I know I have tendencies towards the unloved, but the Ford Cortina is a car that genuinely baffles me. It was a major seller in its day, but for some reason, people still hold them in almost holy regard. I’ll admit, I like the styling of pretty much all the Cortinas, and a Mk5 (or Cortina 80 if you want to be precise) is a nice motor to tool around in, but are they really worth what people are starting to pay for them?
The Mk1 Cortina begat the Lotus Cortina, which won a few things. Having driven one, I can confirm that they’re an absolute hoot. In fact, it is one of very few cars that has actually made me whoop while behind the wheel – and this while on busy Dagenham roads. However, the reason it’s such a hoot is because Colin Chapman did rather a lot too them – a much better engine and major suspension revisions (this one lacked the A-frame but it still handles well). Lotus Cortinas are now worth a fortune, and no Mk1 will be cheap to buy. The halo effect doesn’t seem to have affected the Chrysler Sunbeam in the same way. Why is that?
The Mk2 had a small amount of rally success but the Mk3, 4 and 5 didn’t get up to much at all, so sporting success can’t be the reason for the high regard. It’s not like they’re anything special to drive either. Competent for sure, but more so than a Hillman Hunter or Fiat 125? No.
In fact the Cortina is just pure white goods. Ford built them as cheaply as they could get away with and did away with anything even slightly fancy. Because this seemed to result in huge sales, other manufacturers followed suit. British Leyland hastily conceived the Marina to be a deliberately unfancy, miserable machine. Why? Because that’s what Ford was doing. Meanwhile, Citroen was desperately trying to make motoring fun with the 2CV, GS, SM and CX. They were discovering that sadly this approach didn’t make any money.
Yet the Ford has an enormous following. Is it because we’re proud of such a British classic? Oh please. From the Mk3 onwards, the influence was firmly Germanic and Ford is as British as George W Bush. Is it because they are better than anything else? Definitely not! Is it because ‘my Dad had one?’ well, that at least makes some sense. However, my advice would be to buy anything but a Cortina. Let them have their following. Why not have a near-unloved Vauxhall Cavalier instead? Rarer and very pleasant to drive. There’s a lot to be said for not following the herd.