Ford Cortina Mk1 Buying Guide

There used to be a Ford Cortina Mk1 on every street corner, but now this charismatic family car is a recognised classic

Ford Cortina Mk1 Buying Guide

Prices
• Project £750-1200 • Good £2300-5000 • Concours £6000-8000 •

Practicality ★★★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★★
Investment ★★
Desirability ★★★

When the Cortina was introduced in 1962, it was the start of a Ford revolution. Until now, Ford’s products were either very conservatively designed and engineered, or too American with their styling. The Cortina tackled both of these things head on, with European styling and a lightweight construction that ensured better efficiency than ever before.

It was no wonder the Cortina proved to be one of the most popular cars of the 1960s, with its spacious cabin, comfy ride, all-synchro gearbox and lively engines. Buyers could choose between saloon and estate editions, the former coming with two doors or four.

There was also a decent range of trim levels, with Standard, Deluxe and Super all on offer, along with a 1500GT sports model and the hottest variation of the lot – the super-quick Lotus. We’re not covering that one here though, as it’s worthy of a guide to itself. Instead we’ll stick with the more prosaic Cortinas that offer spectacular value and family-friendly motoring in a package that’s guaranteed to cause interest when you park it up at a show.

Your AutoClassics Ford Consul Mk1 inspection checklist

Engine

There was just one engine offered in the Cortina Mk1, in 1198cc or 1498cc forms. A pre-Crossflow Kent unit, the bigger unit came in standard or GT forms, the latter boosted by a Weber carb, a reprofiled camshaft, a reworked head with larger inlet and exhaust valves, special pistons, a tubular exhaust manifold, and a raised compression ratio.

Everything about the engine is conventional and while some parts are now getting scarce, it’s an easy powerplant to rebuild, if not especially cheap. You’ll know that a rebuild is due when the valve gear starts to get very noisy – a sure sign of the camshaft, rockers and cam followers being worn.

If the front of the engine is very rattly it’s because the timing chain is tired and by this point the rest of the powerplant will be due for an overhaul. This will be given away by blue exhaust smoke signifying oil being burned, while you can also expect plenty of fumes from the oil filler and the breather at the back of the block.

Gearbox

Most Cortinas were supplied with a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on all of the forward gears. Predictably it’s this that wears out first, especially on second gear, so feel for baulking as you swap cogs – it’s likely that the box will also jump out of gear by this point.

If the box is jumping out of gear a rebuild is probably needed, but it might just be a broken spring in the fork rod, or this rod’s screw and lock nut may be loose; these are both quick fixes. But if the selector fork rod or gearbox coupling dogs have worn, expect a bigger bill. Some parts to rebuild these gearboxes are getting hard to find, so don’t assume you’ll be able to put absolutely any malady right.

Automatic fans could buy a Cortina with a Borg-Warner Type 35 transmission, although these cars are unusual. The Type 35 is a reliable gearbox and the parts supply is good, so if the changes are really jerky it’s easy enough to find a decent used gearbox or get the original one rebuilt.

Suspension and brakes

With steering courtesy of a box rather than a rack, the Cortina’s handling will always be a bit vague. An inch of play in the steering wheel is normal, but if there’s more than this it’s probably because there’s wear in one or more of the various ball joints and steering idler assemblies. It’s all easy and cheap to renew though.

There’s a thrust race ball bearing in the front MacPherson strut’s upper mounting, and this goes stiff if it’s not lubricated occasionally. Moisture gets in, leading to things seizing up, but replacements are available.

If there’s much play in the rear hub bearings it’s not a straightforward job to replace them as they need 1200lb of pressure to remove then refit them. The parts are available and with the right press it’s a straightforward enough task.

The first Cortinas featured drum brakes all round, but from September 1964 there were discs up front. The cylinders for the drums can leak or seize, but everything is available if new parts are needed.

Bodywork

The Cortina’s bodyshell design was a departure for Ford. It was as light as possible and that meant thin steel with lots of seams, many folded-over. The result is trapped moisture and guaranteed corrosion, so it’s no wonder most of the Cortina Mk1s built have long since been scrapped. There are no original panels available but repair sections can be sourced, along with some repro panels.

You need to scrutinise the entire bodyshell; underneath, from inside the cabin, in the boot and also inside the engine bay. Start with the headlamp surrounds, wing bottoms, front bumper supports and wheelarches along with the anti-roll bar mountings.

Also expect rust in the bulkhead and inner wings (especially the MacPherson strut tops), A-posts, door bottoms and sills. The B-posts and rear door closing panels may have seen better days, along with the rear valance, boot lid and petrol tank.

With the car on a ramp check the condition of the floorpans, jacking points, the mountings for the rear springs and dampers, plus the chassis rails over the rear axle.

Interior

The interior trim doesn’t wear all that well but everything is available on a repro basis. It’s extremely well made, but if everything needs to be replaced it will soon add up.

The electrical system is simple and reliable as a result, but if it’s been messed with there’s a good chance of problems creeping in. Look for Scotchloks under the dash, but if replacement parts are needed you should be able to track everything down as so many Cortinas have been broken over the years – new parts are a lot harder to find.

History

  • 1962: The Consul Cortina 113E two-door saloon arrives, in basic or de Luxe forms with an 1198cc OHV engine. Soon after, a four-door saloon arrives too.
  • 1963: A five-bearing 1498cc engine is introduced; it’s standard on the Super and optional on the de Luxe. A five-door estate also debuts along with a GT edition with uprated suspension and disc front brakes. Later in the year the strip speedo gives way to a circular unit in a binnacle and the 1498cc models get an automatic option.
  • 1964: A facelift brings a full-width grille, disc front brakes, Aeroflow ventilation, interior upgrades and more power.
  • 1965: The basic saloon is dropped.
  • 1966: The last Mk1 saloon is built, soon before the Mk1 estate is discontinued.

AutoClassics says…

Your first task is to work out whether you want a car that’s still to its original spec, or one that’s been upgraded. The latter are more common as so many Cortinas have had later engines and gearboxes fitted, along with suspension and brake modifications.

The Cortina’s structure corrodes badly as it features so many rust traps, so don’t be sucked into buying a tarted up or badly restored car. Also be very careful if buying a GT as these are often faked. While the registration document doesn’t usually list the car as a GT, the chassis number will give the game away. After the initial two letters there will be a 77 in a two-door GT VIN, while it’s 78 if it’s a four-door car.

In terms of which edition to go for, entry-level cars are now very rare. Because the GT is the most desirable, these are the ones that tend to get restored. Estates are unusual, so these are worth buying for their rarity, but any honest Cortina that’s in really good condition is worth a punt as these landmark cars all offer family-friendly practicality without the need to spend a fortune.

Specifications

Cortina 1200 saloon
  Power 49bhp
  Top speed 77mph
  0-60mph 22.4sec
  Economy 30mpg

Cortina 1500 saloon
  Power 60bhp
  Top speed 81mph
  0-60mph 19.0sec
  Economy 27mpg

Cortina 1500 GT
  Power 78bhp
  Top speed 91mph
  0-60mph 12.1sec
  Economy 26mpg

Cortina 1200 estate
  Power 49bhp
  Top speed 77mph
  0-60mph 22.4sec
  Economy 30mpg

Cortina 1500 estate
  Power 60bhp
  Top speed 81mph
  0-60mph 19.0sec
  Economy 27mpg

For Cortinas for sale, click here.