was raised from 8.3 to 9.0 to 1, a free-flow 4-branch exhaust system devised, new inlet manifolding designed to take a dual-choke downdraught carburetter, a Cosworth camshaft adopted, the cylinder head slightly modified to take larger exhaust valves, the pistons strengthened and copper/lead main bearings fitted.

When I remarked on the splendid indestructability of the GT manifolding, sometimes a source of leaks and broken welds in speedshop-souped power units, Mr. Hart said this was no accident—such manifolding had to be dependable in a car marketed by Ford, and much toil took place to make it so, pipebrazing being used only for the plate attached to the head, the rest being welded up. The problem of adapting this manifolding to I.h.d. cars was also considerable.

For a time the exhaust system was stayed to the clutch housing but this caused boom. The prototype Cortina GIs had a nice fruity exhaust. note, much admired by the boys of the Experimental Department when the cars were tested round Boreham; but Mr. Hart did not want noisy catalogue ears, and the tail pipe was shortened to give a normal exhaust note.

When supplies of a British dual-choke carburetter proved -difficult the Weber carburetter was investigated, in collaboration with their Chief Engineer, Signor F. Bellicardi. The dualchoke, differential-throttle-action DCD1 type was adopted with complete success and is supplied direct from the Italian factory. Originally an output of five, or perhaps ten, Cortina GT cars a day was visualised, certainly not more than 20, but with the present demand running at some 70 a day, Weber has had no trouble in keeping up the supply of carburetters.

The engine had not only to develop over 80 S.A.E. h.p. but to remain docile. The free-flow exhaust system alone was worth six additional blip.

To suit the increase in performance a lower car was desirable but although suspension Modifications dropped the height by some 1½ in., the substitution of 5.60 x 13 instead of 5.20 x 13 tyres gave an overall lowering of only !-an-inch. In any case, ground clearance had to remain sufficient for safe negotiation of rough terrain. The front coil-springs were stiffened and a ¾ in. roll bar introduced to reduce roll, and the dual-rale back leaf-springs were introduced, to obviate back-axle wind-up under acceleration. For the 1965 cars radius arms locate the axle, so that ultra-stiff springs are unnecessary.

The clutch pressure plates were strengthened to take the 18½ extra b.h.p., a remote gear-lever and tachometer (the latter placed at first on the console but brought to eye-level, at first on the steering column, then on the facia, at Fred Hart’s request) introduced, and the steering-ratio of the GT car was raised from 15.1 to 13.4 to 1.

The standard Cortina back axle proved able to withstand too b.h.p. or even the 120 b.h.p. that special versions of this Ford engine produce, and the torque proved acceptable to it providing the gear ratios were not changed, which explains the retention of the unfortunate gap between 2nd and 3rd gears. The diameter of the propeller shaft, however, was increased by a ¼ of an inch.

Otherwise very little work had to be done before Ford of Britain were able to announce a GT saloon selling at well under £760. A prototype was taken to a Ford International Management Conference in Paris, the green-light came on, and these cars, which have since gained such a fantastic and convincing number of rally and race victories for Ford—over 200 major successes, some of them by the twin-cam Cortina-Lotus version—went into production. The best tribute I can pay it, beyond the personal observations that form the body of this article, is that today 70 in every 1,000 Ford Cortinas leaving the Dagenham production lines are the 78-b.h.p. Weber-carburetted, disc-braked GT models, or fourteen times as many every day as Raviolo intended to sell when he instructed his engineering staff to get busy on the high-performance project.—W. B.