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

13 Comments

  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

    • My Fathers pride and joy was a brand new E plate Mk2 in Blue Mink bought new in early 1967, so one of the first. That list it’s paint! I think it only affected early cars. Certainly by the time the facelifted series cars arrived in late 68 it had been sorted. Ford obviously did take stick – because over 50 years later we’re still talking about it!

  2. I still like the look of the Cortina 1600E to this day. On a visit to British Car Journey last year I bought a replica advert postcard of it in gold. I notice the example shown here has chrome hubcaps whereas they normally had Rostyles.

    • 1600Es also had vinyl roofs. This car is a 1600 super as stated in the text rather thah a 1600E as stated in the title.

      • The majority of 1600Es didn’t have a vinyl roof, it wasn’t even a factory option. Back in the day some owners fitted after market kits and a lot of surviving cars today have one, because it’s that sort of car!

        • Sorry it was a factory option. I know as my dad’s friend first job at Dagenham was to fit them in the PTA.

  3. Back in 1973, our neighbours had an H reg gold 1600E – no vinyl roof. In those days, there was less badge snobbery – my brother worked for a solicitor who drove a 1600E.

  4. A colleague of my uncle had a 1600E and it was sans vinyl roof. It was completely immaculate but unfortunately it was finished in a light blue which appeared to be the same shade used on panda cars of the time.

  5. The 1600 E always looked best in metallic gold with a black vinyl roof and sports wheels. With its wood dashboard, fitted radio, full set of driving instruments and leather seats, the Cortina 1600 E really was the car for the junior executive who wanted a car that could cruise all day on the motorway and was cheaper to buy than a Rover. The 1600 E was probably the start of Fords becoming desirable cars and the kings of the company car market.

    • They did look good in metallics but my own favourite colour was aubergine. Very classy, to my eyes at least.

  6. The 1600E Cortina and its bigger brother the Corsair 2000E [which I always thought had aspects of the US Lincoln-Mercury cars about it] were real game-changers for Ford in the mid/late 60s; good performers for driving on those newly-extending motorways, along with subtle but not-too-pompously-overblown ‘upmarket’ styling and trim hints to suggest the driver was an aspirational achiever going places rather than someone who already thought they had ‘made it as far up the tree as they could go’.

    The Mk.3 Cortina 2000E continued the trend in the early-70s [my mother had a 2000E Automatic as her company-car in 1974]

    Ford got it right. BMC/BL offered only horrors like the Maxi HL and Austin 1800S or Wolseley 18/85 as real ‘competition’ in that price-sector.

  7. By the seventies, Ford’s bigger cars had become aspirational and desirable. Leyland’s answer to the Capri, the Marina Coupe, had no engine bigger than a 1.8 that struggled to reach 100 mph and was no looker, while the Capri had bigger engine options and looked a lot more like a sports coupe and totally outsold the Marina Coupe. I doubt few company managers would have taken a Marina or Maxi HL over a Cortina 2000 E either, which was a much more stylish, better equipped and nicer car to drive.

    • I do agree the Capri was a much better looker than the Marina Coupe (and sales figures prove this). Even to this day, I think Cortina’s in MK2, 3 & 4 versions look better than today’s offerings. Am really showing my age when I say that!

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