F1 ace Jim Clark drove a Corsair (incredibly slowly)

Ford’s 1963 Corsair is another forgotten classic that deserves some time in the spotlight.

The idea of Corsair was simple.

Using the inner structure, suspension and some exterior components of the all-new Cortina, stretch the wheelbase by 80mm/three inches, wrap it in some new sheet metal and Hey Presto — you had a new mid-sized car for the UK market!

The Corsair was designed by Roy Brown, who had also shaped the Cortina.

The styling was based on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, especially the tapered front end. 

The side view reflected the T-Bird’s distinctive bullet shape.

One of Brown’s previous efforts had been the 1958 Edsel.

And one of its models was named Corsair.

Ford’s publicity machine worked overtime to generate media interest.

At the time of its release, Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers, drove around the world in a Corsair — in 43 days.

Meanwhile, Ford enticed Formula 1 champion Jim Clark to front advertisements for the Corsair.

He “starred” in an eight-minute advertisement, during which he drove a red Corsair sedan around a test track . . . slowly.

Strangely, he wore a suit and tie and had three similar attired young gents in the car with him.

Clark also appeared in print advertisements for the “GT” version.

Ford’s product planners thought the Corsair would appeal to large companies looking for a fleet car to give to “middle” managers as part of their remuneration package.

Indeed, Ford had the model hierarchy all worked out.

For a company’s top executives there was the luxury Zodiac.

The next level down got a Zephyr.

Middle managers scored the Corsair.

Sales reps drove Cortinas.

But the Corsair never really appealed to the public nor fleet buyers.

I reckon that potential private buyers recognised that underneath the Corsair it was really a cheap as chips Cortina.

It was easy to spot that parts of the roof, the windscreen and door glass all came from the Cortina.

Yes, the wheelbase was longer, but not that much longer.

Why buy a Corsair when you could get much the same in a Cortina for less money?

Plus, the styling was just forced. 

Too much T-Bird squeezed on to too short a car.

Plus, the shape aged very quickly.

The range was initially offered with a 60 bhp, single carburettor, 1.5 litre four-cylinder engine.

In 1965 the new 1.7-litre V4 engine was added.

A 2.0-litre version was offered in 1966 as an option.

There was also a convertible version built by Crayford

These are quite rare and sought after today. 

Around 300,000 Corsairs were built during its production run, which ended in 1970. 

That was a useful number but under expectations.

By comparison, the Cortina had been sold to over 2 million customers by the time the Corsair was “retired”.

It was replaced by the Cortina Mk III.

Corsairs were never officially sold in Australia, so those that are here are private imports.

It’s estimated there are less than 20 in this country 

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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