Ford Cortina in the 1970s

Ford Cortina Mk III Estate, c1972
Ford Cortina Mk III Estate, c1972

1970 was the last year of the Ford Cortina Mk II, launched in 1966. The Mk II found movie fame the following year. Jack Carter (Michael Caine) hired a 1970 silver grey Mk II Cortina Deluxe in the film 'Get Carter' (1971).

1970 was also the last year when Ford UK exported the Cortina to the USA. It was replaced by Ford USA's own small car, the Pinto.

By the end of 1970 Ford had a new Cortina, the Mk III, ironically designed by an American, the veteran Ford stylist, Harley Copp.

In 1976 Ford restyled the Cortina again. It became the Mk IV. This time the designer was a German, Uwe Bahnsen. Bahnsen's new squared-off body replaced both the Cortina in the UK and Ford Germany's Taunus.

There was one last revision for the Cortina, the Mk V, launched in 1979.

Ford Cortina Mk III 1970-6

Ford Custom 500 Four Door Sedan, 1969
Ford Custom 500 Four-Door Sedan, 1969. The style of the Ford Cortina Mk III owed much to contemporary American styling.
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault.

The Cortina Mk III was launched in October 1970. In style it owed much to America. The coke-bottle styling was very similar to American Fords from a couple of years earlier. A look at stylists' early clay models suggest that the coke-bottle lines were a last-minute revision.

The new Cortina's complex range of options and engine sizes was also American. Ford offered engines sizes from 1300cc up to 2000cc with all levels of trim from the basic Cortina up to the luxury GXL. There was also a sporty GT derivative.

The model line-up was:

The Cortina, Cortina L and Cortina XL were available with two or four-door saloon bodies or four-door estate bodies.

The GT and GXL both had a more powerful 1600cc engine as an option. Both the XL and the GXL had simulated wood trim. The luxury GXL featured that 1970s' classic, a black vinyl roof.

Ford Taunus, c1974
The European-made Ford Taunus was similar, but not identical to the Cortina Mk III.
Image by Charles licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped).

The GT had a sportier look to the interior, as well as improved instrumentation. Both 1600cc and 2000cc models boasted a 100mph top speed.

Ford had judged the market perfectly with the Cortina Mk I and II, as well as the Escort and Capri. The company lost its way a little with the new Cortina Mk III.

The new Cortina got off to a bad start. Soon after the launch, Ford workers went on strike. There was pent-up demand for new models not yet in the dealerships.

When they did arrive, there were more problems. The new cars suffered from quality issues, such as badly fitting doors and boot lids. Owners of new Cortinas found the boot full of water. They had to force doors shut. [1]

Assembly workers found it difficult to fit the complex trim and body style. Holes to fix trim were often missed. That meant drilling them after painting the cars, which left exposed metal and quickly led to rust. [2]

To make matters worse the new Cortina was all metric. The idea was to make servicing and assembly across Europe possible. The German-made Ford Taunus was similar, but not identical in style. It shared many design features and parts. UK workers were more used to Imperial measurements.

Quality was not the only problem. Customers did not like the American styling. Many preferred the simpler look of the old Mk II.

Ford resolved the issues and still came out well ahead of rivals British Leyland and Vauxhall. British Leyland had their own issues with quality and striking workers.

In 1973 Ford replaced the GXL with the more luxurious 2000E. They also sold the 2000E as an estate.

Ford Cortina 2000E, c1975
Ford Cortina 2000E, c1975. This was the final look of the Mk III

The Mk III got a facelift in October 1975. Some models got rectangular headlamps, all models got cloth trim, servo brakes, heated rear windows and hazard warning lights.

In 1976 the Mk III was upgraded to the Mk IV.

Ford Cortina Mk IV 1976-9

The Cortina Mk IV was launched in November 1976.

Gone was American styling. The look was more European. It was almost identical to the Taunus. The new body was squarer. The headlamps were rectangular. It was less glamourous looking than the Mk III but fitted the mood of the later 1970s.

The new model line-up was:

The Cortina, Cortina L and Cortina GL were available with two or four-door saloon bodies or four-door estate bodies.

Luxury was provided by the Ghia model. The trim was designed by the Italian Ghia studio. Like the outgoing 2000E, it featured a black vinyl roof.

Ford Cortina Mk V, c1979
Ford Cortina Mk V, c1979

GTs were out. The new sporty model was the Cortina S. The Cortina S had a black-themed interior, which also included a real wood dash. The seats had a contrasting stripe in true 1970s deck chair tradition.

In 1977 Ford introduced a new 2.3-litre V6 engine to the Cortina range. It was available on the GL and upwards.

Ford Cortina Mk V 1979-82

The final incarnation of the Cortina was the Mk V. Although similar looking to the Mk IV, it was more than a cosmetic make-over. The new car had a new grille, larger windows and larger rear lamp clusters. Ford changed most of the body panels in the process.

All models had laminated windscreens as standard. There were new seats and new head-restraints; engines were improved with new carburettors for greater fuel economy.

The 'S' model was dropped, but customers could choose an 'S' handling package as an option on the more upmarket models.

The Mk V continued until 1982, before the all-new Ford Sierra with its wind-tunnel tested bodywork took over.

Cortinas on film and TV

We have already mentioned Michael Caine's Cortina in Get Carter (1971).

On the small screen Cortinas were popular in police and detective dramas. Patrick Mower, as Detective Superintendent Steve Hackett, drove a 1972 Ford Cortina 1600L in Target. He soon traded it in for a 1976 Cortina 1.6GL.

Although Jack Regan's (John Thaw) transport in the Sweeney was usually a Ford Consul GT, a Cortina Mk III was a regular in the series. It was a blue 1974 2000XL.

Away from police dramas, Sid James drove a 1972 yellow Cortina Mk III estate in the 'Bless this House' (1973). In this role it was a typical salesman's car.

Read more:

Ford Fiesta in the 1970s


[1] 'Motoring Guardian takes a hard look at the Cortina Mk III' by Ian Breach, published in the Guardian, 1 November 1971, page 9

[2] 'What's in a best-seller' by Ian Breach, published in the Guardian, 3 July 1972, page 12

By Steven Braggs, August 2023

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

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