Ford Cortina led from the front

Ford Cortina is one of the most memorable cars to come out of the UK.

Launched in 1962, it set Ford UK on the road to market leadership.

In the late 1950s it became clear to Ford executives in the UK that rising affluence was opening up and opportunity for an affordable four-cylinder car positioned between the small, big-selling Anglia and larger, much more expensive Zephyr and Zodiac. 

Although Ford had the existing four-cylinder Consul, based on Zephyr/Zodiac, it was not be suitable because it was set to grow in size and price as the Zephyr and Zodiac grew in size. 

Code named “Archbishop”, Ford designers and product planners were given four objectives when developing the car.

  1. Develop an interior package of a size associated with a larger vehicle
  2. Performance to be superior to any existing standard small car
  3. An operating economy comparable with a small car, by keeping the weight low
  4. Keep manufacturing costs low to ensure the car could be sold at a small car price

After four years of development, on September 20, 1962, Ford announced the Cortina.

Two models were offered, Standard and Deluxe. Both came as two doors. A four door was added in October.

The Standard was spartan. Everyone knew how cheap you were by its painted grille.

The Deluxe featured a nice chromed grille and extra bright trim. Most folk bought the Deluxe.

The Cortina came onto the UK market not long after BMC’s Morris 1100 had appeared.

The comparison was stark.

The difference between the two cars reflected the difference in approach between Ford and BMC to the same family car market.

Ford focused on price, simplicity and economy. BMC showed off its technical prowess.

The Cortina was an utterly conventional car in terms of design.

Its chief designer was Roy Brown. He’d been sent to the UK after leading the styling of the ill-fated Edsel.

Also conventional was the drive train. A 1.2-litre inline four-cylinder engine drove the rear wheels.

Steel springs held the car off the road.

On the other hand, the 1100 was styled by Pininfarina and boasted front-wheel drive, disc brakes, a transverse engine and hydrolastic suspension.

Higher performance Cortinas followed in 1963, including the 1.5 litre Super Cortina and Cortina GT. 

The storied Lotus Cortina also appeared in 1963.

Not long after the Cortina was released in the UK, it appeared in Ford dealerships in Australia.

Ford Australia sold 61,000 examples of the Mark I Cortina.

Ford sold over 1 million Mark I’s worldwide.

In 1967, Ford UK beat BMC to the number one sport on the UK sales charts.

It may not have been the Mark I Cortina that did it, but without the Mark I, it is doubtful Ford would have relegated BMC to second place — and see BMC descend into oblivion.

David Burrell is the editor of


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