The Ford Cortina Mk3 belongs to a specific period of social history; one where many Britons regarded Blue Nun and After Eight Mints as the peak of sophistication. The flagship Cortina GXL with its quad headlamps and vinyl roof inevitably attracted the most attention, but you were far more likely to encounter a Cortina such as this one - Simon Dean’s 1600L Estate.
The Mk3 debuted at the 1970 London Motor Show, and Ford intended it to replace the larger Corsair as well as the Cortina Mk2. It was the same overall length as its predecessor but was four inches wider, nearly three inches lower, and had a longer 2.54m wheelbase.
The original range was made up of a vast 35 models, comprising 1.3-litre, 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre engines, two-door, four-door or estate bodyshells and Base, L, XL, GT or GXL trim levels.
Naturally, Ford commissioned an elaborate sales film for such an important new model. One of its most memorable claims was: “She doesn’t know that the bulkhead has been specially soundproofed and that the wiper motor and blower have been banished to the engine compartment. She only knows it’s easier to hear the nice things he says in the new Cortina.”
The most notable aspect of the Mk3 was the ‘Coke Bottle’ styling that was “something else,” according to Ford. Dagenham’s marketing department advised its franchisees that “we built the Cortina to reach the peak of sales success”, and The Salesman’s Guide highlighted the 1600L Estate’s many advantages over the rival Arrow-series Hillman Minx. To visit your local Ford dealer was to be mesmerised by the reversing lamps, cigar lighter, carpets, reclining front seats, two-speed wipers and even an alternator.
Unfortunately, the first Mk3 suffered from noise, vibration and harshness complaints and a nine-week industrial dispute at Dagenham from April to June 1971. On the 1st of July, The Daily Telegraph reported, “the car that was once Ford’s market leader fell to fifth place in Britain’s sales charts because of production delays caused by teething troubles and the strike.” But, in the following year an underwhelmed Car magazine noted that “dealers cannot get enough of them as it rides along on the reputation of its two far more pleasing and realistic forebears.”
In July of 1972, Motor Sport headlined their test of the GT with “Getting to know Britain’s best-selling car.” By then, dynamic motorists with Patrick Mower haircuts could enjoy the 1600L Estate ownership for just £1,287.92 while basking in the reflected glory of its cinematic fame. Sidney James drove a Jamaica Yellow example in the big screen version of the ITV sitcom Bless This House, thereby gaining Ford invaluable publicity.
The company also built the Cortina in Australia, South Africa and Taiwan, while Hyundai produced a version for the South Korean market. The range gained a facelift in 1973, with production ending in 1976. By 1980, they seemed as passé as flared trousers in a brave new world of bomber jackets, skinny jeans and The Professionals.
Overall, Dagenham produced 1,126,559 Cortina Mk3s but only 138 of these 1600Ls now remain on the road. However, as this figure includes saloons, as well as the later 1976-1982 models, the surviving number of the 1.6-litre Mk3 Estates is even fewer.
Dean’s example has, as he notes, “a mileage of 59,000, and it’s in everyday use as its maker intended. It is very reliable and still comfortable, quiet and nice to drive after all these years. It is easy to see why these cars sold so well, as they are simple, practical and stylish.”
Nearly 53 years after its launch, the Cortina Mk3 appears diminutive and agreeably flamboyant compared with the average 2023 ‘medium-sized’ car. And anyway - for many devotees of the blue oval badge, the ultimate Ford screen icon is not Steve McQueen in his Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback, but Sid James driving a Jamaica Yellow Cortina 1600L Estate through Burnham.
With Thanks To: Simon Dean and the Mark Three Cortina Owners Club.
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