Review : A week with the Ford Cortina 1600E

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Thanks, once again, to the generosity of John Neville at Ford Heritage, I found myself behind the wheel of one of the collection’s fine cars this week. As you can see, the car in question is this 1968 Cortina 1600 Super; the car that in terms of sales success through customer appeal, BL’s new management under Donald Stokes wanted to emulate for Austin-Morris.

Having secured the services of its designer, Roy Haynes, back in 1966, BMC were in good shape to do just that – and given the marketing impetus from Stokes’ team, it was looking very good indeed. As it happens, the Morris Marina emerged as that Cortina beater, and the plan was an undoubted success. Except… that in the ensuing years following the arrival of the Mk2, Ford’s plans for the Big C were a lot more ambitious. They dropped the Corsair, and introduced a Mk3 version that was altogether larger, encompassing both cars, and topping out at 2-litres.

Ford then managed to get the Mk3 onto the market before the Marina. Ah well. Still, we all know the story of the Marina, and BL’s wrongfooting by Ford – it’s one of those sad stories that pepper the BMC>MG story.

However, driving the Cortina proves interesting for another reason. In 1968, it remained the UK’s second best-selling car, behind the ADO16, and, more than anything else, I found myself mentally comparing the two cars. I can completely understand why the fleet market fell head over heels for the Ford – for a start, the boot is huge, the under-bonnet layout a doddle and you definitely got loads of metal for your money. I can, though, also see why the ADO16 remained the family favourite.

Despite being under-developed by BMC, ADO16’s excellent dynamics, garage-friendly dimensions and sheer all-round appeal build up a compelling argument in its defence. The 1968 Cortina, though, offers context – Ford knew that buyers were getting increasingly well-off and, even within the confines of the ’66 car’s platform, were upscaling the range to meet that need. The 1600 Super is a case in point – it’s quick, well appointed, and had that outside-lane factor that was beginning to mean so much.

The ADO16 was, on the other hand, already being left behind. The 1275cc upgrade was being phased in slowly – and yet even that wasn’t enough to counter Ford’s Kent-powered revolution. BMC had all the components to keep the ADO16 in the hunt – the E-Series engine snugly fit (as clearly demonstrated by the Australians) and the body shape lent itself well to a hatchback and saloon upgrade. Sadly, none of these things happened… in the UK.

The Cortina and ADO16 clearly underline the different strategies prevalent within the boardrooms of their respective carmakers. Ford, built ’em cheap, gave the customer what they wanted, and upgraded regularly. BMC, on the other hand, created something magnificent, allowed it to mature, then die. To drive, they’re chalk and cheese, too – the Ford being all about quantity not quality, while the 1100 got it the other way round.

Which would I have? The ADO16. In a heartbeat.

Keith Adams
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1 Comment

  1. Recall the Mk 2 very well, particularly the blue mink and silver fox metallic paint that literally fell off the car, with Cortina’s and Escorts driving round in primer – imagine the stick BMC would have got if it happened on their products!

    Credit where it’s due though, the 1600E was a revelation, demonstrating sheer product planning genius

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