Tested : Cortina vs Solara vs Cavalier

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Rep race

Back in 1980, if you wanted the ultimate business tool on wheels, you (or your company’s fleet manager) bought a Ford Cortina. Vauxhall and Talbot didn’t necessarily agree, offering the Cavalier and Solara as very capable rivals.

But which was best then and now, the Ford Cortina 1.6L, Vauxhall Cavalier 1600GL or Talbot Solara 1.6LS? Keith Adams decides

Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Talbot Solara and Ford Cortina 1.6L
Three-way fight between the 1980 repmobile protagonists. (Picture: What Car? magazine)

Introduction

The passage of time is a very scary thing. Take 1980 for instance – as years go, it was a bad one, very much akin to a groggy New Year’s Day post-party hangover. Thatcher’s era had yet to kick-off, and those who suffered the full brunt of the embattled ’70s, the beginning of a new decade seemed like the perfect opportunity turn a new leaf, put past times behind them, and look forward to a new and exciting period of their lives.

In truth, it wasn’t going to happen –  we were entering a new oil-shock recession that would take five years to emerge from, and anyone in the market for a new car was thinking small. Granada buyers were turning to Cortinas; Princess owners were trading in for Allegros; and everyone loved the Austin miniMetro…

One constant in all of this was the Ford Cortina. Companies swore by them, and mid-career path professionals gauged their worth by them. Junior reps tooled around in 1.3Ls, area managers plied the motorways in their 1.6GLs; and divisional heads sashayed from one meeting to another in their 2.0 or 2.3 Ghias. Oh, how simple life was back then, and how it seemed like everyone loved the Cortina. And despite what classic car magazine editors and publishers might tell you today, this was a very, very long time ago.

In 1980, and despite a very effective ’79 facelift, the Cortina ’80 was beginning to show its age. The dashboard had been largely unchanged since 1970, the engine line-up was equally aged; and the suspension set-up (like the Cavalier’s) must have looked antediluvian compared with the best European opposition. But it was still an effective car, and the opposition was as keen as mustard to get a slice of the fleet market pie.

The most effective Cortina rival in the UK was the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1. When it arrived on the scene in 1975, the car, which combined the Opel Ascona B’s body with the Manta B’s droopsnoot nosecone both heralded the beginning of the end of Luton’s design autonomy. And it also represented the strongest challenge to Ford’s mighty Cortina. By 1980, it was a solid top 10 seller in the UK, but still only sold at a third of the level of its Dagenham rival.

Talbot-née-Chrysler was still seen as a UK player in 1980, thanks to its Rootes Group ancestry and significant British production presence in Coventry and Linwood. And the Solara – a saloon version of the Alpine launched in 1980 – was seen by its makers as a significant threat to the Cortina. Unlike the two main players, it was front-wheel driven, had big plastic bumpers, and offered an optional trip computer, which at the time made it seem a whole lot more modern. Of course, what Talbot wouldn’t tell you is that it was almost pure Simca 1100 under the skin. And that dated back to 1967.

Question is – which was best then back then? And which would you rather live with now?

Character

The overbearing character trait of these cars should be of overbearing dullness. They were all developed to cover motorway miles quickly, effectively and comfortably – and as their target demographic was the go-getting businessman, they needed to be reliable, cheap to service and suffused with just enough equipment to keep the man in a hurry occupied. But nostalgia is a funny thing, because if you sat in any of them today, you’d find the experience absolutely captivating. Why? Because they’re so different to their modern equivalents.

All have airy interiors, thin pillars and low-line basic dashboards. And in modern traffic, they just feel petite and small. And wieldy. Strange when you think that back in 1980, they were full-sized family saloons with all the room you’d need. Have we – as a species – really all grown that much in the past 30-plus years? It seems so.

All three would have cost around £4500 when new, and today you’d struggle to spend more than £2000 on the very best example of the most valuable of the trio, the Cortina ’80 1.6L. As for the Cavalier or Solara (if you can find one), expect to pay no more than £1200 for the very, very best. Sling a pair of rear seatbelts in, shod it with modern rubber, and live the 1980 repmobile dream.

Clearly being the most popular when new, and having a near cultish following today, most people will say that the Cortina’s the most charismatic of the trio. And it has to be said that when you pull up outside your local newsagent or petrol station, you’re going to end up answering questions from inquisitive strangers – as well as listen to their tales of family members having them when new. But once the attention’s past, you’ll be back in a mid-line Cortina.

The Cavalier and Solara are a bit more low-profile, and as a result you’ll get more of a ‘what is that?’ reaction from the inquisitive. There’s a bit of a air of German coldness about the Cavalier that makes it a little harder to love, while the soft, comfy and plasticky Solara will just feel alien. And French.

So, it’s a win to the Cortina by popular vote, even if the AROnline established favourite is actually the Cavalier.

Performance

It’s here where the yawning gulf between modern and classic is most evident. The Cortina and Cavalier both develop 75bhp, while the Solara makes to with 72bhp in LS form. To think that when they had their businessmen owners behind the wheel they’d be hustled along the ‘fast lane’ of the motorway at 85mph, more than 90 per cent of their all-out capability.

Of the three, the Talbot feels the most lumpen, and its 0-60mph time of 14.6 seconds only goes some of the way of explaining away just how strained and unpleasant ringing the neck of a 1.6-litre Solara is. In absolute tip-top mechanical form, the old pushrod Simca engine sounds rattly, harsh and nasty. But get it up to motorway speed, and relatively long gearing tames it to the point of acceptance – and you soon find yourself covering miles effortlessly enough.

The Cortina’s Pinto 1.6-litre overhead cam power unit is far more refined, and seems built to cover miles with the minimum of fuss. Again, it doesn’t like being revved, and you’ll find yourself changing up (through the sweet-shifting four-speeder) early and relying on the acceptable amounts of torque. And again, once you’re on the motorway, 70mph is easy enough, as long as you don’t mind too much wind noise. 0-60mph comes up in 13.0 seconds and the maximum speed is 93mph. More than enough on the UK’s choked roads.

The Cavalier is a smidgeon quicker, hitting 60mph in 12.6 seconds and powering on to 96mph. Back in 1980, that was an important advantage that would have won its driver significant bar room bragging rights. But in reality, it doesn’t translate into an on-road advantage, especially as its cam-in-head engine is just a little less refined than the Ford’s. It’s forté is on the motorway, though, and a long-legged fourth will see speeds gently rise without the driver really being aware of it.

Best brakes, gearchange and clutch action – the Cortina, by a country mile. The Solara’s by comparison are rubbish; while the Cavalier’s are acceptable.

Handling and ride

It’s here that there’s clear blue water between the three cars. And that means the driver has a genuine choice – he or she can choose a car that majors on precise handling, a soft loping ride, or a choppy compromise.

Unsurprisingly, the soft option is the Talbot. It’s a French car built and designed in an era when its cars were built to deal with rutted cambered country roads. The torsion-bar suspension set-up majors on delivering straight line ride comfort, and it does so in spades. After a ride in a modern car, jumping into the Solara really is a revelation, and you’ll glide along any typical English A-road without a care in the world.

Get to the B-roads and you’ll start to struggle, though – because the Solara’s long-winded (4.6 turns from lock to lock) steering and lack of roll resistance, will leave you doorhandling every corner, and twirling the heavy steering in a most unrewarding way. Not good. Not good at all. But it is safe, and if you end up sliding (and why would you?), back off the throttle and watch it all sort itself out, safely.

The rear-wheel drive Cortina isn’t much better. The steering is marginally quicker, and certainly lighter, but the soft suspension is inadequately damped, and that rear axle isn’t terribly well-behaved. Especially if the voided bushes are on the way out. If it’s wet your Cortina will be as dependable as a stray mutt on a lead, and don’t even think about attacking corners at any sort of speed. Just don’t.

The clear cut victory here goes to the well-developed rear-wheel drive Cavalier, which tracks corners accurately, feels tight and composed at speed, and steers faithfully (even if its unassisted set-up is far from sporting at 4.0 turns from lock-to-lock). You just know this car has been developed for the autobahn, and not 70mph constrained England – even if you’ll never legitimately get anywhere near 100mph in it.

It is worth noting that all three cars smother lumps and humps in a way that a bony modern car won’t come close to. Even the averagely indifferent Cortina feels cosseting and lardy by today’s standards, and that’s going to come as a surprise to many unused to classic cars. They won’t corner or brake anywhere near contemporary standards, but you soon learn to adopt a healthy attitude to stopping distances and corners (especially in the wet) in any of these cars.

Cabin and controls

In 1980, the Solara felt the most modern; the Cavalier the most spartan and aged, with the Cortina a finely developed theme first seen in the facelifted Mk3 from 1973. Equipment levels are basic – you’ll get wind-up windows, manual locking, a cigar lighter, MW/LW radio, heated rear window, and er, that’s about it. Don’t despair, though, because you soon learn not to miss things like a rev counter or power steering, and revel in the charm of minimalism. Maybe.

All three will seat four, and aside from the Cavalier’s strangely low-slung driving position (which leaves shorter drivers wondering where the end of the car is), and reclined gearstick, won’t intimidate you in any way, shape or form. The airiest of the three is the Talbot, which really is quite a pleasant place to sit, as long as you like your seats set to maximum soft and don’t mind sitting high.

The most effective at covering distances is the Cavalier, as long as you don’t mind getting a sore right-hand knee if you’re over 5’10”. But the Cortina is the car that you’ll least mind spending lots of time in – especially as the post-1979 seats are superb, and come with built-in head restraints, unlike the rather mean-spirited Cavalier.

Running costs

Fuel consumption in the Solara is the least unimpressive – you’ll happily average 32mpg, whereas the Cortina and Cavalier will struggle to beat 28mpg. In both cases, the far more potent 2-litre versions are preferable, because you’ll get similar fuel consumption while benefiting from the joy of conducting 100bhp with your right foot.

But it’s in servicing where you’ll once again find the Cortina has an advantage, as its parts are just a little more readily available. Surprisingly none of the three cars are terribly easy to buy parts for, a function of their age, but thanks to the Cortina and Cavalier’s commonality with the Sierra and Opel Manta, you can make do with newer parts in many instances. With the Solara, you’re basically screwed unless you’re friends with the Simca Owners Club.

In short though, it’s an easy win for the Cortina.

Verdict

Back in 1980, the clear winner for keen drivers was the Cavalier. But fleet managers would also rest easy in their reps’ purchase of the Anglo-German car from Luton, because it was pretty much as cheap to run and service as the Cortina, and enjoyed slightly stronger residuals at the same time. The Solara’s insubstantial interior and uninspiring performance were always going to put it at a disadvantage against the big two in the market place, but in terms of showroom appeal and apparent modernity, it looked a good choice.

Today, the situation is far less clear-cut. And that’s the joy of old cars – you buy with your heart and not your head. So while the Solara would appear to have little going for it, there are plenty of people (who can’t resist losers) who’d love to own one now, because of its rarity and lack of ‘tribal’ image. But with any form of rationality applied, it can’t be anything other than third place here. Had it been a hatchback Alpine – especially in SX form with 85bhp and trip computer – the story would probably have been very, very different.

That leaves us to choose a winner between the Cortina and Cavalier.

And clearly although AROnline‘s settled position is that the Cavalier Mk1 is a brilliant car, which easily shades the Cortina on the road, in 1600GL form (velour seats, mock-Rostyles and all), it can’t win this encounter – on logical or illogical grounds. The Cortina is more recognisably a classic; it’s easier to run, to fix, and drive, and it’s also going to be a lot easier to sell, come the time you need to cash in your chips.

Having said that, you won’t thank me for not making a personal decision – and in that case, it’s the Cavalier for me. Sorry, Ford fans…

[Original photo, thanks to What Car? magazine]

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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71 Comments

  1. dammit… I wish insurance wasn’t so damned complicated (and expensive) for cars of this era. I’d have a Cavalier in a shot…

  2. Expensive??? I`ve got fully comp on a Capri for less than £100 Over 21y.o. qualify for `classic car` insurance.

  3. Cortinas suspension is anti-deluvian? But its virtually identical to the Cavaliers – wisbone front, live rear axle with coils at the rear. The Cortina in Mk4 80 facelift (not Mk5!) is also just as German as the Cavalier being a facelift of the 1970 Taunus.

  4. The Cortina, just seemed to be the right car to have at the time, the roads were full of them, everyone had one.
    Remember how badly it’s replacement “The Jelly mould” was recieved when launched?
    Funny how thing’s change.

  5. I had a 1.9 Cavalier in the early 1980s. A great car with brilliant handling and performance for its day; the cabin was a bit sparse but it felt quality.

    It wasn’t a company car, it was my own money. I deliberately didn’t want a Cortina because they were everywhere and seen as a joke for people who just regarded cars as a box on wheels.

  6. I would have the Cortina anyday. Ford always gives you what you want. I watched the original Sweeney 2 film from 1978 the other day with the Signal Yellow 2.0S flying through a shop window. Fantastic! Mk1 Cavaliers were good cars and a close second to the Cortina. Talbot Alpines / Solaras always sounded like they had knackered engines when they were new.

  7. My uncle had a Chrysler/Talbot Alpine and my dad had an old Simca.
    Sometimes, if I pause for a second and listen carefully, I can still hear those tappets even now… 🙁

  8. The Cortina looks purposeful, great proportions. Had the cool factor from great product placement in the likes of the Sweeney.
    The Solara has those 80s-NHS-specs style headlights that the Ital had.
    The Cavalier – I reckon the shovelnose didn’t work out until the Manta. Always preferred the Irish Opel Ascona.

  9. That generation of mid range saloons were pretty flawed, whereas the next generation produced some excellent family cars, the FWD Cavaliers, 405, that were good to drive AND were cheaper to maintain.

  10. 405 had the quality, handling, ride, rustproofing, reliability and those excellent XUD diesels.

    Hard to believe it came out a mere 7 years after this article

  11. The Cortina dashboard dates from the 1973 Mk.3 facelift – the 1970 dash was a much more late 60s Americana affair, a bit like an updated HB Viva one.

  12. @15, Bernard is correct, the long lived dash on the Cortina MK3 & 4 (and MK5/80) was introduced in ’73 and won a British Design Council Award. I’ve lots of memories of driving many Cortina Estates with that dashboard. The earlier one was nowhere near as nice.

    My choice from these cars would be Cavalier followed by Cortina (but my real favourite would be a Cavalier Coupe!). Perhaps the Cortina 1.6L should have been compared to a Cav 1.6L, rather than GL?

  13. In 1985 I ran a Solara LS 1.3 when I had a 4 month career as a rep. If you think the 1.6 is bad, try running the 1.3. Appallingly gutless. Third worst car I’ve ever driven, behind the Horizon and Cityrover.

    Interestingly, the Mk2 Cavalier was just around the corner and that really raised the standards, as did the eventual Sierra and Peugeot 405.

    No nostalgia there for me at all!

  14. Agree with Mark Mastro re the Renault 18- but I guess sourcing one would have been a bit of an issue. The 18 was a lovely car, if somewhat understated (except the Turbo!), and had a great deal of character with it’s whiney (in a pleasant way) wet-liner engine. And it had long legs too, which would have made motorway journeys less of a chore. It also had the noisiest windscreen wipers known to man!

    My Dad had a V reg Cortina 1.6L exactly like the one in the test. A nice car, albeit with a very knobbly ride over roughly surfaced urban roads. He wrote it off in a collision with a bin lorry. Ford could easily have stolen a march on the Vauxhall by fitting the 5 speed gearbox from the Capri, but no Cortina was ever fitted with a 5 speeder as standard. Of the three cars tested, and without the benefit of ever having driven a Mk1 Cav, I’d probably opt for the Ford.

    I used to own a 1980 Alpine 1.5, and it was an appalling car in every way. It even failed as a hatchback, as there was no storage (apart from the spare tyre) beneath the bumper line, and the taper of the hatch limited clearance severely- I doubt whether it had any advantage in regards to boot space over the smaller and squarer Horizon.

    Great article Keith.

  15. Many mid-70s Cortinas suffered from (overhead) camshaft problems – oil starvation if I remember properly – which caused a terrible death rattle noise that I remember to this day. The Cavalier has its own camshaft problems too. And the tappet rattle from the Talbot / Simca engines is legendary, even when they are properly adjusted.

    So here we have the death rattle trio.

    • Its funny that it was well known if you had a Cortina with a Pinto that the camshaft was going to go, about guaranteed they would fail. The precaution was oil stabilizer such as STP and the like yet very few people treated the Pintos with STP.

      The Cortinas were pretty harsh nasty thirsty affairs though. I remember sitting in a MK4 and it felt like you were sitting on the road! The Alpine was a lot more comfortable and was notably more economical.
      I think Chrysler pitched the Alpine a little too low with its price range and therefore overall quality.
      The good points about the Alpine and Solara, comfort and economy got eclipsed by their cheap build. Cortinas and Cavaliers felt like solid cars but really were not as good as people maybe thought.

      Fords of the time usually seemed great at first then over time the mask slipped as pretty old technology and bad ancillaries (carburetors that were about the worst in the world) showed them for what they were, as cheap as others just with a nice paint job.

    • My friend’s parents had a 1.6 Solara and a 2L Cortina at the same time. I remember fleecing along a windswept twisty moorland mountain road in the Solara over thirty years ago as my friend pressed on. He said the Solara’s handling was way better for that sort of route..he said the car felt far lighter too. Would he have been right? Great blog btw.

  16. Of course in those days base & L trim Cortina’s didn’t get rev counters & clocks… XL/GL upwards did. Reading all the comments here brings back good memories of those times, even though the cars were less complex and sophisticated.

  17. When I started work in 85, we were running out the last of the Alpine / Solara series 2 plus a handfull of rebranded as Minx and Rapier.

    With the twin choke engine, 5 speed pug gearbox and power steering they were liked by their users and those that took a Montego as a replacement were less than impressed.

    If only Talbot had launched the Solara mid-range with the twin choke engine, the (Citroen) 5 speed and power steering they could have made some real in roads into that market.

    For those who thought the Solara was bad we should remember that at the same time BL was launching the Ital.

  18. Trigger’s Cortina is fabulous, growing up in Blue oval country it always irked me my Dad went through a succession of Marina’s instead of the Cortina’s my friends parents owned.

    However they all rotted just as quick as each other!

  19. Who would have thought in 1980 that the equivalent car 30 years later would be a BMW?

    In 1980 we had an Austin Princess 1.7HL in brown – very evocative of its time!

  20. @11 and @ 22
    I’ve just got all nostalgic for the Horizon/Alpine/Solara’s ‘distinctive’ engine note. So I’m off to half-fill a metal bucket with nails and give it a good shake.

    @ 22
    I thought that the cam-in-head engines in the Mk1 Cavalier/Ascona B didn’t have the same reputation for camshaft problems as the Family II engine in the Mk2/Ascona C. They really did exhibit a death rattle, which at tickover could sound unfeasibly slow; you could almost hear each valve opening.

  21. I run a R-reg (1976) 2.0 Ghia Cortina in 1984, when I was 21.
    Resplendent in Metallic silver with a Black full length webasto sunroof…..it was a lovely car.
    Possible one of the best, sweetest gearbox`s to this day..enjoyed every mile for 12 months untill I got the XR2 Bug………

  22. My dad used to hire Solaras and Sambas from the Talbot dealer opposite our house. I liked the Solara as it was roomy and newer than the old Mk4 Cortinas he occasionally hired to take us all to the beach.

    Infact we forget now just how modern the Solara looked until the Sierra came along.

  23. I remember lots of tired old Cortina MK5’s sounding very tappety and cammy when i was a lad. They were usually thrashed mini-cabs. Thing was they always kept going and going. I had a very clean hearing aid beige 1981 1.6L that i bought for £30 out of the local motor auction back in 1998, It got crushed by the DVLA for no road tax. Shame.

  24. Well,there was never any contest was there?anyone remember solara balljoints popping out of the wishbone if cornering really hard?! Strangely,like the marina coupe i own,i would have a solara now,perhaps a series 2 with the cam and valvegear change so that it remains quiet unlike the original that would not run if you tried to quieten the tappets.

    How roomy and airey inside it was,making a mockery of the cortina which was an ancient car with a rough engine anyway,but was the car of choice until the MK2 cav came along…..

  25. My Dad had a 1980 (FOB 42V) 1.6L MkV Cortina in the exact colour of the test car. We thought it was fantastic at the time (1982/3). It replaced a 1976 1.6L Auto that was rusting into oblivion…remember when cars had sills painted in underseal black? Valances too if memory serves.
    My best mate ran a 1980 1.6LS Solara in about 86/7 for a while, comfy old bus. For my sins I ran a 78 Alpine in 1986 for a few weeks…it was awful, so I replaced it with a 79 Horizon…also awful, and so rusty. It was comfy though!
    I had the copy of ‘What Car?’ With that test in too…memories….

  26. How well I remember the ‘What Car?’ group test photo shown above!!

    Also, I have a pretty keen memory of the Cortina trim levels, geared to Junior, Mid-Manager, Senior Manager etc. Back then, a rise in trim level meant not much more than better upholstry, more chrome trim, wider rubbing strip (L to GL!!) etc. Now, basic models still look ok but in 1980 an entry level model could look pretty dire, inside & out. Cortina 1.6 (before L) anyone?

  27. @29 AndrewP

    Yes, I too was thinking that in 1980 you’d never have imagined BMW becoming such a common sight (especially when you take MINI into account). The badge still represents quality but exclusive? Not anymore

  28. I had that copy of ‘What Car’ too – all 3 cars were in such typical late 70s colours! The ‘gas man’ Ford blue I remember especially well. As a modern-day company car driver (in one of those German cars, I’m afraid – the Alfa Romeo had to go), I’ve been pondering what I would have gone for (had the choice been available of course!). 3rd, the easy one – there’s no way I’d contemplate the Solara – on paper it’s actually the most modern looking car, the original Alpine being only 4 years old. But, from memory (I was 8 in 1980), they always seemed flaky, and the rattling engines were hideous – made a brand new car sound like it was on it’s last legs……2nd -Ford Cortina – sorry, but capable and cheap as they were, they were jst too common. Nearly everyone had one – except down my street, where every other neighbour appeared to work for BL, and took advantage of the staff discount…..by the time Ford got to the Cortina ’80, it was looking tired. The high-points for me were the late Mk3s, and Mk4 (especially the 2.0S) ’80 was looking a bit desperate. And so, No.1 – The Cavalier. Although it replaced my beloved FE/VX series, the car is so well designed, especially the interior, which was head and shoulders above the Talbot and Ford, if I remember correctly, the 2000 models were quick, and they handled reasonably well. If the fleet manager could run to a sport hatch (the best car in the range IMHO), then even better. I’ll take mine in Ember Red, with beige velour interior thanks…….

  29. Check me out, I’ve got an ’82 Cortina 2.0 Ghia! I’m a divisional manager! 🙂

    Love the look of the car, especially in it’s crystal green colour, really shows off the lines. When parked up in Tescos amongst the rows of moderns it looks so clean cut and sharp suited. I really must get it back on the road again. Though it’s no longer a 2.0ltr after the engine expired. It now has a 2.9 Cosworth V6 and five speed box. 😀

  30. AndrewP @29:

    Who would have thought that the modern equivalent would have been a BMW, indeed!

    Mind you, driving one of the rep’s 320d’s recently, it really was very close in concept and execution to a Cortina 80. The mechanical layout, the interior space, the narrow footwells, the slightly gruff mechanicals and the ubiquity; Cortina man would be right at home!

    Thank you Keith, a great article to read and I like the way the Solara in the middle appears to have had a Rep park it too 😉

  31. Wot no Ital, surely this should have been included as it was the third best selling family car of its time. However, top marks for finding a Solara, I haven’t seen one of these for 15 years as rust got them. My dad had a Solara and for all it was rattly and noisy in the lower gears,it proved itself as fairly reliable and economical.

  32. Actually we had a deal with the local Talbot dealer and owned two Alpines and Solaras. If these cars had been fitted with more modern Peugeot engines and had better rustproofing, they would have crushed the opposition as both cars were very good looking, excellent value for money, rode well and were very comfortable. In particular an item like a trip computer was way ahead of its time.

  33. @38 David Dawson. My old company ran 4 base Cortina 1.6 estates from MK3 to MK5/80. Both MK3’s had rubber flooring, vinyl seats, no radio and precious little else. The MK4 had basic carpets but still vinyl seats and no radio.

    The final 1982 model had fabric seats, basic carpets and rear wash wipe… but still no radio as standard! All of them drove well enough though.

    @40 Simon H – If I recall correctly, the first Cavaliers came in a colour called Colorado Red which was later replaced by Ember Red (Ember wasn’t quite as vivid.)

  34. It would have been expensive to adapt it, but could Chryser have adapted the Hillman Avenger engine for FWD use, as it was a more modern design?

  35. @45 – It would have been current in 1980 – my dad had a ’78 VX estate in the same colour combo – looked great!

  36. @47 Simon – That sounds right. I think Vauxhall revamped their colour range around 1978/79 particularly on the Viva, Chevette and Cav MK1. I still have 1976 & 79 catalogues that list the colour choices.

    I’m intrigued with the names that manufacturers give to describe their colours (yes – Sad!) In the 70s Datsun used to indicate body colours by code number only.

  37. I’ve also noticed that some manufacturers have given some paint colours fanciful names over the years.

    Also some shades seems to suit some models better than others.

  38. @49 Richard… I agree. By the way just remembered the first Cavalier “Red” was called Cardinal Red – not Colorado as I previously stated. They did bring out a beige called Colorado Beige though.

  39. The Cortina was still the boss in 1980 and it almost outsold the whole range of British Leyland cars. It was a refined car at speed, looked good and the run out models with two tone paintwork looked excellent. However, the Sierra was a backward step, it used ageing Cortina engines, looked like hell and was rwd. I never liked it.
    Oddly enough I was one of the minority who rated the Austin Ambassador, an extremely comfortable large hatchback with a ride like a Rolls Royce and the mechanicals were proven.

  40. Cortina for me I’m afraid – the Solara sounded as if it had an entire linen mill under its bonnet (that infamous Simca tappety-tap-tap), and the Cavalier, well…it was a nice car, but it was a bastardised Opel at the end of the day.

  41. The Cortina is a bastardised Taunus, and the Talbot is a bastardised Chrysler / Simca.

    In fact, the mk1 Cavalier was more distinctive than future Cavaliers / Vectras by the fact that it had the distinct shovel nose (which in my opinion suited the Manta better, I preferred the bluff Ascona).

  42. Cortina, Particularly Mk5 was the most finished car I think.

    I had a Manta (same-ish as Cav), and the interior, whilst nicely Germanic (I still feel to this day, the Mk3 Mondeos fascia took its inspiration from the Cav/Manta fascia) the Cortina felt more chunky and solid. Always a pain in the arse to fit ICE into a Manta/Cav too :-/

    As for handling.. In the dry weather the Cavalier would have aced it.. in wet weather, I wasn’t so keen.. At least in the Cortina the rear would flip around and you wouldn’t see the tree you were about to hit. In the Cav/Manta, going too fast around the bends as a driver you might get a bit too much understeer that it made you feel like a passenger. bracing for impact…

  43. Oh and wasn’t the Cortina rear end leaf-sprung. Manta/Cav had coils, and that multiple linked live axle- Including that strong Panhard rod.

  44. No, the ‘Cortina 80’ as it was most often called back then was also coil-spung at the rear – just not very well located.

    Cavalier was my favourite of those 3, but agree the Solara came over as the most modern/interesting at the time. I’d wonder now if the last of the ‘Talbot’ Avengers, (sold until 1981) would have been a better car (although more dated-looking then all of them)- let alone the FIAT Mirafiori that would have most likely got my cash back then…

  45. Almost bought a Mk IV 2.0 Ghia once; as a spotty-arsed 21 year old I thought it was totally flash and unbeatably luxurious. Fabulous seats! Beautifully maintained car, should have got it and stashed it away. Hindsight, huh? Drove a few garden variety Mk Vs during the model’s second hand heyday here in NZ (late 80s, early 90s) and they were a surprisingly pleasant car, lacking (to my mind) only a fifth gear.

  46. Just been reading one of Bob Lutzs books with a section on his time as head of Ford of Europe in the 70s. He realised that whilst the ruched leather and formica American style just about worked for a British Rep, your average European thought it very vulgar. He instigated amongt other things the Cortina/Taunus facelift of 1973 bringing forward the planned MK4 interior update.

  47. I think the Alpine and Solara had potential as I remember them being very comfortable compared to a MK4 Cortina, as well as a lot more economical, but yes the engines, often described as, ‘tappity’ they were a lot worse than just tappity. For some reason the cam followers suffered from oil starvation (how was that possible with ohv?!) and the cars would shunt and shudder like an angry cart-horse! By the time of the P309, which still had the Simca engine, the oil starvation problem was sorted, probably the only thing PSA did to improve the Simca engine.
    Chrysler France/Simca and Chrysler UK/Rootes had the same problem, lack of development especially in the engine department. If the Alpine was launched with OHC it likely could have been a contender but its clear with hindsight Chrysler were just not going to commit to paying for serious development of either their French or UK divisions.

    Peugeot too treated the Simcas as unwanted orphans. In 1978 when PSA took control of Chrysler Europe they (PSA) had no real answer to the FWD VW Golf hatchback and did it not occur to PSA management that VW, on the verge of bankruptcy in the early 1970’s basically copied a Simca 1100 and added a better body with an OHC engine to create the Golf.

    If PSA wanted to take ‘Groupe Talbot’ seriously they really wouldn’t have had to spend much money. Just drop the OHC Peugeot engines into the Alpines and Solaras, give the Horizon a set of front struts (and a few more Francs on the steel!) and they, just maybe, could have had a Golf contender.

    Anyhow Talbot was doomed from birth, just a badge used to run out the Chrysler France models until PSA could gradually rationalize the French Chrysler factories into an expanded Peugeot-Citroen operation.

    So PSA didn’t care about Simca, its no wonder how the cared even less about the former Rootes products so the last two Rootes derived cars that had potential, the Avenger and Sunbeam bit the dust.

  48. Good point about the engines, considering PSA had supplied Renault with engines for the 14, though it fell wide of the mark as a Golf beater.

    The later Horizons did get the PSA XUD diesels installed, but it was too little too late by then.

    I’m guessing the Avenger was considered too old & an overlap with the 305 to keep in prodduction, same with the Sunbeam & Horizon. Also with Linwood being such a moneypit it was easy to see where they could rationalise.

  49. Perhaps to be fair to PSA at the time they took over Chrysler/Simca there was a trend in almost anorexic cars, the Fiat Ritimo/Strada and the Renault 14. Very light bodied hatchbacks with cheap engines – and steel that today would not pass safety standards.

    They did sell quite well so there was a market, the bargain basement end of the market.

    Talbots were always a good bit cheaper than other cars of the same size and PSA likely seen Chrysler France as a way to get into this market without damaging the Peugeot quality image that Peugeot had at the time. Hard to believe now but refinement and quality was how Peugeots were marketed. Today we see Peugeots as something in the line of Ford rather than a car that’s a bit special.

    By the mid-1980’s the market for the bean-tin cars had passed as easily available credit made cars of better quality available to the masses. VW really made hay at this time and Talbots were seen a tinny junk as the market got all middle-class and pretentious.

    However I don’t think the Solara was tinny junk. The triangulation that the boot gave the Alpine body made the Solara a lot more rigid but the image was set.

    By the time you could just sign a bit of paper for a VW Golf, Talbots were not what the aspiring public wanted on their driveways.

    I’ve no doubt that the Talbot, ‘T’ on the glass of Peugeots at the time lost PSA sales too.

  50. Over Here (New Zealand) People either loved or hated Talbots, still a surprising amount sold here, you even see the odd one on the road. I ran one two years ago (as an everyday car) and found it very a wee gem. It was a 5-speed 1600 Alpine SX and to be honest didnt seem that much older than the Focus’s I drove at work. It was economical, went well, was reliable, had plenty of go and was quiet (at least inside) In the 1980s its handling and taut steering would have been a revelation to New Zealanders used to a steady diet of sloppy Japanese cars (which were apalling on our twisty roads). Here too the Cortina outsold everything, but it was a bigger car, in every way, the Alpine was quite small in comparison. Most Talbots never rusted (unlike the chrysler ones) and you still find good ones tucked away. You Brits never seemed to appreciate them but in France they sold like hot cakes (in the Millions)

  51. The Solara became more sorted when a five speed gearbox was introduced, making it quieter and more economical and stealing a march on the Cortina, which was four speed only. I think had this test been in 1982 and a five speed Solara was in the test, it could have come close to beating the Cortina. Also by then Talbots had better rust protection.

  52. I owned a Solara GLS 1.6. It was a lovely thing to travel in. By this time the old rattly simca engines were gone and it was no worse than any other ohc 4 pot. Big crushed velour armchairs, brisk twin choke engine with 5 speed box, trip computer, electric windows, Central locking and a lovely supple ride. I’d be happy to run one today.
    What favours the cortina as a classic car is that they are laughably easy to work on, aside from fighting the constant rust threat they are so basic that there is little to go wrong and the half dozen mk5s that I owned were all reliable cars.
    incidentally I was around when these were current and nobody outside of ford themselves ever knew it as or called it “cortina 80”. It was always a mk5

    • Nobody at Dagenham called it the Cortina80 either – it was known as the Mk4 update originally before becoming the Mk5.

  53. One car would have aced this test if it had appeared. The Princess 1.7 HL, of course, slightly bigger engine which made 100 mph possible, but the wedge shaped body meant economy was better than the three cars on test. In terms of ride, comfort, interior space, relaxed cruising and distinctiveness, the Princess would have whopped all three contenders. By 1980, quality would have been on a par with the Cavalier and Cortina, rust protection light years ahead of the Solara, and it’s one car I’d least dislike to have been in a crash, fwd helping out on this.

  54. “The dashboard had been largely unchanged since 1970”. In spite of the welcome and appreciated enthusiasm, as with the pieces on Honest John, it’s just never quite right.

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