Hayes road tests the Armstrong 500 winning
FORD CORTINA GT
'Australian Motor Sports and Automobiles', November 1963
Yet the Ford Motor Company did just that last month when, almost at the same time as they announced the release of the Cortina GT, two of these cars crossed the line first and third in the Armstrong 500 at Bathurst.
What is it that this car has which enables it to out-perform cars with twice the engine capacity and which cost far more?
Let's get a few misconceptions dealt with first. Any persons who are looking for a Jaguar or Mercedes on the cheap will not find the Cortina their cup of tea. It's just not that kind of car.
To make the Cortina turn GT, Ford have used a formula which is becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Better breathing, suspension and brakes have been added to a basic low-priced, mass production car. For those who buy this kind of car as a sort of "let's go one better than the Joneses" image there's also a little more chrome and a dicreet emblem to make sure that everybody gets the message.
Certainly the car has better perfomance and handling than its less fortunate brothers, but it still remains a low-priced, mass-produced vehicle with the goodies added on as an afterthought and will have the same drawbacks, although to a lesser extent in many cases, as the basic model.
Now that's settled we can look at the package more realistically. The £1182 GT costs £183 more than the 4-door Cortina 1500 and for that you get all these goodies:
The GT develops 78 bhp at 5200 rpm, which is a fairly sizeable hunk of power for a 1500 cc unit. There's more there, of course, but for normal touring that's about all you need and all that's practical.
The amazing thing is that the power gets to the wheels so smoothly. The five bearing engine revs to over 6000 rpm like a turbine. Until you feel the belt in the back when changing from first to second you tend to doubt that this motor is really hot at all. It's smooth and silent all the way until the carburettor starts sucking at around 3500 rpm.
To fit all the new bits and pieces to a Cortina without going to the extent of expensive retooling has meant that instrument layout leaves much to be desired.
The tachometer, an electronic Smiths unit, is clamped to the left of the steering column where it is easily seen, but a driver has to look around it to see the fuel gauge. The oil pressure gauge and amp meter are set at the front of the console which runs between the front seats. To see them and note their readings takes the eyes away from the road for far longer than would be necessary if they were fitted on the dash panel in front of the driver. Normally this would provide little trouble, but the time to watch an oil pressure gauge is when driving hard and there would be little time to look down and study it.
The GT's suspension has been lowered a little and the car looks more handsome for it. Stiffer shock absorbers and front roll bar have also been fitted, so that the car's ride is a little harder over rough roads, but not enough to worry anybody.
The extra power and stiffer suspension certainly aid cornering. Although the car is still basically an understeerer, the extra power makes it possible to keep the tail well out and too much power will make it break away - but slowly enough not to cause any trouble.
On smooth roads the handling is ideal, far better than most saloons and as good as many sports cars. On rougher surfaces or in the wet, care must be taken not to apply too much power or the rigid rear axle will tramp and hop to throw the car off line. Backing off soon brings it back, though.
Driving position is better than on most small cars. The driver sits high enough to get a commanding view of the road and should not be too tired after a long trip.
The hand brake has been shifted to a position under the fascia panel where it is operated by an "umbrella handle" device which is hard to operate when wearing a full safety belt with the seat back to its fullest extent.
Visibility is excellent, but the tiny rear vision mirror makes it necessary to glance over your shoulder when about to pass in heavy traffic. Wing mirrors would make driving the Cortina a simpler proposition.
The interior is better furnished than the standard Cortina in a conservative manner which gives the car an air of quality.
Following the GT's success in the Armstrong 500 orders for the car have exceeded the ability of the Ford Company to supply them, although this situation should be recitified shortly. Certainly, for the person who wants a car with sports car perfomance and handling which can double as the family hack, the Cortina GT offers good value for money. Not only is the price reasonable, but the availability of service and spare parts at reasonable cost at all Ford dealers makes it an even better buy.
Transmission: Four-speed, all synchromesh.
Steering: Recirculating ball.
Tyres: 5.60 x 13.
Bodywork: Four-door, 4/5 seat saloon.
Price: £1182 (inc.tax).