Road Impressions

The Ford Cortina 2.3-litre V6 Ghia Estate

While the Editorial Rover 3500 was being equipped with a sun-roof I was able to try one of the best-selling Ford Cortinas. It was handed over in pristine condition, the clock accurately set, the radio playing quietly, the mileometer trip zeroed, and the fuel tank full of petrol, an example of the efficiency one has come to expect from Alf Belson and his staff at Ford-of-Britain’s Press-car Depot at Brentford. Thus I drove away onto the M4 Motorway, after an initial hold-up caused by an abandoned Volvo giant-truck, as “Mr. Average Motorist”. Well, not quite, because it is the Cortina saloons with engines of various capacities that are the popular models of a highly successful range, this smart Ghia-bodied estate car being the top-model in the range, costing £5,489 with automatic transmission which the test car had. This compares with £4,009 charged for the 2000S Cortina saloon or the £3,033 that a normal four-door 1600 Cortina saloon would cost you. Good value all round, I feel, in view of the satisfactory impression I got of the Ghia estate model.

I found it, if not silent, then commendably quiet at Motorway cruising speeds, when the well-tried vee-six-cylinder engine runs at a mere 3,500 indicated r.p.m. In a cross wind the steering required only very slight correction to hold a straight course with this long, low but slabsided load-carrier. It was interesting to experience this Ford automatic gearbox, after driving the automatic Rover 3500. Whereas at one time I was dead against these foolproof transmissions, in spite of what chaps like Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss were saying, because they changed up or down when the driver didn’t want them to and you never seemed to have proper control over them, this has changed with modern techniques. The Rover changes its gears so unobtrusively that you don’t notice, and instant acceleration is there if you pull its gated lever back into “hold-2” and open it up. The only time the Rover transmission is harsh is when you crawl along at a speed which is just too much for second and the box drops, with quite a clonk, into bottom. The Cortina, with its 2,393 c.c. engine against the Rover’s 3,528 c.c. power unit, does make more use of its automation. But the changes are notably smooth and only very occasionally does the box change down and up in quick succession. The Rover has a normal-type gear lever in a gate sealed with nylon whiskers; the Cortina uses a T-lever working in a quadrant, with a push-button on the grip to protect inadvertent movement, and rubber sealing. If you don’t wish to touch the levers, kick-down gives an effective change-down on both cars, perhaps more promptly on the Ford.

The one thing that it took time to get accustomed to was the Ford brakes. Those on the Rover are over-servoed, making traffic dribbling a rather untidy operation; those on this Cortina so lacked feel and needed such a push that they must be called under-servoed. I got used to them in the end, after nearly putting my passengers through a Reliant Kitten’s windscreen after driving the Ford. As by now I am used to going from one car to another, and the Kitten has no servo, the Cortina’s braking must be put in the harsh, heavy category. Once accustomed to it, however, it was no great drawback. The Ford has a disc-drum layout, with 9 in.-dia. drums on the estate car.

The Ford controls are sensible and well located. Triple stalks look after the usual services but they still put the turn-indicator and horn control on the left, wiper control on the right. The hand-brake is high set, so that in using it one’s left elbow is obstructed slightly by the lidded glove-locker between the front seats, which is really of little moment. There is a lockable cubbyhole before the front passenger and neat flush-closing door pockets in the front doors. The Ghia estate is luxury upholstered, with thick fitted, shag-pile carpets. The facia is in wood veneer, as are the door cappings and if the veneers do not match as well as those on a Rolls-Royce, no matter. In fact, Ford use non-veneered wood round the instrument panel. Through the “crossed-spokes” steering wheel there is a clear view of the neat black instrument panel, the orange needles pointing to white digits. These sensible speedometer and tachometer dials have the smaller combined heat-fuel gauge between them and a row of five warning-lights beneath. The interior door-handles are also very neat, the driver’s external mirror has internal adjustment, one key operates the ignition and all the door locks, there is a rear wipe/wash (seldom needed), and the lift-up tailgate self-supports, making loading this useful estate car child’s play. I think it is this attention to detail, allied to good, rally-proven performance and dependability, that have given the present-day Cortinas the edge over their rivals.

As to performance, this spacious Ghia estate, which seats five people in comfort unless the back seats are folded to increase the luggage content, averaged well over 50 m.p.h. on a 180-mile cross-country journey, aided by some 70 miles of Motorway, which perhaps speaks as loudly as lists of figures. Under these conditions the fuel consumption came out at 25.5 m.p.g. of four-star and under pottering-about driving I recorded 23.5 m.p.g. The V6 engine can be taken up to 6,000 r.p.m., and held at 5,700 r.p.m. on Motorways. The fuel filler is beneath a flap on the o/s of the body. The headlamps are easily adjustable and have powerful washers, but no wipers.

I used to think that unless the suspension exhibited excessive up-and-down motion at the rear the car wasn’t a Ford, but the ride of the latest Cortinas is much improved and the Ghia estate, which has gas-filled shock-absorbers, rides well. The power steering, asking under 3 1/2 turns from lock-to-lock, gives a small turning-circle and reduces effort, as intended, without having much additional merit. Those who like a trace of understeer and dislike finger-light control will approve, however. As this estate Ford, for all its air of luxury, may be used for business journeys it is worth mentioning that it gave an absolute fuel range of just over 306 miles on a tankful of petrol. As for oil, the forward-opening, strut-propped bonnet reveals an accessible dip-stick which showed a full level after 600 miles. The various fillers are all very accessible and there is a very large washers reservoir to feed all the services. The Ford battery sits in a tray that would take a larger accumulator if required.

The stylish up-to-date appearance is enhanced by the vinyl-covered roof and the test car was finished in strato-silver metallic paint, with dark blue upholstery, and shod with Michelin ZX tyres on light-alloy sports-styled wheels. The seats are reasonably comfortable and Ford’s well-tried ventilation system works well, reducing misting-up to a minimum, with a somewhat insensitive heater but a quiet booster. The adjuster for the driver’s seat fore-and-aft movement is rather long and can be fouled by one’s foot as one gets in. That such an insignificant detail is worth referring to indicates how faultless the modern Cortina is. The heater controls are simple to use, the clock down on the console is easy to see, the doors have effective “keeps”, and if this Ford lacks outstanding “character” it is a thoroughly practical, well-contrived car. There is tinted glass, the auto-choke starts the engine promptly, hot or cold, given a bit of throttle, but the starter lives up to Ford tradition and is noisy: but only those outside hear it. It will continue to appeal to a great many family users. I am sure, when they get round to making them again – I am writing this report during the Great Strike. Ford has understood just what the average motorist expects in the way of performance, convenience and value-for-money for a very long time and this fine Cortina Ghia estate is an excellent example of their sales and engineering philosophy. – W.B.