Ford Cortina MkIII Buying Guide
With its ‘Coke-bottle’ flanks, the Cortina MkIII features arguably the greatest Cortina styling – yet it’s also one of the most affordable of all the generations. Here's what to look for
How much to pay
• Project £800-1000 • Good £1700-3650 • Concours £5000-7500 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
When the Ford Cortina MkIII arrived in October 1970, it was astonishingly modern after the conservatively styled MkII. Those heavy swage lines and pronounced ‘Coke-bottle’ hips were daring at a time when predictability was the order of the day for mass-market saloons.
However, it wasn’t the styling that appealed the most; it was the choice on offer. So many combinations of trim level, body style and engine size were available, it was possible to tailor the car to your exact requirements. From a sporting two-door saloon to an economical five-door estate, Ford could give the customer what they wanted. That’s why the car was always one of the UK’s best sellers; in a production run that lasted six years, 1,126,559 MkIII Cortinas were built.
But these models have never been valuable, which is why few remain. Prices are also unlikely to rise sharply any time soon, which means MkIII Cortinas continue to be scrapped. However, some cherished examples are out there; your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to snap up a minter before someone else does.
Your AutoClassics Ford Cortina MkIII inspection checklist
None of the engines is hard to service or rebuild, and they’re cheap to replace. Entry-level cars were fitted with an underpowered 1298cc Kent; a 1599cc version of this motor is the minimum requirement, but upgrading units is easy enough. The Kent is an overhead-valve engine; the 1600GT and all 2-litre Cortinas were equipped with an overhead-cam Pinto.
The first sign of trouble will be noisy valve gear, normally down to worn rockers, cam followers and the camshaft itself. By that stage the engine needs a top-end rebuild, although the camshaft is housed in the block.
Worn timing chains also cause problems – listen for rattling from the front of the engine – but compared with all these potential maladies, it’s worn rings and bores that will blow the biggest hole in your wallet. Fumes from the oil-filler cap and blue smoke from the exhaust will give the game away – spot these, and a bottom-end rebuild lies in store. The Kent engine is very easy to work on, though, and a rebuilt unit can be tracked down cheaply.
While the Pinto engine’s rings and bores eventually wear like the Kent’s (with the same symptoms), it has a weakness of its own; the rubber timing belt. These should last 25,000 miles, but do need to be replaced every three years. A fresh belt is very cheap, though, and renewing it is a 45-minute job.
Poor lubrication also means the Pinto engine eats camshafts. The problem is the spraybar under the rocker cover, which squirts oil on to the camshaft lobes, and can get blocked by dirt. The spraybar’s design was revised years ago, and as long as the oil and filter have been changed regularly, all should be well. If in doubt, a new spraybar can be fitted – it’s not difficult, and replacements are very cheap. If a new camshaft is needed, it’s not hard to fit one.
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Most Cortinas were fitted with a four-speed manual transmission, but there was the option of a three-speed Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic on 1.6 and 2-litre editions. Ford’s own C3 unit superseded this from spring 1974.
All gearboxes are reasonably strong, with no weaknesses to catch you out. Consequently, worn bearings and synchromesh are all you need to check for. To detect worn bearings, listen for rumbling as the car is driven; if you want to establish that the synchro rings are intact, just try changing up and down through the ratios quickly. If there’s any crunching, it’s time to get the gearbox rebuilt.
Suspension and brakes
Clonking from the front suspension on uneven surfaces suggests worn pins in the upper wishbones and worn mounting holes. Putting this right means replacing the front subframe, or you’ll have to make larger pins and bore out the holes in the subframe. Farm it out to a specialist and it could get costly.
The rear suspension is straightforward, although the void bushes can wear and replacing them requires a special tool. They’re cheap and plentiful, though, so replacing them yourself is perfectly possible.
The braking system is also uncomplicated; the only weak spot is the master cylinder, which has a tendency to leak. New seals are cheap and they’re easy to fit on a DIY basis. Finish by checking the handbrake cable; it can stretch, meaning the car isn’t held on an incline, but a new cable will fix things.
No part of the bodywork is immune from rust, and unless a car has already been restored, or truly cherished, you’re unlikely to find a really superb example. The problem is that the rustproofing in period was so poor, once corrosion starts it runs rampant. By the time the bodywork has broken out in ugly scars, it’s all too late.
You’ll be doing well to find any original panels, but there are plenty of repro items available – although the cost will quickly mount if you need many of them. You need to check every square inch of bodywork, starting with the panels that are easy to see. If these are rotten, so will be the structure.
Begin with the easy bits – the sills, wheelarch lips and valances – then take a look under the bonnet at the inner wings, bulkhead, underside of the wheelarches and rear of the arches, too – back and front. Rust often starts around the front indicators, then spreads into the surrounding metal.
The screen pillars and guttering can harbour rust, and fixing these areas can be a pain, especially if a vinyl roof is fitted in the case of the latter. Even if all the outer panels appear to be intact, take a close look at the underside, which often rusts badly. The jacking points and seatbelt mountings dissolve, along with the boot floor, plus the front and rear footwells.
None of the interior or exterior trim is being remanufactured, and you won’t find much in the way of original parts. While the trim is reasonably durable, the backing boards can rot, leading to collapsed panels. The biggest problem is just how many variations on the numerous themes there have been; different trim levels, materials and colours mean there were endless permutations and combinations over the years.
Exterior trim is pretty much unobtainable unless you get lucky at an autojumble. It’s durable, though, so there should be no cause for concern; the only exceptions to this are the chrome wheelarch trims. These get scraped and mangled, and they’re now very hard to find.
There are few worries where the electrics are concerned, partly because many of the components are shared with the MkIV Cortina. Fuel gauges break and the sensors are hard to find, but that’s about it. Taillight lenses go opaque and indicator stalks snap, but replacement bits are easy and cheap enough to source.
- 1970: MkIII Cortina is introduced, with a choice of 1.3 or 1.6-litre Kent power, along with 1.6 or 2.0-litre Pinto engines. Two or four-door saloons are offered, or there’s a five-door estate.
- 1973: There’s a new interior, and the Pinto engine replaces the 1.6-litre Kent, although the 1.3-litre Kent lives on. A close-ratio gearbox is now fitted to 1.3 and 1.6-litre cars, while the 2000E makes its debut.
- 1974: There’s now an estate version of the 2000E, while the 2000GT gets more standard kit.
- 1975: Estate cars get wash/wipe, while two-door cars now feature opening rear windows.
- 1976: A ‘Sonic Idle’ carburettor is now fitted to 1.3-litre cars, to give a claimed 15 per cent economy improvement.
- 1976: MkIV Cortina replaces MkIII.
The Cortina’s lack of status hasn’t done anything to help survival rates; ever since it was launched it’s been seen as nothing more than cheap transport. However, if you’re looking for a truly practical classic, the MkIII has all the right ingredients – but with each passing year it’s getting ever harder to find a good one.
The bigger the engine, the more desirable it is, but you shouldn’t buy according to spec – track down the very best car you can find and stay on top of the rustproofing. If it’s got a small engine, fit a bigger one; it’s worth transplanting a 2.0-litre into a 1.3 or 1.6 bodyshell if necessary.
The Cortina MkIII is one of those cars that classic fans can relate to, but one day we’ll wake up and the model will be virtually extinct. So buy yours now before it’s too late.
|Cortina 1600 GT|
|Cortina 2000 GXL|
|Cortina 2000 GT|
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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