Cortina Mk I, late 1962 to 1966
This year is the 60th anniversary of the launch of the Ford Cortina, one of the blue oval’s most popular cars in SA.
The timing of Ford’s introduction of the first Cortina in 1962 couldn’t have been better. Not only did the Cortina shift the affordable car paradigm from small and cramped to enough space (just) for five adults, but it was launched at a time when Ford’s global marketing strategy was undergoing a big rethink.
While the Mini had revolutionised the small car end of the market three years earlier with its tiny overall size and radical transverse engine and front wheel-drive layout, the Cortina’s design was unremarkable, with a north-south engine installation, Macpherson strut front suspension and a solid axle at the rear located by leaf springs. But coming in at a kerb weight of well under 800kg, while still providing fair body rigidity, it was light enough to give decent performance from the base 1,200cc engine. And it had a huge boot by comparison to just about everything else on the market back then.
Initially the car was badged as a Ford Consul Cortina, as the Consul was previously the affordable medium-sized car in the line-up, but soon afterwards that part of the name was dropped.
Just three months after the launch of the Cortina 1200, the four-door Cortina Super made its debut with a 1,500cc engine. And then, a few short months after that, the game really changed.
It is difficult to imagine now the effect of the Cortina GT on the SA motoring public in late 1963. Until this point in time, the letters G T stood for Gran Turismo, and applied to cars of the level issued in miserly numbers by the likes of Maserati and Ferrari. Now here was upstart Ford Motor Company, with none of the pedigree of Europe’s finest carmakers, claiming that a five-seater family car with a slightly breathed-upon engine was worthy of the haloed GT moniker.
What most outraged purists were unaware of was that Ford was already preparing its famous GT40 racer, a 300km/h-plus prototype that would first challenge, and then go on to beat Ferrari at Le Mans three years later. It was all part of a global marketing strategy that Ford had embarked upon called “Total Performance”.