Buying Guide That old car smell...



Buying a Mk.I Cortina
'Australian Classic Car' March '95
Here's a great little classic for the cash-strapped enthusiast; these cars are still very reasonably priced and most parts are widely available.

A success from the start, the Cortina was first announced in late '62 and originally fitted with a 1200cc engine mated to the four speed all-synchro gearbox. Only a two-door version was available at first, a four-door coming on to the market in June '63. The maximum speed was around 75mph whilst the fuel consumption stretched to 32mpg.

By 1965 a more powerful 1500cc motor became available and a station wagon version was introduced. This slightly updated model also had front disc brakes fitted and 'aeroflow' ventilation.

With high numbers being sold, it shouldn't be hard to find a really sound one if you're patient. Their main enemy was Mr. Rustbug and you should look carefully for him, as he tends to hide under the doors in Cortinas and also around the wing valances where the suspension struts are joined.

The smaller engines could be prone to bearing wear, so check here for rattly motors - also look out for wheel wobble on a test drive. This could simply be a case of wheels out of balance, or, more seriously, worn-out track control arms. Look behind the rear wheels for oil splashes on the backing plates. This usually denotes a leaking back axle oil seal, a fairly common fault after high mileage.

These cars had almost as much passenger and boot space as the Falcon at the time, and were an excellent 'driver's car'. There is a good view from the driving seat except that the rear corners of the boot are hard to see when reversing. Noise levels inside the car are fairly subdued but engine noise does tend to become intrusive when revved hard.

Try and find one with good bodywork and paint, keep up to it mechanically, and you should have a nice little classic to be proud of, and it won't break the bank.

Mk.I Cortina Price Guide:
1st class condition: A$5000
Average: A$3000
Rough, restorable: A$1500


'Unique Cars' quotes the price of a two-door GT in very good condition as being A$7000, and a four-door GT in very good condition A$6000. There were very few GT500s ever made, but most are believed to still exist. They rarely come on the market, and a good one will set you back about A$12000. If you've got way too much money to know what to do with it, try a Mk.I Lotus-Cortina:

Mk.I Lotus-Cortina Price Guide:
1st class condition: A$35000
Average: A$25000
Rough, restorable: A$20000


Buying a Mk.II Cortina
'Australian Classic Car' July '95

Following the outstanding success of the Cortina Mk.I, the new wider-bodied Mark II was released onto the Australian market in August 1967.

Originally given a choice of 1.3 or 1.5 litre engines, by February 1968, the 1.5 unit had been enlarged to a 1.6 litre, four cylinder, overhead-valve, cross-flow, bowl-in-piston design, with a five main bearing crankshaft. It was an excellent unit, and gained Ford much prestige with the Cortina, with successes in many rallies, including the East African Safari and Southern Cross Rally.

An all synchromesh, four speed gearbox was fitted, making this a delightful 'driver's car', yet an automatic gearbox was still an option. All models had front disc brakes, which were self-adjusting.

A GT model was also available, beside the normal two or four door sedans. The GT had a 1600 High-Performance engine, with dual carburettor giving 93 bhp at 5400 rpm.

After all these years, a careful check for rust should be made on any car bought with a view to restoration, especially around the wing valances, where the car's suspension struts are fixed to the body. Early engines, mainly of the smaller capacity, were somewhat prone to running their big-ends. Listen carefully for a heavy knock low down.

Maximum speed of the 1600 motor was around the 90 mph mark, with an overall fuel consumption in the region of 27 mpg, making it not only a lively performer, but also very economical to run. The interior seats four adults quite comfortably and the cavernous boot has a capacity 21 cubic feet.

Good little classic which is cheap to run and easy to service. Like most Ford models, Cortinas are well supported via their various clubs throughout the country.

Mk.II Cortina Price Guide:
1st class condition: A$5000
Average: A$3000
Rough, restorable: A$1000


For a Mk.II Lotus-Cortina, try the following:

Mk.II Lotus-Cortina Price Guide:
1st class condition: A$20000
Average: A$12000
Rough, restorable: A$6000


Body Inspection

The Mk.I and Mk.II Cortinas, while not being immune to rust, are no worse than any other car of a similar vintage. Most unrestored Cortinas will have some rust to deal with, especially in wetter climates (Aussies laugh at Poms here). When checking the body over for rust, check these areas in particular:

  1. Top mountings for the front suspension
  2. Body mounting points for the anti-roll bar
  3. around the headlamps (mud collects up behind them)
  4. Leading edge of the bonnet
  5. General area around the A-pillar, inner front quarter-panel, and bulkhead - get under the dashboard, under the quarter-panel, etc.
  6. Bottoms of the front quarter-panels near the door
  7. Bottoms of the doors
  8. The sills
  9. The floor, in particular the jacking points
  10. Rear wheel arch seam and the 'chassis rails' in the same area
  11. Boot floor, in particular the wheel well and, in the case of the Lotus-Cortina, the area around the battery

See a nice diagram that shows you all these trouble spots

A clever way to tell if a quick 'n' nasty rust cover-up has been done to the top mountings for the front suspension, such as a less scrupulous seller might try, check to see how well the bonnet sits - if the suspension mounts are bulging upwards, the bonnet's not going to sit quite right, is it? And make sure if it has been repaired that it has been done properly, not just reinforced with plating.

Original panels basically don't exist any more, but there are plenty of old donor cars around, and the business of supplying replacement panels and sections seems to be forever growing.

Also check the condition (or even the existence) of the exterior trim items, such as the tailight bezels or stainless steel trim strips. Some of these items can be difficult and / or expensive to replace.


Mechanical Inspection

The Mk.I has pretty long lasting mechanicals, with the motor in particular having a reputation for taking abuse. When checking the engine, do all the 'usual' stuff:

  • check the oil warning light goes out as soon as the engine starts
  • listen for bearing noise
  • look for excessive smoke
And, as mentioned above, the three-bearing 1200 has a bit of a reputation for not being as strong as the 1500. If you're (very) unfortunate you may find the gearbox siezes, and the engine knocks its main bearings out and puts connecting-rods through the block. Sorry if I alarmed any 1200 owners out there...

Timing chain rattle can be a minor problem. To eradicate replace the chain, and both camshaft and cranshaft sprockets. A more serious sound is piston 'slap', which can appear on an engine less than 50,000 miles old. It should be seen to immediately, because this is often an early warning sign of more serious problems with pistons and rings, including breakages, and cylinder bore wear. Look for engine fuming and high oil consumption.

With a crossflow motor that's getting past 60,000 miles, listen for cracked cam followers, indicated by an intermittent 'clacking' noise form the top of the engine, which becomes more persistent as time goes by. This is an expensive repair, as the engine has to be taken out to get out the camshaft and followers. Well, it doesn't have to, if you don't mind having your whole car turned upside down.

On high-mileage and estate cars / wagons it is a good idea to check the rear ride height, as the leaf springs can sag. Up the front look for wear in the bottom joints. Also check the upper bearings / mountings. Brakes and steering are generally not problems, but nevertheless check for excessive play in the steering, because it can be expensive to overhaul.

The handy thing about the Cortina is that it shares a lot of its mechanical components with other common Fords, such as the Corsair. Well, common if you live in the UK or Europe - those in the USA or Australia can't benefit as much from this.

With Lotus-Cortina engines, look for signs of oil burning, noisy valve gear, and high fuel consumption. Avoid a car which has had its rev-limiter detached. Take extra care to check the clutch in a car fitted with the early close-ratio gears. Synchro can be suspect in second and third.

If you are looking at a V6 Savage, the following points should be looked for with the V6, besides all the usual places that suffer with high mileage: scuffed bores and pistons and damaged piston rings from local overheating; if still fitted, worn fibre cam timing gears can lead to bent valves and piston damage; a dodgy oil pump drive - always replace during overhauls, but don't use a cheap one; high oil consumption, due to badly fitted inlet manifold gaskets; worn valve guides, as they are cast in the head, and so have to be machined out and new guides pressed in. Of course, if you find a Savage in good nick, the condition of the engine might be one of your lower priorities.


Interior Inspection

The Cortina, having a mainly vinyl interior, can often be a bit sad inside after all this time. A good interior is a real bonus, because the economies of scale say that remanufacturing trim for cars such as this is an expensive business - you pay through the nose.


GT Inspection

Assuming it hasn't been tampered with, the vehicle identification plate on the driver's side of the engine bay will tell you whether you have a genuine GT on your hands or not. Here's how to decipher it all, well, for UK Mk.I models at least. For cars up to January 1965, somewhere on the plate it will say '118E', which denotes a RHD 1500, or '119E' for a LHD car. The vehicle number will be prefixed by four characters. The first is an assembly plant letter, (Z=Dagenham), the next two characters are numbers ranging from 71 to 89 indicating the model type (77=two-door GT, 78=four-door GT), and the last a letter gives the year of manufacture (B=1962, C=1963, D=1964, nb. that I, O, Q and U were skipped). After the vehicle number came a letter representing the month of manufacture. A four-door 1966 GT could have the following vehicle identification:

Z 78 F 123456 M

From January 1965 a new system was employed which better allowed for different countries of origin. The first letter pair gives the country of assembly and the assembly plant (BA=Great Britain, Dagenham). The following two digit number gives the model type, as per the previous system, but for Mk.IIs the numbers changed (96=two-door GT or 1600E, 97=four-door GT or 1600E). The next letter is again the year of manufacture, and the next letter again a month code. A vehicle number then followed. A British-built four-door 1968 Mk.II GT could have the following vehicle identification:

BA 97 HJ 12345

A further sequence then used character codes under the headings 'Drive' (1=RHD, 2=LHD), 'Engine' (5=1500), 'Transmission' (4=remote-control change gearbox), and 'Axle' (S=standard final drive ratio). For Mk.IIs the codes changed: 'Drive' (R/1=RHD, L/2=LHD), 'Engine' (G=1500 GT, N/X=1600 GT), 'Transmission' (A/1=floor change), and 'Axle' (A/2=3.9:1, A/J=3.89:1). Mk.IIs would also have on the plate one of the following: '3016E' - RHD pre-crossflow GT, Dagenham-built; '3017E' - LHD pre-crossflow GT; '3036E' - RHD crossflow; or '3037E' - LHD crossflow.

Worn synchromesh and propeller shaft bearings, indicated by driveline vibrations and free play between the two halves of each joint, are common on used and abused GTs.


Lotus-Cortina Inspection

When buying a Lotus-Cortina, take care - it's one of those particular cars of which more examples seem to exist now than when they were made. This is understandable considering how much more Lotus-Cortinas are worth over regular Cortinas. Again, check chassis plates and registration details, and look for the bulge in the boot floor to give clearance for the lowered suspension, as well as the associated reinforcing. And remember, there is no such thing as a four-door Lotus Cortina! It's probably a good idea to check with the UK-based 'Lotus-Cortina Register'.

The vehicle identification plate should be inspected for the following codes: '125E' - Mk.I Lotus-Cortina, Cheshunt-built; or '3020E' - Mk.II Lotus-Cortina, Dagenham-built. Cars with the first type of number sequence should include a '74', indicating a Lotus-Cortina body type, while a Mk.I with the second type of number sequence will also be a 74. A Mk.II Lotus-Cortina will have a '91'. Under the heading 'Engine', a Mk.II will also be denoted 'H' or 'P/Y'.

Take care also to make sure the Lotus-Cortina you're looking at has all the goodies it's meant to, and not, say, the wrong gear ratios. You might also prefer to buy one that hasn't been used in competition, especially rallying, in the interests of durability. Look for the holes left behind after the removal of competition equipment.


1600E Inspection

Once upon a time the biggest hassle you'd have with the body of a 1600E was people pinching bits off it, like the wheels. These days though, the problem is that red flaky stuff. Some people believe 1600Es were better rust-proofed or used better steel than other Mk.IIs, but this is a myth. The problem spots are typical of the early Cortinas - around the headlamps, the inner front fender panels, the outer front fender panels in the area behind the wheels, door bottoms, sills, rear wheel arches, and the jacking points. Check also the chassis end-piece for the rear spring hangers. Repairs here and around the top mounts of the front suspension should be done by welding in new metal, both for safety and for M.O.T.s and the like.

As noted elsewhere, with a tired crossflow you'll get timing chain and valve gear rattle. The gearbox can get sloppy over time and may buzz a bit. Clonking in the transmission is also a sign of old age. The front struts can get soft and the bottom ball joints worn, and this shows itself by a loss of crispness in the handling. Check the state of the suspension swivels with a large screwdriver by levering the suspension links up and down. The steering box can get sloppy too, which can make the car feel a bit like it has a mind of its own - you don't want more than an inch or so of free play at the wheel.


Price Guide (UK)

An on-line price guide exists at Thoroughbred & Classic Cars.

The following values are quoted in 'Practical Classics' (UK), with all values in UK£:

  • Condition 1
    In excellent condition in every respect. They're not potential concours winners - negotiate your own price for those - but they are superbly maintained and free from major faults.
  • Condition 2
    Capable of regular use. They may have a current MoT certificate, but might need work and or original parts to make them Condition 1 cars.
  • Condition 3
    Usually need a complete rebuild, although they might be driveable.

'Practical Classics' Price Guide
Mk.I Cortina (sal/est) 62-66: 1400 600 150
Mk.I Cortina (con) 63-66: 6000 3000 1500
Mk.I Cortina GT (sal) 63-66: 3000 1200 500
Mk.I Lotus-Cortina (sal) 63-64: 12000 7500 2500
Mk.I Lotus-Cortina (sal) 64-66: 10000 6500 2500
Mk.II Cortina (sal/est) 66-70: 1400 800 100
Mk.II Cortina (con) 66-70: 4500 2500 1500
Mk.II Cortina (cab) 66-70: 6000 4500 2200
Mk.II Cortina GT (sal/est) 66-70: 2500 1250 250
Mk.II Cortina GT (con) 66-70: 4750 2750 1250
Mk.II Cortina 1600E (sal) 67-70: 5500 3000 750
Mk.II Lotus-Cortina (sal) 67-70: 5000 2500 1000
Mk.II Lotus-Cortina (con) 67-70: 8000 5000 2500
Mk.II Cortina Savage (sal) 67-70: 10000 6000 3000
Mk.II Cortina Savage (est) 67-70: 10000 6000 3000


As to what these cars are worth in Euros...


Other Comments

In summary, as is often the case for cars of this type, pay more attention to the condition of the bodywork. A car may be poor mechanically, but if the price is lowered accordingly, mechanical work is quite straightforward and the most parts are readily obtainable. This was the case with my GT (Herb), whose donk was on its last legs at the time of purchase, but had been lavished with $3000 of bodywork and paint, which need I point out is a lot more than the cost of rebuilding an engine and replacing some parts. This may not neccessarily apply with the Lotus-Cortina, however, with its associated specialised components.

Some unusual cars to look out for, for which you might expect to pay a little extra, are the Standard models, which are extremely rare (they were only £30 less than the Deluxe), and estate cars with the fake wood trim. There is little price difference between Deluxe and Super Deluxe models, and between sedan and estate models. Estate models might only be worth 10-15% more. Choice between early and late model Mk.I's is a matter of personal preference, but I'd go for a later model (which I did) - disc brakes, nicer dash, the Airflow ventilation (which is actually very effective). If you have a choice of a 1200 or a 1500, always go the 1500. My GT 1500 has a nice turn of pace but by today's standards is not really a fast car. You'll find the 1200 a bit of a slug if you want to use it for daily driving, and perhaps also a bit less durable than the 1500, as discussed previously. And it's not really that much more economical. You may find, especially in the case of GTs, that a two-door is worth a little bit more than an equivalent four-door. This is because the body is a little bit stronger and a little bit lighter, and looks perhaps a bit cleaner design-wise, and in addition they are harder to find. If you want the rarest Mk.I, go for an 'A-bracket' Lotus-Cortina, while in the Mk.IIs you can look high and low for a GT Estate. But hey, any Cortina is a desirable Cortina.

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