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CATEGORIES (articles) > Donor vehicle information > Ford > Ford Cortina history

Ford Cortina history

The Ford Cortina was a medium sized car sold by Ford of Britain. The Cortina was produced in five generations (Mark I through Mark V—though officially the last one was the Cortina 1980) from 1962 until 1982, when it was replaced by the Ford Sierra. From 1970 it was almost identical to the German-market Ford Taunus (they were built on the same platform) which was originally a different car model; this was part of a Ford attempt to unify its European operations. By 1976, when the revised Taunus was launched, the Cortina was identical. In fact, this new Taunus/Cortina used the doors and some panels from the 1970 Taunus.

The Cortina replaced the unpopular, quirkily styled and expensive to build Ford Consul Classic of 1961 and proved an instant hit.

All Cortina series sold over the million mark, with each successive model proving even more popular than its predecessor.

Mk I (1962–6)

Notable models were the Lotus Cortina and Cortina GT. Available with 1.2 L and 1.5 L engines in 2 and 4 door saloon and 5 door estate forms. Base, Deluxe, Super and GT trims were offered but not across all body styles. Estates offered the option of fake wood side and tailgate trim, aping US style wagons, for a short time. Lotus Cortina models were solely offered as 2 door saloons all in white with a contrasting green side flash down each flank. Lotus Cortinas had a unique 1.6 L twin cam engine by Lotus, but based on the Cortina's Kent overhead valve engine. Aluminium was used for some body panels. For a certain time, it also had unique A frame rear suspension, but this proved fragile and the car soon reverted to the standard Cortina semi-elliptic rear end.

Mk 1 Cortina

Mk II (1966–70)

Again a Lotus version was produced (this time in-house at Ford) but the most admired was the 1600E that came about in late 1967.

The engines were at first carried over, but for 1967, they received a new cross flow cylinder head design, making them more efficient. AT this time, they became 1.3 L and 1.6 L in size, with the Lotus Cortina continuing with its own unique engine. A stripped out 1.2 L version running the engine of the Ford Anglia Super was also available for some tax conscious markets.

Mk 2 Cortina

Again, 2 and 4 door saloons and a 5 door estate were offered with base, Deluxe, Super, GT and later 1600E trim available, but again not across all body styles and engine options.

The 1600E was a particularly sought after car, combining the lowered Lotus Cortina's suspension with the high tune GT 1600 Kent engine and luxury trim featuring wood dash and door cappings, bucket seating, sports steering wheel and full instrumentation inside, while a black grille, tail panel, front fog lights, a vinyl roof and plated Rostyle wheels featured outside. They were very often stolen just for their unique body bits and trim to dress up more humble Cortinas.

For 1969, the Mk II range came in for subtle revisions, with separate FORD block letters mounted on the bonnet and boot lids, a blacked out grille and chrome strips on top and below the tail lights running the full width of the tail panel marking them out.

An aftermarket converter, Jeff Uren used the Mk II but managed to shoehorn in the larger 2.5 L and 3.0 L V6 motors from the Ford Zephyr/Zodiac to create the Uren Savage. Crayford also did some convertible versions based on the 2 door saloon body.

Mk III (1970–6)

An iconic 1970s car. The Detroit-inspired "coke bottle" shaped Cortina was a huge hit amongst fleet buyers. It replaced both the Cortina Mk II as well as the larger, more expensive Ford Corsair by offering more trim levels and the option of larger engines than the Mk II did.

Ford UK originally wanted to call it something other than Cortina, but the name persevered. Although the Mk III looked significantly larger than the boxier Mk II, it was actually the same overall length, but 4 inches wider.

Mk 3 Cortina

Trim levels were now Base, L (for Luxury), XL (Xtra Luxury), GT and GXL (Grand Xtra Luxury). 1.3 L, 1.6 L and 2.0 L engines were offered, the 1.6 L having two distinct types - the Kent unit for models up to GT trim and a single overhead cam Pinto unit for the GT and GXL, the latter of which was also offered in 1600 form for a short while. 2.0 L variants ran a larger version of the 1600 Pinto unit and were available in all trim levels except base.

Four headlights and Rostyle wheels marked out the GT and GXL versions, while the GXL also had body side rub strips, a vinyl roof and a brushed metal tail panel. All models featured a downward sloping dashboard with deeply recessed dials and all coil suspension all round. In general styling and technical make up, many observed that the Mk III aped the Vauxhall Victor FD of 1967.

In late 1973 the car received a facelift. Outside, there were revised grilles, rectangular headlights for XL, GT and the new 2000E which replaced the GXL. The 1.3 L Kent engine was carried over but now, 1.6 L models all ran the more modern 1.6 L overhead cam engine.

Inside, the car received a much neater dashboard that no longer sloped away from the driver's line of sight and generally upgraded trim. The 2000E reverted to the classy treatment offered by the 1600E instead of the vulgar faux wood offered by the GXL.

Mk IV (1976–9)

A conservative square-shaped style, this time imitating the Opel Rekord D, but this was largely appreciated by fleet buyers. This series spawned the first Ghia top-of-the-range model that replaced the 2000E. A 2.3 L Ghia version was introduced, featuring a version of the German Cologne V6 that was also taking root in the sportier Ford Capri. These models were identical mechanically and bodily to the 1976 Taunus.

2 and 4 door saloons and a 5 door estate were offered with all other engines being carried over. There was a choice of base, L, GL, S (for Sport) and Ghia trims, again not universal to all engines and body styles. The dashboard was carried over intact from the last of the Mk III Cortinas while the estate used the rear body pressings of the departed Mk III, with smaller tail lights.

Mk V (1979–82)

A face lifted Mk IV in many special editions such as Calypso and Crusader, as well as Base, L, GL, GLS and Ghia variants. Officially, it was known as the 'Cortina 80', rather than the Mk V. The press called it Mk V anyway.

These were differentiated by revised headlight units with larger turn indicators incorporated, a wider slatted grille said to be more aerodynamically efficient, slimmer C pillars with revised vent covers, larger, slatted tail lights (except estate models) and upgraded trim.

Mk 5 Cortina - Mk 4/5 most commonly used as donors for kits

By this time, the Cortina was starting to feel the heat from a rejuvenated Vauxhall, which, with the Cavalier, was starting to make inroads on the Cortina's traditional fleet market.

The Cortina was Ford's mass market medium-size car and sold in enormous numbers, making it ubiquitous on British roads until 1982, when it was replaced by the Ford Sierra. In other markets, particularly Asia and Australasia, it was replaced by the Mazda 626-based Ford Telstar, though Ford New Zealand did import British-made CKD kits of the Ford Sierra station wagon (estate) for local assembly from 1984.

The Cortina also raced in rally and Lotus did some sportier editions of the Cortina Mk 1 and Mk 2 referred as Lotus Cortina.


The Cortina was also sold in other right hand drive markets such as the Republic of Ireland where it was assembled locally, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and South Africa. Mk III Cortina Estates were adopted as police cars in Hong Kong. The Cortina was also assembled in left hand drive in the Philippines, in South Korea (by Hyundai) and in Taiwan (by Ford Lio Ho) until the early 1980s.

For a time, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was also thinking of using the Cortina as a template for a trans-national car, but the plans were scuppered.

The first two generations of the car were also sold through US Ford dealers in the 1960s. The Cortina competed fairly successfully there against most of the other small imports of its day, including GM's Opel Kadett, the Renault Dauphine, and the just-appearing Toyotas and Datsuns (Nissan), although none of them approached the phenomenal success of the Volkswagen Beetle. The Cortina was withdrawn from the American market when Ford decided to produce a domestic small car in 1971, the Ford Pinto, though it continued in Canada until the end of the 1973 model year.


In Australia, rather than referred to by marks, Cortinas had a two-letter code beginning with 'T' from the Mk III on. Hence, the Mk III was the TC, with a mid-life revised model the TD. The Mk IV was the TE and the Mk V the TF. Luxury options for the TC and TD were L, XL, XLE and for the TE and TF were L, Ghia.

While the first two generations were similar to the British models, Ford Australia began fitting the 200 and 250 CID six cylinder engines as available in the Ford Falcon to the TC onwards ... in addition to the four cylinder engines. The last of the TD, TE and TF models were fitted with the cross-flow head versions of these engines, referred to as 3.3 and 4.1 litres. To hold the larger engines the chassis unit had reinforced side rails and centre pillar and a tubular cross member support under the transmission. In addition the firewall panels were shaped to accommodate the longer engines and wider bell housing and were manufactured from thicker metal. This change was communised across the Cortina range so that the four cylinder models benefited too. But this was not enough to prevent the additional front mass of the larger engines causing under steer and thus poor handling by today’s standards. Braking was also an issue under harsh conditions. However, they found enough customers to last to the end of the model's life in 1981, when it was replaced, firstly as a stop-gap measure by the smaller Ford Meteor (a Mazda 323 saloon clone) and then the Telstar.

The TC six cylinder models had twin headlights which distinguished it from the four cylinder. The TD was identified by rectangular headlights. Both the TC and TD six cylinder models were immediately recognised over the four cylinder versions by the raised hump in the centre of the bonnet. Basic transmission for the sixes was a three speed floor change with an optional four speed Borg Warner box available, taken straight from the Falcon GT. Also available was three speed automatic with floor shift.

The TE and TF had minor exterior differences to the models sold elsewhere. Bumpers were the most noticeable differences (larger steel bumpers for the TE, rubber for the TF), while the TE had additional indicators in the front wings. Another example was that the TF's front number plate was mounted below the front bumper, further distinguishing it from its European Mk V counterparts.

In the mid-1970s, Ford Australia did propose a three-door coupe version of the Cortina, to compete with the upcoming Holden Torana liftback. This would have used the Pinto tailgate and other parts from around the world (the longer 2 door Cortina doors) However, Ford rejected the idea: a unique model, particularly a small coupe for Australia could not be justified on cost grounds.

In the late 1970s, Cortina wagons were briefly built in Renault's Heidelberg, Victoria factory (now closed), as Ford Australia's factories did not have the capacity.

South Africa

In South Africa, the Cortina range included a 3.0 L V6 'Essex' motor. A locally designed pickup version (known in South African English as a 'bakkie') was also offered, and this remained in production after the Cortina was replaced by the Sierra. The Cortina pickup was exported to the UK as the P100 until 1988, when Ford divested from South Africa, and a pickup version of the Sierra was introduced.

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