Tuning topics: driving four fast Cortina Mk. 3s

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Ford’s best seller responds well to modification
The title of Britain’s biggest selling car, recently captured by Ford and their Cortina, has not always meant that the high performance specialists have grown rich in the wake of a manufacturer’s success. The Cortina’s predecessor at the top of the SMM & T Top Twenty sellers was the 1100, and very few tuners grew fat and jolly on the pickings from that BL favourite. Now that the Cortina is really selling well it’s a different story, for at Motor Sport we have tried four different tuned Cortina Mk. 3s, and there are another four modified Cortinas to test if we feel that the first four are not sufficient!

To base our standards on the production car we relied on 200 Continental miles in a 2000 GXL saloon, followed by a spell in Britain with a 2000 XL Estate, from which we took the fifth wheel performance figures shown for the production car at the end of this article. Ford press relations expert Harry Calton advised us that the Estate’s performance should be within the same production tolerances as the saloon. In fact Calton sounded hopeful that the Estate style might even add a fraction to the top speed! The new model Cortinas we tried represented three basic approaches to tuning today, comprising a Broadspeed converted 2000 GXL, a Super Speed 2000 GT with the latest Ford Capri 3-litre V6 power unit, and an extremely highly tuned Jeff Uren-Weslake fuel injected V6 that accelerated to 60 m.p.h. time as fast as a Jaguar V12 E-type! In fact it may interest readers to know that the Jaguar was on trial in company with the Uren-Weslake Cortina Savage, so on this occasion we were able to draw direct conclusions. Our testing concluded with a more normal Cortina-Savage GT from Uren. Incidentally rumour has it that Ford themselves may be producing a 3-litre Cortina before too long.

Why start with the 2000? Because surely the new single o.h.c. Ford with its 90.8-mm. bore and 76.9-mm. stroke represents the natural successor to the 1500 and 1600GT units which have served enthusiasts so sturdily in the past. Not that the 1600GT crossflow is finished for hard use, far from it, for with more standard saloon car racing catching the public’s attention, the popular Mexico/Capri/Cortina adaptations of the unit, plus the pure racing applications in the Clubmans and Formula Ford categories, it will continue to serve Ford well. However the 2-litre is even better, boasting a realistic 98 b.h.p. (DIN) at 5,500 r.p.m. and 110 lb. ft. of torque at 3,500 r.p.m. Those figures may not sound particularly impressive, but when Super-Speed lent us an Escort with a standard 2000 engine installed we recorded 0-60 m.p.h. times around three seconds better than the 1600 GT-powered Mexico could manage at the same test track. So having established that the 2000 Cortina is a good idea, we turned to the price guides to define the cost in production form of the basic vehicles, before they were converted. A four-seater version of each works out at £1,270 for the 2000 GT, £1,363 to purchase a 2000 GXL and £1,351 for a 2000 XL Estate like the one we tested, exclusive of the £9.38 cloth seating option which the author liked.

Companies who have concerned themselves with converting the 2000 Cortina are Piper Engine Developments Ltd, who have been interested in the 2000 since its inception, supplying conversions for the American Pinto and Capri using the s.o.h.c. unit, Broadspeed and Janspeed. The latter west country specialists had a development programme well under way when we visited them during the last few days of 1971. The Broadspeed car was sampled over a long weekend, which included a visit to a soaking wet Silverstone to record some performance figures which didn’t impress the Broadspeed people, but which I think are good enough to record for posterity alongside those of the standard car. We were only able to record the speedometer reading of the fifth wheel up to 80 m.p.h., when we found that the speedometer was reading 6 m.p.h. fast, but all the same, we were impressed by the 120 m.p.h. which casually appeared on the Broadspeed Cortina’s clock on the rare occasions when we were able to extend the delightfully smooth engine.

Engine work by Broadspeed, who have recently announced a BMW touring car programme for next year after years of work solely on Ford-based machinery, will cost the customer £118, plus £20 fitting charge. Their idea of developing the 1,979-c.c. four cylinder for road use included a gas-flowed cylinder head, incorporating stronger valves that allow 7,000 r.p.m. with ease, an internally polished inlet manifold, carefully matched to the cylinder-head ports, as was the tubular steel, four branch exhaust manifold. The Weber carburetter needed some machining work to accept fresh fuel and air jets for its twin choke progressive operation. The completely new exhaust system yielded the best b.h.p. gains at the end of a six week development period, the best layout allowing an extra 8 b.h.p.

Braking and roadholding was also attended to, as befits a firm with such a strong racing background, total costs amounting to £60, plus a £20 fitting charge. All four coil springs on the Broadspeed car were removed and replaced by shorter springs to lower the car by over an inch, whilst adjustable Spax shock absorbers were utilised so that some measure of ride quality could be retained. A tiny Intertech leather rim steering wheel and “retweaked” anti roll bar were the only other changes detailed to the suspension, but the car’s behaviour on standard Rostyle wheels and 165 Goodyear radials was almost without fault. As with the Broadspeed Bullit we were plagued with Ford-based troubles—the fuel gauge failed, the exterior chromed waistlines kept falling off, and the lights stayed illuminated on one side with the switch off—but this early production model really did drive extraordinarily well. It also stopped neatly, thanks to DS11 pads on the front discs and a reduced lining area on the rear drums.

The Broadspeed Cortina’s outstanding characteristic was its versatility: the engine was smooth, yet offered perceptably better acceleration to the point of actual enjoyment in sheer speed, whilst the wet weather handling was unbelievably safe with no “puddle skating” antics like those of similarly shod Capri, Cortina Mk. 2 or Escort. The only scientific proof we can offer in support of the car’s cornering capacities is that we could arrive at Stowe and Club on the rain-soaked GP circuit at Silverstone and understeer into these curves at the same speeds as we had utilised for the 2000 Firenza on a midsummer’s day!

As a footnote to those wet raptures it is only fair to Ford to add that we drove the production vehicle in the rain as well, and it proved exceptionally safe, in fact I would rate its adhesive and accident avoidance potential along with the FWD BL cars, which must be praise indeed. My opinion is also reinforced by one Brian Muir, the approachable and professional driver of the Wiggins Teape 5-litre Chevrolet Camaro last year, who told me that the Cortina Mk. 3 was the car for clearing a dry line at the recent Ford test days!

The Super Speed car came our way next for a period of 1,200 miles or so, including a trip to Argyllshire and back. Our impressions were naturally dominated somewhat by our first experience of the uprated (by 10 b.h.p. and 1,000 r.p.m.) V6 engine which had been lowered into the Mk. 3 engine bay to mate with a 2000 gearbox. Modifications to go with the 135 b.h.p. (DIN, @ 5,000 r.p.m.) vee engine included a reshaped and strengthened crossmember underneath the engine, appropriately curved sump, new engine mountings, larger capacity radiator, new anti-fade friction materials and revised braking balance, fresh coil springs to take the extra front end weight, suitably rated to give of their best in conjunction with Koni shock absorbers. These fundamental changes to the car, including steel wheels with an extra 2 inches track width, increased the price of the 2000GT by £226. A very reasonable cost, and one which should be read in the light of the fact that Super Speed prefer to sell customers a complete car, of which the total price would be £1,596. Our test car also had pretty Dunlop wheels, also of 5 1/2 inch rim width like the standard steel ones and these add £40 to the bill, whilst the 195 section Goodyear low profile radials we enjoyed cost a further £45. The only other extras worth mentioning were excellent electric screenwashers at £4 and a 3.2:1 final drive to allow more relaxed cruising than the production 3.70 ratio.

The new Ford engine was “straight out of a box” according to Super Speed proprietor John Young, perhaps helped a little by the fresh exhaust manifolding needed to install the engine in a Cortina, though Ford have themselves changed the system for a better one on the new Capris. Certainly the car’s straight line performance astonished most people, for with 2 1/4 cwt to carry along that Ford engine positively revels in its work, hurling the car to 60 m.p.h. from rest in little over eight seconds and managing 100 m.p.h. from a standing start in comfortably less than half a minute. Much of the improvement over the old engine comes from the V6’s ability to run easily up to 6,500 r.p.m. whereas the old Capri/Zodiac engine tended to strangle at over 1,000 r.p.m. less.

The Super Speed Cortina V6 felt totally different to any British car we have tried recently, though the handling has quite lot in common with the Uren cars discussed laterif you ignore the Super Speed machine’s steering, which became progressively heavier as our cornering speed increased. Well, that is until the car broke away (which it often did in the wilds of Scotland) when the steering lightened exactly to the best point for judging the amount of corrective lock that would be needed. During the trip to the north the braking worsened considerably, and it was not until we returned to the warmer south that any measure of confidence could be gathered to exactly where one would stop, if at all! Part of the car’s transatlantic feel can be attributed to the blue striped bonnet option carrying a Zodiac emblem, for one tends to line the car up on the Zodiac “gunsight” and squirt it along. Fuel consumption was reasonable at a brisk pace on the motorway, say up to 105 m.p.h., for during one such spell we logged 25.3 m.p.g. However, spirited Highland motoring, or hard motorway travel in the company of an ex-Abingdon factory registered MG-C, tumbled the consumption to 18 m.p.g., and one could expect any illegal town motoring (or merely exuberant traffic light starts) to bring the car onto the 16/17 m.p.g. borderline: sensible motoring will gain a sensible reward, however boring!

Overall we judged that Super Speed were still offering excellent value for money, while Ford have produced a really first class unit in the uprated 3-litre. The author was astonished that the car only handled in a safe but not inspiring manner though, for Super Speed have lent him everything from a Boss 5-litre Capri downwards, and previously all those cars have been at least on par with the opposition’s, if not a step ahead. When we discussed the matter with John Young he pointed out that the production bushes in the production car’s suspension, plus the wishbone front end instead of the traditional MacPherson struts. did pose new problemsa remark with which Mr. Janos Odor of Janspeed heartily agreed. In fact the Cortina V6 produced by Willment at Streatham was also criticised in the motoring press for handling badly, but since then the company are said to have re-located the engine.

One company that really has got the Cortina and the V6 engine superbly covered is Jeff Uren Ltd, who market Cortina V6s under the name Savage and who also act as the source of the fabled Weslake engines to the public. Uren lent us two cars, a £1,915 Savage two-door representing his basic approach, and a vicious red brute of a car with a price tag reading £2,645 and the kind of performance that owners of Porsche 911S, Ferrari Dinos and Jaguar V12s are used to. The remarkable V6 engine by Weslake is basically the £277 unit designated “190”, plus an extra 28 b.h.p. courtesy of Tecalemit mechanical fuel injection retailing at £205. Originally Uren had specified that nearly 220 b.h.p. would be available using triple Dino carburetters, an alternative to fuel injection that potential customers may want to investigate. The fuel-injected engine is quoted as giving 218 b.h.p. at 6,400 r.p.m. (we used 7,000 r.p.m. as an absolute limit), complemented by 195 lb./ft. of torque. Incidentally the fuel injection equipment is probably largely responsible for the unit’s incredible top gear flexibility and the spread for over 3,000 r.p.m. of more than 170 lb./ft. of torque.

In common with the other Savages that we tried, the car had a number of options, including the Specialised Mouldings bulbous bonnet, costing £47 in the cars’ colour, Girling Monitube gas-pressurised shock-absorbers at £86 a set, and the £104 Mati exhaust system developed by Perkins for Uren. All Savages have new coil springs all round, converted front wishbones to eliminate positive camber, and front end geometry to give just a degree more castor. In addition the red beast, hiding coyly under the label “190 Savage SS PI” stamped across its rear window, had no front anti-roll bar, 20% stiffer damper settings, and a steering damper, an item which is not yet sold to the public. The braking modifications were simple but extremely effective, consisting of “new friction materials” (somebody must have found the best braking company, but nobody feels like saying who it is!) and different bore sizes for the rear-wheel cylinders to obviate locking-up problems.

We drove the 218-b.h.p. version straight from Uren’s shop front in Hanwell to our test track in Surrey for its performance check alongside a V12 Jaguar E-type, which had only been picked up the previous night, so neither tester felt at home in their respective mounts. At first we were convinced that the Uren bonnet was going to fly off (in fact this has happened in the past but throughout our test, even up to the exotic heights of just touching 130 m.p.h., the swollen lid stayed in place. The Jaguar proved superior through the slow-speed handling course at the track, but pulling away from rest onto the high-speed track, swift use of the Cortina’s gearbox would be rewarded by a belligerent bellow and the spectacle of a Cortina pulling alongside the lithe white cat from Coventry. However, as soon as the Cortina ran out of second-gear puff at 60 m.p.h. and had to stagger into that chasm known as third gear on the Zodiac/Capri gearbox, the Jaguar would pull away, for its superb engine is mated with a gearbox that allows no less than 86 m.p.h. in second, a factor that had also proved significant on the wet, second gear, handling course. The Jaguar’s ventilated disc brakes also help widen the gap of course, but the Cortina was certainly not disgraced in this department either.

The Uren Cortina lags by less than three seconds to reach 100 m.p.h. from standstill alongside the Jaguar, but really its performance in reaching 100 m.p.h. in under 20 seconds is quite astonishing in a saloon car of this bulk. By the end of our week in the car’s company we had grown brave enough to leave it in fourth gear at 1,000 r.p.m., just over 20 m.p.h., and push firmly down on the accelerator so that the car chuffed up to 1,500 r.p.m., breathed more easily and started to accelerate quite quickly from 2,000 r.p.m. onward. We say brave because an earlier trip to Brands Hatch was ruined by the car developing a misfire and finally dying completely just before we could struggle onto the M2. From that point onward we resorted to leaving the electric Kenlowe fan on manually and suffered no more than the occasional belch from the justifiably greedy induction system. Greedy? Well at least a healthy appetite, for five star was swallowed in the order of 9.9 m.p.g. during performance tests and 11.8 m.p.g. when we took the family out to dinner! Uren looked out his personal log for his mileage in the car and showed us that it had recorded 13.25 m.p.g. during his worst efforts on a crowded town and country run. Since Mr. Uren proved himself a very capable saloon car champion at the wheel of a Ford Zephyr little more than a decade ago, we agreed that there was no way in which we could have been going faster than him, so it must have been an injection fault! One point that did impress us, before saying that the injection is a debatable advantage, was the early morning starting, this was of the “first time” variety if 10-15 seconds were allowed for the high-pressure fuel pump to do its work. It may be relevant to note at this point that the German Capri RS2600 with Kugelfischer injection is just as prompt in its early morning starting ability, but a lag of 30 seconds is advisable before turning from ignition only to ignition plus spark.

Finally Uren lent us a blue Savage GT, the only 2-door Cortina the author has ever tried, which had a standard old style V6 engine mated up to the Zodiac gearbox and a 3.44:1 axle, as opposed to the red brute’s 3.22:1. This proved a little misleading at first, because the theoretically slower car was so beautifully responsive around town that it felt quicker than the injected car! A trip on the M4 soon showed that 100 m.p.h. equalled 5,000 r.p.m., and that the car wasn’t really interested in going more than 10 m.p.h. faster than that. However we left the car with the thought that its steering and handling, plus the terrific low speed pulling capacity, would make it a favourite with anybody discerning enough to notice that Uren has spent the best part of a year specifically developing the 3-litre Mk. 3 Cortina, and frankly that hard work shows up. The steering was just as precise as the Broadspeed car, so it was only the unhappy way that it returned to earth after a crest that reminded us how much more there is up front, compared to a 2-litre model.

Incidentally, Uren offers a 90-day, 4,000-mile guarantee on all wares, while Super Speed offer the normal maker’s warranty of 12,000 miles/12 months, which we find impressive.—J.W.