The Cortina Mark 3 was a massive gamble for Ford Europe. The Cortina Mk1 and Mk2 were successful compact cars in the 1.5-liter class and the Mk3 was designed to retain the entry-level price point. It was also expected to take its top variants up to the 2.0-liter class, effectively competing with its Corsair stable mate, which had weak sales. Under the skin, it was a radical new car and Ford was confident that it could climb the sales charts higher than the Mk2, which was already one of the UK’s best-selling cars.
The Mk3 was an Anglo-German design that was engineered under Harley Copp, the vice president of engineering and head of Brentwood. The Cortina incorporated a lot of American ideals, including its distinctive “Coke bottle” styling, which seems inspired by the first-generation Chevrolet Camaro. It retained the Mk2’s 1.3-liter Kent engine for its entry level model while the 1.6-liter overhead cam (OHC) Kent engine powered the GT and GXL. The MacPherson strut front suspension was replaced with an independent double A-arm suspension set-up, biased increasingly towards comfort. At the rear, the familiar live real axle set-up remained.
Grown Up Feel
During its launch at the 1970 London Motor Show, the Cortina Mk3 took the opposition completely by surprise. It had grown significantly compared to the previous model with a 100 inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase that gave it a much more spacious interior and a “grown up” feel. That “grown up” feel was aided by the increase in weight: A 72-horsepower Cortina 1600 weighed nearly 1,000 kilograms. Offered in base, L, and XL variants with the 1300 engine and GT, GXL, and E variants with the 1600 engine, sales were initially slow but by 1973, it dominated the automotive sales chart in England and the whole of the United Kingdom.
After a massive sales success in 1973, the Cortina Mk3 received a major facelift, trim upgrades, and the replacement of the Kent engine with the 1.6- and 2.0-liter “Pinto” OHC engines with belt-driven camshafts, which powered the American Ford Pinto. A luxurious 2000E variant was introduced and it helped further increase sales. The suspension was further tweaked to deliver improvements in both ride and handling. It went on to enjoy a six-year run, where its position as the Number One car in the UK was unopposed.
Our Family Car
The 4-door Cortina Mk2 was available in the Philippines from 1971 to 1976 and was sold through local Ford dealerships. However, the two-door sedan variants were not offered locally. In 1979, my father bought a used 1976 Ford Cortina 2000E with a three-speed automatic transmission as our family car. It was white with a white vinyl roof and blue interior. I learned to drive in the Cortina and I also learned to fix its mechanical problems as well. My elder brother and I shared driving duties with my dad but when my brother left and joined the US Navy in 1985, I drove the car more than my dad, who only drove it on occasion.
I drove it to school, to parties, to Saturday night car meets at Greenhills, to dates with various girls, and also took it street racing. Before I graduated from college in 1988, my dad bought me another car just so he can use the Cortina. After 16 years of faithful service, we finally sold it in 1995 because nobody was driving it anymore. My dad, my sister and I had newer Nissan Sentras and I was getting into American muscle cars.
I became nostalgic after my dad died in 2012 and tried to look for our old Cortina 2000E (NJA-211) or a similar model but finding a decent, unmolested example in the country is a bit difficult. Perhaps, when funds are available, I will seriously look for and restore a Cortina Mk3, preferably a 2000E or GXL, and preserve what once was the UK sales chart topper.