Ford Cortina MkII Buying Guide

Few classics are more family friendly than the Ford Cortina MkII, with the non-Lotus cars extremely accessible and much more fun to own than you’d imagine. Here's how to buy the best

How much to pay

• Project £600-950 • Good £1700-3650 • Concours £4200-8500 •

Overview

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

It’d be easy to write off the Ford Cortina MkII as just another boxy saloon from the 1960s, but this would be to do it a major disservice. A development of the ground-breaking Cortina MkI, the MkII featured its predecessor’s lightweight construction but with much more cabin space.

For those with deep pockets, the Lotus edition was now produced in-house by Ford, whereas the MkI had been built by Lotus itself. Quality could be maintained as a result – and to reflect the changes, the MkII was sold as the Ford Cortina Lotus; the earlier iteration had been the Ford Lotus Cortina.

As before there was an array of engines and trims, plus a choice of two- or four-door saloons, along with a five-door estate. As a result, there was something for every budget, but what didn’t vary was the Cortina’s usability and affordability – something that hasn’t diminished over the ensuing decades.

Your Ford Cortina MkII inspection checklist

Engine

All mainstream Cortina MkIIs were fitted with a Kent engine; Lotus editions got the familiar twin-cam unit. The Kent four-pot is as straightforward as they come, so spotting a tired bottom end doesn’t take a genius. Just look for blue exhaust smoke and fumes from the oil-filler cap, which will betray worn cylinder bores and/or piston rings.

Wear will also be given away by noisy valve gear, because of worn cam followers, rockers and camshaft. A top-end rebuild will fix all of these things (the camshaft is housed in the block), and the work isn’t hard or expensive to do on a DIY basis – whether it’s a full rebuild or just a top-end overhaul.

Rattles aplenty point to a worn timing chain, but this is also easily and cheaply renewed on a DIY basis – indeed, fixing any Kent ailment won’t break the bank. Much more costly is reviving a tired Lotus twin-cam engine, which will require specialist attention. It’s also hugely expensive because many parts are unavailable or very costly, so only buy one of these specialist Cortinas after taking advice.

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Gearbox

Most Cortinas have a four-speed manual gearbox, but there are some autos. Two different manual transmissions were fitted and they’re not interchangeable; Ford moved from one to the other in September 1968.

Both manual ’boxes suffer from worn second-ratio synchromesh and the transmission jumping out of top. The latter might be down to just a broken spring in the gearchange fork rod, or else the screw and lock nut that holds the selector fork rod together may be loose. Both are easily fixed, but it could be that the ’box coupling dogs or selector-fork rod are severely worn, along with the rest of the gearbox. A rebuilt transmission is your only option here.

The Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic gearbox is strong and unusual. Checking the transmission fluid for colour and level is all you need to do, although the clutch bands can break up. Black fluid means a rebuild is on the horizon, but rebuilt units aren’t difficult to source as the transmission is commonplace.

Differential pinion seals can leak oil, and while replacement seals are available they don’t last long. Droning or whining betrays a worn diff; expect no more than 100,000 miles between rebuilds.

Suspension and brakes

Play in the steering box is normal, but you need to ensure the ball-joints and steering-idler assemblies aren’t worn; move the steering wheel and look for movement from underneath. Severe play will be immediately obvious, and decent used steering boxes are now very scarce. Steering joints and track-control arms are also expensive, so if everything is tired it could be surprisingly costly to fix.

Until August 1967, the front-suspension MacPherson struts featured an upper mounting with a thrust-race ball bearing. A lack of lubrication, as well as moisture getting in, led to this becoming stiff, but later cars have tapered rubber bushes to fix the issue. Swapping early struts for late ones is possible, but it’s an involved job.

The rear hub bearings require 1200lb of pressure to remove and replace, so check for play by jacking up the back of the car and rocking the top and bottom of each wheel to see if there’s any movement.

The braking system is conventional, with discs at the front and drums at the back. Rear-wheel cylinders are prone to leaking and/or seizing up. The automatic adjusters at the back also seize, leading to a lot of handbrake travel.

Bodywork

Low values over previous decades have ensured that a lot of Cortinas are tatty, with many examples appearing better than they really are. Corrosion can strike anywhere, so you need to scrutinise all inner and outer panels as best you can, from inside, outside and underneath.

Start at the front, analysing the headlamp surrounds, bumper supports, wheelarches, wing bottoms and anti-roll bar mountings. Corrosion is likely in the MacPherson strut tops, inner wings and bulkhead; repairing the latter means removing the welded-on front wings.

Also home in on the door bottoms and A-posts, along with the sills; filler in the latter isn’t unusual. Rust can also creep into the B-posts and closing panels for the rear doors, the back-wing bottoms and wheelarches, rear valance and boot lid. Finish by checking the jacking points as well as the mountings for the rear springs and dampers.

Interior

There’s no original trim left, but high-quality carpet sets, vinyl roofs, seat covers and door panels are available for the 1600E, Lotus and Crayford editions. Dashboards crack after years of exposure to the sun, and getting the dash top recovered is the only solution.

The electrical system is simple, but wiring looms go brittle and replacements aren’t available. The instrumentation and switchgear are normally reliable, yet if any problems do crop up they should be easy to fix as most parts are available on a used basis.

History

  • 1966: Cortina MkII supersedes MkI, with 1297cc or 1498cc engines. Options include automatic gearbox, column gearchange and bench front seat.
  • 1967: GT gets revised gear ratios, estate cars are introduced and MkII Cortina Lotus arrives. Also, new crossflow 1.3 and 1.6-litre engines are introduced. 1600E arrives in September, with 1600 GT mechanicals. Equipment includes walnut dash and door cappings, along with comprehensive instrumentation.
  • 1968: Series 2 1600E is launched with remote gearchange. Floor-mounted handbrake is now fitted to all cars and reclining seats are optional. Dashboard and seats are also redesigned. In August 1970, MkII Cortina is replaced by MkIII.

AutoClassics says…

As you’d expect, the value of any Cortina MkII is in its bodyshell, so find the best car you can in terms of structural integrity. Most mechanical problems can be fixed cheaply and easily, but patching up poor bodywork is a different matter, so don’t dismiss a car with a good body but mediocre running gear.

The cheapest MkIIs are the 1500, along with the 1600 Deluxe and Super. Autos and 1.5-litre cars are unloved, but they’re also unusual. Of the more prosaic models it’s the 1600E that’s the most desirable, but of course the Lotus edition is streets ahead of any other MkII derivative in terms of value.

Buy something towards the top of the market in terms of its condition, and how original it is along with how complete its history is will make all the difference when it comes to working out its value. Few basic Cortinas are left, so if you want a Super or Deluxe you’ll have your work cut out trying to find one. Estates are also scarce, but there are plenty of 1600Es and Lotus editions.

Rarities include the open-topped Crayford conversions, along with Jeff Uren-converted Savages, with their 3.0-litre V6 engines. Luton-based LuMoFord fitted V6 or Lotus engines to the 1600E in period. The key when buying a specialist model is to ensure it’s the real deal, as they can be faked; the Lotus MkII is a lot easier to fake than the MkI.

Specifications

Cortina MkII 1300
  Power 58bhp
  Top speed 81mph
  0-60mph 21.4sec
  Economy 30mpg

Cortina MkII 1500
  Power 61bhp
  Top speed 83mph
  0-60mph 19.6sec
  Economy 28mpg

Cortina MkII 1600
  Power 71bhp
  Top speed 88mph
  0-60mph 15.1sec
  Economy 26.8mpg

Cortina MkII 1600 GT
  Power 88bhp
  Top speed 98mph
  0-60mph 13.1sec
  Economy 26mpg

Cortina MkII Lotus
  Power 109bhp
  Top speed 105mph
  0-60mph 9.9sec
  Economy 23mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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