By on August 12, 2014


Most of my writing on this site is centered around the “clash of civilizations” – the eternal debate over whether American or European cars are superior in qualitative, if not quantitative matters. But among all those reviews of new European and American cars, or my sordid tales of living with old American iron in Europe, it’s easy to forget that today’s European cars are in fact quite similar to the American ones. At least compared to what they’ve been in the past.

To prove my point, I borrowed my friend’s 1964 Ford Cortina. This car is quite special to me, being one of the old European Fords I loved in my late teens and early twenties – I took them as a substitute to the classic American cars, which were out of my reach then. My grandfather used to own a Mark I Cortina just like this one, although it was replaced by a Polski Fiat 125p before I was even born.

But more importantly to you, my dear readers, is the fact that the Cortina is representative of the typical European family car of the epoch, one of the most popular cars in Great Britain and sold in large numbers in other countries as well. You can even trace exact lineage from Cortina to 1980s Sierra to the Mondeo – which, when the new generation finally comes, will be identical to the USDM Fusion.

But back in 1964, its USDM equivalent would be the Ford Fairlane. While the Fairlane was 5,002 mm (197“) long, hulking sedan riding on a 2,934 mm (115.5“) wheelbase, with a 2.8-litre straight six (145hp) as a base engine (a 4.7/289 c.i. V8 with 271hp was available), the Cortina was a different beast altogether. A fairly sizeable car for Europe of its time, it boasted a stately 4,274 mm (168.25“) of length, riding on 2,489 mm (98“) wheelbase. Under the hood? A 1.2-litre four. That’s 73 cubic inches, or a bit less than a typical American motorcycle of the time had. Horsepower? A whopping 65 ponies.

And it doesn’t stop here. Just look at the list of optional extras. With Cortina, you could buy things like heater or a fan as extras. Or a fancy DeLuxe model with a real chrome grille, instead of painted one. The Fairlane? Power steering and power brakes were not only available, but very common, as was the automatic transmission (Cortina could have one, but it was extremely rare). You could also order power steering, power brakes or even air conditioning – something basically unheard of in Europe of that time.

On paper, it would seem that the American car beats its distant European cousin on all fronts – and usually by quite a margin. But what about reality? Did the British Ford make up for the tiny size and missing horsepower by its sophistication and precise handling?

The very first thing you will notice once you sit behind the Cortina’s huge wheel is the sheer emptiness of the cabin.You are sitting in a car quite a bit smaller than today’s Focus sedan, and you feel an unusual roominess. For the passengers in front, it can probably feel even roomier than today’s Mondeo/Fusion. There is no huge center console, no wide door pockets, no deep buckets. Just you and a lot of empty space. Also nice is the fact that you can actually see outside, as the roof is supported by slender pillars instead of massive columns used in modern cars.


The flip side of all this? A bit of discomfort, caused by total absence of ergonomics, as well as any comfort equipment. Nowhere to put your keys, wallet or a phone. And probably also the quite unpleasant fact that once you crash, even just a little, you will die a horrible, painful death.

Obviously, this car isn’t equipped with a modern, fuel injected engine with array of sensors and a computer to decide about things like the air/fuel ratio. Today, we take for granted that once you turn a key in the ignition/press the starting button, the engine starts purring evenly, with no hesitation


Here, you have to pull something called a “choke” to increase the air/fuel ratio, so the cold engine actually starts up. And you have to do a bit of magic with the right amount of gas during starting, or maybe a few “pumps” of the pedal before you turn the key. Once the engine gets warm enough, you have to remember to switch the choke off again, or else you’ll “flood” the engine. And no, there is no “idiot light” to warn you that you’re running on choke for too long.

But other than the carb-related wizardry, the Cortina’s operation is fairly straightforward. Step on the clutch, find first gear – yeah, in this case, you have to really find it, with a gearstick the length of a small fishing rod – and go.

Once on the move, you’ll notice much of what you have probably expected. The Cortina is very slow, but from behind the wheel, it feels like you’re driving awfully quick. The engine and transmission are noisy, the car doesn’t feel very stable and isn’t even that comfortable – it is much less comfy than you would expect with a softly sprung suspension and tiny wheels with narrow, tall tires.


You probably also wouldn’t be surprised by the fact that driving this car requires some muscle – the brakes and the steering are not power-assisted. Braking from higher speeds, as well as turning in slow speeds, is a pain in the ass. When braking, you’re usually concerned whether you will stop the car at all and not about your tires blocking and losing grip. And similarly, at speeds over 50mph, you need to pay real attention to ensuring that you won’t just go off the road.

However, there is still one surprise. With all the current jibber-jabber about the electric power steering systems being devoid of feel, and the preceding hydraulic ones being much superior, we tend to think that old cars were magically connected to the driver, talking to him and signalling the ever-smallest changes of grip underneath the wheels.

But I have some bad news for you. With old-style recirculating-ball type steering, you can just quietly forget about “steering feel”. And without the power steering, even more so. The helm requires some strength to turn, has some play and doesn’t really tell you much about what’s happening underneath. Did I mention that the steering wheel is friggin’ huge? Otherwise it would be impossible to turn around or park, without the power steering. But if you just imagine things like going sideways with this thing, well, it’s really, really terrifying.


This is probably the biggest surprise I encountered during my drive. Arguably, the modern car offers more driver involvement in some respects. While the new cars, with their electric steering racks, unswitchable ESPs, fat tires and absurd limits of grip are scary to drive fast simply because you have to go extremely fast to really feel any speed, the Cortina is scary to get even close to the limit, because its controls just don’t offer you enough control to ensure that you don’t kill yourself. It’s not fair to extrapolate the difference in progress between the various eras. The cars from eighties or nineties were truly the exception instead of the norm. In those two decades, it was fairly normal for a ordinary car to be truly communicative, to be easy to drive on the limit, and to provide immense fun. The gap between the 1960’s and the 1980s versus the 1980s until now provides us with a window where we can view the extraordinary progress made in terms of driving dynamics.

That’s not to say that the Cortina isn’t fun. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, as they would say in the sixties. I would add that it’s more fun than barrel of angry, rabies-infested monkeys. And probably as likely to kill you. You will not want to go near the limits of grip – not because it’s hard to find, but because it’s very easy to find. And when you get there, it may be too hard to ensure that you won’t die a fiery death. It reminds you of the times when just getting your car at the (today’s) speed limit and going somewhere required skill. Our current speed limits were drawn up in the era of the Cortina, and viewed in that light, it seems crazy that we have never re-examined them.

Even so, the Cortina is a wonderful little car. It made me think about getting something slow and simple and old for myself again. But most of all, it’s a testament to how much the automobile improved in the last 50 years, and that we all should be immensely grateful for that.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


63 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1964 Ford Cortina...”

  • avatar

    My mother’s 64 solidly refused to start (we called her “Daisy” as in “Give Me Your Answer, Do”) and she would slap the passenger seat hard when this happened as my sister & I would cower in the back (sans seat belts of course).

    After thrashing the old 1100 within an inch of it’s life, Paul, her favorite mechanic who, naturally for back then, operated out of a railway arch, popped in a new motor. Which my mother then said the car obviously needed since it now ran much better. It was over a decade later when we sold the vehicle that the new owner informed us that Paul had actually dropped in a 1600cc Kent!

  • avatar

    Wow, lol. Phenomenal, insightful and hilarious review. Makes a lot of sense that Lotus had to step in to make the car driveable. It’s pretty incredible to see the progress cars have made in the last 50 years as well. I bet this thing, with its near non-existent HP and featherweight, still probably only gets like 25 MPG at best. Meanwhile the average “compact” twice its weight is averaging 10-15 MPG higher than that, while being able to cruise at 80-90 MPH all day in comfort and isolation reserved for the Bentleys and Benzes of the Cortina’s time. It’s good to contrast then and now to be able to appreciate the now.

    • 0 avatar

      Please note that Votja reviewed an absolutely bottom spec Cortina. They came MUCH nicer, all the way up to at least a 1.6l in this era, and eventually 2.0l and I think even V6 models. In 1.6l spec this was a decently quick car, and Lotus made it even faster and win a lot of races. A bottom spec Fairlane was no treat either, it was just bigger.

      Fuel economy would have typically been 35-40mpg. Don’t forget, there is actually a BIG fuel economy penalty associated with modern emissions controls (and modern weights). You can run these old carb’d motors really lean compared to a modern. My 1296cc Spitfire easily does 35mpg, even though it is tuned for max power with dual carbs and a road cam. Even driving such to keep up with modern traffic. The driving was slower back then.

      • 0 avatar

        The 1.2 liter was the volume engine of the MKI Cortina. The other non-Lotus engine available was a 1500, and it was reserved for the Cortina Super(60 hp) and Cortina GT(78 hp). The 1.6 Kent showed up during the Cortina MKII’s production run. The 2.0 liter Pinto and various V6s arrived during the Cortina MKIII’s run. It’s possible that your perception of more powerful MKIs being available is due to the high number of survivors that have received engine swaps from later Ford products.

  • avatar

    Vojta, you’re quickly becoming my favorite TTAC reviewer. Well done and keep ’em coming!

  • avatar

    I want an old Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant for most of the same reasons. But then in the U.S. you can count the number of non-Lotus Ford Cortinas on one hand…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A friend had a Mark III Cortina here in Canada. Yes it was very roomy for its size. It was also quite inexpensive, while ‘more refined’ than its competition (Pintos, Mavericks, etc).

    It also was totally unreliable. Would stall during left hand turns. Would just quit other times. We would get out, get a coffee, burger, cigarette, whatever and after about 10 minutes get back in and it would usually start up again. It also hated rain/heavy moisture and would not start on rainy days.

    We once raised it, an Envoy and a Pontiac Firenza. The 4th contestant was a bicycle which won.

    Needless to say, whenever we watched episodes of the classic British cop show ‘The Sweeeney’ and saw Mark III’s and Mark IV’s engaged in hot pursuits and car chases (yes, I know Regan’s car was a Consul and later a Granada) we had to laugh because we realized how dead slow they were.

    Have to love the line “I would add that it’s more fun than barrel of angry, rabies-infested monkeys. And probably as likely to kill you.” A great review, which confirms James Mays’ dictum that “it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow.”

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      MkIIIs are totally gorgeous. Of course, I’m biased, as I had one as my second car ever – a totally ratty one I bought for about $250, after I sold my one-owner, 1959 Skoda Octavia which I bought for about $70 (in 2002!).

      It was pretty stupid thing to do, but I loved American muscle cars and this things was the closest I could get to the American iron.

      Now, I want to find another MkIII, and stuff a 2.3T engine from Mustang SVO/Thunderbird TC/Merkur XR4Ti into it.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I forgot to mention the famous Gold Mk III 2000E Cortina that DCI Gene Hunt drove in the brilliant series Life on Mars. It was in fact selected in homage to the Sweeney and was auctioned off for charity for 10,000 Pounds when the show ended.

        This price was about 1/10 what was paid for Inspector Morse’s iconic Jaguar Mark II which is available for shows/displays/weddings/etc

        I wonder what Gene Hunt’s red Audi Quattro would fetch at auction?

        • 0 avatar
          Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

          Didn’t watch the whole of the last series of _Ashes to Ashes_, I presume?

          Not to give spoilers, but I reckon they wouldn’t get much for that Quattro.

          • 0 avatar

            “I’m arresting you for MURDERING MY QUATTRO!”

            I imagine he knows what condition it was in when it went to auction. If I lived in the UK, I would have at least seriously thought about bidding. :)

  • avatar

    Another interesting contrast is between mass-market cars such as the Cortina (or Focus today) with luxury market cars of the same era. I’ve driven some “quality” cars from that era and they generally steer, accelerate, stop, and corner pretty well (particularly with modern radials), and there is a huge gap in driving quality and durability between them and the Cortinas or Fairlanes of the same era. Cheap cars were sloppy when new and were totally worn out by 50,000 miles, while a 60’s era Cadillac or Mercedes were world’s better in comfort, performance, and quality and might go twice as far before needing some refurbishing. Today the gap between a Focus/Golf and ATS/3 Series is much smaller fresh out of the showroom or after 5-10 years of use, and the price gap between them seems to be based as much on perceived “prestige” as actual objective quality/performance differences.

    • 0 avatar

      The price gap is commensurately smaller too. “Luxury” cars are MUCH cheaper now than they were in the past, while ordinary cars have pretty well kept pace with inflation. This always seems to get lost, but here are a couple of concrete examples from my own automotive past:

      1. 1984 VW Jetta GLI vs. 1984 BMW 318i. Pretty well matched cars then and now. The BMW cost almost exactly 2X what a GLI cost, base price to base price. And the Jetta GLI was a pretty expensive small car itself back then, at nearly $2K more than the base Jetta (the current one is a much better deal). $9500 for a base GLI, $18,500 for a base 318i. Which had no A/C and no sunroof for that price – both were expensive options. And vinyl seats, of course. Just like now, the BMW was a little faster, handled a little better, and was nicer inside and out. But now the price gap is much, much smaller. $18500 in 1984 is $42,000 today – the most poverty-spec 320i you can buy, which has more luxury features than a base 1984 7-series, costs $32,750 – 8spd automatic at no charge. The 2014 Jetta GLI costs $24535 vs. an inflation adjusted $22K for my old GLI. So a MUCH smaller difference than in even the relatively recent past.

      2. ’88 Mercedes-Benz 300TE. MSRP *$47,730* for which you got plastic seats and a manually adjusted driver’s side mirror. A whopping 177hp and 17/20mpg EPA. The sunroof cost extra. It did have ABS and one airbag standard. That is *$96,000* today. A base E350 wagon today starts at $58K, and has power and amenities undreamed of in 1988. And is FAR more reliable on a fraction of the scheduled maintenance.

      In the Cortina’s day, you could buy a pile of poverty spec Cortinas for the price of a big Benz or Cadillac. I think even just the nicest Cortina was more than 2X the price of a base one. A base Cortina was only in the 700UKP range back then. Using 1UKP = $2, that would be the equivalent of $10,700 today – it was a VERY cheap car. 1964 Cadillacs started at $5500 or so, that would be $42,000 today (bargain!). For a car with crank windows and no A/C, as those were expensive options. A/C was nearly $500, or $3850 today. So A/C on a Cadillac was almost 1/3rd the cost of a whole Cortina!

      So the next time folks on here are whining about how terribly expensive cars are in 2014, think about all this. And there were no 72mo loans at cheap interest rates back then, and in the snowbelt you were LUCKY to get 5 years out of a car. 100K out of an ordinary family car was a miracle. We live in a golden age.

      • 0 avatar

        I have one of those fathers who constantly complains about the high price of cars “nowadays”. Every single Thanksgiving and Christmas. Talking about what a ripoff they are now that they’re all $25k-$30k when they “used” to be much cheaper.

        It’s always a refreshing perspective when you realize the top-spec 1992 Toyota Camry was around $35k-$40k in 2014 dollars out the door.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Just goes to show how hard MB was kicked in the balls by Lexus, there was an awful lot of profit margin there for the taking. I wouldn’t own a post-Lexus MB for a day longer than its bumper-to-bumper warranty.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, the pound was worth $2.80 at the time. So your £700 Cortina would be $1960. Of course, that’s just applying the exchange rate to an estimated out-the-door price. I believe Cortinas started as low as £550 in the UK, which would be $1540 US. Beetle territory. Since both MkI and MkII Cortinas were sold stateside, getting a US price list on those entails some deeper digging.

        That $1540, depending on your source, is a hair under $12,000 today. A Chevy Spark starts at $12,170 MSRP.

        Funny, though Ford sold about 87,000 Cortinas here between 1963 and 1970, mostly MkII’s, few survive.

  • avatar

    I have always liked the Ford Cortina as I used to see them around the St. Louis area where I’m originally from.

    Just goes to show that the “good old days” left much to be desired when you reach back and grab a piece of it like driving an old car from whatever era you happened to grow up in!

    Some years ago I drove a friend’s 1961 Volvo PV544 and I forgot how far we’ve come! Armstrong and footstrong driving, for sure! I can’t imagine driving my old 1961 Bel Air, let alone my first car – a 1952 Chevy – both cars were also manual-everything and twice as big and heavy.

    My 2012 Impala LTZ is a Rolls-Royce by comparison.

    Remembering the fun one had in one’s carefree years is great, but I have no desire to go back…

    Very nice article.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I forgot to mention the iconic Gold Mk III 2000E Cortina that DCI Gene Hunt drove in the brilliant series Life on Mars. It was in fact selected in homage to the Sweeney and was auctioned off for charity for 10,000 Pounds when the show ended.

      This price was about 1/10 what was paid for Inspector Morse’s iconic Jaguar Mark II which is available for shows/displays/weddings/etc

      I wonder what Gene Hunt’s red Audi Quattro would fetch at auction?

      Sorry for the duplicate post, meant to post this as a reply. Have requested a deletion.

  • avatar

    This article proves my point. The worst thing about old cars is the dang brakes. They suck. Even a 1990’s car has horrible brakes compared to modern cars.

    Old cars with modern traffic and modern vehicles are downright scary to drive. The times when you wonder if your going to hit the car in front of you seems like a daily occurrence. You need a very good eye.

    • 0 avatar

      Back then, no one walked away from a 40 mph wreck.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 93 Accord, and I lived on a road that was pretty much hell for brakes. Stop and go with peak speeds of about 60-70 MPH. One day the brakes got so hot I pretty much lost them. Had to pull over and let them cool off. Pretty pathetic.

      Hell, even my 04 Z’s stock brakes are chattering now after a week of NYC stop and go driving.

    • 0 avatar

      Even though I’m sort of a purist with vintage cars I never take a critical eye to brake upgrades, those are the first upgrades anyone should do with a vintage car.

      These days people pull out or late brake so often it can be pretty scarey out there, even in my ’92 Volvo.

    • 0 avatar

      My 1995 Audi S6 is from right after the switch from “UFO” brakes to discs. When I drive a modern car after being in mine for a while, my first stop almost includes a love tap from the windshield. The brakes a good (except for fade) but the feel and effort are not like modern cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      One nice thing about driving the Volt in L mode all the time is you get a good touch of ‘prebraking’ due to increased regen whenever you take your foot off the accelerator. I do wish there was a setting for maximum regen (with brake lamp lighting) and zero crawl though, I’d be able to do more one-pedal driving. Only worry then would be the brake discs not actually being set in properly or rusting unduly due to lack of use :p

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Unexpected and entertaining review, thanks for posting it.

    There isn’t much to be jealous of about these old cars except the sheet metal. Wrap this exterior around something modern but humble like a Civic chassis and drivetrain, pop in some airbags, and I’d absolutely love it.

  • avatar

    What you really shouldn’t forget is that the Cortina you drove is not representative of a brand new Cortina in 1964. Every suspension part, bushing etc. has deteriorated, there’s much more play in the steering etc..

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Yeah, I tried to take that into consideration, although the car in question was completely restored and in some ways – like fatter tires – even slightly improved.

      • 0 avatar

        Truth is though, the Ford Cortina in its poverty-spec models was a VERY VERY cheap and miserly car when it was new. Something like a Triumph 1300 or Dolomite would have been much nicer, or any of the FWD British Leyland cars that were competitors. Never mind the nicer still continental competitors like a BMW 1600. All of those were significantly more expensive, of course.

        The Cortina was kind of like a rental-spec previous gen Impala. Cheap, good enough, big for the money. But ultimately it was cheap above all else.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          Even more interesting fact is that while the Cortina was extremely cheap and miserly in US, in UK, it was equivalent to what Mondeo is now – or what Ford Fairlane was in US.

          Here in Czech Republic, it was roughly equivalent to a Lincoln Continental in America :)

          • 0 avatar

            No, the Cortina was a cheap and miserly car in the UK as well. Ford was the MASTER of penny-pinching cost cutting. Why do you think the basic car came with a single sun visor, and you had to go to the next trim level to get one on the passenger side? That is the very definition of cheap. Everything in its class was a nicer car, though the Fords did have a reputation for being pretty tough and dependable for the day. Post-war Britain was a pretty poor place, so cheap sold very well. It was the equivalent of a rental-grade Impala, not a high-spec Fusion or Mondeo. Cheap above all else, and old tech even for those days. It may have been the equivalent of a space ship behind the Iron Curtain, but it was a pretty down market car on the other side.

            A few Cortinas made it to the US, lost in the first wave of European imports.

            I owned a Trabant for a summer in Budapest, I rather enjoyed it. Better than walking to Lake Balaton! Actually, I have to admit I find the idea of having a Town Car as a daily driver in Eastern Europe almost as hilarious as the idea of having a Trabant here (but I would love to have one).

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            The cheap car was the Mini or Hillman Imp or something like that. Cortina was something that middle-class dads drove. Not a car for students to buy from summer-job money, like in America.

            And yes, a Cortina Standard was equivalent to rental-grade Impala. Cortina deLuxe with 1500cc engine was equivalent to today’s high-spec Mondeo. Lotus Cortina was something along the lines of today’s Impreza STi.

            And, by the way, the Town Car works just fine on our roads. It’s not for everyone, but for me, its the best daily driver I’ve ever had.

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            BTW, the spaceship refference was connected to the Fairlane or any other un-of-the-mill American car. I’ve spent some time in a friend’s 1965 Dodge Coronet with 318 V8 (among other cars from those times), and compared to the Cortina, it’s really is a spaceship.

            The difference between said Coronet (typical US family car of the time) and Cortina (typical British family car of the time) is probably even bigger than the difference between the Cortina and Skoda 1000MB (typical Czech family car of the time).

          • 0 avatar

            Boring middle class British Dads drove Cortinas because they were cheap, and relatively large. They were the British version of cars by the pound. Just like boring middle class Dads bought Fairlanes and such here. Different horses for different courses, but the same idea. A big, cheap, OK but ultimately completely uninspiring sort of car. The American specialty for generations. Ford UK basically sold 1/4 scale American cars for decades, until the Germans took over in the ’80s.

            Mini’s and Imps were not particularly cheap compared to the Fords. The cheap Fords were the Anglia and then the Escort, which were fundamentally 3/4 size Cortinas in layout. Just like a Falcon was a 3/4 size Fairlane. I can’t seem to find pricing for anything but Mini Coopers, but a Cooper cost significantly more than a Cortina. So a regular Mini was probably a little less than a Cortina, but a lot more than an Anglia.

            Why wouldn’t a Town Car work most anywhere? It’s no bigger or thirstier than a long wheelbase S-class really, and a fraction of the price. I find them about as fun to drive as a transit bus, but different strokes and all that. I found the Trabant a hoot and a half to drive, I would have loved to bring it home. And those old rear-engine Skodas were a lot of fun too. And Polski FIATs! Almost bought one of those too. The best part of my time in Hungary (summer 1992) was getting to drive all the Eastern block cars. Now all my friends over there drive BMWs, it’s just not the same… Well, it is pretty much the same as here, just all diesels.

            And on this side of the pond, a Skoda Rapide would have been a lot more exotic than a Fairlane on your side… A Fairlane is just a bigger version of the same thing Ford UK sold every day.

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            Well, the Town Car would certainly work even in French countryside or other similar places with extremely tight roads, but it would probably become a bit of unpleasant experience – because it IS, in fact, quite a bit longer than the long version of the S-class (the “short” Town Car is something like 5,45m in length, while the S600L is around 5,15).

            Even here, you need to be a bit nutty to daily drive the Panther.But more about it in a Town Car review – coming soon!

  • avatar

    My first car at 18 was a pretty used up 1961 Ford Cortina for the sum of about $200, it had started off life as a 1200 but had a 1500 installed and 5.5J wide wheels + tires .

    Extremely unreliable, I killed it within 1 year.

    My best friend had a perfect 500 super deluxe with the two tone paint and a auto trans (column shift). Unfortunately the next owner didn’t take care of it and the McPherson strut mounts rusted out.

    Years later I had newer Mark IV and a Mark 4.5. and being company cars drove them like I stole em.

  • avatar

    Dad hated car salesmen.

    But it was 1965, and our bloated ’58 Mercury was getting long in the tooth, so he took me and my brother down to the local Ford dealer to check out the new Cortina.

    After an undetermined amount of time listening to the salesman yakking in the right front seat about the features and benefits, without a word Dad drove to an empty parking lot, cranked the steering wheel to full left lock, and planted his foot on the accelerator.

    After about 6 or 7 tire squealing revolutions, he drove the car back to the dealership, with the car salesman falling pretty much silent.

    No sale that day.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of my drives in a couple of old beetles.

  • avatar

    Back when we were teenagers about 1970 my brother had a 65 Cortina gt. (Stiffened springs etc.)

    It was a hoot but had one quirk — something in the engine dynamics loosened bolts on the front of the engine :water pump, alternator etc. Regular retightening was a must.

  • avatar

    Great article, its nice to see a more honest look at vintage motoring.

    My first car was a ’75 Beetle, power nuttin’, stopping in traffic was scary with no power brakes and parking was not fun at all. Modern cars may be a bit devoid of feel but you won’t feel worn out once you get back home.

  • avatar

    Another great article (please keep them coming). Given your descriptive view of the handling dynamics of the car, I can see why some people opted for the Lotus version. I would have.

  • avatar

    Very well written and entertaining but ;

    I drove these and many other ‘ Cheap Imported cars ‘ when they were new or nearly so and yes , they’re a class below to – day’s cars but they were *MUCH* more fun to drive than American cars at the time .

    That one there has heavy steering because it clearly has wider than stock tires ~ I hear this same complaint all the time from Customers who swear they’re running ‘ stock ‘ tires when they’re not .

    Most of these oldies were very ” quick ” if not fast and there’s a significant difference : quick is often more fun .

    That car looks nice but not restored , I like to see the undercarriage before accepting ‘ restored ‘ .

    I particularly like the arrows on the rear bumper , the passing arrows on my old Shop Truck say ” passing side ” and ” suicide ” =8-) .

    Lastly , ‘ pumping the throttle ‘ whilst cranking _guarantees_ harder starting cold or hot an any engine old or new .

    Basic 7th grade physics there .


    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      For us here, this wasn’t “cheap imported car” – it was “expensive imported car”.

      And American cars of similar vintage may be less fun, but much, much more comfortable. To average European, driving a 1964 Ford Fairlane with 289ci V8 was like flying a spaceship. Fast, comfortable, hi-tech gadgets.

      The steering is heavy because it’s manual. With original tiny tires, it would be a touch better, but not that much.

      And yes, the car was restored – it’s amateur resto, but basically everything had to be done. It was a total wreck when my friend started with it.

      As for the pumping of the pedal – of course I meant before cranking. My mistake.

      • 0 avatar

        The steering should not be heavy. It’s either the tires, or there is something wrong. But it is probably the tires. If nothing else, original spec bias-ply tires would lighten the steering considerably. And firm up the handling, even if they have less ultimate grip. Radials need very different geometry to work properly. Still this was not a sporting car in anyway, just a dull cheap family machine. You can certainly MAKE them sporting – upgrades are super easy! Drop in a 1.6l Kent or a 2.0L Pinto, lowering springs, better brakes, and that thing would be a ball.

        I am sure it would have been cheap compared to a V8 Fairlane back then. It’s all relative. In those days the home team was usually the cheapest option everywhere. America was a bit of an aberration, in that we got all those British cars for super cheap because Britain was on an export binge, and the dollar was king.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          No, the America was just filthy rich. Jaguar, Benz, Ferrari, Maserati – those lived on American sales. Europe drove Fiat 500s, Volkswagens, or Cortinas. Eastern Europe – Trabants and Skodas, if lucky.

  • avatar

    “With old-style recirculating-ball type steering, you can just quietly forget about “steering feel”. ”

    This is implementation-dependent, not inherent in the technology, from experience.

    The MB implementation (e.g. in the w115) hsd plenty of steering feel and feedback and very minimal dead spots, comparable to a competent modern car.

    • 0 avatar

      Even my ’01 Range Rover has excellent steering feel with a recirculating ball setup. And that on a truck with a live axle up front (so even MORE rod ends and whatnot)! It is easily as good as my old e28 BMW. But it should be, for nearly $80K when it was new. Ford spent about $.18 on the steering gear in that Cortina, and I am sure it showed.

    • 0 avatar

      All V8 E39 BMWs have recirculating ball steering, including the M5. The rack and pinion setup did not fit with the V8 front subframe…

  • avatar

    Once again it’s really nice to see something relevant for us on the eastern side of the atlantic. Even if here in Norway the majority of Fords sold were of the german Taunus variety, there are so many Cortinas around that you can still get a decent cheap one today. I would love if you could try to find a Taunus of some sort and do a similar review of that later, the larger 17M and 20M’s would be a nice contrast to the very similar American Falcons, and the fwd 12M and 15M that were originally an American concept (sharing the engine and transaxle from the Mustang II prototype) would be a nice contrast to the very conservative Cortinas of the same age.
    I haven’t owned or driven many classic cars myself, besides my first car, a ’78 Volvo 242, but I can confim that modern cars are incredibly much more comfortabel and easier to drive, even if I do miss the roomy feeling of the near empty, spartan interiors of my dads old Taunuses that I spent my first years in.

  • avatar

    “Here, you have to pull something called a “choke” to increase the air/fuel ratio…”

    To increase the fuel/air ratio, or decrease the air/fuel ratio.

  • avatar

    My shipmate based in San Diego went home to Seattle in ’71 and brought back a ’69 Cortina his used car salesman uncle sold him. There were the usual jokes about uncles who sold used cars to relatives, and a bit of hilarity when I stuck the key to my ’65 Impala into it and unlocked it, and then drove away. His key couldn’t unlock my car, much less start it, though it fit, and he had to wait for me to return his MKII.

    When we went off-base as a group, we split up into two groups at first, but after a couple runs on San Diego’s freeways where the limit was 70 mph, there were comments like “death trap”, and “slow as molasses in January” – and he had the 1600. It wasn’t long before I was back to ferrying the entire gang in the Impala.

    • 0 avatar

      I found a 1969 Impala, around 1980, a complete and total stripper (no radio even, just a bright aluminum plate in the dash to make it OBVIOUS how tight you were), manual 3 speed on the column, 250 ci 6 cylinder. But that thing drove wonderfully. I took it the local mechanic to have it inspected, he came back in just minutes and said, “It won’t start.” I walked out to the shop with him and when he turned the key not a sound.

      I said you have to depress the clutch pedal. He attempted to pass it of as he just assumed it had an automatic. He started it up and drove about 50 feet and NAILED the brakes, slammed his head against the steering wheel. he put it in reverse, backed slowly toward me and and stopped, I could see a knot on his forehead where he’d bashed his head.

      He was a bit grumpy, but he gave me the sticker, most fun I’ve ever had for $5.

      Eventually the paint failed, rust set in behind the rear window, and I sold it for what I’d paid for it originally, about $600. Drove it for about 4 years, for just maintenance costs/inflation. Nice car…

  • avatar

    I was the not-so-proud owner of one of these. Don’t remember the model name but it had the 1.6 liter motor. Bought it used in Quebec using what was left of the insurance money from an Opel GT that I had totaled due to being a fulltime university student/delinquent.

    That salesman had me taped as a naïve bumpkin with a taste for the “look-at-me” but no cash to carry it any further. He steered me towards a red Cortina and I was hooked, he then reeled me in with a 30-day warranty.

    About 31 days later the starter motor gave out so I had to start it on hills or have my friends push. I had no money to fix it as girls, drugs and my studies were all I could handle.

    It also resulted in my almost sending a hitchhiker into therapy. I was on my way to the university and saw what looked to be a student thumbing a ride. This was at a time when people in my home town didn’t lock their doors so picking up a stranger was not a non event.

    He was indeed a student. In spite of its many foibles I drove the little Ford in a spirited fashion. We were going around a decreasing radius curve in a tunnel which I knew well, so I took it at my usual 7/10’s. As I came to downshift the shifter came off in my hand, I was used to this happening so without missing a beat I slipped on my glove which I kept for this occasion (as the huge screw had prickly metallic edges which hurt like hell) I screwed it back into place. When we got out of the tunnel I asked my hitchhiker where he was going he looked at me with wild eyed panic! He was scared speechless and could only point …… finally he squeaked out the words “right here”. The car had barely stopped when he opened the door and ran away never to be seen again.

    I kept it for about 4 months and traded it in for a POS Yamaha 3-cylinder 750. Talk about out of the frying pan!!! …….

  • avatar

    We had that same 1200cc engine in our 1964 Ford Anglia Super. It had 48.5 hp net, not 65. It started right up on the choke even in the dead of winter here in Canada. You learn to quickly “push the choke” back in to about halfway a few seconds after starting, as the engine begins to “hunt” on the rich mixture, and then gradually push it in to the off position as it warms up. Easy, you don’t even think about it as it becomes part of routine.

    It was a far better actual engine than the BMC ones. Those wouldn’t start in cold weather – my father’s ’65 Austin 1800 even had a no start temp: 8 degrees F, and liked oil, while the Fords abstained. The BMC engines were rough old iron lumps compared to the much newer design Fords.

    I agree with other posters above. If the Cortina won’t track straight, it needs all new bushings in the suspension, or more likely a whole new body. The front unit body rusted out around the McPherson strut mounts and behind the rear leaf spring shackle, with undesirable effects on directional stability. Of course, 1964 Fairlanes had completely approximate steering as standard, i.e. far worse. I drove those back in the day too. Completely numb on whatever cheapo 2 ply rayons they came with. People today wouldn’t believe the flat palm on the wheel, ape-hanger fingertips on the top of the skinny rim, constant quarter turns back and forth to keep US vehicles between the center line and shoulder in thise days. English Fords never needed that kind of input. You could relax in that regard.

    The 1200 cc engine got much better mileage than the 997 in our first 1960 Anglia. Average about 30 mpg, with 35 on the highway, and the first full synchromesh 4 speed in a cheap car.

    The car was my mother’s, so of course I took it to the drag strip: 20.5 seconds. Thankyou, thankyou. N stock, lost to a ’51 Plymouth 2 door in the final. But only just! You remember these things.

    Mum got rid of the Anglia Super after the gas gauge died and her new job happened, treating herself to a brand new Volvo 544. Er, that did 17.97 at 72 mph.

    My favorite Cortina was the Mark1 revised GT with the 78.5 hp engine. Drove one all summer of 1966 when I had a summer job out in Victoria BC. Four up, that would handle the grades towards Nanaimo at a steady 5200 rpm in third gear and about 65 to 70 mph. Believe the biggest grade was eight miles long. Handled better and was far nicer to drive than the 1964 Ford wagon pool vehicle with 223 six and three-on-tree. Ponderous adequately describes that overweight toad.

    Face it, Vojta, the Cortina you drove is cooked past well-done. Great article and remembrances for me.

  • avatar

    My father’s first new car was a 1964 Ford Falcon. 170 cube I6 that probably produced no more than 80hp at the rear wheels. Manual brakes, manual steering, manual choke, no AC, AM radio with a single tiny speaker in the dash, roll up windows. The car did come with a factory heater and an automatic trans(2 speed). My point being that bottom of the barrel cars in the US at that time were not much different from bottom of the barrel cars in ol’ Yurp, with the exception that the Falcon was considerably larger than that Cortina, even though it was considered a ‘small’ car by US standards.

  • avatar

    1976, Canary Islands, first big job for Dad. Company car was a Ford Cortina. I don’t remember much, though I do remember it was dark (I was only 5). Remember the VW Bus we used for family outings much better. But later, talking to Dad, he remembered as one of the best cars he ever had. Talked about how fast the car was and so crisp the handling. So it was almost surely a 1.6 or 2.0. Could also be tht the Cortina was just more advanced from the cars we had here. Previously and from pics and talks with Dad, he had had, among others a Karmman Ghia, Puma, VW SP2, Renault Gordini, VW Brasilia, Chevy Opala (Opel Reckord). So I’ll always believe the Cortina is something special.

    Aside the obvious exaggeration to prove some points (and warranted in an article like this), I enjoyed it immensely! Thanks Vojta!

    Good points about the spaciousness of the cabin. The huge center consoles in car is just an unnecessary affectation for example. Give me some space and sacrifice some ergonomics (supposedly) please. Also totally agree as to the columns. Sad thing is that with modern metallurgy, fat columns are just another dumb affectation dictated by fashion and not need.

    And I do remember the choke! A vital necessity in Brazilian cars when I started driving because the market was dominated by cars running on alcohol in the late 80s, I remember it well. When fuel injection became standard and the choke died off, no one missed it, though when I get in an 80s car with it, it brings a smile to my face.

    Also reminds of a good story. A friend of ours bought a brand new Uno. Many of us, stuck with second hand cars were envious. However, she soon started badmouthing the car. One day, my Uno was in the shop so I hitched a ride home with her after classes were over. I was one of those who had said it was impossible her car was so bad as I had a similar, albeit older model Uno and I like it just fine and it had never given me a lick of trouble.

    SO I was keenly aware when we got in the car and decided to pay a lot of attention to see if I could identify the problem. She enters the car, pulls the choke and hangs her purse on it. I think, “weird” but say nothing. She starts the car and yes after a while the car is riding roughly. Of course, the choke was still pulled and the purse hanging from it. I ask her if she knew what tht lever was for. She said no and that, yes, she almost always pulled it and used it to place her purse. I explain its real purpose, making fun of her the whole time.

    Good times!

  • avatar

    I thought and was led to believe that the USDM Fusion was going to be a variant of the Mondeo, not the other way around? And by reading the review you will understand the English nickname for all marks of Cortina the “Dagenham Dustbin”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    My wife’s 1981 Honda Civic bought new had a manual choke.
    My 1982 also bought new did not, so ’81 must have been the last year for them in Hondas sold in North America.

  • avatar

    I had the 1500 deluxe 2 door (you could tell, it had a heater but no fan and DISK BRAKES on the front). Would do an indicated 105 MPH down hill (Steep hill!), it handled well and stopped brilliantly, 40 MPG, The reason they eventually wont start start isn’t the starter motor (it was a LUCAS and like the generator and whole electrical system extremely reliable) but the fact that the ring gear wasn’t properly hardened and replacing it required removing the gearbox so for 3 years I either push started it or parked it on a hill ( all roads are either flat or downhill one way or another). You could buy valves to repair the AC (of AC or Shelby cobra fame) fuel pump and drain the sediment by removing a glass bowl. Mine ran a bearing at 160 000 miles after I lent it to a friend who didn’t check the oil and ignored the oil pressure light. I would buy another if bay window VW kombis weren’t so cheap.

  • avatar
    lOmnivore Sobriquet

    I understand Cortinas were quite a thing in Britain’s life and psyche.
    Just a couple of hundred miles below and slightly to the right we in France had the Peugeot 204.
    Overal similar if a bit later coming (1965-72, then ‘evolved’ into the more bourgeois ‘304’), it introduced a number of technical novelties in a popular car and was a commercial success.
    It gained an excellent reputation, both when brand new and also much later on, and is still recognised as a milestones in European 60’s car industry. (short TV news clip)

    (reached n°2 sales in France some years, not bad for a familly sedan, indeed Peugeot)( The truely cheap ‘Ford-like’ were the Renault.)

    I suggest you should pay attention to this one, besides that ‘English’ Cortina, equaly a time defining automobile for its market. Very similar in vintage, look and general description (1200cc middle class dad’s car), and yet arguably better in every aspects…
    A good point too in your interest in progress in automobiles, as a mere few years seperates the two.

    Okay… I was eighteen in 1984, student, worked one summer and… bought this one, my first car, a 204, one year older than me. (one from the very earliest batches, identical to the one in the Tv clip above, with an opening roof! : zero defect.)
    It was nervous, behaved on the road very well (very good suspensions, FWD), remained fully comfortable even in long rides. That 60’s look both inside and out was such hype !
    Yes already then it already surprised as feeeling roomy inside, almost ‘naked’. Good lines. Those 4 speeds on-the-trunk were a delight, short, precise yet easely passed with one finger only… two for downshifting… you can imagine the 19 year old me driving all this, with its near turbine sounding engine, playing 60’s rock’n roll wearing ties and glasses and all that…
    Yes, played its full role as a ‘memory builder’ instrument too… be certain.

    Anyway a car not really so well connected with the Anglo-Saxon world, unlike the Cortina so obviously… hence this comment for you all banana-hamburger eating species around.
    But certainly a good milestone for judging progress in automobile industry, from a successful, standard and standard setting model in its own right.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the excellent and entertaining write up.
    Apparently, the ’65 Galaxie was 1.26 times the length of the Cortina. Mine ‘gal had power steering but not power brakes, just a very wide pedal.
    The 352cid was 4.8 times the displacement as what came in that Cortina. Fascinating.

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • VW4motion: I’d like to see the data on the people that believe the “over built” bath water on the...
  • stingray65: The Bolt is from a company that is punished by investors if it doesn earn a profit, which means the...
  • mcs: “Road trip in the flyover states would love to know when that will be attainable” Have you looked at...
  • cimarron typeR: We have 3 Mazda dealers in KC, to my knowledge, and 2 for sure are within 15min from my house. One is...
  • mcs: @SCE: I agree! I’m not “virtue signaling” or trying to save money, I just like electric...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Seth Parks, United States
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Kyree Williams, United States