19 July 2022

The Ford Cortina: 60 years young

If there’s one car that’s synonymous with family motoring, it’s the Ford Cortina – the car that was Britain's best-seller for 10 of the 20 years it was on sale.

2022 marks the 60th anniversary of Ford revealing its answer to the iconic Mini, the manufacturer choosing to follow a ‘bigger is better’ approach rather than produce a direct competitor to Austin’s game-changer.

Launched in September 1962, the Cortina was designed to offer drivers all the benefits of a medium-sized car at a modest price. For relatively little, Cortina buyers enjoyed seating for up to six, a sizeable boot and the practicality-enhancing availability of four doors. Add in crisp styling and proven mechanicals – the 1,198cc three-bearing engine being a development of that of the Anglia 105E – and it was no surprise that the ‘new’ Cortina proved a smash hit, quickly helping Ford to achieve its aspirations of being a volume seller in the lucrative family car sector.

Having hit on such a successful formula there was no chance that Ford wouldn’t reinvent the Cortina as rivals edged closer. The only eye-opener was perhaps how many generations of the model there would be…

The original Cortina was superseded in 1966 by the Mk2, which bettered its predecessor with more space and equipment. It proved to be even more popular, right up until its demise in 1970 when, surprise, surprise it was replaced by the Mk3.

Epitomising the ‘coke bottle’ style that was a mainstay of early 1970s car design, the Mk3 took the Cortina to a whole new level. It would play a big part in the Cortina being the UK’s best-selling car of the decade, with the Mk4 then picking up the baton in 1976.

In contrast to the curvy Mk3, the Mk4 was all about squared-off edges, the sharp lines accentuating the saloon’s three-box design. It would be the generation of Cortina that had the shortest production run, with the Cortina ‘80’, or Mk5 as it would become known, ousting it in 1979.

Although the Cortina was getting increasingly long in the tooth, the refresh did enough to ensure the Mk5 was the UK’s second most popular car in 1982 – the year that Ford would finally pull the plug on the Cortina after a monumental 20-year production run.

Forty years later and the beloved Cortina still has a huge following. As there was during the model’s heyday, there’s a Cortina for everyone, with the different generations encompassing everything from cooking’ L, GL and Super versions right through to sporty GT, Lotus, ‘S’ and luxurious Ghia and ‘E’ variants.

For anyone considering one though, there’s plenty to watch for, most notably rust, the rarity of some components and the Cortina being far from the bargain it once was. There’s no denying it’s a desirable classic though – it’s hard to imagine such an ordinary car that has had such an extraordinary effect on family motoring.

Tell us about your Cortina memories in the comments below. If you grew up in the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s, we’re betting that either your parents or a friend’s parents had one!

My Dad bought a two-door brand new in 1966. NGH744D - I still remember the reg. Lovely car for us kids to ride in the back!

Maquone, 23/07/2022

I remember riding with a salesman demonstrating the all synchro box by selecting 1st at 40 mph and letting the clutch out momentarily.

Sailor, 23/07/2022

Great memories, back in the early 70's I had a mk 2. 1600 GT. Good to drive and quite quick for a 1600. Strong Crossflow engine and easy to work on. I wish I had it today.

Munchy , 23/07/2022