I’m fairly sure that in the past, I’ve not been especially complimentary about the 1970 to 1976 Coke Bottled Cortina, Britain’s all round favourite car for six years. In truth, it had a number of flaws of course. It wasn’t particularly well made (but what mass produced cars were?) The ride was a bit choppy, and whilst the steering was accurate and the handling generally pretty good for 1970, in extremis it could be a bit challenging. Better than a Marina by a long way though.
Best of all though, it looked amazing. Even a base four door 1300 looked sharp in Sunset red and inside, the sloping 1969 Mustang style dash may have been pretty flawed but it looked exciting and new after the Mark 2. A new range hierarchy from base though L, XL, GT and GXL mirrored the Mustang and Capri effect, giving the buyer bewildering choice – 1600GXL, or a faster basic model Estate with the 100 bhp 2 litre Pinto? Sunset red or Electric blue? Maize yellow or Ermine white? 2000GXL, or a 2000XL with a shed load of options? Vinyl roof, onyx green metallic paint, automatic and a sunroof? Hold me back, I want it all. And they were cheap too – £950 for a 1300 four door versus £790 for a four door Morris 1000 – no wonder they sold so many.
Everyone has a Mark 3 Cortina story. For me, it was the first car I rode in at 100 mph, aged 5 in late 1972 before H&S was invented. My Dad worked for Plessey Electronics and on their fleet was a Daytona yellow 2000XL that was brought home one night. Virtually new, it was a big deal when a new Ford was actually desirable – nobody knew what a BMW, Audi or a Merc was and even then you couldn’t afford it. VW made Beetles and little else of note. So out of Somerton and raring towards Langport, up to 70 easily enough. Turn round near Huish Episcopi and hare back again. Up that long hill towards Somerton at 70 – that Pinto had some go. And then the long straight back into town where the red needle went just over the magic ton before braking. Try that in your 1600E – good luck because the 2000 Cortina was as fast as the old Lotus. My Uncle Alan had a red J plate 1600 in the early Seventies, before being my other younger Uncle’s first car. I think my Grandad had one at some point, and a 1974 1300 four door was the first car I ever drove properly, in a school field in 1985.
So when I heard about a Maize yellow 2 door 2000 GXL Auto (a strange and rare spec) being dragged from a hedge somewhere, I was intrigued. I’d seen this sorry heap at the NEC, ripe for restoration and thankfully getting one. Last used in 1983 when thousands upon thousands of these were being scrapped and banger raced that year alone, this was a lucky survivor.
EOT378K was registered in February 1972, a truly epic time to be young in Britain. The swinging sixties were finally dead, but sadly taking with them Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The Coca Cola advert of that year was based upon the New Seekers ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’, Ted Heath was still in power and promising great things. Ford of course were on the way to the top of their game, leaving BL and Vauxhall in their wake and that’s before we get onto what the Escort was achieving already in the field of motorsport.
But it’s chart music as well as cars and fashion that moulds a generation and unlike the sea of insipid dross we have to endure today (who told Ed Sheeran he was good – seriously?) look what the sideburned style God that was the 2000GXL buyer was listening to in 1972. The Faces, Bowie, T Rex, The Chilites, Al Green, Cat Stevens, Harry Nillson, Sly, Stevie Wonder, Slade, Deep Purple and a bit of very early Genesis. Exile on Main Street, Hunky Dory or Olly Murrs? Exactly.
The Cortina of that era can’t be described as a brilliant car because it wasn’t – just a merely good one. But it was more than good enough for a million buyers and was a lot better than some of the sniffier and more elitist journalists would have had you believe . And in the early eighties, it was some driver who could keep up with a young lad called Simon and his 2000E around the twisty roads around Bucklebury and Cold Ash – he was quick, and so was the car.
In 2017, it doesn’t matter how good a car was 45 years ago. Even the best handling mass produced car of that generation (The Alfasud) can’t hold a candle to a Kia Cee’d so it’s time to take these cars at face value for what they were. Like the music, cars like the Cortina were the products of fertile imagination.
The Cortina GXL and 1972? Put ‘Miss Judy’s farm’ by The Faces on, turn it up loud and listen to Britain’s best band, fronted by Rod Stewart’s gravelly delivery – that should explain it all.