Mk.I Ford Cortina


"As for style. Look at Cortina. That's another Ford difference you appreciate as the years go by. Cortina stays in style." Style on a stick.

In the late 50's, Ford had the Anglia 105E at one end of the market, and the Mk.II Consul/Zephyr/Zodiac range at the other. The market in between was filled up with cars like the Vauxhall Victor, the Hillman Minx, and and the A55 Cambridge. Ford began work on a car for this market segment, and the Ford Classic made its debut in 1961. It looked like a kind of flashy, bloated Anglia. It turned out to be a relatively upmarket car, and quite expensive to produce, and really still left room for another cheaper, simpler model. Ford had been known for its cheap cars, and while they were trying to flog the Classic, BMC were sticking out things like the Mini, which was even cheaper than the Anglia, and had its 1100 around the corner. The Classic wasn't really doing too badly, so it was persisted with, but it was decided to develop a new car of similar size priced low enough not to be a competitor. The Classic was eventually replaced by the Corsair, continuing Ford's letter C thing.

The brief for the Cortina, code-named 'The Archbishop', was to keep production costs low, whilst giving the best possible performance and fuel economy. This meant that planned features like an independent rear suspension were shelved. Starting with the Classic body structure, Ford slashed and burned away 15% of the body weight and 20% of the body parts. To further minimise production costs, but also due to limited development time, mechanical components from of other Fords were used. A 'best of Ford', if you like. Styling was completed in 9 months, finalised by the end of 1959, except for one detail - the tail light design. One of the most distinctive features of the Cortina's styling came about because John Bugas, head of Ford's International Division, had a look in early 1961, and said Detroit wanted round lights... so there. The reverse angle rear window was not used because it was felt it made a car look smaller than it actually was.

The Cortina was named after the Italian winter resort 'Cortina di Ampezzo', where the 1956 Winter Olympics were held. Apparently Ford's Chairman, Patrick Hennessey, had suggested the name 'Caprino' for the car, but this was abandoned when it was discovered that the word meant 'goat dung' in Italian. Production started in June 1962, and the Mk.I was launched by Ford of England in September 1962. It was actually known as the 'Consul Cortina' when it was first released, but this soon changed with the realisation that this was dud marketing. A car which didn't look much on paper, and appeared to be cobbled together from bits out of other Fords, went on to become a big success story.

The first Cortinas were all fitted with an engine based on the 1000 cc engine that first appeared in the Anglia (which became known as the 'Kent' engine), stroked to 1200 cc (1198 cc). It was an oversquare design, reducing piston travel per revolution, cutting down on wear, allowing higher revs, and able to be made relatively smaller and lighter. This developed a whopping 48.5 bhp @ 4800 rpm, had a top speed of 78 mph, and fuel consumption of 29 mpg, and had a Tardisly large boot, which I think is important to note. ('Wheels' Dec. '62).

"The performance proved engine zips you along at express highway speeds. And you get exceptional mileage on lowest cost regular!" Starboard 1500.

In January 1963 a 1500 cc (1498 cc) engine became an option, which used a 5 bearing crankshaft, as opposed to the 1200's three bearings. The engine was mated to a 4-speed gearbox derived from the Classic, with a centrally mounted gearshift, sending the action to the back wheels through a live rear axle, sitting on leaf springs and telescopic shockers. Up front was a MacPherson strut setup. Steering was a slow ratio 4.2 turns lock-to-lock recirculating ball system, and the final drive ratio was 3.9:1.

Article Five bearings in this latitude - NOW THE CORTINA HAS MUSCLES - Or how another 300cc will make the Cortina the car to watch
Bill Tuckey, 'Wheels', October 1963

In summary, deadly conventional, especially compared to the BMC 1100, but Ford got their sums right, and managed to release their base model at £639, as opposed to the 1100 at £675, plus, you got a far bigger boot. Yes! 20 cu ft! The motoring press said the Cortina wasn't anything very startling, but acknowledged that it was well designed and excellent value for money.

Cortinas were firstly available in standard or Deluxe form, with only two-doors available, but four-doors became available in October 1962. The standard cars had a simple painted grille, commonly referred to as the 'iron bar' grille, and painted headlamp surrounds. The dash inside looked like they'd forgotten to put the instruments in. It was aimed at fleet buyers, and really wasn't much cheaper than a Deluxe (£25), so they sold bugger-all, and so not many survive now. January 1963 saw the introduction of a Super Deluxe, in two and four-door models, which had the 1500 as standard equipment. Super Deluxes were identifiable by two chrome strips running down the side of the car, and better interior trim. The Lotus-Cortina also appeared this month.

An estate model (read 'wagon' if you're in the USA or Australia) was released in March 1963. This was only available in Deluxe or Super Deluxe form, with the 1500 being optional on the Deluxe and standard on the Super Deluxe. The Super Deluxe Estate can be picked by its oh-so-tasteful fake wood panelling down the sides and on the tailgate. A GT model was released in April, but more about that in the GT section...

In July 1963 all suspension and steering 'grease nipples' were replaced with marginally less rude sounding 'ball joints', childproof locks were fitted to the rear doors of all models, and the option of a bench seat with a column gearchange became available. The dash was also redesigned with circular instruments replacing the 'strip' speedometer. In December of the same year a Borg-Warner automatic transmission became available as an option for all models with the 1500 except the GT. A two-door 1500 was the cheapest car available in Britain with an automatic transmission.

October 1964 saw a lot of revisions. Models released after this time are often referred to as 'Airflow' models, named after the interior ventilation system that was introduced. Air flow through the car could be controlled through directional vents in the completely redesigned dash (facia), and was then expelled through vents in the C-pillar. Ford literature at the time boasted that all the air in the car was replaced every 40 seconds. I haven't counted, but it seems to work. A heater and screen washers became standard equipment on all but the most basic model, the interior trim was improved, and a dished three-spoke steering wheel was introduced. 9 1/2" disc brakes became standard equipment for all models and not just the GT and Lotus-Cortina, the grille was redesigned to incorporate the indicator and parking lights, and the seats were redesigned. Finally (finally!) the Consul badge on the bonnet was replaced by a similar badge with the Cortina name. The engines featured a higher compression ratio, and increased power and torque.

Article BETTER CORTINAS FOR '65 - Disc brakes, more power, new ventilation system, many other improvements - and a whacking cut in price of basic model
'Modern Motor', April 1965

In September 1965 the standard model was discontinued. The column gearchange was also made unavailable, as was the fake wood trim on the Super Estates (shame). Fixed quarter-light vents were introduced on domestic models, and Aeroflow screens at the rear of four-door models were given a wider 'rim'.

The standard model Mk.I Cortina finished its run in September 1965, with the rest of the line being sold until September 1966, except the Estate, which sold through to November. The Mk.I was replaced by the Mk.II model. An exception was a simplified version of the 1200 Deluxe which was exported to the Netherlands in CKD form for a year. Total Mk.I production was 1,010,090 units, a record for a British manufacturer at the time. It was in fact later passed by the Mk.II. However, in its home market of the UK, it never outsold the BMC 1100, but worldwide sold far more. Examples were to be seen (and still are) all over the world, and the cars quickly made a name as reliable, rugged, no-nonsense transport. How many BMC 1100's have you seen lately? They became popular as company cars and family cars for their low cost and conventional design, and in its GT and Lotus-Cortina guises, a popular racing and club car.



Ford Australia had its own lineup of models, with appropriate badges. A standard model was available as in the UK, with the 'iron bar' grille, and in two-door form with the 1200, but the rest of the range was as follows:
  • 220 - 2 doors and the grunty 1200
  • 240 - 2 doors and the 1500
  • 440 - 4 doors with only the 1500 (A£1023)
  • GT with the 1500

Paul Balddachino of CMOOC tells me that if you really wanted you could get a 220 with a 1500, and a 440 with a 1200 and a 4.4 diff. The Lotus-Cortina was never sold in Australia, though a notable number were imported for racing purposes.

Article HERE COMES A CONSUL CORTINA - Ford's latest small car is the start of a determined bid to capture the small car market.
Pat Hayes, 'Australian Motor Sports', October 1963

When the Cortina was launched, Ford had a 2.6% slice of the market with English fours, and by 1965 this had risen to 3.6%, with 15,500 Cortinas being sold. The Australian Cortinas (except the GT) by this time were using a 4.125:1 final ratio, instead of the UK's 3.9:1 ratio (which was used by the GT), and picked up a number of additions and adjustments to suit the local conditions (and driving?), such as dust proofing, revised spring rates, and local trim.

1965 also saw the appearance of a model unique to Australia, the GT 500, basically a homologation special GT designed for the 1965 Armstrong 500, the premier touring car event at the time.

For a great look at understanding local ID numbers and paint codes on Mk.Is, plus the accessories that were available, check out Jewel's page.

The Mk.1 was sold into 1968, when it was replaced by the less interestingly styled Mk.II, which was still markedly cooler than an Austin Kimberly.

For information on the fastback prototypes, see Aftermarket.



There's not a lot of information around about Cortinas in the USA, and yet over half the people who visit this Web site are from the USA, so I'd appreciate some help - get in touch with me at Thanks to Ron Bruner of the USA for sending me something - a scan of a 1965 US Cortina & Anglia colour chart (or 'color' chart, if you like). Thanks Ron.

Anyway, here's what we've got. The Cortina was introduced for the 1963 model year in the USA, selling alongside other EnFo dealer cars - the Anglia, the Capri (the Consul Capri, that is), and, on special order, the Consul 315, and the Zephyr / Zodiac. Before I go any further, I would like to relate to you how Ford marketed the Capri coupe:

"Rakish, debonair, with sports car flair, a special kind of car for a special kind of people."

Moving right along... for this year you could buy a two-door Deluxe ($1820), a four-door Deluxe ($1872), and a station wagon ($unknown). The sedans were available with the 1200 (73 cid) as standard, and the wagon had the 1500 (91 cid). You could specify a 1500 for your sedan, and other options were a heater, whitewall tyres (okay, tires), and wheel trims.

For 1964 the Consuls were gone, but two GT Cortinas had been added (see the GT section), a two-door and a four-door. An automatic transmission became an option for the other Cortina models. 4100 EnFo cars were shifted in 1964. For 1965 the car moved into the 'Airflow' guise, and the four-door GT was dropped, while the EnFo line was trimmed down to the Anglia and the Cortina. The 1200 engine was dropped for Cortinas, with the 1500 becoming the base engine. EnFo sales crept up to 4810.

The big news for 1966 was the official introduction of the Lotus-Cortina to American shores (on September 1, 1965), although a few had trickled in beforehand. The probable motivation was the hope of capitalising on the success of Jim Clark in a Lotus at the Indy 500. You had to fork out a hefty $3420 to get one, compared with $2122 for a GT. A standard two-door sedan was $1765, a four-door $1885, and the wagon was $2102. 7932 British Fords were imported into the USA this year.

Read some advertising copy from American magazines.
Another couple of ads appear in the GT section.

Mk.I Cortina Images

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